Introduction to VO2 Max Testing
By Lora Keleher
, last updated November 15, 2011
V02 max testing can assist you in understanding the relationship between oxygen consumption, physical activity, and performance. When you exercise, your body is able to consume additional oxygen to keep pace with your workout, up to a certain point, and then your oxygen consumption plateaus or levels off. The maximum amount of oxygen your body is able to consume at the point it plateaus is your V02 max.
V02 max is measured in milliliters, and the number represents the amount of oxygen an individual can consume per minute, per kilogram of body weight. Each person has a baseline V02 max, as well as an obtainable V02 max that is largely determined by hereditary factors. This number can significantly vary between individuals, but it’s typically lower in females than males. Aerobic activity, such as long distance running, climbing, and interval training can raise most people’s V02 max over time. However, training doesn’t raise everyone’s V02 max. Some individuals can train for months without improvement, while others can train for a few weeks and realize significant gains. Physically fit individuals who have been training for years are typically unable to raise their V02 max significantly, while sedentary individuals who begin fitness regimens can usually see at least modest gains. It’s difficult to raise your V02 max, but once you do, the improved level becomes fairly easy to maintain.
There are two primary types of V02 Max tests, including direct tests and indirect tests. Direct tests require specialized equipment to physically measure different gasses present as you breathe in and out. Although they’re extremely accurate, direct tests aren’t commonly used because of the expense involved. Indirect tests, such as the Bruce protocol, and endurance testes are fairly accurate at predicting V02 max, but they can’t make precise measurements. The Bruce protocol involves the use of a treadmill. Every three minutes, the speed and incline are increased, until a person reaches fatigue. Then, the numbers are input into a formula to calculate the estimated V02. In most endurance tests, individuals being tested walk or run for a set period of time. The distance each individual traveled during the allotted time period is measured, then input into a formula to predict V02.
The primary purpose of V02 testing is to determine a person’s endurance potential while participating in physical activity or sports. Knowing your V02 max can assist you with setting personal fitness goals, and establishing an appropriate fitness regimen. Additionally, V02 test results can indicate that an individual is at risk for a heart attack and that he or she should visit a physician for further testing.
At high levels of competition, such as amongst Olympic athletes, V02 cannot accurately predict success or indicate whether or not an athlete will place in an event. Additionally, V02 max is only one measurement used to assess potential athletic performance and abilities. Other measurements, such as aerobic threshold testing, can indicate the intensity at which someone should workout to receive maximum benefits. Additionally, some individuals cannot successfully raise their V02 level, which means V02 max testing is an inaccurate measurement of their athletic progress.