VO2max is the abbreviation for the maximum oxygen uptake of the body at maximum load.

The VO2max value is one of the most important criteria for assessing performance in endurance sports. The higher the maximum oxygen uptake is, the higher is usually the performance potential of the athlete.

This is because a higher value means that oxygen can be absorbed by the body in greater quantities and more quickly. This leads to the fact that intensive endurance loads can be held out longer without a drop in performance.

Calculate VO2max

In running, VO2max is measured by breathing gas analysis on a treadmill. For cyclists, triathletes or other endurance athletes, this test is performed on a bicycle ergometer. The latter is standard outside of running, because when testing on a treadmill, the running style or technique can also influence the result.

The breathing gas mask can calculate our breathing volume during exercise. During the test, the intensity or speed is gradually increased until the athlete is fully exhausted. Usually, a breathing gas analysis is combined with a lactate measurement, which in turn can determine the anaerobic threshold, which is an important factor for creating training plans. Basically, athletes with a high VO2max also have a higher anaerobic threshold.

The measurement is in "liters of oxygen per minute." Therefore, the "V" means volume (for liters) and "O2" is the abbreviation for "oxygen".


  • V = volume (liters per minute)
  • O2 = oxygen
  • max = maximum

Trained athletes can take in about 6 liters per minute. Standardized tests, however, use the relative maximum oxygen uptake for the calculation, which indicates the value in milliliters per minute per kilogram of body weight (= ml/min/kg).

Calculate VO2max also with running watches from Garmin & Co.

By the way, the majority of GPS watches from manufacturers such as Polar, Garmin and Suunto now also calculate VO2max. Of course, this value is not quite as reliable as the breathing gas analysis itself. It is important for running watches to calculate the heart rate as accurately as possible, as this is an important indicator in the calculation of the VO2max, in addition to the training performance. However, if you want to determine your exact VO2max value, there is no way around a respiratory gas analysis.

VO2max alternative calculation using Cooper Test

VO2max can be calculated by Cooper test

The Cooper test requires running as long a distance as possible in 12 minutes. The result of the Cooper test can also be used to determine VO2max, but it is less accurate than the respiratory gas analysis.

The formula for this is: (meters - 505) / 44.7 = VO2max in ml/kg/min.

Example: 4 kilometers in 12 minutes (= top runner): (4000 - 505) / 44.7 = 78 ml/kg/min

3 kilometers in 12 minutes (= well trained hobby runner): (3000 - 505) / 44.7 = 56 ml/kg/min

2.5 kilometers in 12 minutes (= average hobby runner): (2500 - 505) / 44.7 = 45 ml/kg/min

2 kilometers in 12 minutes (= less well trained hobby runner): (2000 - 505) / 44.7 = 33 ml/kg/min

VO2max Table

Use the following table to calculate your current performance level:

World class
> 70 > 60
Excellent 55 - 70 50 - 60
Very Good
50 - 55 43 - 47
Good 45 - 50 39 - 43
Average 40 - 45 36 - 39
Weak 36 - 40 32 - 36
Very weak < 36 < 32

Data in relative maximum oxygen uptake (rel. VO2max per min/kg). m = male. w = female

From the age of 30, about 2 points per decade can be deducted for the calculation. In medicine, 35 ml/min/kg for women and 40 ml/min/kg for men are given as standard values.

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Improve VO2max

The value of maximum oxygen uptake is strongly dependent on the regularity of endurance training. Even shorter breaks in training can lead to a reduction in the VO2max value. The longer the break or the more irregular the training, the more negative the effects on the maximum oxygen uptake. Therefore, regular endurance training is a very important factor to maintain or improve VO2max.

Talent factor

On the one hand, the individual value of the maximum oxygen uptake depends on the training condition or performance status, on the other hand, it is also given by nature. That is, talented endurance athletes generally reach good VO2max values faster and also have the potential to reach very high values. Less talented athletes, on the other hand, can never reach the values of a world-class marathon runner or cross-country skier, even under optimal training conditions. The trainability of the VO2max is at the highest 50 percent.

Improve VO2max as a runner

The maximum oxygen uptake can be increased more efficiently by intensive training than by long loads at a comfortable pace. Therefore, the following training methods are recommended to improve VO2max:

  • Interval training
  • Driving game
  • Tempo runs in the range of the anaerobic threshold or just below it (approx. 90% of the maximum heart rate)
  • Mountain runs
  • Competitions

However, since such loads are very demanding on our body, they should be used with caution. The majority of the training consists of basic runs of low to medium intensity. Only about 20-30% of the running volume is high intensity, such as the training methods listed above.

For beginners, VO2max increases even with low-intensity training (starting at 65 or 70% of maximum heart rate).

Why does a higher VO2max improve performance?

With a low VO2max, a runner enters oxygen starvation at a speed that is too demanding for him or her. The result is an accumulation of lactate in the muscles due to exceeding the anaerobic threshold and thus a drop in performance. With a higher VO2max, this oxygen deficiency only occurs at a significantly higher intensity. The runner can therefore also run at a faster pace without exceeding the anaerobic threshold

Influencing factors

In addition to an athlete's current performance and talent, there are numerous other factors that influence an individual's maximal oxygen uptake.

The following factors influence the development capabilities of VO2max:

Factors affecting VO2max

  • Current performance
  • Talent or genetics
  • Age
  • Gender: Women have a 10% lower potential.
  • Weight and muscle to fat ratio: Very large or very heavy athletes achieve lower values despite good athleticism, because the larger or heavier muscles require more oxygen.

Therefore, when comparing VO2max between several well-trained athletes, it is important to consider the weight without the bone and fat ratios of the athletes.

Advantages of a high VO2max

  • Higher performance in various endurance sports because more blood per minute can flow from the heart through the circulatory system and therefore more respiratory air can be absorbed into the blood through gas exchange. By the way, the gas exchange at the blood cells can not or hardly be improved by training.
  • More fitness even in everyday life
  • Positive effects on general health
  • Reduction of risk factors for numerous diseases (especially in the cardiovascular area)

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