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November 29, 2018 2 min read

Ohh yes. VO2 Max. They say you are born with it. They say you really can't change it much. Well, what is VO2 Max? Why is it important for endurance athletes? Can I train to obtain a higher VO2 Max?

Remember when you were young and some kids could run fast for miles and miles? You knew you didn't stand a chance racing them. You just had to go at your own pace. It's likely those fast running kids had a higher VO2 Max1.

Two incredible American athletes come to mind who had some of the highest VO2 Max numbers ever recorded, Three-time Tour De France winner, Greg Lemond (92.5) and running phenomenon, Steve Prefontaine (84.4).

Top Tour De France riders clock in a VO2 Max between 76-82 ml/kg/min.

The average untrained male has a VO2 Max of 45 ml/kg/min.

In a nutshell, VO2 Max is “The maximum rate of Oxygen (O2) consumption by the body during exercise.The more oxygen your body absorbs per minute, the higher your VO2 Max. Oxygen is like gasoline on a fire. The more oxygen you distribute to your muscles, the more your muscles can continue to provide power output.

Can I train to improve VO2 Max?

VO2 Max is largely “genetically gifted” from your parents. “So it’s safe to say that Tour de France competitors are both born and made.2

To become a top end marathon runner, a Tour De France winner or the Ironman World Champion you will need a high VO2 Max. In order words, to be among the very best endurance sports athletes, VO2 Max is a pre-requisite. However, you can train your VO2 Max to be higher with simple but hard training efforts.

To improve your VO2 Max, “Warm up for 15 minutes at a steady pace, then ride for a further 15 minutes slightly harder (but at a pace where you can still have a conversation). Next, do five intervals of three to five minutes with recovery periods of three to five minutes. Finish with a 10-minute cool-down.4

Having a high VO2 Max does not guarantee you glory at the top tier world events, it is a pre-requisite, however, it’s not a guarantee. You will still need to put in hard work and train for years to reach your full athletic potential.

Some of us get to compete among the best in the world, the rest get to watch. 

1. Runner's Blueprint

2. World's Best VO2 Max Scores, Topend Sports

3. Barker, Jill. Fitness: Tour de France cyclists among the world's fittest athletes. Montreal Gazette

4. Abbott, Marc. "How to Train Your VO2 Max." Cycling Weekly

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