VO2 Max Testing

How the Test Is Done and What the Results Mean

Female athlete with mask running on treadmill to analyze her fitness performance. Runner testing her performance in sports science lab.

Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock

VO2 max, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, measures the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. It is a standard measurement used to establish an athlete's aerobic endurance before or during training. It is one of several tests to determine an athlete's cardiovascular fitness and performance capacity.

VO2 max is measured in milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min). It is based on the premise that the more oxygen athletes consume during high-level exercise, the more the body will generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy in cells. ATP is often referred to as the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy,

VO2 max should not be confused with the lactate threshold (LT) testing, which refers to the point during high-intensity exercise where lactate builds up in the muscles faster than it can be removed.

How the Test Is Performed

VO2 max is typically conducted in a sports performance lab. It is often graded, meaning the intensity is carefully calibrated and increased over time. Either a treadmill or stationary bicycle may be used.

Before the test, you would be outfitted with a face mask connected to a machine that can analyze your respiratory rate and volume alongside the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in inhaled and exhaled air. A heart strap would be worn around your chest to measure your heart rate.

The test usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes. To prepare for the test, you would need to:

  • Dress in comfortable workout clothes.
  • Refrain from exercise or training 24 hours before the test.
  • Avoid food, alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine for at least three hours before testing.

VO2 max is reached when your oxygen consumption remains at a steady state despite an increase in the workload. At this plateau, the athlete moves from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism. From there, it is usually not long before muscle fatigue sets in and forces the athlete to stop exercising.

What the Scores Mean

The VO2 max values can establish your baseline fitness level before starting a training program and track your progress. The algorithm used to calculate your score can vary, although the one widely used for commercial applications is the FirstBeat method.

Introduced in 2012, the FirstBeat method measures your VO2 max value based on a linear relationship between oxygen consumption and running (or cycling) speed.

Other calculation methods include the Cooper test, designed for the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s, and the Uth-Sørensen-Overgaard-Pedersen estimation, which factors in your resting heart rate (RHR) and maximum heart rate (MHR). Broadly speaking, VO2 max values are characterized in men and women as follows:

VO2 Max Norms for Men
Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 Under 35.0 35.0-38.3 38.4-45.1 45.2-50.9 51.0-55.9 Over 55.9
20-29 Under 33.0 33.0-36.4 36.5-42.4 42.5-46.4 46.5-52.4 Over 52.4
30-39 Under 31.5 31.5-35.4 35.5-40.9 41.0-44.9 45.0-49.4 Over 49.4
40-49 Under 30.2 30.2-33.5 33.6-38.9 39.0-43.7 43.8-48.0 Over 48.0
50-59 Under 26.1 26.1-30.9 31.0-35.7 35.8-40.9 41.0-45.3 Over 45.3
60+ Under 20.5 20.5-26.0 26.1-32.2 32.3-36.4 36.5-44.2 Over 44.2
VO2 Max Norms for Women
Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 Under 25.0 25.0-30.9 31.0-34.9 35.0-38.9 39.0-41.9 Over 41.9
20-29 Under 23.6 23.6-28.9 29.0-32.9 33.0-36.9 37.0-41.0 Over 41.0
30-39 Under 22.8 22.8-26.9 27.0-31.4 31.5-35.6 35.7-40.0 Over 40.0
40-49 Under 21.0 21.0-24.4 24.5-28.9 29.0-32.8 32.9-36.9 Over 36.9
50-59 Under 20.2 20.2-22.7 22.8-26.9 27.0-31.4 31.5-35.7 Over 35.7
60+ Under 17.5 17.5-20.1 20.2-24.4 24.5-30.2 30.3-31.4

Over 31.4

Factors That Influence VO2 Max Values

The average sedentary male will achieve a VO2 max of approximately 35 to 40 mL/kg/min. The average sedentary female will score a VO2 max of between 27 and 30 mL/kg/min. These scores can improve with training but may be limited by certain factors. Among them:

  • Age plays a central role, with VO2 max scores typically peaking by age 20 and declining by nearly 30% by age 65.
  • Gender also contributes with elite female athletes typically having higher VO2 max values than their male counterparts. However, when values are adjusted based on body size, blood volume, and hemoglobin content, a man's VO2 max will generally be 20% higher than a woman's.
  • Altitude contributes simply because there is less air to consume at higher altitudes. As such, an athlete will generally have a 5% decrease in VO2 max results for every 5,000 feet gained in altitude.

Higher VO2 max scores are associated with certain endurance sports, specifically cycling, rowing, distance running, and cross-country skiing. Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain's VO2 max was reported at 78 mL/kg/min during the peak of his conditioning, while cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie reportedly achieved a VO2 max of 96 mL/kg/min.

It is important to note, however, that VO2 max values are not inherently linked to sports excellence.

While they can certainly contribute to one's success, particularly with endurance sports, other factors arguably play a more significant role, including skills training, psychological preparation, lactate threshold training, and nutrition.

How to Measure VO2 Max at Home

There are methods that measure VO2 max outside of a laboratory setting. For instance, some smartwatches such as those made by Apple can measure V02 max. There are also formulas you can use to get a good estimate at home.

You can use a 1-mile walk test. Start walking as fast as you can without running and use a stopwatch while you walk exactly 1 mile. When you've finished walking 1 mile, stop the stopwatch right away and count your pulse for 15 seconds. Then use the formula below.

VO2 max = 132.853 - (0.0769 x your weight in pounds) - (0.3877 x your age) + (6.315 if you are male or 0 if you are female) - (3.2649 x your walking time) - (0.1565 x your heart rate at the end of the test)

A Word From Verywell

Knowing your VO2 max can inform you on your current fitness level and any improvements you make with training. A lab setting will provide the most accurate measure of your VO2 max, but you can also use a smartwatch or a formula and a 1 mile walk test. If you are concerned about your VO2 max or how to improve it, see a healthcare professional. You also can work with a certified personal trainer skilled in this type of testing.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a good max VO2?

    A good V02 max for a man between ages 30 and 39 is 41 to 44.9. For women of the same age, a good V02 max is between 31.5 to 35.6. You can improve your VO2 max with consistent cardiovascular training.

  • How do I calculate my VO2 max?

    You can use a 1-mile walk test. Start walking as fast as you can without running and use a stopwatch while you walk exactly 1 mile. When you've finished walking 1 mile, stop the stopwatch right away and count your pulse for 15 seconds. Then use this formula: VO2 max = 132.853 - (0.0769 x your weight in pounds) - (0.3877 x your age) + (6.315 if you are male or 0 if you are female) - (3.2649 x your walking time) - (0.1565 x your heart rate at the end of the test).

  • Does losing weight increase VO2 max?

    Losing weight won't necessarily increase your VO2 max. However, most people find that losing weight helps them move more efficiently and effectively, as well as run faster and use less oxygen. This is due to less mass being carried, reducing the workload.

4 Sources
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. Bacon AP, Carter RE, Ogle EA, Joyner MJ. VO2max trainability and high intensity interval training in humans: a meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(9):e73182. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073182

  2. Bandyopadhyay A. Validity of Cooper's 12-minute run test for estimation of maximum oxygen uptake in male university students. Biol Sport. 2015;32(1):59-63. doi:10.5604/20831862.1127283

  3. McArdle WD, Katch FI, Katch VL. Essentials of Exercise Physiology. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.

  4. McClusky M. Faster, Higher, Stronger, How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes--and What We Can Learn from Them. Penguin; 2014.

Additional Reading

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