What is VO2max - the maximum oxygen uptake?

Already around 1924, the term "maximum oxygen uptake" was coined by Hill and his colleagues. (1) With the maximum O2 uptake, one describes the largest intake of oxygen, which can be absorbed per minute during dynamic work of all major muscle groups,

Even further increases in intensity in the range of maximum oxygen uptake, the values ​​no further. It is referred to as the "leveling-off." (1) On achieving this flattening of the oxygen uptake curve, both the proportion of muscle mass used and the stress protocol have an impact. In addition, only about 50% of the athletes examined reach a "leveling off". In cases where no plateau is identifiable, secondary criteria must be used to ensure the exercise. Can be used then z. For example, the respiratory quotient, which represents the ratio of oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide release. This should be above the value of 1.1 in the area of ​​the load.

What does the maximum oxygen uptake indicate?

From a sports medicine perspective, the maximum oxygen uptake is of particular importance. With spiroergometry, your oxygen uptake is recorded during an increasing load with the help of a spirometer. It describes how much oxygen your body can absorb under exercise. The so-called VO2max is a measure of the maximum energy supply of the organism and thus reflects the maximum combustion capacity of your body. The maximum oxygen uptake is measured in a demanding load protocol, with higher values ​​being measured in a ramp test where the load increase is stepless, than in a step log where a load level must be maintained between 3 and 5 minutes. Since energy utilization is increased through anaerobic glycolysis at maximum load, VO2max reflects the maximum amount of energy your body can produce aerobically and anaerobically. Therefore, maximum oxygen uptake is repeatedly defined as the "gross criterion" of metabolic performance. With this explanation, the VO2max is an important measure in performance diagnostics. However, its expression is only partly determined by your training. The maximum achievable value also depends on your genetic requirements. For this reason, maximum oxygen uptake may also help to assess the suitability of an athlete for endurance-oriented sports.

The little difference

The highest levels of oxygen uptake are measured during exercise from an ergometer just before the end of a test. Mean maximum values ​​for men around the age of 30 are about 3.0 liters per minute (l / min), in women about 2.0 l / min. In relative terms, this means that men achieve maximum O2 uptake levels of approximately 35 to 40 ml / min / kg, while male athletes in endurance sports can reach up to 80 ml / min / kg. In women, relative oxygen intake is around 32 to 38 ml / min / kg, while world-class athletes in endurance sports can reach levels in excess of 70 ml / min / kg. (1) However, when referring to lean body mass, VO2max is little different detectable between men and women.

The amount of the values ​​depends on different factors!

Cycling scores are about 10% lower than those recorded on the treadmill. This is because on the treadmill larger portions of your muscle mass are in use. Another difficulty in determining VO2max is a methodological problem. If the maximum oxygen uptake capacity is to be determined by a stress test, a step test may be less suitable. Instead, there are ramp protocols, in which you as an athlete up to 15 minutes are loaded. For this purpose, the resistance is increased much faster. (1) To achieve a higher degree of utilization and the values ​​are higher than those measured in a step test. This is because maximum values ​​are no longer reached due to the larger pre-fatigue. However, there are also opinions according to which the log of the load is insignificant for reaching the maximum values. Rather, the decisive factor is the sport-specific form of exercise. (2) Other internal factors in achieving maximum oxygen uptake are:

- Cardiac output

- Capillarization of skeletal muscle

- the blood distribution

- pulmonary respiration

- Motivation (workload)

- nutritional status

What significance does the VO2max have for your training?

Sporadically training areas are described in the form of the percentage distribution of VO2max. However, the underlying assumption that heart rate and oxygen uptake are linear is not proven. There are studies that indicate that the two parameters just do not increase linearly. In addition, training areas should be tied to the changes in the metabolism rather than maximum values! Neither the maximum heart rate nor the maximum oxygen intake are suitable for controlling your training! Athletes and coaches can hardly benefit from the knowledge of VO2max alone. (2) However, in addition to classic performance diagnostics in the form of a step test, which sets out the training areas based on metabolic developments, VO2max is an interesting parameter to observe maximum efficiency. For this purpose, a short ramp test can be performed in close proximity to the main competition to check the form and determine the maximum performance. Due to the shortness of only 15 minutes, such a test hardly disturbs the preparation. Such a test can help to check the shape of an athlete before a stamina competition!


Spiroergometry is an interesting test procedure that records the maximum oxygen uptake. When it comes to controlling your training, it is recommended that you perform such a test in step form so that you can take a lactate measurement as a supplement. This creates a differentiated image of your metabolism. The maximum oxygen uptake is better captured in the form of a ramp test and used to test your maximum endurance capacity. In addition to performance physiological questions, cardiological and pneumological questions can also be examined.

Dennis Sandig


1. Hollmann, Strüder, Predel, Tagarakis (2006) Spiroergometry. Stuttgart: Schattauer.

2nd German Journal of Sports Medicine

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