VO(2) reserve and the minimal intensity for improving cardiorespiratory fitness

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Jan;34(1):152-7. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200201000-00023.


Purpose: The American College of Sports Medicine has stated that aerobic training needs to occur at a minimum threshold intensity of 50% VO(2max) for most healthy adults and at 40% VO(2max) for those with a very low initial fitness. Recently, the concept of VO(2) reserve (%VO(2R), i.e., a percentage of the difference between maximum and resting VO(2)) has been introduced for prescribing exercise intensity. This analysis was designed to determine the threshold intensity for improving cardiorespiratory fitness expressed as %VO(2R) units.

Methods: Previous studies in healthy subjects (N = 18) that evaluated the results of training at low-to-moderate intensities (i.e., < or = 60% VO(2max)) were identified. The original studies described the intensity of exercise variously as %VO(2max), %HRR, %HR(max), or as a specific HR value. In each case, the intensity was translated into %VO(2R) units.

Results: Exercise training intensities below approximately 45% VO(2R) were consistently ineffective at increasing VO(2max) in studies that used subjects with mean initial VO(2max) values > 40 mL x min(-1) x kg(-1). In studies using subjects with mean initial VO(2max) values < 40 mL x min(-1) x kg(-1), no intensity was found to be ineffective. For this latter group of subjects, the lowest intensities examined were approximately 30% VO(2R).

Conclusion: Although evidence for a threshold intensity was not strong, this analysis of training studies supports the use of 45% VO(2R) as a minimal effective training intensity for higher fit subjects and 30% VO(2R) for lower fit subjects.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anaerobic Threshold / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Physical Education and Training / methods
  • Physical Education and Training / standards
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Program Evaluation