VO2 Max: What it is, Why it’s Important and How to Calculate it

VO2 Max: What it is, Why it’s Important and How to Calculate it

VO2 MAX is a measure of an athlete or sportsperson’s performance.

What is VO2 Max?

VO2 Max is a measurement factor used to quantify the performance of an athlete.

Strictly defined as the amount (volume) of oxygen you consume while performing a high-intensity sports activity.

It is considered the best indicator to express cardiovascular endurance.

What is VO2 Max

The higher the VO2 Max, the higher the Performance.

VO2 Max is expressed in millilitres of oxygen used in one minute per kg of body weight (mL/kg/min).

How to calculate the VO2 Max

Given the nature of these tests, it’s recommended that you start from an acceptable base and physical condition, although it can be understood that when performing this test you already possess these qualities and are not related to a sedentary person.

  • With specialised equipment (Direct Test).

It is carried out by means of equipment and in specialised facilities (laboratory). Here sophisticated equipment such as cycloergometers, treadmills, oxygen masks, etc. can be used to measure spirometry.

Unless you are a member of a sports team or go to a high performance center, you will probably never have access to these media.
  • Without specialised equipment (Indirect Test).

It will probably be the option of choice for most people. All you need is a watch with a stopwatch and pulsometer to measure your heart rate.

Within this methodology, the following tests stand out for their simplicity: the Cooper, Course Navette and Rockport tests

Cooper test

This is the way to find out our VO2 Max in a “free” way.

To do so:

  • Choose a terrain free from obstacles.
  • Run for 12 minutes for the maximum possible distance.

To obtain the VO2 Max: VO2 Max = 0.0268 x D (metres run) – 11.3.

Example: if I run 3000 metres in 12 minutes.
  • I will get: VO2 Max = 0.0268 x 3000 – 11.3 = 69.1 ml/kg/min.
  • Now, if I multiply it by my body weight (83kg), I get the measurement in litres: 5735.3 ml, i.e. 5.7 litres of O2 consumption per minute.

Course Navette

  • Course a distance of 20 metres uninterruptedly, at a pace dictated by a mark on a recording.
  • When the signal is heard, the individual will have to move to the line (20 metres) starting from the start, and step on it, waiting for the signal to return to the other end. E
  • It is necessary to maintain the rhythm of the recording, which will progressively increase, and therefore the person under test will increase his/her speed.
To calculate his VO2 Max, the last period he was able to endure will be taken into account: VO2 Max = 5,857 x Speed (Kmh) – 19,458.


Determines the VO2 Max for subjects of low physical condition.

It consists of:

  • Walking a total distance of one mile (1609.3 metres), knowing your heart rate at the end of the walk and the time taken.
Thus we get: VO2 Max = 132, 853 – (0,0,769 x Body Weight) – (0,3877 x Age) + (6,315 x Sex{0 for women; 1 for men}) – (3,2649 x Time in minutes) – (0,1565 x Heart rate at completion).

Why is VO2 Max important?

It relates to the amount of ATP, or cellular energy, you will be able to produce.

It reflects the ability of your “system”, heart, lungs, blood… to transport oxygen to your working muscles.

On the other hand, VO2 Max decreases over time, which is also an indicator of “ageing”. It is estimated that around 1% per year is the decrease that occurs.

However, a person who is relatively active and practices sport regularly throughout their life will be much less affected by this decline, and will be able to maintain a healthy, trained system.

Why is VO2 Max important?

Elite athletes comprise the group of people with the highest VO2 Max

“Possessing” a high VO2 Max gives us the benefit of being able to perform activities at a certain level much more comfortably, and therefore maintain, so to speak, a higher threshold of exhaustion.

What is the VO2 Max of an elite athlete?

Elite athletes and sportsmen and women, because of their condition, are the people with the highest levels of this parameter:

  • In women, values have been recorded between 60-85 ml/kg/min. 
  • In men, values have been recorded even higher than 90 ml/kg/min.
VO2MAX (ml/kg/min)NameSport
78.6Joan BenoitRunning
76.6Bente SkariCross-country skiing
76Flavia OliveiraCycling
VO2MAX (ml/kg/min)NameSport
97.5Oskar SvendsenCycling
96Espen Harald BjerkeCross-country skiing
96Bjørn DæhlieCross-country skiing

Table taken from https://www.topendsports.com/testing/records/vo2max.htm

What training is useful for increasing VO2 Max

At first glance, VO2 Max is closely related to a hereditary factor, although aeorobic activities such as running, climbing, cycling and intervallic training, will increase this parameter.

If we’re looking for an improvement, we should exercise close to our maximum heart rate.

Sometimes, people who try to improve this condition for a long time do not notice a significant alteration in VO2max, while others, in short periods of time, do experience a great improvement.

We can highlight the following training models to improve capacity:

Why find out your VO2 Max?

Knowing this value will help you to study and make an assessment of how to approach training and set individual goals.

Another important value, the VO2 MAX is a predictor of health.

The test results can determine whether the person is at risk of heart attack through physical activity, and in this sense limit the maximum values to maintain the level of such activity.

Why find out your VO2 Max?

The main reason is to determine the potential endurance capacity of a person when performing a physical activity or sport.

Important: Exercise Testing. 

Before starting a training programme, it’s advisable for the athlete or sportsman or woman to undergo a series of tests in order to find out their physical condition, including knowing the VO2 MAX.

What would be a good VO2 Max?

Below is a VO2 max table with the valuation according to sex and age:.


Very poor
25.0 – 30.9
31.0 – 34.9
35.0 – 38.9
39.0 – 41.9
23.6 – 28.9
29.0 – 32.9
33.0 – 36.9
37.0 – 41.0
22.8 – 26.9
27.0 – 31.4
31.5 – 35.6
35.7 – 40.0
21.0 – 24.4
24.5 – 28.9
29.0 – 32.8
32.9 – 36.9
20.2 – 22.7
22.8 – 26.9
27.0 – 31.4
31.5 – 35.7
17.5 – 20.1
20.2 – 24.4
24.5 – 30.2
30.3 – 31.4


Very poor
<35.035.0 – 38.338.4 – 45.145.2 – 50.951.0 – 55.9>55.9
<33.033.0 – 36.436.5 – 42.442.5 – 46.446.5 – 52.4>52.4
<31.531.5 – 35.435.5 – 40.941.0 – 44.945.0 – 49.4>49.4
<30.230.2 – 33.533.6 – 38.939.0 – 43.743.8 – 48.0>48.0
<26.126.1 – 30.931.0 – 35.735.8 – 40.941.0 – 45.3>45.3
<20.520.5 – 26.026.1 – 32.232.3 – 36.436.5 – 44.2>44.2


  1. Bruno P. C. Smirmaul, Danilo R. Bertucci, and Inaian P. Teixeira (2013). Is the VO2max that we measure really maximal?
  2. The Physical Fitness Specialist Certification Manual, The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, Dallas TX, revised 1997 printed in Advance Fitness Assessment & Exercise Prescription, 3rd Edition, Vivian H. Heyward, 1998.p48.
  3. Megan N Hawkins, Peter B Raven, Peter G Snell, James Stray-Gundersen, Benjamin D Levine (2007). Maximal oxygen uptake as a parametric measure of cardiorespiratory capacity.

Related Entries

  • You can find out more about the Navette test course by visiting the next link
  • How does lactate affect an athlete’s performance? We explain it to you here.
  • Everything you need to know about Energy Systems by doing click here.
Review of VO2 MAX

Performance Indicator - 100%

Measurement - 100%

Increase - 100%

Health predictor - 100%


HSN Evaluation: 5 /5
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About Javier Colomer
Javier Colomer
"Knowledge Makes Stronger", Javier Colomer's motto, sets out his clearest statement of intentions expressing his knowledge and fitness experience.
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