How to use the VO2 max test for wheelchair tennis fitness

Matt McCoy | May 11, 2020

Have you ever wondered how fit you are? What does that mean? Is there a good way to measure it? Have you been to your physician where he or she told you to lose weight, eat better, get more exercise and/or get more fit?


Your doctor may use certain measures to determine your overall health such as questionnaires, body weight, body mass index (BMI), heart rate, blood pressure, blood tests, and fitness testing. There has been a lot of science behind developing normative ranges of these tests and measures. It has been shown that falling outside the optimal levels can create a situation that is not advantageous for one’s health. It is important to strive to be within established norms because they have predictive value in a person’s overall health.  


One measure that is utilized by the fitness and wellness industry is called VO2 max. VO2 max is a measure of your maximal aerobic capacity. As your VO2 max goes up, so does your aerobic fitness. In 2016, the American Heart Association published a position statement that suggested that cardiorespiratory fitness represented as VO2 max be regularly assessed and utilized as a clinical vital sign. This suggestion is due to the mounting evidence that lower fitness levels are associated with higher risk for cardiovascular disease and overall mortality rates.  


VO2 max is measured by how well your body can utilize oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. The gold standard of measuring VO2 max is in a laboratory with use of very expensive equipment measuring a person’s expired air during progressively challenging exercise.


This is not accessible for most people, and thus other tests have been developed to allow for individuals to calculate their predicted VO2 max using specific data points and equations.  

There is a test designed specifically for wheelchair users to test their aerobic capacity. The 12-minute wheelchair VO2 max test is very easy to set up and execute.  The equipment needed is a stopwatch and a 400-meter track marked every 100 meters. The goal of the test is to see how far the wheelchair user can push in 12 minutes. For those administering the test, be sure to educate the individual that they will be tired and breathing heavy at the end of the test.


In order to get consistent and accurate test data, the individual needs to be encouraged to push as hard and long as they can to travel as much distance as possible in 12 minutes. By knowing the distance in meters one can estimate the VO2 max and thus one’s fitness level. The test is positively correlated so the greater the distance pushed the greater one’s aerobic capacity. 


EXCELLENT > 1.59 > 2560 > 36.2 
ABOVE AVERAGE   1.36 - 1.59 2171 - 2560 29.2 - 36.2
AVERAGE 0.87 - 1.35  1381 - 2170 14.6 - 29.1
BELOW AVERAGE 0.63 - 0.86  1010 - 1380 7.7 - 14.5
POOR < 0.63  < 1010 < 7.7


The table above provides a 5-point rating system from excellent to poor. It categorizes one’s overall distance and provides an estimate of the participant’s VO2 max. The data in this table is specific to wheelchair users.  


According to normative data for able-bodied individuals, a 35-year-old male with average level aerobic capacity will have approximately a VO2 max of 40 ml/kg/min.  Elite level athletes can have a VO2 max of > 60 ml/kg/min.   


Take a few minutes to check your fitness level and consistently re-check to see your progress. Improving your aerobic capacity will help with overall fitness and health, make your doctor happy, and may even help your tennis game.  


Matt McCoy, PT, is a physical therapist with Baylor Scott and White Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas, Teaxas, as well as the chair of the USTA Texas Sports Science Committee and a USTA National Wheelchair Committee member.



Franklin BA, Swantek KI, Grais SL, Johnstone KS, Gordon S, Timmis GC. Field test estimation of maximal oxygen consumption in wheelchair users. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1990;71:574-578.

Ross, Robert; Blair, Steven N.; Arena, Ross; Church, Timothy S.; Després, Jean-Pierre; Franklin, Barry A.; Haskell, William L.; Kaminsky, Leonard A.; Levine, Benjamin D. (2016-01-01). "Importance of Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Clinical Practice: A Case for Fitness as a Clinical Vital Sign: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association". Circulation: 

Shvartz E, Reibold RC. Aerobic fitness norms for males and females aged 6 to 75 years: a review., Aviat Space Environ Med. 1990 Jan;61(1):3-11.



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