VO2 max


There is something called VO2 max or aerobic capacity but on any given day it can vary. It is the maximum amount of oxygen that the athlete can process for a particular event at any given time. Depending on the time-frame, there are three maximums to consider when assessing the aerobic system:

  • today’s max - An athlete's VO2 max can vary from day to day and even within a day. For example, if one measures the VO2 max in the morning and then the athlete competes that day in a strenuous event or completes a difficult training exercise, the VO2 max after the competition or exercise will be less because the hard effort will break down some of this capacity. So as an athlete proceeds through a training cycle the VO2 max at any given moment will be different.

  • the season’s max - During a training cycle the objective is usually to have the VO2 max to be the highest the day of an important event. If you are a Ironman triathlete hoping to make it to Kona, then hopefully your VO2 max will be at a seasonal max the day of your qualifying competition and just as high at Kona.

  • the lifetime potential max - as this athlete competes over the years, the objective is for this seasonal max to get higher. There is a limit to what any athlete may achieve in terms of aerobic capacity and it is probably genetically determined. A small few can be world champions. But there is no reason why most athletes cannot continue to progress over several years. Sometimes the gains will be small from year to year and one may reach a plateau but it is possible to continue to train and achieve greater capacities from year to year. Eventually, the seasonal VO2 max will decline and no amount of training will bring it back to its all time high.

On any given day for any sport, an athlete will have a VO2 max for that sport. An elite cyclist will have an extremely high VO2 max for cycling but might have only an average or good VO2 max for running, rowing, canoeing or swimming. So VO2 max is sport specific and can be measured on a given day. Because of this for a triathlon there are three separate VO2 max's, one for swimming, one for cycling and one for running. The reason? Each discipline requires the use of separate muscle groups and VO2 max is a measure of the potential of a specific set of muscles to provide aerobic energy at any given time.

Last update February 2, 2020 All contents © Sports Resource Group, Inc

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