Peak oxygen uptake (V̇O2) is widely recognized as the criterion measure of young people’s aerobic fitness. Peak V̇O2 in youth has been assessed and documented for over 75 years but the interpretation of peak V̇O2 and its trainability are still shrouded in controversy. Causal mechanisms and their modulation by chronological age, biological maturation and sex remain to be resolved. Furthermore, exercise of the intensity and duration required to determine peak V̇O2 is rarely experienced by most children and adolescents. In sport and in everyday life young people are characterized by intermittent bouts of exercise and rapid changes in exercise intensity. In this context it is the transient kinetics of pulmonary V̇O2 (pV̇O2), not peak V̇O2, which best describe aerobic fitness. There are few rigorously determined and appropriately analyzed data from young people’s pV̇O2 kinetics responses to step changes in exercise intensity. Understanding of the trainability of pV̇O2 kinetics is principally founded on comparative studies of trained and untrained youth and much remains to be elucidated. This paper reviews peak V̇O2, pV̇O2 kinetics, and their trainability in youth. It summarizes “what we know,” identifies significant gaps in our knowledge, raises relevant questions, and indicates avenues for future research.
Armstrong is with the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre, University of Exeter, Exeter, England, UK. McNarry is with the Applied Sports, Exercise, Technology and Medicine Research Centre, University of Swansea, Swansea, Wales, UK.