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This is a measure of fitness that provides vital information about our cardiorespiratory and aerobic fitness. It shows how the heart transports blood to our muscles and how they extract oxygen resulting in a metabolic reaction as we exercise. We are able to determine our stamina and endurance base during workouts.
VO2 Max metric helps us to determine the maximum amount of oxygen that we use during workouts. It is also referred to as maximal aerobic capacity or peak oxygen uptake. It is an important variable in determining the progress of your overall fitness.
How to measure VO2 Max?
There are two categories of VO2 Max measures that we can use to determine our fitness. These are the absolute and relative VO2 Max.
The absolute VO2 Max measures VO2 Max by calculating the amount of oxygen inhaled in liters per minute. The relative VO2 Max calculates your weight using liters per 60 seconds per kilo of body mass.
We are able to measure VO2 Max in milliliters of oxygen consumed in a minute per kilogram of body weight.
It should however not be confused with lactate threshold or excess post exercise oxygen consumption. We however face a limitation in measuring our VO2 Max as the test is too expensive as it requires expensive clinical equipment.
To obtain our VO2 Max we have to wear a mask and have a heart rate monitor attached to a treadmill. Our mask is then connected to a device that collects and measures the volume of oxygen inhaled and exhaled.
The treadmill intensity is then gradually and slowly increased until our consumption remains steady regardless of the increase in intensity.
When we reach the optimal level, our bodies start to undergo anaerobic metabolism due to insufficient oxygen consumption. This results into muscle fatigue. We therefore have to work towards moving back to the aerobic metabolism state.
Alternative ways which we can use to measure VO2 Max to escape the high costs is to find your race time within a given distance. There are also some fitness watches that we can use to measure our VO2 Max based on our heart rate.
VO2 Max describes your cardiorespiratory fitness. It explains your overall health, body performance and lifespan.
What are the typical VO2 Max values ?
VO2 Max mainly varies because of the differences in body composition between men and women. Men have more muscle mass compared to women.
We do not have a specified VO2 Max that can be said to be excellent. VO2 Max varies based on age, sex, fitness level and other external factors such as humidity.
For women, the body naturally accumulates fat within the tissues. These differences are important in understanding the variances in VO2 Max for both genders. Men commonly have a higher VO2 Max value compared to women.
VO2 Max for men
An inactive male has a VO2 Max of about 35ml/kg/min. Professional male athletes have a VO2 Max of around 85ml/kg/min. 40ml/kg/min is an ideal VO2 Max for a 25-year-old male.
VO2 Max for women
The normal average female VO2 Max for women is 27ml/kg/min. Active female athletes VO2 Max goes up to 78ml/kg/min. The ideal measure for VO2 Max for a 25 year old female 32ml/kg/min.
What affects VO2 Max?
Several variables affect VO2 Max as listed below:
1. Lung capacity
The ability of our lungs to oxygenate blood impacts our VO2 Max. The higher the number of alveoli within our lungs the higher the VO2 Max as more oxygen is transported within the blood.
Our VO2 decreases as we grow older and is usually at our highest peak when we are about 25 years old. Working out can however slow down the decline of our VO2 Max capacity.
3. Quantity of red blood cells
The presence of a higher volume of red blood cells is characterized with a higher VO2 Max as higher blood capacity allows more oxygen within our body.
VO2 Max decreases with high altitude. Our bodies are however over time able to adapt if we train in high altitude areas.
5. Strength of the cardiovascular system
Thicker blood vessels and larger heart chambers are largely attributed to athletes with high VO2 Max. These organs help improve cardiovascular capacity and increase the transportation of oxygenated blood to the muscle.
6. Body weight
Our body weight is a big determinant of our VO2 Max. This means that any difference in body weight will alter our VO2 Max capacity.
7. Variation in workout programs
VO2 Max varies with the exercises we engage in at a particular time. We are able to score a higher VO2 Max running compared to cycling.
8. Body muscles
The capacity of our body muscles to accept oxygen delivered is also key to improving VO2 Max. This is however dependent on factors such as the number of mitochondria and the presence of aerobic enzymes.
Elite athletes have increased muscle density and mitochondria quantity which is characteristic of a higher VO2 Max.
How to improve your VO2 Max
It is important that we have our VO2 Max determined if given the chance. We will be able to use it to improve our bodies capacity to utilize oxygen and improve our overall physical anaerobic fitness. A higher VO2 Max increases our endurance base especially during exercise sessions.
1. High intensity interval training
The best way we can improve our VO2 Max is through interval training. This is because it enables our bodies to function at high levels. It should run for a period long enough to push through the anaerobic state and return to an aerobic level.
Whichever workout we choose that makes us put effort and push our limits is able to improve our VO2 Max. We can achieve this through any set of activities such as running or cycling.
This is because it combines several short periods of high intensity activities with slotted recovery periods in between.
2. Interval and continuous workout integration
When we combine both types of training in our workout program, we are able to improve our VO2 Max.
Though this is a rigorous program, it has huge benefits. We however have to be sure to be significantly fit before engaging in this training program.
3. Increase our endurance base
It is important that we always keep challenging ourselves when we seek to improve our VO2 Max. We have to involve ourselves in endurance training sessions in order to have a positive effect on our VO2 Max.
We make small consistent steps by training on more intense levels and engaging in hard workout sessions by increasing the number, duration or speed of the program.
4. Determine race time
We have to determine how fast we can run a given distance so that we find out the pace we need to run to achieve at least 93% of our maximum heart rate.
5. Functional threshold power
Finding our FTP is helpful as it enables us to know the power we can utilize for an hour within a workout session. We use the FTP to know how hard we should push in order to improve our VO2 Max to find our FTP estimate.
We are able to carry out this test using a bike with a power meter. We should warm up then cycle as hard as we can for at least 15 minutes. We then deduct 5% from the score.
6. Strength training
Adding weight training to our workout will help build our muscles which is great in improving our VO2 Max.
7. Exercising on an incline
We are able to exercise rarely used muscles when we train on an inclined surface. This helps improve our VO2 Max due to increased resistance.
These exercises require us to keep changing our speed as we run. This means that you can sprint on one mile and jog on the other. This is a great way through which we are able to improve our VO2 Max.
VO2 Max though a predictor of performance only caters for about 30% of athletic success. Its high cost keeps it out of reach for individuals who are not experienced professional runners.
VO2 Max influences our ability to absorb, transport and utilize oxygen when we workout. We require oxygen to exercise and we are not able to run or work out and achieve our set target if we have a low VO2 Max. This helps us to focus on improving our workout program so as to better our performance.