Maximum oxygen consumption

Knowing one’s maximum oxygen consumption (VO₂ max) can be useful in planning personalized training, assessing fitness progress, identifying potential areas for improvement, and monitoring cardiovascular health. An increase in VO₂ max over time may indicate an improvement in overall fitness and cardiorespiratory health.

What is maximal oxygen consumption?

Maximum oxygen consumption is measured in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min) and is influenced by several factors, including age, gender, training level, and genetics. High-level athletes and highly trained individuals tend to have higher maximum oxygen consumption than sedentary or less trained individuals.

High oxygen consumption indicates a good ability to transport and use oxygen during exercise. This can lead to better aerobic endurance, superior athletic performance, and greater capacity for recovery after intense exertion.

Measurement of VO₂ max can be done through specialized laboratory tests, such as treadmill or exercise bike exercise testing, in which participants are monitored while performing high-intensity exercise. During the test, oxygen intake and utilization, heart rate and other physiological parameters are analyzed.

How much should the maximum oxygen consumption be?

There is no standard VO₂ max value that everyone should necessarily achieve, but it is advisable to aim for a good or higher level of fitness, preferably at the 60th percentile or above.

VO₂ max, that is, the maximum amount of oxygen the body can use during intense physical exertion, is influenced by several key factors. For example, age and gender are factors that we cannot control: generally, VO₂ max tends to decrease with advancing years, and women usually have a lower VO₂ max than men.

Maximum oxygen consumption (VO₂ max) for men:

Activity levelVO2 max medio
Sedentary35-40 mL/kg/min
Active42.5-46.4 mL/kg/min
Very active≤ 85 mL/kg/min

Maximum oxygen consumption (VO₂ max) for women:

Activity levelVO2 max medio
Sedentary27-30 mL/kg/min
Active33.0-36.9 mL/kg/min
Very active≤ 77 mL/kg/min

On the other hand, altitude and fitness level can be managed to improve VO₂ max. Altitude, for example, can affect VO₂ max because the rarefied air (the lower partial pressure of oxygen) at higher altitudes makes it more difficult for the body to absorb oxygen. For example, athletes who train in the mountains develop a higher VO₂ max than those who train at sea level.

How to increase oxygen consumption?

To improve your VO₂ max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise, you can follow a few key strategies. There are two main ways to increase your VO₂ max: by increasing the pumping capacity of your heart and by improving oxygen uptake by your muscles. Here are some practical tips for developing both of these:

  • High-intensity training: Training at a high intensity is particularly effective in increasing VO₂ max. Many running coaches recommend training at 90-95% of your maximum heart rate. This type of training helps strengthen the heart muscles and increase the volume of blood pumped with each beat.
  • Interval training: Interval training produces slightly greater improvements in VO₂ max than continuous aerobic exercise. Interval training involves short periods of high-intensity activity alternating with periods of recovery.
  • Combine interval and continuous training: Incorporating both interval and continuous training into your exercise program may be more effective than practicing only one. Some studies with the best results have used a 10-week training program with six sessions per week.
    During interval training sessions, you can do: six 5-minute sessions on a stationary exercise bike, working close to your VO₂ max, with 2 minutes of recovery between each interval.
    On continuous training days, try to run for at least 30 minutes a day in the first week, gradually increasing the duration in subsequent weeks.
  • Challenge yourself constantly: At first, any kind of resistance training will probably have a positive effect on your VO₂ max. As you become more trained, progress will be slower and you will have to train at a higher level to keep improving. You can make your training more challenging by increasing the frequency of your workouts, the length of your sessions, or your speed during exercise.
  • Know your times for the 5K and 10K: If you are a runner, it is helpful to know your times for the 5K and 10K. The speed at which you can run these distances is approximately the speed you need to reach 90-95% of your maximum heart rate.

Improving one’s VO₂ max offers a number of health benefits by increasing the body’s intake and utilization of oxygen. This helps to maintain good health and optimal fitness even in old age. Already after just a few days or weeks of training aimed at improving VO₂ max, one can notice tangible benefits such as a reduction in feeling tired or fatigued during daily activities such as climbing stairs. In addition, there is a decrease in stress levels and a strengthening of the immune system, which becomes more resistant to disease.

Learn more by checking out the latest scientific research on PubMed

This article was originally written in Italian and translated English via If you notice a major error in the translation you can write to [email protected] to report it. Your contribution will be greatly appreciated

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