Ever wonder why certain professional athletes are able to exert so much energy with seemingly little effort? Among other characteristics, many of them possess a high VO2 max. You too can measure VO2 max cycling or running with the right guidance and equipment.
What is VO2 Max?
According to the University of Kansas Medical Center, VO2 max is a person's maximum rate of oxygen consumption during aerobic activity. It often takes into consideration certain factors such as a person's body weight and age.
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A January 2012 paper in the International Journal of Exercise Science, mentions factors that affect a person's maximal oxygen consumption. Researchers highlight six elements that have the most influence on a person's maximal aerobic capacity: heredity, gender, state of training, type of exercise, body size/composition and age.
VO2 max score depicts the maximum volume of oxygen a person can consume within one minute while performing aerobic exercise. It's measured in milliliters of oxygen expended per kilogram of bodyweight per minute: VO2 max = max ml of oxygen consumed in one min/bodyweight in kg. You can also use wattage instead of milliliters, which you can get with a VO2 FTP calculator, where FTP stands for functional threshold power.
Higher VO2 levels are associated with health benefits, explains UC Davis Health. A higher VO2 max can indicate a more successful performance in an aerobic endurance event. Likewise, high aerobic levels can point to numerous advantages, such as a longer lifespan, improved mood and a better quality of life.
How VO2 Max is Measured
Now you know how VO2 max is calculated, but how exactly is it measured? According to UC Davis Health, subjects perform aerobic exercise in increments of 12 to 15 minutes while breathing into a mouthpiece or face mask. You can measure VO2 max cycling on a bike or running on a treadmill.
Loads are increased every one to two minutes until reaching the maximum level tolerated by the subject or until physiological factors like heart rate or oxygen consumption have plateaued. Loads are added by heightening cycling resistance or treadmill speed. VO2 is measured at the subject's peak or ventilatory threshold.
Overall, a person who is more conditioned will have a higher VO2 than a person who is deconditioned, says the American Council on Exercise. As someone becomes more conditioned, their VO2 max will increase.
Read more: How to Calculate VO2 Max From Running
VO2 Max Cycling
A small July 2018 study in Physiological Research with a sample of 32 male cyclists, compared VO2 max in mountain and road bike cyclists using the Wingate test — an exercise test which consists of a specified time of pedaling at maximum speed against a certain resistance — and an incremental test on a cycle ergometer.
There were no differences observed in VO2 max for road cyclists versus mountain cyclists in the Wingate test. However, there were differences observed in lactate production post-exercise in incremental testing. The mountain cyclists produced a greater amount of lactate after exercise compared to the road cyclists, suggesting a greater anaerobic contribution. Overall, this shows that different types of bike training can have different physiological effects.
Read more: 11 Amazing Benefits of Biking
VO2 Max Ranges
VO2 max cycling ranges will depend on a variety of factors, such as the person's age and gender. A May 2013 study in Plos One lays out VO2 max ranges based on age and gender for maximum milliliters of oxygen consumed in one minute.
For 20 to 29-year-old males, the range is about 46 to 62. For males between the ages of 50 and 59, the range is about 32 to 49. For women between the ages of 20 and 29, VO2 max is usually around 43 and women who are 50 to 59 years old generally have a VO2 between 29 and 39. As these numbers demonstrate, age and gender play a significant role in an individual's VO2 max.
- ACE Fitness: "What is the Difference Between VT1, VT2 and VO2 Max?"
- Plos One: "Aerobic Capacity Reference Data in 3816 Healthy Menand Women 20–90 Years"
- University of Kansas Medical Center: "Fitness Ranking by the KU Alzheimers Disease Center"
- UC Davis Health: "Oxygen Consumption - VO2"
- Physiological Research: "Time of Vo(2)Max Plateau and Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption During Incremental Exercise Testing in Young Mountain Bike and Road Cyclists"
- International Journal of Exercise Science: "Comparison of the YMCA Cycle Sub-Maximal VO2 Max Test to a Treadmill VO2 Max Test "
- VeloNews: Coach Frank Overton Tells What to Do with Your New Power Meter
- Dave Byers, Cycling Junkie: The Art of the 20-Minute Field Test