VO2 MAX -Is there any point in Testing?

by May 1, 2015Blog, Strength and Conditioning

Here is a post on the gap that exists between genetic maximum fitness tests and athletic performance testing. It’s worth noting here that I am coming at this topic as a coach working with Rugby Players, Crossfit Athletes and a handful of other athletes all of which have both power and endurance demands in their sport.

So to be explicit, my area of knowledge is not in pure endurance but rather in power endurance, being fast and staying fast.

Lets dive in…

There are some fitness tests that give you information on the genetic capacity of the athlete for example Vo2max testing. Vo2max is the maximum volume of oxygen that the body can consume during intense, whole body exercise. Vo2max is usually measured in millilitres of oxygen per kg of bodyweight per minute

As exercise intensity increases so does oxygen consumption. However, a point is reached where exercise intensity can continue to increase without the associated rise in oxygen consumption. The point at which oxygen consumption plateaus defines the VO2 max or an individual’s maximal aerobic capacity.

Vo2max is most useful as an indicator of a person’s aerobic potential or ‘upper limit’ than as a predictor of success in endurance events. For example the eventual winner of todays marathon cannot be determined by the comparison of the competitor’s vo2max measurements. Depending on the sport in question, a relatively high Vo2max may be a prerequisite for performance at the highest level; however, other markers such as lactate threshold for example are often argued to be more useful predictors of performance.

Aside from VO2MAX testing there are tests that measure the athlete’s actual performance, for example the yo-yo test by Bangso (1994).

So essentially we have two variations of tests with two markers, in layman’s terms ;

What is possible for an athlete.

What they are actually capable of producing .

VO2MAX measured in controlled environments is not seen by many to be a predictor of high performance, which has led many conditioning coaches of sports teams to stop testing it.

In my experience as an athlete the results of a yo-yo test would be vastly dissimilar to that of a VO2MAX. The guys with the highest VO2MAX were rarely the guys who won the yo-yo test.

However in my opinion it is the gap between the two that provides the most interesting information on the athlete.

From a physiological standpoint it needs to be said that there are other factors involved that must be considered, most notably;

Lactate threshold

Glycogen stores

Running economy i.e. if you run like Phoebe from friends you might well have a high VO2MAX but you are unlikely to win any yo-yo tests!

However in my experience the athletes who finish top in fitness tests like the yo-yo test all share one thing in common; a determination and a will to win that is far greater than their colleagues!

Notice I say will to “win” because unlike the VO2MAX test which measures the genetic maximum, which is seemingly not in the control of the athlete, and therefore not seen to be worth competing for. The yo-yo test or similar allows the athlete to compete and win with whatever genetic maximum they have available.

It’s worth noting that Tim Noakes has recently redefined the “MAX” in VO2MAX by running six tests on the same group of elite athletes of which the first three tests ran in usual incremental VO2MAX fashion i.e. the test got more difficult as they went along. The fourth test was run in decremental fashion i.e. the athletes were taken to their previous peak and seemingly the knowledge that the test would become easier improved the athletes performance.

So it seems that the mentality of the athlete is not only a factor in tests similar to the yo-yo test but also in VO2MAX.

How much time is spent on developing the mentality of athletes?

I am interested in the GAP between the results in the VO2MAX and yo-yo tests. If a significant gap appears evident, I think we the coach need to recognise what the athlete lacks to reach his or her full capability.

The places I would look first would be the 3  physiological points outlined above.

Then I would look to the athlete’s mentality with the following 4 points being the most prevalent;

Buy in!- If an athlete doesn’t see value in finishing highly in the test they will struggle to find motivation to push themselves hard enough to do well in it. Last year I tested 20 schoolboy rugby players. I told them their coaches, who were not present, would be notified of the top 5 finishers and the bottom 5 finishers. I noticed it changed a few players outlook

Self awareness- Ask athletes to decide what a good or a poor performance means. What kind of character is the winner of a fitness test likely to have? Is this kind of character synonymous with success or failure? What kind of character do they consider themselves to be?

Focus- If an athlete has a great potential but is unable to perform I would question their focus. Focussing on anything other than success in any fitness test leads to a reduction in performance- this is from my own experience I must add.

Effort! This is simply the ability to push yourself. I am re learning this to be one of the most important factors in all aspects of performance. As one of my Aussie coaches named Nuckles used to say “you need a few T.C.’s (Tough C$$T’s) in this game.”

Take a look at this video of the All Blacks running a yo-yo test. What do you think separates those that finish near the top and Richie?

Thanks for reading.



Acknowledgements; Thanks to Marc Johnson for his help in preparing this article, Tim Noakes, B Levine, Jourkesh (2012) , G. Kelsang Gyatso, Kilding et al (2006).

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This