VO2 Max

VO2 Max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is generally measured in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min).

As you increase your effort when you exercise, the amount of oxygen you consume to produce energy (and hence the rate at which you exhale carbon dioxide) increases. However, there is a maximum level of oxygen consumption, beyond which increases in exercise intensity don't lead to further increases in oxygen consumption. This level of oxygen consumption is called the VO2 Max (the initials stand for "volume of oxygen").

Many believe that VO2 Max is the key physiological determinant of an athlete's performance, and that an objective of one's training program should be to improve it. Certainly there other factors that contribute to an athlete's performance, such as adaptation of muscles, efficiency and metabolism. There is a measurable level of exercise intensity at which the athlete's consumption of oxygen reaches a plateau and does not increase further.

Measuring VO2 Max
You can measure VO2 Max by:
  • Laboratory test in which you breathe into an oxygen mask
  • Using results from races to estimate it
  • Doing a Balke Test
  • Doing a Bleep Test
Race Results
You can estimate your VO2 Max from race results using the formula given by Daniels and Gilbert:

VO2 Max = (-4.6 + 0.182258 * velocity + 0.000104 * velocity^2) / [0.8 + 0.1894393 * e^(-0.012778 * time) + 0.2989558 * e^(-0.1932605*time)]

{where velocity is in meters/minute, and time in minutes}

Balke Test
This test is conducted on a windless day and requires the athlete to run a track for 15 minutes. The objective is to run as far as possible in the time available. In general, this is acheived by running at a broadly constant pace, though the runner may be advised to start hard and finish up running as hard as possible.

The Balke test page found here interprets the results using three different formulae:

The original formula proposed by Bruno Balke was:

VO2 Max = 6.5 + 5 * laps covered

Since then, Frank Horwill has proposed the following formula:

VO2 Max = 0.172 * [(meters/15) - 133] + 33.3

Finally, it is possible to use the formula relating VO2 Max to distance and speed proposed by Daniels and Gilbert to estimate VO2 Max from the results of the Balke Test:

VO2 Max = (-4.6 + 0.182258 * velocity + 0.000104 * velocity^2) / [0.8 + 0.1894393 * e^(-0.012778 * time) + 0.2989558 * e^(-0.1932605*time)]

{where velocity is in meters/minute, and time in minutes}

Bleep Test
This test, also known as the Multistage Fitness Test (MFT) or Yo-Yo Test, was developed by Leger and Lambert in 1982. This test is very suitable for game players as it is specific to the nature of the sport, but due to the short turns, it is perhaps not suitable for rowers, runners or cyclists. I performed this test when I played soccer in high school and found it enjoyable because it is a very competitive test when done in a group/team setting.

To undertake this test, you need:
  • A flat, non-slippery surface at least 20 meters in length
  • 30 meter tape measurer
  • Marking cones
  • The Multi-Stage Fitness Test audio tape or CD
  • Tape Recorder or CD Player
  • Recording Sheets
  • Assistant
The test is made up of 23 levels where each level lasts approximately one minute. Each level comprises of a series of 20 meter shuttle runs where the starting speed is 8.5km/hr and increases by 0.5km/hr at each level. On the tape/CD, a single beep indicates the end of a shuttle and 3 beeps indicates the start of the next level. The test is conducted as follows:
  • Measure out a 20 meter section and mark each end with a marker cone
  • The athlete carries out a warm-up program of jogging and dynamic stretching exercises
  • The athlete must place one foot on or beyond the 20 meter marker at the end of each shuttle
  • If the athlete arrives at the end of a shuttle before the beep, the athlete must wait for the beep and then resume running
  • The athlete keeps running for as long as possible until he/she can no longer keep up with the speed set by the tape/CD at which point they should withdraw
  • If the athlete fails to reach the end of the shuttle before the beep they should be allowed 2 or 3 further shuttle attempts to regain the required pace before being withdrawn
  • Record the level and number of shuttles completed at that level by the athlete
  • At the end of the test the athlete conducts a cool down program, including static stretching exercises
Analysis of the result is comparing it with the results of previous tests. It is expected taht, with appropriate training between each test, the analysis would indicate an improvement. The athlete's VO2 Max can be determined from the MSFT Table (below) using the Level and Shuttle achieved.

VO2 Max Normative Data
The tables below represent normative data for VO2 Max:

Your VO2 Max is to a large extent determined by your genes, but it can be increased by training. Most people can increase their VO2 Max by 5-20% (increases of up to 60% have been reported), but there is a small proportion of the population for whom training seems to make little difference.

VO2 Max of Elite Athletes
Below is a chart depicting the VO2 Max of some elite athletes:

Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) and VO2 Max
It is possible to estimate your exercise intensity as a percentage of VO2 Max from your maximum heart rate. In 1994, David Swain and his research team, using statistical procedures, examined the relationship between %MHR and %VO2 Max. Their results led to the following regression equation:

%MHR = 0.64 * %VO2 Max + 37

This relationship has been shown to hold true across sex, age and activity. Click on the link below to download my Excel-based VO2 Max Calculator.

Running for Fitness, Unknown Author
Sports Coach, Brian Mackenzie,

1 comment:

  1. One of your resource links is dead. Here is a functioning link for the Daniels Gilbert VO2 max equation with an online calculator:

    VO2 Max Calculator (Daniels and Gilbert Eqution)

    The page has links to other VO2 max estimation formulas as well.


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