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November 29, 2018 6 min read

Are you born with a high or low VO2 Max?

In this article:

  1. What is VO2 Max?

  2. Importance of VO2 Max for endurance athletes

  3. Can VO2 Max be trained and improved?

  4. Tips for improving VO2 Max

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.

Wikipedia: The measurement of V̇O2 max in the laboratory provides a quantitative value of endurance fitness for comparison of individual training effects and between people in endurance training. Maximal oxygen consumption reflects cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance capacity in exercise performance.

Snow Basin

What's VO2 Max? How To Calculate Your VO2 Max

Verywellfit: VO2 max is measured in milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min). It is based on the premise that the more oxygen athletes consume during high-level exercise, the more the body will generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy in cells. ATP is often referred to as the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy

The VO2 Max test measures how much oxygen your body uses during physical activity. This helps determine how hard you should push yourself to achieve optimal results. Interestingly, heart rate is not necessarily correlated.

Runners World: When the test was examined against laboratory trials, in which the subjects’ oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output were measured using a mask and accurate instruments

You can calculate your VO2 Max by multiplying your VO2 max by your body weight in kilograms. For example, if you weigh 70kg, your VO2 Max would be 70 x 3.5 = 231ml/min.

VO2 Max = VO2 max x Body Weight (in kg)

If you weigh 70kg, then your VO2 Max is 70 x 7 = 490ml/min.

This calculation assumes that you're exercising at a moderate pace (i.e., not sprinting). If you're running faster than this, you'll need to adjust your calculations accordingly.

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.

Measuring your VO2 Max requires specialized instruments. Some devices offer VO2 Max estimated calculations.

Popular Garmin Forerunner 745

Marathon Handbook: After comparing the Garmin VO2 max estimates with each runner’s laboratory values, results demonstrated that Garmin’s VO2 max estimation was 95% correct, with a margin of error of less than 3.5ml/kg/min

Can I Train and Improve VO2 Max?

VO2 Max is largely “genetically gifted” by your parents.

“So it’s safe to say that Tour de France competitors are both born and made.

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 other words, to be among the very best endurance sports athletes, VO2 Max is a prerequisite.

CNET: You might not be too surprised to learn that high-intensity interval training is one of the best ways to improve your VO2 max. It works because you train your body to work at incredibly high levels for a period of time just long enough to push or surpass your anaerobic threshold before returning to a steadier, aerobic state. 

Should I try to Improve My VO2 Max?

The latest studies show VO2 Max is trainable. We can train and improve our VO2. Those who start from the couch to elite athletes can see a dramatic change in oxygen economy and utilization.

Healthline: Everyone — no matter their athletic ability — should try to increase their cardiorespiratory endurance. According to research, a higher VO₂ max is associated with a lower risk of death.

Mens Journal and Running coach Elizabeth Corkum. “The better you are at using oxygen, the faster and/or longer you’ll be able to run.”

It is a measure of your aerobic capacity, and physical fitness and is influenced by genetics and age.

To improve your VO2 max, you can try the following tips:

  1. Engage in regular aerobic training such as running, cycling, or swimming.

  2. Vary your workouts to include high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and long, steady-state endurance exercise.

  3. Increase the intensity of your training workouts gradually, rather than trying to do too much too soon.

  4. Incorporate strength training into your fitness routine, as it can help improve your VO2 max and make you a more efficient runner or cyclist.

  5. Maintain a fit-level weight and body composition

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 of us get to watch." -Cameron Hoffman

Vo2 max running

Professional Athletes VO2 Max Numbers

It's difficult to come up with a comprehensive list of Professional Athletes and their cardiorespiratory or VO2 Max numbers. Most keep physiological testing a secret. We may never know what the real number is.

Garmin.com: On average, men have higher VO2 max values than women. So for a man and woman with the same VO2 max, the woman will have a better fitness level compared to her peer group.

A top female endurance athlete will almost certainly have a much higher VO2 max than the average male. However, she will likely have a lower VO2 max compared to a top male endurance athlete.

Who Has the Highest VO2 Max?

Forbes Health Dr. Goldberg says,“Testing your VO2 max is best used by elite athletes to know if they will have what it takes to compete at a certain level.”

Some of this information is tough to obtain. Professional/Elite athletes don't often offer or promote their personal physiological and cardiovascular fitness attributes.

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).

Ironman Professionals Nordic skiers consistently chalk up world-class VO2 Max physiological values.

What is the average vo2 max for an elite endurance athlete?

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.

Fun Fact: Let's get this out of the way. Us humans don't stand a chance to Alaskan Huskies 200 VO2 Max.

WikipediaAlaskan huskies, have V̇O2 max values exceeding 200 mL/(kg·min).

Beetroot Pro® has has been correlated with improved VO2 Max oxygen uptake.

Below is a chart of the highest recorded VO2 Max values for men

Provided byTopendsports

score name sport notes
97.5 Oskar Svendsen Cycling 18 year old from Lillehammer, Norway. The test was conducted in Sept 2012 at the University College of Lillehammer by physiologist Joar Hansen. (from an article on procycling)
96.0 Espen Harald Bjerke Norwegian cross country skier This score was achieved in 2005 (7.3 liter/min, 76 kg body weight), listed in an article on www.fasterskier.com.
96.0 Bjørn Dæhlie Norwegian cross country skier This score is commonly quoted, though another source has him recording a best of 90 ml/kg/min.
93.9 Brett Aitken Track Cycling Australian Olympic track cyclist. From testing done at the South Australian Institute of Sport in 1991. (see comment below)
93.0 Kurt Asle Arvesen  Road Cycling a Norwegian professional road bicycle racer for Team Sky. Figure taken from an article published on www.syklingensverden.com, said to be from 1997 (link no longer available).
92.5 Greg LeMond cycling US professional cyclist

 

Women's Highest VO2 Max List

score name sport notes
78.6 Joan Benoit distance running 1984 Olympic Marathon Champion
76.6 Bente Skari XC-skier
76.0 Flavia Oliveira Cycling Oliveira is a Brazilian National Team road cyclist and climbing specialist. This result was recorded during testing with Felicia Gomez at Pinnacle Training Systems in Fresno, California on Jan 21, 2012. (with thanks to Nathan Parks, Jan 2012)
74 Charlotte Kalla XC-skier achieved at only 2O years of age
72 Marit Bjoergen XC-skier
72 Toini Rönnlund XC-skier achieved in the sixties sometime.
71.2 Ingrid Kristiansen distance running ex-Marathon World Record Holder
67.2 Rosa Mota distance running Marathon runner. 1984 Olympic Marathon Bronze - 1988 Olympic Marathon Champion

 

Beetroot powder extract (Beetroot Pro®) has been shown to improve circulation and oxygen uptake and could correlate with improved VO2 Max.

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

FDA Disclosure: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

It is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any dietary supplement especially if you have any medical condition, pregnancy, breastfeeding or are on any medication.

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