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Kostas Patras | Laboratory evaluation

1.The value of VO2max testing in modern soccer

Laboratory evaluation »

VO2max represented the single most used physiological variable in soccer fitness testing during 1980-2000 (1). A range of has been proposed as a “cut-off” threshold for a successful elite male soccer player (1, 2); however there is considerable variation in VO2max values among professional soccer players from different countries (Table 1).


Sample (n)




Sporis et al, 2009




Ziogas et al, 2010




Arnasson et al, 2004




Haugen & Seiler, 2015




Table 1. Mean±SD VO2max values in large cohorts of professional soccer players.

It appears that VO2max alone can not discriminate between players of different status in large cohorts of players (4, 6, 7). For example in a pre-season testing of 129 professional soccer players, VO2max could not discriminate playing standard (Div A=58.8±3.3 mL·kg–1·min–1; Div B=56.4±3.7 mL·kg–1·min–1; Div C=57.6±3.2 mL·kg–1·min–1) (4). More recently, it was observed that VO2max could not discriminate among national-team players, 1st and 2nd division players, in a cohort of 1545 players (7). From a training perspective VO2max can increase up to 6% (58.7±4.4 mL·kg–1·min–1 to 61.2±4.1 mL·kg–1·min–1) in high level professional players which requires accumulating 7.3±2.9% of the total training time during an 8 week pre-season period at high-intensities (≥90% HRmax) (8). However further increase during the in-season is not always evident (7, 9). VO2max has a typical error of 2.0-3.4% and a smallest worthwhile change of 1.5%, therefore a likely “true” positive change for a single athlete should be between 3.5-5% (10). This would require a player entering the competitive season with a VO2max of 60 mL·kg–1·min–1 to produce a mid-season value of 62.1-63.0 mL·kg–1·min–1. Despite optimization in high intensity aerobic training (11), striving to produce such increases during the in-season may come at the expense of other important fitness attributes (6).

Key points

  • VO2max alone is not a reliable indicator of playing standard.
  • Definite positive changes can be obtained during the pre-season.
  • Due to the large typical error of the variable, small in-season individual changes will (most likely) be unclear.
  • The inconclusive nature of the in-season changes along with the maximal effort required for the test may increase the likelihood of omitting the test altogether.


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