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Cross Country Skiiers Have Unbelievably High VO2 Max Scores

Cross Country Skiiers Have Unbelievably High VO2 Max Scores

By: Buzz HarriesComments: 0
If you look at the highest VO2 max scores ever recorded (sourced from, you’ll come across the names of these top 5 athletes: 
1st - Oskar Svendsen - Cyclist
Score: 97.5
2nd - Espen Harald Bjerke - Cross Country Skier
Score: 96
3rd - Bjorn Dahlie - Cross Country Skier 
Score: 96
4th - Kurt Asle Arvesen - Cyclist
Score: 93
5th - Greg Lemond - Cyclist
Score: 92.5

4 of the top 5 are Norwegian. So, are Norwegians biologically different to the rest of us?

Yes, 4 of the 5 athletes listed above are all Norwegian, but that’s not the point here, or is it?… Well, if it had something to do with having 'Viking blood', then we'd expect to see more Swedes or Danish in the top flight. But, when you look at the top 30 records for V02 Max (listed below), 13 of them are Norwegians, there's 1 Swedish athlete, and none from Denmark.
Table Showing Top 30 VO2 Max Scores Ever Recorded
Interestingly, 4th place Kurt Asle Arvesen was a talented young cross country ski athlete, before he made the switch to Cycling. He did the Birkebeiner 5 times!

How come Norwegians rank so highly in VO2 Max scores?

Well, unlike all the other countries on that list, Norway's National Sport is an Endurance sport: Namely, Cross Country Skiing. The culture around cross country skiing in Norway is so strong that the majority of their citizens have engaged in cross country skiing at some point. Norwegians have a saying that they are "born with skis on their feet." And, although Cross-country skiing is an endurance sport at its core, it differs to the likes of marathon running in that it is as physically demanding of an athlete’s arms as it is their legs. Essentially, Norwegians train their VO2 Max from a young age, and Cross Country Skiing (their National Sport) is a perfect catalyst for developing fitness. 
Graph Showing the percentage of sport disciplines inside the top 10 VO2 Max World Records

50% of the Top 10 Highest VO2 Max Recordings Come from Cross Country Ski Athletes

Looking at this statistic very basically, it proves that cross country skiing can facilitate the development of your fitness. Nordic skiing can be (depending on how you ski), a vigorours and physically demanding sport... Some would say that it's also the perfect off-seasons sport for cyclists and runners to develop their VO2 Max scores. Many of the Norwegian athletes listed as 'cyclists' 'runners' do cross country skiing in the winter... 

Why XC Ski Has High Demand on the heart's output and oxygen utilization

In the book 'The Uphill Athlete', authors Kílian Jornet Burgada, Scott Johnston, and Steve House describes what VO2 Max is a product of, and why cross country ski athletes end up developing high VO2 Max scores.
Quote from the Book the Uphill Athlete describing VO2 Max

Nordic Skiiers use all 4 limbs for propulsion, and zone 5 (heart rate) is easily achieved

“It’s not unusual for cross-country skiers to compete at 95 per cent of their maximum heart rate,” said Jessica Krysk, the exercise physiologist for the Canadian National Cross Country Ski Team.
Moreover, some sources claim that 50% of your propulsion as an xc skiier comes from your poles. So basically, it's all systems go. High intensity, low intensity - it's built in to the fabric of the sport. Couple that with the varying terrain (uphill, downhill) and the need to make technique adjustments on the fly, and you have a recipe for developing strong VO2 Max scores.

Boost Your VO2 Max Score - By Cross Country Skiing Yourself!

Looking to elevate your VO2 Max score during the off-season, enhance overall fitness, or explore a new winter pursuit? Embrace the thrill of cross-country skiing.
Discover our affordable cross country ski packages designed to kickstart your journey into this superb endeavour.


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