CLINIC: Knowing Your Maximal Oxygen Consumption is Good for Your Health

Mon, 5 Dec. 2011 - 11:54 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

How beneficial is a baseline VO2 max and at what interval is it typically repeated?

Ben Pearl, DPM
Arlington, VA
When you say “baseline” I'm assuming you mean VO2 max in an untrained, sedentary state although you could mean baseline such as in an endurance athlete at the start of periodized training for an upcoming season as well. I'm going to summarize several facts about VO2 max below.

1. VO2 max is considered by most exercise physiologists to be the best measure of cardiorespiratory capacity;

2. VO2 max is defined as the maximal amount of oxygen that a person can take in (respiration), transport (cardiac output), and use (cellular respiration) during maximal exhaustive aerobic exercise;

3. 50 percent of VO2 max is determined by the ability of the heart to pump blood and 50 percent is due to the ability of the exercising tissues to use oxygen;

4. The formula for VO2 max is HR x Stroke Volume x A-V Oxygen difference;

5. VO2 max is typically highest on the treadmill (or cross-country skiing) with the highest value recorded to my knowledge being 92 mls/kg/min (typical expression in order to correct for differences in bodyweight referred to as relative VO2 max);
6. Lance Armstrong was measured at 84 mls/kg/min and Jim Ryun at 82 mls/kg/min. Interestingly, Ryun's VO2 max was 65 mls/kg/min after a year without training. This suggests his VO2 max (82) increased from his baseline (65) by 25 percent;

7. The Heritage Study showed that among previously sedentary twins, after 16 weeks of training, VO2 max increased from  about 5 percent to 50 percent, with an average of around 25 to 30 percent; thus it is presumed that VO2 max can be increased from baseline by 25 to 30 percent. Knowing your baseline VO2 max can give you an idea of your personal genetic limit. Note that this assumes optimal nutrition and bodyweight. Since VO2 max is expressed in milliliters per kilogram per minute, bodyweight becomes critical to optimization of the value;

8. VO2 max is one of four or so parameters that predict performance among homogenous populations (such as elite runners), along with running efficiency, anaerobic or lactate thresholds, and blood status;

9. One of the best reasons for knowing VO2 max is for health status. For example, in one study 100 percent of cardiac patients with a VO2 max greater than 32 mls/kg/min were alive after three years, whereas 70 percent of those with a VO2 max of less than 22 mls/kg/min had expired. Kavanaugh in Toronto found similar results among 12,000 cardiac patients;

10. A VO2 max of less than 85 percent of the VO2 max predicted for your age, gender, height and weight suggests cardiac dysfunction;

11. In men and women who do not have coronary artery disease, VO2 max is an excellent predictor of longevity and survival;

12. VO2 max is an excellent predictor of surgery outcomes, transplant outcomes and other procedures.

The bottom line is that VO2 max is an excellent measure to predict both performance and health outcomes.

Tom LaFontaine, PhD, ACSM RCEP, FACSM
Columbia, MO
(RUNNING & FITNEWS®  June / July / August 2007 • Volume 25, Number 4)

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