April Merritt by April Merritt

Are you absolutely confused about relative VO2?

Absolute VO2, relative VO2, heavy people, thin people, active people, inactive people - how does it all relate? The first distinction/definition to make is between absolute and relative VO2max.  A good reference is the ACE Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals, pgs 76-77. Don’t forget…VO2max is measured as milliliters of oxygen/kilogram of body weight/minute – 15 ml/kg/min for instance.

The short explanation is that absolute VO2max does not consider a person’s weight. Relative VO2max does consider a person’s weight.

For example:

Bob has an absolute VO2 max of 3.8 L/min. Frank has an absolute VO2max of 3.8 L/min (there are no kg mentioned in this equation because we aren’t taking their weight into consideration, so we measure in L of O2/min).They are exactly the same fitness level, right?


Bob weighs 231 pounds – he’s a big guy. Frank weighs 132 pounds – he’s a little guy. If we put their weight into the equation – then we find out that Bob has a relative VO2max of 36.1ml/kg/min and Frank has a relative VO2max of 53.3 ml/kg/min. (we include kg in this equation because we are taking their weight into consideration). Frank is way healthier than Bob. He’s a little guy with a big aerobic capacity. Bob is a big guy with a little aerobic capacity.

If you only look at their absolute VO2max, then Bob and Frank appear to be just the same. But if we look closer, then we see that Frank is actually much healthier. Relative VO2max gives Frank the credit he deserves.

It’s the old case of comparing apples to apples (relative VO2max) and comparing apples to oranges (Absolute V02max). In practice, the majority of people use relative VO2 because it is more specific to the actual client/individual.

Hopefully this clears up any confusion that might be out there. Remember, if you’ve got questions you can always call an Education Consultant at 1-888-825-3636, x782

Study on!