VO2-to-the-max: Performing a cycling VO2 max test

moments after removing my "head-gear" and breathing tube

moments after removing my "head-gear" and breathing tube

Last night I went to the sports science lab at TCU to take a cycling-specific VO2 max test. There is a kinesiology grad student who is doing her thesis on the impact of high-intensity sprint training on endurance performance for cyclists. She’s looking for “highly-trained” cyclists so the first step for a subject is taking a VO2 max test to determine if they meet the minimum requirements.

The first question I got from a ThinkCash colleague was “What is VO2 max?”  It’s basically the maximum amount of oxygen that can be used by the body for maximal sustained power output (exercise). Since the body uses oxygen to convert food into energy (ATP), the more oxygen you can consume, the more energy, power, or speed you can produce. VO2max defines an endurance athlete’s performance ceiling, or the size of his or her “engine.” Research has shown that VO2max significantly determines performance in endurance-based events such as cycling, triathlon, running, and Nordic skiing.

The test started with height, weight, body fat measurements. I clocked-in at 5’10”, 151 pounds and 8.5% body fat. She said my body fat puts me on the “lean” side of healthy males (9%-15%) and on the high side of elite endurance athletes (who are typically 5%-9%).

The next step was to jump on the Velotron stationary bike and start the VO2 max test. You wear a head piece for the test that holds a tube in your mouth. All of your breathing is done through the tube (your nose is clipped) so the computer can measure how much oxygen you’re taking in and how well it is utilized.

another rider (not me) taking a VO2 max test (notice the breathing tube)

another rider (not me) taking a VO2 max test (notice the breathing tube)

The test starts out with 4 minutes at 100 watts, then every 4 minutes it jumps up 50 watts. After 250 watts the resistance jumps 35 watts every 2 minutes. The goal is to hang on as long as you can and ride to exhaustion.

I didn’t realize I could have brought my ipod for the test (I always wear my ipod when I ride indoors), but one of the grad students had a boombox with a great 80’s mix, so that helped. The test started easy enough; however, breathing through the tube is very unnatural. It makes you accutely aware of your breathing and you can easily lose focus on the goal, which is to keep turning the pedals. Once I hit 250 watts I really started to notice the tube and breathing solely through my mouth became very uncomfortable.  Once I hit the 355 watt segment, I pretty much knew that would be the last one, but I was determined to finish it. Once the machine jumped to 390 watts . . . I was done.

So what were my numbers? My VO2 max was 61.2 ml/kg/min. The minimum to qualify for the test is 55, so I passed. How does 61.2 measure up? I wasn’t really sure, so I turned to Google (UPDATE: In my  last test my VO2 max was 65.2).

VO2 Max Table

VO2 Max Table

I found the table above first. According to this I score off-the-charts (above excellent). However, I kept digging for a more trustworthy cycling source.

cycling-specific VO2 max table

cycling-specific VO2 max table

Next I found the table above on Velonews.  This indicated that I’m on the high-end of “trained” cyclists and at the low-end of qualifying for “elite”. Considering I’ve never won a race – I know I’m not elite. So I tried to find VO2 max levels for professional cyclists . . .

Highest ever recorded:

VO2 Max - 92.5

Greg Lemond: VO2 Max - 92.5

How about another Tour de France champion:

VO2 Max - 88.0

Miguel Indurain: VO2 Max - 88.0

What about the world’s most famous cyclist?

VO2 Max - 85.0

Lance Armstrong: VO2 Max - 85.0

So needless to say, the Texas race scene (let alone the professional ranks) don’t have to worry about me anytime soon.

What are the next steps? I agreed to take part in the study (it lasts 6 weeks), but I won’t start until early March since I have some business travel the next couple weeks. I’ll post more details on the actual program when I start.

Also, if you are a cyclist in the Fort Worth area that would like to participate – they still need subjects. To learn more, just send an email to j.goulder@tcu.edu




9 responses to “VO2-to-the-max: Performing a cycling VO2 max test

  1. Pingback: VO2-to-the-Max Part 2: First test of university trial « Texas Tailwind

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  4. Jeff Petrucci

    My 15 year old freshman son was tested at his high school and scored the highest in the school on the VO2 max test at 65. I was told that his score equaled that of olympic athletes. I am a 43 year old cyclist who would love for him to get interested in cycling but at this point he has no interest, he is on the rowing team and excelled this year. Does anyone out there know how his score compares to that of other high schoolers throughout the country… 9-12 grade?

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  7. shaun teasdale

    Hi Jeff

    Yeah thats very good and looking at all the research it looks like that will increase with age/training which is harder to do with adult elite athletes. My son is a cyclist and his 1st test when he was 14 produced 64.2, his 2nd one at 15 produced 71.4 and his last one (today) at 16 has produced 76.2. Anything above 65 for an adult would be considered elite and as youths get older though there bodys are able to in effect do more with good V02 maxs. Good luck to him

  8. Hello!
    Testing your capacity is fun 😀 But a little correction, highest VO2max ever measured is 96.1 ml/kg/min, done by Bjorn Dahlie a Norwegian cross-country skier, highest ever VO2 is Johan Mieto another CC skier, he got 7,62 l/min 🙂

  9. Jeff P,
    I know that I’m 3 years late to this thread, but if your son likes rowing- let him row!! It’s a great sport and certainly won’t hinder his development. I know plenty of ex- (and current) rowers who are great cyclists, if he ever changes his mind.

    I don’t know about cycling, but rowing can sure help get into a good college (though maybe not with the $- e.g. Ivies don’t do athletic scholarships).

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