The importance of VO2max testing

The importance of VO2max testing

When a good trainer, coach, mentor, or therapist acquires a new client they will always begin with an assessment, to determine a client’s current status, or (point A). Why? Because the destination (point B) is useless unless you know where your starting point is.  When evaluating a client, there is a wide variety of tools and methods for assessing their various components of fitness and health.  One of the most important components of physical fitness is cardiorespiratory fitness, which assesses an individual’s functional capacity.  As a Certified Exercise Physiologist I consider the VO2max test the most valid method for measuring the functional capacity of the cardiorespiratory system and believe it should be a fundamental component of any comprehensive physical fitness assessment.


A VO2max test is a progressive exercise stress test that measures the maximum amount of oxygen your body can uptake during strenuous, maximal effort exercise.  It reflects the ability of the lungs, heart and circulatory system to work together efficiently to deliver oxygen where it’s needed. . . .the working/exercising muscle.  The test is commonly found in an athletic or a clinical setting and is conducted on a treadmill or a cycle ergometer (bike) and involves the individual wearing a specialized mask.  The purpose of the mask is to measure the inflow and outflow of oxygen breathed which is then evaluated to determine uptake.  Common questions I receive when debriefing clients about the test and what to expect include: what score do I need to get? And when do I stop? My answer is always, “You need to achieve the BEST score that YOU can and the test will typically stop when YOU can no longer physically continue”.  This is the MAX part of the VO2max.  The criterion for determining if a VO2max is truly achieved is observing a plateau in oxygen consumption despite an increase workload.  Since there are many factors that impeed individuals from achieving a true vo2max, a more common is practice is determining a VO2peak which is the highest rate of oxygen consumption achieved during an individual test regardless of whether or not a plateau is achieved.


I am not going to lie, a VO2max test is one of the hardest physical and mental tasks you can do, so why go through it? If you look at the literature, it has been shown that low cardiorespiratory fitness (low functional capacity) is a strong independent predictor of all-cause mortality (death from any cause) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality1,2.  You will be happy to hear that every single person has the ability to increase their functional capacity and longevity through the adoption of physical activity and exercise3. It has been demonstrated that individuals who transition from an unfit state to a fit state reduce their all-cause mortality risk by almost half relative to people who remain unfit4.  Also, people who maintain their physical activity levels also maintain a lower risk of developing CVD5. Remember . . . knowing where you want to go is useless unless you know your starting point, and the best way to find your starting point is with a VO2max test.


Here at Deerfields, the VO2max is a cornerstone of all our examinations and is performed by a Certified Exercise Physiologist.  Not only does the test provide us with your starting point, it also provides clinically significant data which we use to create a comprehensive exercise program that aims to increase your functional capacity and longevity.   As a member of the Vitality & Longevity Program (VLP) individuals have access to the DeerFields Estate, which hosts a group fitness class every Saturday at 10:00 EST in addition to a mindfulness & meditation class collective known as, Training the Body & Mind. 

[1] Wei, Ming, et al. “Relationship between low cardiorespiratory fitness and mortality in normal-weight, overweight, and obese men.” Jama 282.16 (1999): 1547-1553. Abstract

[2] Lee, Duck-chul, et al. “Review: Mortality trends in the general population: the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness.” Journal of Psychopharmacology 24.4_suppl (2010): 27-35. Article

[3] Gremeaux, Vincent, et al. “Exercise and longevity.” Maturitas 73.4 (2012): 312-317. Abstract

[4] Blair, Steven N., et al. “Changes in physical fitness and all-cause mortality: a prospective study of healthy and unhealthy men.” Jama 273.14 (1995): 1093-1098. Abstract

[5] Nocon, Marc, et al. “Association of physical activity with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation 15.3 (2008): 239-246. Abstract


Anthony Barsby

As our Human Performance Specialist, Anthony provides clients with comprehensive and customized lifestyle coaching through face-to-face consultations and online mentoring. A Certified Exercise Physiologist, Anthony administers fitness assessments and designs exercise programs that address each individual's goals and needs.