Oxygen uptake plateau: calculation artifact or physiological reality?



To test whether the oxygen uptake (\(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\)) plateau at \(\dot{V}O_{{{\text{2max}}}}\) is simply a calculation artifact caused by the variability of \(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\) or a clearly identifiable physiological event.


Forty-six male participants performed an incremental ramp and a \(\dot{V}O_{{{\text{2max}}}}\) verification test. Variability of the difference between adjacent sampling intervals (difference) and of the slope of the \(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\)–workload relationship (slope) in the submaximal intensity domain were calculated. Workload defined sampling intervals used for the calculation of the difference and slope were systematically increased from 20 to 100 W until the expected risk of false plateau diagnoses based on the Gaussian distribution function was lower than 5%. Overall, more than 1500 differences and slopes were analyzed. Subsequently, frequencies of plateau diagnoses in the submaximal and maximal intensity domains were compared.


Variability of the difference and slope decreased with increasing sampling interval (p < 0.001). At a sampling interval of 50 W, the predefined acceptable risk of false plateau diagnoses (≤ 5%) was achieved. At this sampling interval, the actual frequency (1.4%) of false-positive plateau diagnoses did not differ from the expected frequency in the submaximal intensity domain (1.6%; p = 0.491). In contrast, the actual frequency at maximal intensity (35.7%) was significantly higher compared to the submaximal intensity domain (p < 0.001) and even higher than the expected frequency of false-positive diagnoses (p < 0.001).


The \(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\) plateau at \(\dot{V}O_{{{\text{2max}}}}\) represents a physiological event and no calculation artifact caused by \(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\) variability. However, detecting a \(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\) plateau with sufficient certainty requires large sampling intervals.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


BLCmax :

Maximal blood lactate concentration


Difference between the upper and lower half of a sampling interval


Gas exchange threshold


Mean response time of ramp test oxygen uptake kinetics


Workload at gas exchange threshold

P max :

Maximum workload

RERmax :

Maximal respiratory exchange ratio

RPEmax :

Maximal rating of perceived exertion


Standard deviation of the intra-individual variability of the plateau criteria


Standard deviation of the inter-individual variability of the plateau criteria


Slope of the \(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\)–workload relationship as a plateau criteria

\(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\) :

Oxygen uptake

\(\dot{V}O_{{{\text{2max}}}}\) :

Maximal oxygen uptake


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We thank all persons who made this study possible by their participation.


No funding was received for this study.

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MN: conceived and designed research, conducted experiments, analyzed data and wrote the manuscript. TGJB and RB: wrote and critically revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Max Niemeyer.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (Ethics committee of Philipps-University Marburg; FB-21-AZ1-12-15) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Communicated by I. Mark Olfert.

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Niemeyer, M., Bergmann, T.G.J. & Beneke, R. Oxygen uptake plateau: calculation artifact or physiological reality?. Eur J Appl Physiol 120, 231–242 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-019-04267-7

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  • \(\dot{V}O_{{2}}\)
  • \(\dot{V}O_{{{\text{2max}}}}\)
  • Cutoff
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Endurance