Understanding VO2 Max Scores for Women

Woman running outside

Verywell / Ryan Kelly

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

The maximal oxygen consumption rate (VO2 max) is a measure of how much oxygen is used during exercise. Many elite female athletes have higher VO2 max values than most men.

Because of differences in body size, composition, blood volume, and hemoglobin content, a woman's VO2 max is generally about 20% lower than a man's VO2 max. Learn how this measurement can be used in your exercise training.

What Your VO2 Max Score Means

VO2 max is defined by the maximal oxygen uptake which is the amount of oxygen the body is capable of using up in one minute. It measures an athlete's capacity for athletic performance and predicts the potential for endurance.

Your VO2 max value is a good indication of your aerobic endurance potential, and it can be used to help monitor your training routine over time. Often you will have your VO2 max measured before you begin a training program and periodically to determine how you are improving. It can also be a way to compare yourself to other athletes based on your size, gender, and age.

Why VO2 Max Varies for Women

VO2 max varies by the amount of body fat you have since your heart is sending blood to this inactive tissue as well as your active muscles. Even if you are very fit, women have more essential body fat than men.

Women also usually have lower hemoglobin levels than men, meaning the same volume of blood is less able to carry oxygen to the tissues. They have less total blood volume overall, smaller hearts, and less cardiac output. While there are elite female athletes who have high VO2 max scores, the average woman is considered at a higher fitness level with a VO2 max score that is less than for men at that level.

How to Measure Your VO2 Max Score

Many consider VO2 max as the ultimate in determining your fitness level. The gold standard way of measuring VO2 max was done in a human performance lab with a treadmill or cycle ergometer test, complete with an oxygen mask. After the results of the exertion test are complete, the Fick equation is used to get an accurate VO2 max score.

Outside of the clinical setting, there are physical tests for VO2 max as well as some fitness monitors which can be used to determine it. It can be based on heart rate after a prescribed distance or duration of walking or running.

For example, the Cooper test is a formula that uses the distance achieved over 12 minutes of running to estimate VO2 max. Additionally, the Uth–Sørensen–Overgaard–Pedersen estimation is used by dividing the maximum heart rate by resting heart rate and multiplying the result by 15.3.

VO2 Max Norms for Women

These VO2 max values and norms from the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research are ranked from very poor to superior.

VO2 Max values for Women as Measured in ml/kg/min
Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 <25.0 25.0-30.9 31.0-34.9 35.0-38.9 39.0-41.9 >41.9
20-29 <23.6 23.6-28.9 29.0-32.9 33.0-36.9 37.0-41.0 >41.0
30-39 <22.8 22.8-26.9 27.0-31.4 31.5-35.6 35.7-40.0 >40.0
40-49 <21.0 21.0-24.4 24.5-28.9 29.0-32.8 32.9-36.9 >36.9
50-59 <20.2 20.2-22.7 22.8-26.9 27.0-31.4 31.5-35.7 >35.7
60+ <17.5 17.5-20.1 20.2-24.4 24.5-30.2 30.3-31.4


1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Shete AN, Bute SS, Deshmukh PR. A Study of VO2 Max and Body Fat Percentage in Female AthletesJ Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(12):BC01–BC3. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/10896.5329

Additional Reading
  • Heyward VH, Gibson AL. Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2014.
  • Kenney WL, Wilmore JH, Costill DL. Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Champaign: Human Kinetics; 2012.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.