VO2max (maximal oxygen consumption) refers to the amount of oxygen that can be consumed within 1 minute – this value has been called the absolute VO2max and this parameter is one of the highest in rowers among other sport disciplines.
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Maximal oxygen consumption
The effective 2000 m race must be rowed at a „severe steady state condition“, requiring
mainly the aerobic pathways. Therefore, VO2max, or maximal aerobic power appear to
be the most important determinants for elite rowers.
VO2max refers to the amount of oxygen that can be consumed within 1 minute – this
value has been called the absolute VO2max and this parameter is one of the highest in
rowers among other sport disciplines.
While maximal oxygen consumption is often large in rowers, this finding reflects mainly
their large body dimensions. The relative oxygen consumption is relatively low in rowers
compared to other endurance athletes because of the high body mass in rowing
(Steinacker 1993). Only in some rowers (mainly in lightweight), relative oxygen
consumption reaches 75 ml/min/kg (Steinacker 1993).
VO2max increases with age, training distance and with training experience, but
levels off in Senior A level at about 24-25 years (Figure 1).
172.4 184.8 194
Junior Under 23 Senior A
However, after attaining the plateau of VO2max, the increases in performance can still be
found in rowers. Among other reasons, it is the result of increased endurance capacity –
the ability to perform longer at a certain intensity level.
Figure 1. The change in ventilation, Pmax and VO2max in rowers.
Figure 2. The relationship between rowing
performance and VO2max
270 320 370 420 470
The relation between rowing performance and VO2max therefore indicates a plateau like
relationship (Figure 2). Additionally, there has been found no significant increase in
VO2max of different rowers from studies dating back 1968 to 2000, but a constant
decrease in 2000 metre racing times (Figure 3).
1968 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000
VO2max Race time
Figure 3. Changes in VO2max and racing times.
Therefore, we may say that VO2max for elite rowers is relatevely poor determinant of
To overcome this disadvantage, a traditional incremental test can be switched to 2000 m
maximal performance test, where VO2max is constantly measured and the average
value calculated (Figure 4). This allows the measurement of the ability to sustain higher
fraction of VO2max during a certain time period. The 2000 m test can also be switched to
95% Pmax test.
Figure 4. VO2max and heart rate values during a
simulated 2000 m ergometer test.
During the „classical“ incremental VO2 test the values were 6,1 and 5,87 L/min for rower
A and B, respectively. Despite significant differences in VO2max values their
performance was similar at 2000 m ergometer test and the average VO2 values too (5.84
and 5.83 L/min, respectively).
0 500 1000 1500 2000
Rower A Rower B
Despite the importance of VO2max and its high value as a parameter which is needed for
rowers, its predictive value in elite and high level rowers is relatively small.
This disadvantage can be eliminated if the average VO2 during a high intensity
performance test is measured. This also indicates the importance of the testing method
on VO2 values for specific rowing performance predictions.
• Steinacker JM. Physiological aspects of training rowing. International Journal of
Sports Medicine 1993; 1: 3-10.
• Secher NH, Volianitis S, Jürimäe J. Physiology. In: Rowing, N. Secher, S. Volianitis
(eds). Blackwell Publishing 2007; 42-66.
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• Testing for maximal aerobic power (slideshow)
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