By Teemu Virtanen
VO2 max is certainly a term that rings a bell to all endurance sports enthusiasts, and it is probably the most measured ability within endurance athletes. In our articles and Orsa2Levi podcasts, we have recently talked about high capacity athletes and how important it is to have a high VO2 max. Those Pro Team Athletes who have the highest score tend to be the strongest skiers in our races. However, VO2 max is not everything in long distance skiing and one does not need to have the highest possible score if one possesses other abilities to compensate it. Nonetheless, let’s take a brief look at that magic term and define it.
VO2 max, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. It is a common measurement used to establish the aerobic endurance of an athlete prior to or during the course of training. It is one of several tests used to determine an athlete's cardiovascular fitness and performance capacity.
VO2 max is measured in milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min). It is based on the premise that the more oxygen an athlete consumes during high-level exercise, the more the body will generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy in cells. ATP is often referred to as the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy.
VO2 max should not be confused with the lactate thresholding (LT) testing, which refers to the point during high-intensity exercise where lactate builds up in the muscles faster than it can be removed. VO2 max is typically conducted in a sports performance lab. It is most often graded, meaning that the intensity is carefully calibrated and increased over time. Either a treadmill or stationary bicycle may be used. For cross-country skiers, roller-skiing on a treadmill is now a common method to test one’s VO2 max.
Among the cross-country skiers, Bjørn Dæhli and Bente Skari from Norway have reached the highest VO2 max scores; 96 and 76 mL/kg/min respectively. Some of our male Pro Team Athletes have been able to get their VO2 max close to 90 while female athletes go over 70, e.g. Petter Eliassen managed to get 88 mL/kg/minon a treadmill test.
The overall highest figure in the world is 97,5 mL/kg/min, achieved by a cyclist from Norway Oskar Svendsen at the age of 18. Juha Mieto, the Finnish cross-country ski legend, has an unofficial record if VO2 max is measured in liters per minute. He reached a whopping score of 7,4. During his ski career, he weighed between 95-105 kg, which naturally lowered his mL/kg/min score to about 77-80.