VO2 Max & Aerobic Capacity

by Michelle Matte Google

About Michelle Matte

Michelle Matte is an accomplished fitness professional who holds certifications in personal training, pilates, yoga, group exercise and senior fitness. She has developed curricula for personal trainers and group exercise instructors for an international education provider. In her spare time, Matte writes fiction and blogs.


If you work out regularly, you know that oxygen plays an important role in cardiovascular fitness. Maximizing your capacity to take in and utilize oxygen will improve your aerobic performance and help you reach your fitness goals. Understanding the elements that influence aerobic capacity is the first step to making the most of your aerobic workout.

Maximal Volume of Oxygen

Your maximal volume of oxygen, or VO2 Max, is the greatest amount of oxygen your body can utilize during maximal activity at your current fitness level. Also known as your aerobic capacity, VO2 Max is a function of the interaction of your pulmonary and cardiovascular systems and oxygen utilization at the cellular level. While genetics plays a role in potential aerobic capacity, lung capacity, cardiovascular fitness and cellular oxygen metabolism are all highly influenced by physical activity and lifestyle behaviors. Protecting your lungs from smoke and pollutants and challenging your cardiovascular system through exercise will increase your VO2 Max.

VO2 Max Norms

Ohio University professor Chris Schwirian states that non-athlete college age males have an average VO2max of 45ml/kg/min and non-athlete college age females have a VO2max of about 35ml/kg/min. However, athletes like runners, rowers and cross-country skiers have an aerobic capacity nearly double that of untrained individuals. According to Top End Sports, world class male cross country skiers Espen Harald Bjerke and Bjorn Daihlie hold the highest athletic VO2 Max records, ranking at 96ml/kg/min in 2005. The highest female score is 78.6ml/kg/min, held by 1984 Olympic Marathon runner Joan Benoit.

Age and VO2 Max

As you age, your VO2 Max values diminish due to a number of physiological changes. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, VO2 Max decreases about 5 to15 percent per decade after about age 30. The ACSM attributes these changes to lower maximal heart rate, lower stroke volume, lower contractility of the left ventricle, decreased vascular efficiency and alterations in muscle mitochondria. How much of this change is due strictly to age and how much is a product of lifestyle is not clear. However, the ACSM finds older adults to be just as responsive to training as younger adults, realizing a 10 to 30 percent improvement in VO2 Max in response to endurance exercise training.

VO2 Max Testing

VO2 Max is measured in a lab or clinic by trained physiologists. During VO2 Max testing, athletes are subjected to a graded stress test where the gaseous exchange of O2 and CO2 is monitored through a mask covering the mouth and nose. However, field tests have been developed which can give you an approximation of your VO2 Max. Common field tests used to approximate VO2 Max are the Balke 15 Minute Run, the Cooper 12 Minute Run, the Multi-Stage Shuttle Run and the Rockport Test. Your gym or YMCA may have equipment and trained personnel available to administer field tests. Some local colleges and universities also offer testing to the public.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.