V02 max, or an individual’s maximal aerobic capacity, is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen the body can take in, use, and deliver in one minute. It is generally considered the best indicator of an athlete’s aerobic fitness. Do you know yours?
You can determine your own V02 max with reasonable accuracy and no expense by taking a simple test developed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper. Dr. Cooper, whose bestseller Aerobics launched a worldwide fitness revolution in 1968, is credited with motivating more people to get up off their duffs in pursuit of good health than any other person. The Cooper 12-Minute Run Test consists of determining how far a person can run in 12 minutes; this can easily be measured at the local track with a stopwatch. Simply enter your result into one of several online V02 max 12-Minute Test calculators, like the ones at runnersweb.com or bodybuilding.com.
The most accurate test for an athlete’s V02 max is done under strict protocols by a trained technician, typically in a sports performance laboratory. The test will show that the athlete's consumption of oxygen will in relationship to the intensity of the exercise, up to a certain point. When oxygen consumption plateaus, as seen on the following graph, V02 max is reached, even if the exercise intensity increases.
During an actual V02 max test for a runner, exercise is performed on a treadmill with the exercise workloads progressing gradually from moderate to maximal intensity. At the same time, the volume and oxygen concentration of the runner’s inhaled and exhaled air is measured to determine how much oxygen is being used. Results are reported in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram body weight minute.
Generally, elite male athletes can achieve V02 max values in the 60-80 range or higher, and females in the 50-70 range. American runner Steve Prefontaine’s VO2 max has been measured at 84.4, while Norway’s cross-country skiing sensation, Bjorn Daehlie, recorded 90.0. Experts caution, however, that this number alone is not a guarantee of athletic performance, but rather an indication of an athlete’s potential for good aerobic endurance.
An actual V02 max test will take about an hour and will cost several hundred dollars. Contact either local universities or wellness centers for the availability of V02 testing, or organizations such as www.vo2maxtesting.net who provide the testing at numerous locations throughout the country.