VO2 Max: what it is, why it matters and how you can calculate it

VO2 Max: what it is, why it matters and how you can calculate it

Among all the concepts handled in sport in general, and in running in particular, beyond the types of injuries, what diet to take or what drugs it is advisable to take or not during training or competition periods, there is a particular concept that attracts everyone’s attention: the VO2 max .

Although it sounds like a strange term to strangers to running, the concept is well known by fans of the sport . If you didn’t know what it is, I’ll soon open your eyes. And if you already knew, I hope you learn a lot more about this concept today.


Today we will review what VO2 max is , some curiosities about it, why it is important and how it can be calculated directly (using objective tests) or indirectly (roughly using mathematical formulas).

What is VO2 Max

Essentially, VO2Max is nothing more than the maximum volume of oxygen that the body can process during exercise . In other words, the term refers to the amount of oxygen that can be used when breathing, and that therefore we can actually use when doing a sport (like running, for example).


VO2 max is expressed in milliliters of oxygen per body kilogram per minute (ml / kg / min). The general population tends to have standard VO2 max values of around 40-50 ml / kg / min, and professional athletes tend to be around 70-80 ml / kg / min.

V02 Max can be increased

Although VO2 max is a parameter that determines genetics , as in everything, there is room for improvement . In fact, it can be improved up to 15% with good training, but no more. In any case, experts recommend more than one VO2 Max measurement in the same individual, as a single dose can give erroneous results.

Some experts claim that a runner who is not around 60-70 ml / kg / min can never become an elite runner, but there are several exceptions to the rule that deny the greatest, as there are other performance factors to take into account such as muscular efficiency or having a high anaerobic threshold (holding a race at high intensity for as long as possible). VO2 max is important, but it is not everything .

Why VO2 max is important

The importance of VO2 Max is due to the fact that, in the face of great efforts with high resistance, a VO2 max will give us the opportunity to extend the time in which our body makes better use of oxygen. That is, the more VO2Max, the better we will endure the intensity of the race, and for longer .

Among the documented cases with a more striking VO2 max,  we have the super crack Kilian Jornet, capable of running at 12 km / h with a slope of 24%, or Manuel Merillas (Champion of Spain in mountain running), capable of running at 11 km / h with a 26% incline. Both “beasts” of running have shown to have a VO2 max higher than 90 ml / kg / min in some tests.

We have other examples such as Luis Alberto Hernando or Marco de Gasperi, with a VO2 max greater than these 80 ml / kg / min.

VO2 Max records of elite athletes

Here are some of the highest values ever recorded in VO2Max testing in elite athletes in different disciplines :

  • Norwegian cyclist Oskar Svendsen holds the record for VO2 Max with 97.5 ml / kg /min
  • Greg LeMond, American cyclist: 92.5 ml / kg / min
  • Matt Carpenter, Ultra-marathoner: 92 ml / kg / min
  • Kilian Jornet, ultra trailrunner: 89.5 ml / kg / min
  • Miguel Induráin, Spanish cyclist: 88 ml / kg / min
  • Chris Froome, Kenyan cyclist (yes, he was born in Nairobi, Kenya, but he has British nationality): 84.6 ml / kg / min
  • Lance Armstrong, American cyclist: 84 ml / kg / min

In the case of women, the values ​​are usually slightly lower, highlighting Joan Benoit, Olympic Marathon champion, with her VO2 Max of 78.6 ml / kg / min or the Brazilian cyclist Flavia Oliveira with 76 ml / kg / min.


Finally, it should be noted that it is not runners who usually have a higher VO2 max value , but cross-country or mountain skiers (there are several Norwegian skiers among the highest values). For their part, soccer players, despite practicing a sport with great movements, stand out for not having too high values.

How to calculate VO2 Max

Finally, how can we calculate VO2 max?

Directly, objectively and more truthfully, the best estimate for VO2 max requires undergoing spirometry during a stress test . However, there are some tests to estimate it:

Cooper test

If you want to calculate this parameter indirectly , you can use the famous Cooper Test , a race for 12 minutes in a row at the highest possible speed, where it is important to count the total number of meters traveled in all that time (so it is recommended take the test on a running track, as each street measures 400 m). Likewise, it is advisable to use a GPS heart rate monitor to obtain the average and maximum pulse values ​​during the journey.

  • You are interested: How to calculate your pulse zones

Later we will apply the formula :

VO2 max = 22,351 x Distance traveled (in km) -11,288

As a curiosity , non-professional men between 17-19 years old with an excellent Copper Test can travel up to 3 km in just 12 minutes, professional runners are capable of touching 4 km in the same time.


Rockport test

There are other indirect measurement tests, such as the Rockport Test , intended for individuals with less physical condition who are unable to endure the 12 consecutive minutes of running. In this case, the test asks to complete a mile (1,609 meters) without running, walking fast, and taking into account variables such as heart rate and total time used.

Once we have all the variables, the formula will be the following:

VO2 Max = 132.6 – (0.17 x CP) – (0.39 x Age) + (6.31 x S) – (3.27 x T) – (0.156 x HR)

PC: Body weight.
S: Sex (0: women, 1: men).
T: Time in minutes.
HR: Heart rate.

Finally, we have another type of indirect formula that is also well known in the world of running: the Course Navette Test .

Course Navette Test

In this case, the individual who undergoes the test must move from one point to another located 20 m away, making a change of rhythm marked by an audio recording. This signal will progressively accelerate, so the objective is for the individual to carry out the test until they can no longer complete the distance in the time set by the sound warnings of the recording.

To calculate VO2 max, the last completed series will be taken into account, thus using the speed obtained, and applying the equation:

VO2 Max = 5.857 x Speed ​​(Km / h) – 19.45


If you’re serious about reaching your full athletic potential, then VO2Max should be one of your supporting tools for measuring your fitness progress over time.

Just keep in mind that V02 max is just one piece of the puzzle. You still need to eat clean, sleep well, work on your form, stay consistent, and all of that.

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