You may have read running articles or magazines that often mention the VO2max. So, what is meant by this concept and what are the specific aspects associated with running?Overview of the issue in 4 points.


The VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can use her unit of time. In short, it is the quantity of oxygen that the lungs can breathe in and transfer to the blood, and that the muscles will have to capture. It is expressed in terms of the following 2 different units: in litres or millilitres of oxygen per minute (L/min) or per kilogram of body weight (mL/min/kg). The first unit is called absolute while the second is called relative or standardised, and is used to compare 2 athletes of different sizes.

While, for sedentary adults, the values are in the order of 30 to 40 mL/min/kg, elite athletes in endurance sports (running, trail running, cross-country skiing, etc.) have record values in the order of 85 to 90 mL/min/kg. Between these 2 extremes, most runners – including you, perhaps – have values between 40 and 65 ml/min/kg.



At this point, you are probably asking yourself, "what about me, what is my VO2max?" To find this out, you need to run (in a laboratory or on a track) with a gas analysis machine that can measure your oxygen consumption in real time. This is the type of effort that you will deliver if your doctor prescribes an exercise stress test conducted by a sports doctor.

But it has to be said that it is unlikely that you will ever have an accurate measurement of your VO2max. This is not a major problem:You will not need it on a daily basis in your training. However, studies show that this VO2max value is linked to the Maximum Aerobic Speed (or MAS), which is defined as the slowest running speed at which your maximum oxygen consumption occurs. Indeed, it is this VO2max - MAS link that interests us, particularly because the MAS can be easily evaluated using a multi-stage fitness test on a track (Léger-Boucher test, Shuttle run test, TUB2 test, etc).



Développer sa vo2max en course à pied

The VO2max is one of the key factors behind performing well in endurance events. If this is your objective, you need to improve it, regardless of the running distance you are preparing for. The many studies of the French researcher, Véronique Billat, have shown that the VO2max improves when running at values close to one's MAS, particularly when you spend a long time at these values. In other words, the more time you spend at 95% (or more) of your physiological values (heart rate, breathing) measured at MAS, the more you will improve your VO2max.



The first limiting factor is one that cannot be overcome: genetics. On this point, there is nothing to be done in the same way as there is nothing you can do to change what type of hair you have; simply put, we are not all equal and the VO2max is defined by genetics, like many other performance factors. Here are 5 limiting factors that are part of every individual: ventilation, oxygen transfer in the blood, the capacity of the heart to drive the blood around the body, the capacity of the blood to reach the muscles and the capacity of the muscles to extract the oxygen. Among the other limiting factors, it is worth mentioning age (your VO2max decreases with age), gender (men have higher levels than women) or even the altitude (10% decrease per 1000m of altitude).


Although we are not all equal when it comes to our VO2max, bear in mind that this is not the only key factor in defining your performance during endurance events. 2 other factors are also equally important: your energy expenditure, which depends on your technique and your muscle mass in particular, and your percentage of use of your VO2max. So, let's go and improve our performance!


This article has been written by Sébastien, Department leader at Decathlon Beauvais (France) and trail runner

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