Maximal oxygen uptake as a parametric measure of cardiorespiratory capacity

Peter G. Snell, James Stray-Gundersen, Benjamin D. Levine, Megan N. Hawkins, Peter B. Raven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION: Maximal oxygen uptake (V̇O2max) 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 V̇O2 during incremental exercise. PURPOSE: The purpose of this investigation was to test the hypothesis that there is no significant difference between the V̇O2max obtained during incremental exercise and a subsequent supramaximal exercise test in competitive middle-distance runners. We sought to determine conclusively whether V̇O2 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 V̇O2 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. V̇O2 at supramaximal exercise intensities (30% above incremental V̇O2max) was measured continuously. RESULTS: V̇O2max measured during the incremental test (63.3 ± 6.3 mL·kg·min; mean ± SD) was indistinguishable from the V̇O2max during the supramaximal test (62.9 ± 6.2, N = 156; P = 0.77) despite a sufficient duration of exercise to demonstrate a plateau in V̇O2 during continuous supramaximal exercise. These data provide strong support for the hypothesis that there is indeed a peak and subsequent plateau in V̇O2 during maximal exercise intensity. CONCLUSIONS: V̇O2max 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-107
Number of pages5
JournalMedicine and science in sports and exercise
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007


  • Douglas bags
  • Running
  • Treadmill testing
  • V̇O

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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