What is a good VO2 Max?

Aug 07, 2022

Photo Credit: Markus Spiske 

By: Danielle Abel

VO2 max testing helps measure an athlete's level of physical fitness. Primary endurance athletes are typically most concerned about improving their VO2 max, but other mixed energy system athletes may benefit from increasing the amount of oxygen consumption as well. 

VO2 Max Definition

VO2 max is simply the amount of oxygen the body can consume during a given timeframe. VO2 max testing is performed in the lab on a treadmill. The athlete is connected to an oxygen max that measures the amount of oxygen they inhale and the amount of carbon dioxide they exhale. These difference in these two variables allows calculation of actual oxygen delivery to the muscles. 

The test lasts about 8-12 minutes. The athlete warms up and gradually increases the running speed all the way up until they can no longer run any faster, and at that point, they are done. If the test is done correctly, the athlete should reach their maximal heart rate at the end of the test, which will correspond with their VO2 max. There are a number of protocols for testing VO2 max in a lab setting. 

  • V = volume
  • O2 = oxygen
  • Maximum = maximal amount of oxygen consumed by the body in a given time

The equation for VO2 max is cardiac output (CO) multiplied by the difference between arterial (A) oxygen and venous oxygen (VO2). This equation compares the amount of oxygen delivered through the arteries compared to the amount of oxygen that was returned to the veins, which shows how much oxygen your body consumed. 

  • VO2 max = CO x A-V02

Average VO2 Max Scores

  • For a 20-29-year-old female
    • 38ml/kg/min - meaning the amount of oxygen consumed in mL (the volume), relative to body weight, per minute
  • For a 20-29-year-old male
    • 44ml/kg/min - meaning the amount of oxygen consumed in mL, relative to body weight, per minute

Keep in mind that through the aging process, VO2 max declines due to the normal aging processes like worse oxygen delivery, cardiovascular changes like decreased heart size and decreased max heart rate and other physiological changes that occur with aging.   

Endurance athletes typically peak their VO2 max in their 20's and 30's, sometimes even into their 40's, whereas power athletes typically peak earlier than this. 

90th percentile

  • Females 47ml/kg/min
  • Males 54ml/kg/min

Athlete Types & Practical Application

Low aerobic components:

VO2 max testing can be helpful for any athlete, but especially athletes with either primary or mixed aerobic needs; for example, power athletes like shotput, football, or powerlifting might be ok with a VO2 max of 45-50ml/kg/min for males and 35-40 for females.

Intermediate aerobic components:

Similarly, mixed athletes like basketball, hockey, and tennis can benefit from knowing where their VO2 max lies. For mixed power & speed athletes, a good VO2 max would be 52-56ml/kg/min for males and 42-48ml/kg/min for females.

High aerobic components:

For soccer, distance swimming, and wresting, male athletes might aim for 57-62 ml/kg/min, and female athletes might try to between 50-53ml/kg/min. 

Very high aerobic components:

VO2 max testing is most important for athletes with the highest aerobic demands.

  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Distance running

A good VO2 max for these athletes would be 70+ ml/kg/min, and for females, 60 ml/kg/min to perform well in the sport. 

What to do with VO2 max data

  1. Track your progress to determine if oxygen delivery and cardiac output improve following training
    1. Compare a baseline VO2 max test level to a future VO2 max test level
  2. Establishing training zones for program design
    1. Determine interval and tempo work zones 

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