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VO2 max

Fitness can be measured by the volume of oxygen you can consume while exercising at your maximum capacity. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen in millilitres, one can use in one minute per kilogram of body weight. Those who are fit have higher VO2 max values and can exercise more intensely than those who are not as well conditioned. Numerous studies show that you can increase your VO2 max by working out at an intensity that raises your heart rate to between 65 and 85% of its maximum for at least 20 minutes three to five times a week (referenced in French & Long (2012)[8]). A mean value of VO2 max for male athletes is about 3.5 litres/minute and for female athletes it is about 2.7 litres/minute.

Factors affecting VO2 max

The physical limitations that restrict the rate at which energy can be released aerobically are dependent upon:

  • the chemical ability of the muscular cellular tissue system to use oxygen in breaking down fuels
  • the combined ability of cardiovascular and pulmonary systems to transport the oxygen to the muscular tissue system

There are various physiological factors that combine to determine VO2 max for which there are two theories: Utilization Theory and Presentation Theory.

Utilization theory maintains that VO2 max is determined by the body's ability to utilize the available oxygen whereas Presentation Theory maintains it is the ability of the body's cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to active tissues.

A study by Saltin and Rowell (1980)[3] concluded that it is the delivery of oxygen to active tissues that is the major limiting factor to VO2 max. A study by Gollnick et al. (1972)[4] showed a weak relationship between the body's ability to utilize the available oxygen and VO2 max.

VO2 max for various groups

The tables below, adapted from Wilmore and Costill (2005)[2], detail normative data for VO2 max (ml/kg/min) in various population groups.

Non Athletes

Age Male Female
10-19 47-56 38-46
20-29 43-52 33-42
30-39 39-48 30-38
40-49 36-44 26-35
50-59 34-41 24-33
60-69 31-38 22-30
70-79 28-35 20-27

Athletes

Sport Age Male Female
Baseball 18-32 48-56 52-57
Basketball 18-30 40-60 43-60
Cycling 18-26 62-74 47-57
Canoeing 22-28 55-67 48-52
Football (USA) 20-36 42-60  
Gymnastics 18-22 52-58 35-50
Ice Hockey 10-30 50-63  
Orienteering 20-60 47-53 46-60
Rowing 20-35 60-72 58-65
Skiing alpine 18-30 57-68 50-55
Skiing nordic 20-28 65-94 60-75
Soccer 22-28 54-64 50-60
Speed skating 18-24 56-73 44-55
Swimming 10-25 50-70 40-60
Track & Field - Discus 22-30 42-55  
Track & Field - Running 18-39 60-85 50-75
Track & Field - Running 40-75 40-60 35-60
Track & Field - Shot 22-30 40-46  
Volleyball 18-22   40-56
Weight Lifting 20-30 38-52  
Wrestling 20-30 52-65  

Athlete's VO2 max Scores

The following are the VO2 max scores for a selection of the top female and male athletes.

VO2 max (ml/kg/min) Athlete Gender Sport/Event
96.0 Espen Harald Bjerke Male Cross Country Skiing
96.0 Bjorn Daehlie Male Cross Country Skiing
92.5 Greg LeMond Male Cycling
92.0 Matt Carpenter Male Marathon Runner
92.0 Tore Ruud Hofstad Male Cross Country Skiing
91.0 Harri Kirvesniem Male Cross Country Skiing
88.0 Miguel Indurain Male Cycling
87.4 Marius Bakken Male 5K Runner
85.0 Dave Bedford Male 10K Runner
85.0 John Ngugi Male Cross Country Runner
       
73.5 Greta Waitz Female Marathon runner
71.2 Ingrid Kristiansen Female Marathon Runner
67.2 Rosa Mota Female Marathon Runner

VO2 max and age

As we get older our VO2 max decreases. A study by Jackson et al. (1995)[5] found the average decrease was 0.46 ml/kg/min per year for men (1.2%) and 0.54 ml/kg/min for women (1.7%). The decline is due to a number of factors including a reduction in maximum heart rate and maximum stoke volume.

VO2 max and performance

VO2 max on its own is a poor predictor of performance but using the velocity (vVO2 max) and duration (tlimvVO2 max) that an athlete can operate at their VO2 max will provide a better indication of performance.

VO2 max evaluation tests

An estimate of your VO2 max can be determined using any of the following tests:

Improving your VO2 max

The following are samples of Astrands (a work physiologists) workouts for improving oxygen uptake:

  • (1) - Run at maximum speed for 5 minutes. Note the distance covered in that time. Let us assume that the distance achieved is 1900 metres. Rest for 5 minutes, and then run the distance (1900 metres) 20% slower, in other words in 6 minutes, with 30 seconds rest, repeated many times. This is equal to your 10 Km pace
  • (2) - Run at maximum speed for 4 minutes. Note the distance covered in that time. Rest for 4 minutes. In this case, we will assume you run a distance of 1500 metres. Now run the same distance 15% slower, in other words in 4 minutes 36 seconds, with 45 seconds rest, repeated several times. This approximates to a time between the athlete's 5 Km and 10 Km time
  • (3) - Run at maximum effort for 3 minute. Note the distance covered in that time. The distance covered is, say 1000 metres. Successive runs at that distance are taken 10% slower or at 3 minutes 18 seconds, with 60 seconds rest, repeated several times. This approximates to your 5 Km time
  • (4) - Run at maximum effort for 5 minutes. Note the distance covered in that time. The distance covered is 1900 metres. Rest 5 minutes. The distance is now covered 5% slower with 1½ minutes rest. This is approximately 3K pace for you, i.e., 5 minutes 15 seconds/1900 metres
  • (5) - Run at maximum effort for 3 minutes. The distance covered is 1100 metres. When recovered, the athlete then runs the same distance 5% slower, i.e., 3 minutes 9 seconds/1100 metres, with a minute rest, repeated several times. This is at 3 Km pace

When and how often

It is suggested that in the winter sessions (1) and (2) are done weekly, and in the track season sessions (3), (4) and (5) are done weekly by runners from 800 metres to the half-marathon. Although it would be convenient to use the original distance marks made by the duration efforts, this does not take into account the athlete's condition before each session, so the maximum effort runs must be done on each occasion when they may be either more or less than the previous distance run. The maximum duration efforts are in themselves quality sessions. If the pulse rate has not recovered to 120 beats per minute in the rest times given, the recovery period should be extended before the repetitions are started. The recovery times between the repetitions should be strictly adhered to. These workouts make a refreshing change from repetition running. When all five sessions are completed within a month, experience shows substantial improvements in performance.

The effect of altitude

VO2 max decreases as altitude increases above 1600m and for every 1000m above 1600m maximal oxygen uptake decreases by approximately 8-11%. The decrease is mainly due to a decrease in maximal cardiac output (product of heart rate and stroke volume). Stoke volume decreases due to the immediate decrease in blood plasma volume.

VO2max Assessment

The VO2 max assessment is based on the Cooper VO2 max tables for both the 1997[6] and 2005[7] tables.

For an evaluation of your VO2 max select the age group and gender, enter your VO2 max and then select the 'Calculate' button.

Age Gender VO2max ml/kg/min
   
Assessment - 'v' 1997 Tables
  Assessment - 'v' 2005 Tables

Normative data for VO2 max in 1997

Normative data (Heywood 1998)[6] for Female (values in ml/kg/min)

Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 <25 25 - 30 31 - 34 35 - 38 39 - 41 >41
20-29 <24 24 - 28 29 - 32 33 - 36 37 - 41 >41
30-39 <23 23 - 27 28 - 31 32 - 36 37 - 40 >40
40-49 <21 21 - 24 25 - 28 29 - 32 33 - 36 >36
50-59 <20 20 - 22 23 - 26 27 - 31 32 - 35 >35
60+ <17 17 - 19 20 - 24 25 - 29 30 - 31 >31

Normative data (Heywood 1998)[6] for Male (values in ml/kg/min)

Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 <35 35 - 37 38 - 44 45 - 50 51 - 55 >55
20-29 <33 33 - 35 36 - 41 42 - 45 46 - 52 >52
30-39 <31 31 - 34 35 - 40 41 - 44 45 - 49 >49
40-49 <30 30 - 32 33 - 38 39 - 42 43 - 47 >48
50-59 <26 26 - 30 31 - 35 36 - 40 41 - 45 >45
60+ <20 20 - 25 26 - 31 32 - 35 36 - 44 >44

Normative data for VO2 max in 2005

Normative data (Heywood 2006)[7] for Female (values in ml/kg/min)

Age Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
20 - 29 <36 36 - 39 40 - 43 44 - 49 >49
30 - 39 <34 34 - 36 37 - 40 41 - 45 >45
40 - 49 <32 32 - 34 35 - 38 39 - 44 >44
50 - 59 <25 25 - 28 29 - 30 31 - 34 >34
60 - 69 <26 26 - 28 29 - 31 32 - 35 >35
70 - 79 <24 24 - 26 27 - 29 30 - 35 >35

Normative data (Heywood 2006)[7] for Male (values in ml/kg/min)

Age Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
20 - 29 <42 42 - 45 46 - 50 51 - 55 >55
30 - 39 <41 41 - 43 44 - 47 48 - 53 >53
40 - 49 <38 38 - 41 42 - 45 46 - 52 >52
50 - 59 <35 35 - 37 38 - 42 43 - 49 >49
60 - 69 <31 31 - 34 35 - 38 39 - 45 >45
70 - 79 <28 28 - 30 31 - 35 36 - 41 >41

% HRmax and %VO2 max

It is possible to estimate your exercise intensity as a percentage of VO2 max from your training heart rate. A study by David Swain et al. (1994)[1] using statistical procedures examined the relationship between %HRmax and %VO2 max. Their results led to the following regression equation:

  • %HRmax = 0.64 × %VO2 max + 37

The relationship has been shown to hold true across sex, age and activity.

Calculator

The following calculator will do the conversion for you. Enter a value, select the parameter (HRmax or VO2 max) and then select the "Calculate" button.

Value = %
   
= %

%VO2 max and Speed

% of VO2 max Speed
50 Very slow running
60 Slow running
70 Steady running
80 Half Marathon speed
90 10 km speed
95 5 km speed
100 3 km speed
110 1500 metres to 800 metres speed

Free Calculator

  • %VO2 max to %HRmax Calculator - a free Microsoft Excel spreadsheet which you can download and use on your computer. The spreadsheet will be loaded into a new window.


References

  1. SWAIN et al. (1994) Target HR for the development of CV fitness. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 26 (1), p. 112-116
  2. WILMORE, J.H. and COSTILL, D.L. (2005) Physiology of Sport and Exercise. 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
  3. SALTIN, B. and ROWELL, L.B. (1980) Functional adaptations to physical activity and inactivity. Federation Proceeding. 39 (5), p. 1506-1513
  4. GOLLNICK, P.D. et al. (1972) Enzyme activity and fiber composition in skeletal muscle of untrained and trained men. J Appl Physiol., 33 (3), p. 312-319
  5. JACKSON, A.S. et al. (1995) Changes in aerobic power of men, ages 25-70 yr. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 27 (1), p. 113-120
  6. HEYWOOD, V. (1998) The Physical Fitness Specialist Certification Manual, The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, Dallas TX, revised 1997. In: HEYWOOD, V (1998) Advance Fitness Assessment & Exercise Prescription, 3rd Ed. Leeds: Human Kinetics. p. 48
  7. HEYWOOD, V. (2006) The Physical Fitness Specialist Manual, The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, Dallas TX, revised 2005. In: HEYWOOD, V (2006) Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription, Fifth Edition, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  8. FRENCH, J. and LONG, M. (2012) How to improve your VO2max. Athletics Weekly, November 8 2012, p.53

Related References

The following references provide additional information on this topic:

  • BELTRAN, L. et al. (2014) Prediction of VO2max Using Serial 400-m Running Times in Male Collegiate Soccer Players. Journal of Kinesiology and Nutrition Student Research2
  • HAUGEN, T. A. et al. (2014) VO2max Characteristics of Elite Female Soccer Players, 1989-2007.International journal of sports physiology and performance, 9 (3), p. 515-521
  • Matsuo, T. et al. (2014) Effects of a low-volume aerobic-type interval exercise on VO2max and cardiac mass. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 46 (1), p. 42-50

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2001) VO2 max [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/VO2max.htm [Accessed

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