› Maximal Oxygen Uptake

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VO2max

What Is It And How Does It Impact On Triathlon?

VO2max is the highest rate at which oxygen can be taken up and used by the body during exercise, and is commonly regarded as setting the upper limit for performance in endurance events.

It is largely determined by genetics, and in a highly trained athlete is unlikely to improve much with further training. Small gains can be made with for well-trained athletes, and slightly more for those not well-trained.  

Women generally have a lower value than men. It declines with age in healthy but inactive people, from ~25yrs, whilst training helps to minimise this decline.

How Does It Affect Performance?

Maximal oxygen uptake can be used as an indicator of endurance performance potential. However having a high value isn’t the be all and end all for endurance athletes.

In a group of distance athletes with widely varying levels of performance, a good relationship between maximal oxygen uptake and performance is evident – ie the fast athletes will have a higher value than the slower ones.

However when groups of athletes with similar running performances are looked at VO2max becomes a poor predictor of performance – particularly for races of distances over 5k, which are not run as close to the intensity related to maximal oxygen uptake.

A high capacity for oxidative metabolism is necessary for success in distance events but does not in itself distinguish the elite performer.

Most people can only sustain the intensity corresponding to VO2max for a few minutes, whilst elite runners can sustain around this intensity for longer.

Elite triathletes will have values around 70 – 80ml/kg/min (male), and 65 – 75ml/kg/min (female). Higher values tend to be seen running compared to cycling due to the greater muscle mass involved and having to support your body weight.

How Can I Train It?

Traditionally improvements in this area have been achieved by increased aerobic base levels. There is now more evidence that incorporating shorter, higher intensity sessions can be very effective.

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