VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, is one factor that can determine an athlete's capacity to perform sustained exercise and is linked to aerobic endurance. VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. It is measured as "milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight."
This measurement is generally considered the best indicator of an athlete's cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. Theoretically, the more oxygen you can use during high level exercise, the more ATP (energy) you can produce. This is often the case with elite endurance athletes who typically have very high VO2 max values.
How Is VO2 Max Measured?
Measuring an accurate VO2 max requires an all-out effort (usually on a treadmill or bicycle) performed under a strict protocol in a sports performance lab. These protocols involve specific increases in the speed and intensity of the exercise and collection and measurement of the volume and oxygen concentration of inhaled and exhaled air. This determines how much oxygen the athlete is using.
An athlete's oxygen consumption rises in a linear relationship with exercise intensity -- up to a point. There is a specific point at which oxygen consumption plateaus even if the exercise intensity increases. This plateau marks the V02 Max. It's a painful point in VO2 max testing where the athlete moves from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism (See the article: Energy Pathways for Exercise). From here, it's not long before muscle fatigue forces the athlete to stop exercising. The test usually takes between 10 and 15 minutes and requires an athlete to be completely rested and motivated to endure the pain long enough to find the true VO2 max.
Anyway, I warmed up on the treadmill for about a mile. Then we put in my height, weight, age, etc into the machine and got me hooked up. The silicone mask was not the most comfortable thing, definitely not the most attractive thing, but not too bad. It weighed more than I expected (being connected to a long hose doesn't help), and it did bounce a little which combined with the weight left me with a bit of a tender nose, but not a huge deal. I did get used to it as we went on. Aaron mentioned that a different headpiece that can be used requires you to use a nose plug and breathe through your mouth while biting a mouthpiece -now that would get annoying.
Anyway, time to get started. I ran for about 12 minutes at 7.8mph (7:41 mi/mile). Every minute we increased the incline 1%, eventually ending up at about 10% I believe (not sure, I was busy not falling off the treadmill). Every so often Aaron would have me point at what my RPE (rate of perceived exertion). I was working hard, but really was ok until about the last 1:30. Muscles were getting a little fatigued and it was getting difficult to get a full breath in. But he encouraged me to get to 20:00 (that includes warm up), so I pushed through it. I wasn't totally fall-on-the-floor-dead when we finished, but that incline definitely maxed me out. I was relieved we were weren't going 30 minutes like I anticipated, that would have been really hard!
Kept the mask on for a few minutes to track my recovery, then sweet freedom :) The result? 60.2 I'm very happy with that considering I lost some fitness this summer with the broken foot hiatus. A lot of VO2 max is genetic (thanks Mom and Dad!), but Aaron thinks I can get it up to 63-64 with some serious high volume training.
It's hard to find a definitive chart as I don't think I saw any two the same in the dozen I googled, some more geared to the general population, some more athletic. There is some variation, but most charts put the top superior values around 41-50. Check out this chart :)
Nordic skiers generally have the highest numbers, followed by distance runners then cyclists. Cross country skiers hold both the men's and women's highest recorded numbers at around 94 and 77. Ingrid Kristiansen, a marathon world record holder had a VO2 max of 71.2. Steve Prefontaine came in at 84. Greg LeMond (the first American to win the Tour de France) had a VO2 max of 92.5 at his peak. In comparison, the ever-popular Lance Armstrong is said to have a VO2 max of 85. Ironic Lemond accuses Armstrong of doping.....Yeah......Anyway, VO2 max numbers go up according to the amount of muscle being used, and cyclists use much less upper body than endurance runners and Nordic skiers. Those cycling numbers are unbelievable.
THIS is a really cool website showing more record numbers and has some cool tools on the left sidebar based around VO2 (including ways to roughly calculate it without the lab method)
The machine printed out an awesome little sheet summarizing my results. A benefit to having this testing done is it works out your HR training zones more precisely than the math equations. So now I have HR zones really tuned into my specific running. I go in for the next two tests T and TH of next week, so stay tuned.