Maximal Oxygen Uptake as a Parametric Measure of Cardiorespiratory Capacity


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2007 - Volume 39 - Issue 1 - pp 103-107
doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000241641.75101.64
BASIC SCIENCES: Original Investigations

Introduction: Maximal oxygen uptake (V˙O2max) was defined by Hill and Lupton in 1923 as the oxygen uptake attained during maximal exercise intensity that could not be increased despite further increases in exercise workload, thereby defining the limits of the cardiorespiratory system. This concept has recently been disputed because of the lack of published data reporting an unequivocal plateau in V˙O2 during incremental exercise.

Purpose: The purpose of this investigation was to test the hypothesis that there is no significant difference between the V˙O2max obtained during incremental exercise and a subsequent supramaximal exercise test in competitive middle-distance runners. We sought to determine conclusively whether V˙O2 attains a maximal value that subsequently plateaus or decreases with further increases in exercise intensity.

Methods: Fifty-two subjects (36 men, 16 women) performed three series of incremental exercise tests while measuring V˙O2 using the Douglas bag method. On the day after each incremental test, the subjects returned for a supramaximal test, during which they ran at 8% grade with the speed chosen individually to exhaust the subject between 2 and 4 min. V˙O2 at supramaximal exercise intensities (30% above incremental V˙O2max) was measured continuously.

Results: V˙O2max measured during the incremental test (63.3 ± 6.3 mL·kg−1·min−1; mean ± SD) was indistinguishable from the V˙O2max during the supramaximal test (62.9 ± 6.2, N = 156; P = 0.77) despite a sufficient duration of exercise to demonstrate a plateau in V˙O2 during continuous supramaximal exercise. These data provide strong support for the hypothesis that there is indeed a peak and subsequent plateau in V˙O2 during maximal exercise intensity.

Conclusions: V˙O2max is a valid index measuring the limits of the cardiorespiratory systems' ability to transport oxygen from the air to the tissues at a given level of physical conditioning and oxygen availability.

1Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX; and 2Department of Integrative Physiology, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, TX

Address for correspondence: Benjamin D. Levine, MD, Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, 7232 Greenville Ave, Suite 435, Dallas, Texas 75231; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2006.

Accepted for publication July 2006.

©2007The American College of Sports Medicine