Understanding VO2Max: What Is It and How It Affects Athlete Performance

In the realm of endurance sports, understanding performance data and metrics is vital. A common question that emerges among athletes is “what’s your FTP?” or even more specific: “what is your power-to-weight ratio?”. However, both FTP and power-to-weight ratio are heavily dependent on a lesser-known but crucial metric – VO2Max. But what exactly is VO2 Max? How VO2MAX affect on athlete performance? This guide will help you understand what is VO2Max, the importance of VO2max,  what is a good/average VO2Max score, and how VO2Max affects on athlete performance.

What is VO2Max?

VO2Max is often mentioned as the most significant metrics for endurance sport and athlete performance . VO2Max measures the maximum volume of oxygen an individual can utilize during intensive exercise, and it’s measured in milliliters of oxygen (ml) that the body can use per kilogram of bodyweight (kg) every minute (min). The formula for calculating VO2Max is ml/kg/min where V stands for a flux rate, O2 for oxygen, and max for “maximum”.

To understand more about what is VO2max, here’s a quick video explaining VO2max and how It affects athlete performance:


VO2Max is commonly described as “the size of the engine”, referring to how much oxygen your body can effectively use to produce energy during exercise. But what’s a good VO2max and how does it affect athlete performance?

Affect on aerobic power

The rate at which your muscles use oxygen is directly proportional to the amount of energy or power produced aerobically. Hence, VO2Max is a valid indicator of aerobic energy system performance.

How aerobic power depends on VO2max
The higher the VO2max, the higher the aerobic power.

Affect on anaerobic threshold or FTP

With an increase in aerobic power and the ability to combust lactate, the anaerobic threshold or FTP increases when VO2max increases. 

In these images, we show the results of a male endurance athlete, who weighs 75 kg and has a VLamax of 0.5 mmol/l/s. We a compare a VO2max of 45, 60 and 75 ml/kg/min, whilst all other physiological metrics were kept constant.

How anaerobic threshold depends on VO2max
The higher the VO2max, the higher the anaerobic threshold (or FTP), all other things being equal (!)

Affect on FatMax

A higher VO2max corresponds to a better aerobic metabolism, allowing for a greater capacity to use oxygen and fat as fuel during workouts. Learn more about fat combustion via this article: FatMax: definition, training (zone) and exercise test

How FatMax depends on VO2max
The higher the VO2max, the higher the amount of kcal fat you can burn per hour, all other things being equal (!)
How power at FatMax depends on VO2max
The higher the VO2max, the higher the intensity at which you burn the most fat, all other things being equal (!)

A higher VO2max also results in a higher concentration of mitochondria in the muscle (organelles where nutrients are broke down and turned into energy) and an improved blood flow to these muscles .

How to improve VO2max

Although the upper ceiling of an individual’s VO2max seems to be limited by genetics, the common misconception is that it can’t be trained. That is not true, because within an individual range, it is highly trainable through exercise.

Literature shows that the most effective way to increase your VO2max is HIIT training. This is true for both recreational athletes and professional athletes. If you’re planning on doing VO2max intervals, make sure to choose the right interval intensity. Click the button, fill in the form and receive an email with a video that explains you how to determine the VO2max interval intensity.

In general, every type of exercise that triggers the consumption of 02 also provides a stimulus for your body to increase its VO2max. On the other hand, each “detraining phase” (like staying in bed for 2 weeks or not exercising at all during a rest period physical) will decrease the VO2max of an athlete very quickly.

One of the reasons for these quick changes in VO2max rate can – among other things – be explained by the short life of mitochondria (which is around 18 to 26 days). Mitochondria are those parts of the muscles where the oxygen is used as a fuel for energy production and their life-time may also be reduced significantly by strenuous exercise. So even training too hard can actually decrease an athlete’s VO2max.

How to test VO2max

Given the importance of VO2 max in endurance sports, testing VO2 max becomes an important process.

In the past, there were not that many options to measure VO2max. You had to go to a lab with a metabolic cart. With INSCYD it’s now possible to choose your preferred way of testing. Whether that’s with lactate testing, using power (cycling) or GPS data only, in a lab or in the field.

But let’s look at conventional lab testing first.

Conventional VO2max test

A conventional VO2max test, measures VO2 max in a lab or field test by looking at the O2 consumption during maximum exercise.

During these tests, wearing a face-mask connected to an analyzer that measures the gas exchange within your body is mandatory. These tests are typically conducted in labs, but there are portable systems available for field testing that can measure your gas exchange rates on field. It is a brutal test: in 10 minutes the goal is simply to make you reach your own physical limit until you can’t take it anymore and almost collapse. Every minute or every 30’’ the intensity (speed or treadmill incline) is increased up to the point that you can’t increase it anymore. As a result, you know the athlete VO2 max.

Ivan Basso VO2max test
Cycling VO2 max test

INSCYD's VO2max test

By default, VO2max is monitored during each test you perform using INSCYD. Learn more about the INSCYD test possibilities via this link.

With INSCYD, you can either enter a measured VO2max value from a field or lab test, or alternatively, let the software determine it for you from other tests conducted at sub-maximum conditions. The determination of VO2max in INSCYD is not based on accidental correlation of metrics that aren’t really linked to oxygen uptake (like some devices do by estimating VO2 from heart-rate variability).  INSCYD is able to calculate the VO2max in a very simple, but scientifically-proven way: from a tests performed at sub-max conditions, for example, INSCYD calculates the aerobic demand of energy by deducting it from the anaerobic demand that has been calculated in the test.

Coaches, labs, teams and federations can schedule a free consultation in which we can further explain VO2max testing with INSCYD:

Athletes can find an INSCYD coach via the button below, and measure their VO2max with an INSCYD test.


Having a clear understanding of your VO2max can be instrumental in improving your training and overall performance. Now that you have an understanding of what VO2max is, how it’s measured, and what factors can influence it, you can better understand your fitness levels and how to improve them.

which athletes have the highest vo2max?

It’s fascinating to explore which athletes have the highest VO2max. The highest VO2 max recorded in professional sports (and from a list of documented VO2max tests) held by cyclist Oskar Svendsen from Norway, who achieved a remarkable score of 97.5.  in September 2012 during a test conducted in Lillehammer.

The second and third highest VO2 max athletes are also Norwegian athletes: the cross-country skiers Espen Harald Bjerke and Bjørn Dæhlie (both 96). For reference, the American cyclist Greg Lemond – fourth on the list and the first non-Norwegian in the ranking – reportedly has a score of 92.5; the Spanish ultra runner Kilian Jornet (5th) 92; and the Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain vo2 max  was (11th) 88.

Sports with highest vo2max

Certain sports, such as cycling, running, and cross-country skiing, are known to have high VO2max requirements. Athletes in these endurance-based disciplines often exhibit impressive VO2max values.

What is a Good VO2Max?

VO2max values can greatly vary depending on age, gender, and the type of sport. It’s important to understand these factors when asking ‘what is a good VO2max’, as the answer may differ from person to person.

So, what’s a high VO2max? A high VO2 max for a male athlete, for example, might be different than a high VO2max for a female athlete. Similarly, a good VO2max for a person of one age might be different than for another age.

Average VO2max

On average male athletes have the highest vo2 max when comparing to woman. Non-trained male athletes would score between 30 and 40, where an average woman (also not trained) would score between 28 to 35. A good amateur would probably be around 60 and a Category 1 rider (professional level) around 70 and up.

On average male athletes tend to have higher VO2max compared to woman. Untrained males athletes typically score between 30 and 40, while untrained average women range from 28 to 35. A good amateur athlete may have a VO2max around 60, while professional-level athletes can achieve 70 or higher. 

Wrap up

In many sports, VO2max is the most sought-after performance metric. INSCYD can help you to easily test it, and get more information out of it.

INSCYD will enable you to:

  • Compare the effect of high-intensity interval training over endurance workout on VO2max
  • Evaluate the impact of specialized nutrition on your VO2max
  • Understand the impact of VO2max on fat oxidation and carbohydrate combustion
  • Explain the changes in anaerobic threshold or fat combustion observed in your athletes.

Don’t get left behind and start training for real. Because you can’t improve what you can’t measure.