I recently completed some balance testing for some inner ear issues I was having. I was surprised to find that my somatic balance (ability to balance through feet/legs) was quite poor. Those testing me were also surprised as athletes typically test quite high in this area.
I questioned whether I possessed the athletic potential that I believed I had. After I got over the initial shock of my results, I realized that my emotions towards the results were very similar to what I receive from athletes often as it relates to VO2 Max testing. We often counsel athletes through the same questions. Some athletes test quite high but have mediocre athletic results. Other high performing athletes test lower than expected. In the end, there is more to your athletic potential than a number.
Frank Shorter proved this many years ago. As one of the greatest elite marathoners of all time, Frank Shorter had an average VO2 Max. Compared to his greatest rival, Bill Rodgers, Shorter’s Vo2 Max was 8% lower. Despite this, Shorter reached the finish line first in most races they contested. You see, Shorter was more efficient and utilized less VO2 per stride. He simply was able to do more with the genes he was given.
There is another element to this as well: work ethic. Few of us ever perform at full capacity due to time spent in training, ability to push ourselves, and mental roadblocks. Therefore, one athlete might be performing at 90% of their relatively low VO2 Max whereas another is performing at 75% of their relatively high VO2 Max. Depending on the specific numbers, the lower VO2 Max athlete might very well win purely from work ethic (and I would coach that athlete over the other any day).
There is tons of value in VO2 Testing. We can track improvement in VO2 Peak as we approach Max, determine specific heart rate zones, and determine exactly what workouts you need to identify your biggest weaknesses. All of these things are way more important than the actual number in determining your ultimate success.