By Oliver Strzelczyk of Europe’s Elites
Lung capacity has always been a major factor in sports such as swimming or rowing, but it
cannot be overlooked in football. While it can be argued to vary in importance depending on the
position of the athlete, it indisputably plays a role in the performance of all 11 players on the field..
or maybe even the coaches if you make them yell a little too hard.
What is lung capacity? Lung capacity is the total amount of air one’s lungs can hold, and is
therefore directly related to the supply of oxygen to the muscles in the body which must be in prime
condition each play in order to allow an athlete to continue performing as required. The maximum
amount of oxygen an individual can intake and use during intense exercise is measured by the O2 V Max.
As mentioned earlier, it is more important to certain positions. These include: WR, DB and RB due to the fact that these positions play at sudden intense intervals. This, however, does not mean that lung capacity is not important for the warriors in the trenches, as their high levels of effort exhibited each play require adequate supplementation of oxygen throughout the game. However, there is a correlation between distance ran at peak pace and the need for better lung capacity, hence why lung capacity is more important for ‘skill’ positions.
According to UC Davis Health’s sports medicine department, “ O2 max is also a predictor V of performance, with its correlation to athletic success in endurance sports being 30-40%” . In the
same article from UCDH’s journal you may observe information regarding general advantages that
aerobic training provides, these include a longer lifespan; better quality of life; reduced risks of a stroke, heart disease, diabetes, cancer; improved mood and self esteem; improved sleep patterns.
On the basis of the above mentioned advantages, it is clear that a higher VO2 Max links to an athletes performance due to factors like improved sleep, improved conditioning of the heart and lungs as well as the general endurance benefits that the training provides.
In his article titled “The relationship between aerobic fitness and recovery from high intensity
intermittent exercise”, D.L. Tomlin notes the following: “ The results from most studies examining
power recovery and VO2max seem to suggest that endurance training and/or a higher VO2max
results in superior power recovery across repeated bouts of high intensity intermittent exercise”
Later, Tomlin states that “some studies have supported an association between aerobic
fitness and lactate removal following high intensity exercise”. While acknowledging the limited
validity of these studies as a result of their methodology, the author notes that their findings are
adequate enough to conclude that lactate removal is one of the benefits of VO2 Max training.
The relevance of these studies to football is very strong. Through being a non-continuous
game ( in the way that athletes do not continue running through every minute, instead they are
given ‘breaks’ in between plays ) it is clear that power recovery is crucial – and can be achieved
through prior endurance training. Similarly, as UCDH notes, the VO2 Max is a strong indicator of
athletic success, hence why it is crucial in the game of football.
How can you improve lung capacity?
Lung capacity can be increased in a wide range of exercises, the most simple of which is
running. Some training programs claim that the best way to achieve the VO2 aim is to run a sudden
high-intensity sprint followed by a slightly longer walk in the average ratio of 1:3 or more ( eg 10s of
sprint, 30s of walk ). Alternatively, some programs support simple non-stop runs for extended
distances suited to the athletes abilities, with an increase in the distance every two weeks, or if
following the 10% rule you may choose to increase it weekly by no more than 10%.
A second way to improve lung capacity well is rowing . In contrast to other sports, rowing
can help you measure your VO2 Max with a degree of accuracy. Online calculators and apps take in
your gender, experience level ( low vs high ), body weight and 2000m row time. On this basis it will
show you an estimate figure which you can use for your personal progress tracking, and is a
significantly cheaper alternative to medical VO2 max tests which can reach beyond $150. It should
be noted that while rowing on water is not only fun, but also advantageous to your wellbeing, the
best way to exercise in the sport is through using the ergometer ( a.k.a rowing machine ) as it will
remove confounding factors from your workouts. Ideal rowing distances to improve VO2 Max range
from intervals of 500m to the intense 2000m. 2K rows aimed at intensity are recommended to be
performed once a month at the very most, hence why many athletes choose the regular 500m-
A final sports where lung capacity is put to the test and can be improved is swimming . According to sciencedirect ( and common sense ) it is indisputable that swimming is directly linked to the development of the respiratory system. In particular, breaststroke, front crawl and butterfly ( in
order of intensity ) are recommended for lung development.
However, it must be noted that the VO2 Max is also limited in relevance to football. Unlike in rowing or running, this indicator will not affect individuals to the extent that it would in other sports. This is because it is more directly tied to sports revolving around sheer endurance, hence the comparison to rowing or running. Furthermore, football is generally labelled as an anaerobic sport, meaning that the effort exerted playing our beloved game is less reliant upon oxygen intake abilities.Despite this, it must be noted that endurance training still does provide major advantages to football players, particularly involving post-training/game recovery… and will ensure that the next time coach sends you on the field – you wont be sucking the last molecule of oxygen out of the air before you run the next post route for a touchdown.