Oxygen delivery by blood determines the maximal VO2 and work rate during whole body exercise in humans: in silico studies

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2007 Jul;293(1):H343-53. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.01371.2006. Epub 2007 Mar 9.


It has been proposed by Saltin (J Exp Biol 115: 345-354, 1985) that oxygen delivery by blood is limiting for maximal work and oxygen consumption in humans during whole body exercise but not during single-muscle exercise. To test this prediction quantitatively, we developed a static (steady-state) computer model of oxygen transport to and within human skeletal muscle during single-muscle (quadriceps) exercise and whole body (cycling) exercise. The main system fluxes, namely cardiac output and oxygen consumption by muscle, are described as a function of the "primary" parameter: work rate. The model is broadly validated by comparison of computer simulations with various experimental data. In silico studies show that, when all other parameters and system properties are kept constant, an increase in the working muscle mass from 2.5 kg (single quadriceps) to 15 kg (two legs) causes, at some critical work intensity, a drop in oxygen concentration in muscle cells to (very near) zero, and therefore oxygen supply by blood limits maximal oxygen consumption and oxidative ATP production. Therefore, the maximal oxygen consumption per muscle mass is significantly higher during single-muscle exercise than during whole body exercise. The effect is brought about by a distribution of a limited amount of oxygen transported by blood in a greater working muscle mass during whole body exercise.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport, Active / physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Models, Biological*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Oxygen / blood*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Physical Exertion / physiology


  • Oxygen