Beginner Runner

VO2 Max: What It Is and How to Boost Yours for Better Running Performance

12 Mins read

If you’re interested in fitness, chances are you’ve stumbled across the term VO2 Max before.

 It’s like the secret code of the fitness world – something to do with oxygen use during exercise, but what does it really mean? Well, let me tell you, friend, VO2 Max is like the superhero of fitness metrics – a measure that can truly help you achieve your fitness goals.

But don’t worry, if you’re one of the many people who find VO2 Max charts and graphs confusing , I’m here to help. In fact, today I’m going to take you on a journey to discover the power of VO2 Max – without all the technical jargon and complicated sentences.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about VO2 Max, and that includes

  • What VO2 Max actually is
  • Why it’s so important,
  • What a good VO2 Max score looks like
  • The importance of VO2 Max Charts
  • What are normal VO2 Max ranges
  • How to increase your aerobic capacity.
  • And so much more

So get ready to unleash the superhero within and discover the true power of VO2 Max.

What’s The v02 Max?

So, what exactly is VO2 Max? Also known as “maximal oxygen consumption,” “peak oxygen intake,” and “maximal oxygen uptake,” VO2max is the metric that best describes your personal cardiorespiratory and aerobic fitness levels, research tells us.

When you exercise, your body needs oxygen to produce energy. The more oxygen you can take in and use, the longer and harder you can work out. VO2 Max is the best metric to determine your aerobic and cardiorespiratory fitness levels.

Simply put, it’s the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise, and is measured in liters per minute (L/min) or milliliters per minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/min/kg).

Think of the VO2 max as a kind of like the engine size in a car – the bigger the engine, the more power it can produce. In this case, your body is the engine, and the oxygen is the fuel.

Here’s what the words stand for:

  • The V in VO2 Max stands for volume. The reason it’s often displayed in scientific text with a dot above it is to show that it refers to volume and volume rate per minute.
  • The O2 in VO2 is the chemical formula for oxygen in its most stable state, the type of oxygen found in the air we breathe.
  • Max is simply maximum, or maximal.

Some trainers and coaches use the analogy of a “gas tank” to explain VO2 Max – just like a car can only go as far as the amount of gas in its tank, your body can only perform as long as your aerobic capacity (i.e., your VO2 Max) allows.

When you reach your VO2 Max during exercise, it means you’ve hit your body’s maximum capacity for delivering oxygen to your muscles, which can feel like trying to squeeze water from a dry sponge.

The Main VO2 Max Mechanisms

Now that you know what VO2 Max is, let’s talk about what makes up this nifty little metric. Think of it like a three-legged stool, where each leg is a vital component. Knock one of those legs out, and the whole thing goes crashing down.

So, what are these three main components that make up your VO2 Max? First off, we have your lung capacity and heart volume. Think of your lungs and heart like the Batman and Robin of your circulatory system. The bigger and better they are, the more oxygenated blood they can pump into your system, and the higher your VO2 Max score.

Next up, we have capillary delivery. This is like the FedEx of your bloodstream. The more oxygenated blood that gets delivered to your muscles, the higher your aerobic fitness score.

After all, who doesn’t want more oxygen flowing to their muscles, right?

Last but not least, we have muscle efficiency. This is like having a finely-tuned sports car engine. The better your muscles can utilize oxygen from your blood, the better you can perform.

Types of VO2 Max Measures

Now that we’ve covered what makes up your VO2 Max let’s dive into the types of measures used to track it. There are two types of VO2 Max measures: absolute and relative.

Absolute VO2 Max is expressed in liters per minute and describes the total volume of oxygen you consume per minute. It’s like measuring the size of a pool in gallons. The bigger the pool, the more water it can hold.

The same goes for your lungs and heart.

On the other hand, relative VO2 Max is expressed as milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. It measures your weight in liters per minute per kilogram of your body weight. This metric allows for a better comparison of aerobic fitness among people of different body sizes. It’s like measuring the size of a pool relative to the size of the person swimming in it.

The Factors That Impact VO2Max

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to have better cardio fitness than others?

Here’s the truth.

A few factors influence your VO2 Max. According to the UC Davis Sports Medicine Department, your VO2 Max is affected by a variety of things, from your genetics to your training habits.

Let me explain a few.

Age & Aerobic Capacity

One thing that affects your VO2 Max is your age. As you get older, your aerobic capacity declines by around 10 percent per decade. But don’t fret – even if you’re not a young whipper-snapper anymore, research shows that sporadic intense exercise can still help improve your VO2 Max levels.

Gender

Gender also plays a role. Men generally have larger hearts and pump more blood than women, which partially accounts for their higher VO2 Max levels. Women, on the other hand, typically have lower maximum oxygen uptake due to factors like blood volume, muscle mass, and hemoglobin content.

Heredity

Heredity is another factor that affects your VO2 Max. According to research out of Cerritos College in California, genetics may account for as much as 10 to 30 percent of your VO2 Max. That’s because many genetic factors impact your VO2 Max, from muscle fiber composition to aerobic enzyme levels.

Altitude and Maximum Oxygen Uptake

As you go up in altitude, there’s less oxygen available to consume, which leads to a decrease in your cardio fitness score. So, if you’re planning a mountain climbing expedition, be prepared for a lower VO2 Max.

Training Status & Oxygen Consumption

Last but not least, your training status also impacts your VO2 Max. Training can have a huge impact on your cardio fitness score, with improvements of up to 10 to 20 percent possible depending on your fitness level, background, and training program. So, if you want to improve your VO2 Max, hit the gym, or go for a run – your heart (and lungs) will thank you for it!

The Importance Of VO2’max Scores

Have you ever wondered what your VO2 max score is? It’s like having your own fitness report card, complete with a grade for your aerobic capacity.  But let’s be real, knowing your VO2 max score isn’t just about impressing your gym buddies with a big number. There are more implications to it.

It’s about understanding your body’s capabilities and limitations and using that knowledge to improve your fitness level. It’s like having a GPS for your fitness journey – it tells you where you are, and helps you chart a course to where you want to be.

Let’s dive a little deeper.

More Benefits

Research found the V02 Max drastically impacts your lifespan.

A low score may make you prone to cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

The next two VO2max charts show the ideal fitness levels ideal for reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases, according to research from the Cooper Institute.

VO2 max chart

Source – Whyexercise.com

Congratulation to those who are in the blue zone; your fitness level is impeccable.

For those in the yellow and green zone, you can still reduce your risks by making a few lifestyle changes—one of them is improving your V02 Max (more on that later).

Additional resource – How to use running pace charts

What Do VO2 Max Charts Mean For Fitness Performance?

By now, you’re probably sweating buckets over V02 Max, but let’s take a breather and remember that it’s only one piece of the performance puzzle.

In fact, athletic performance is determined by other factor that go beyond aerobic power, such proper technique, mental preparation, and even diet.

Just like two bakers can use the same ingredients but end up with different cakes, two athletes with similar V02 Max readings can have very different performances based on how they use oxygen during exercise.

A runner with perfect form and a well-planned training schedule will be able to sprint circles around their competitor with bad form and inconsistent training, even if they have the same V02 Max score. It’s like watching Usain Bolt smoke his competitors in the 100-meter dash while they huff and puff like a pack of asthmatic wolves.

That’s why personal trainers and scientists are hesitant about relying solely on V02 Max measurements to track the progress of endurance athletes.

What’s more, having a high V02 Max score in one sport doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a champ in another. Eliud Kipchoge may be the king of the marathon world, but that doesn’t mean he could hop on a bike or dive into a pool and dominate like Michael Phelps.

For example, running optimally isn’t just about your ability to use oxygen efficiently. Other elements like foot strike, cadence, muscle fiber recruitment, and bodyweight can all impact performance.

What’s a Good VO2 Max?

When it comes to V02 max, there’s no “one size fits all” score that you should strive for. It’s like trying to fit into your old pair of jeans from high school – the answer depends on a bunch of factors, like your age, gender, conditioning level, and even the altitude you’re training at.

For example, the average non-trained guy will usually hit a V02 max score of 30-40 mL/kg/min. That’s about as impressive as a one-legged man winning a butt-kicking contest. Ladies, on the other hand, tend to score slightly lower, at around 27-30 mL/kg/min.

Elite athletes, however, are a whole different beast. These dudes (and dudettes) are like the Usain Bolts and Simone Bileses of the world – they can achieve V02 max scores as high as 90 mL/kg/min (for men) and 80-77 mL/kg/min (for women). That’s like having a Ferrari engine in your chest instead of a regular old human heart.

But what’s considered a good V02 max score for us regular folks? Well, if you’re a 30-year-old dude, aim for a score of 50-55 mL/kg/min. And if you’re a 30-year-old lady, shoot for 45-50 mL/kg/min.

Of course, it’s not just about the numbers – it’s also about how you feel and perform. The closer your V02 max score is to 60, the better you’ll fare on the field (or the court, or the track, or wherever your athletic endeavors take you).

VO2 max charts

VO2 max chart

Endurance Training And VO2’max

Get ready to be blown away by these superhuman athletes! It’s no secret that having a high VO2 max score is a must for excelling in endurance sports. And some of the best athletes out there have the VO2 max scores to prove it.

Take Kilian Jornet, for instance, a legendary ultra-endurance runner who’s basically a real-life superhero. At the peak of his conditioning, Jornet was reported to have a VO2 max score of a mind-boggling 92.0 ml/kg/min. That’s higher than most people can even dream of achieving!

But wait, it gets even better. Norwegian cross-country skier Espen Harald Bjerke takes the cake with a VO2 max score of an unbelievable 96.0 ml/kg/min. That’s right; you read that correctly. Ninety-six! This guy’s lung capacity is off the charts.

These athletes are living proof that having a high VO2 max score can give you a serious advantage in the world of endurance sports. So if you’re looking to take your athletic performance to the next level, it’s time to start working on improving that cardio fitness.

v02 max chart

How to Measure Your VO2 Max

Alright, let me put it this way: measuring your VO2 Max is like exploring the depths of the ocean floor – it’s an exhilarating and exciting journey, but you need the right tools to uncover the truth.

Let’s explain what it is all about.

The VO2 Max Mask Test

To get an accurate reading of your VO2 Max, you need to take the test in an exercise laboratory. And just like a deep-sea diver needs a specialized diving suit, you’ll need to wear an oxygen mask during the test to measure the gas concentrations of your inspired and expired air.

The video below explains more about the testing procedure

The VO2 Max Mask Test is the gold standard when it comes to determining your aerobic capacity. It involves giving it your all on a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike while wearing the mask to collect the necessary data.

Submaximal VO2 Max Tests– Calculating Aerobic Capacity the Easy Way

While they may not be as accurate as laboratory tests, submaximal VO2 max tests are useful for providing a rough idea of aerobic capacity.

The Cooper Method

Coaches and fitness aficionados widely use the Cooper 12-minute run Test as it requires little equipment and it offers a rough yet very reliable estimate of maximal oxygen consumption.

This method was developed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a leading authority on aerobic fitness and exercise science, to measure the VO2Max of military staff.

After thorough research, Dr. Cooper found a high correlation between the distance an individual could run or walk and their Vo2 max.

The Astrand Treadmill Test

Have you heard of the Astrand test?. Originally designed in the 1950s by Per-Olof Astrand, this test is a straightforward way to measure your VO2 max levels.

All you have to do is keep running at a steady pace with a 2.5 percent increase in gradient every two minutes until you can’t take it anymore. It’s like running a marathon up a mountain, except you do it on a treadmill in a lab.

The Rockport Fitness Walking Test

First, let’s start with some context. In the 80s, a group of mad scientists from the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst came up with a genius way to test fitness using just a track, a pair of running shoes, a stopwatch, and an accurate scale. And voila! The Rockport walking test was born

Still want more V02 Max tests?

There are many methods for estimating VO2 max scores and different types of VO2 max charts.

Maybe you heard a similar term but different methods.

Here are some of the most reliable ones.

These should be suitable for any fitness and lifestyle—even if you can’t walk:

How to Increase Your VO2 Max

Now that we have the theory out of the way let’s look at how you can improve your aerobic capacity.

Sure, simply increasing your VO2 Max won’t automatically turn you into the Flash, but it’s a crucial step in the right direction. And lucky for you, I’ve got the inside scoop on the fastest and legal way to achieve it.

So, what’s the fastest (and legal) way to improve your VO2 Max?

Is it:

(a) Diet

(b) Sleep

(c) Steady-state cardio training

(d) High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

(e) Altitude training

If you answered (d), you’re on the right path.

According to research, High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short, is the ideal way of improving your peak oxygen intake, as it challenges your cardiovascular system to work to maximum effort.

The more you push yourself (higher RPE ), the better.

HIIT workouts consist of performing intervals of intense aerobic exercise, like running, spinning, or swimming, taking a recovery break, then repeating the whole cycle for a specific amount of time.

Picture yourself sprinting, spinning, or swimming like an Olympic champion, with intervals of intense aerobic exercise followed by a recovery break.

Sample VO2 Max Workout Routines

Here are two specific VO2max sessions you can implement to improve your overall score. Just make sure to warm up and cool down at an easy pace for 10 to 15 minutes each before and after any of the below routines.

  • The Track Workout – Perform five 1000-meter (or two laps and a half) near maximum capacity. Recover for two to three minutes between each interval.
  • The Treadmill Incline Workout – Increase the incline to 8 percent and complete five two-minute intervals at maximum capacity. Remember to pace yourself, so you don’t burn out.

Be Careful

Slow and gradual is the key when it comes to improving aerobic capacity. VO2 max training is no easy walk in the park as it challenges your body like nothing else.

But if you stay consistent and train regularly, you’ll reap the benefits soon.

Another note.

Avoid doing VO2max workouts back-to-back.

Instead, plan easy or rest days between sessions to allow your body to recover and adapt.

As you get fitter, increase the number of intervals you perform, the intervals length, or take less time for recovery.

Additional Resource – The benefits of running

Vo2 Max Charts Explained – The Conclusion

There you have it! Now not only do you know what’s a good VO2 max but also how to improve it. The vo2 max charts are just a bonus!

If you’re serious about reaching your full athletic potential, then V02Max should be one of your supporting tools for measuring your fitness progress over time.

Of course, you still need to back up your fitness routine with a proper diet, good technique, consistency, and all of that.

Nothing is an accident.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep running strong

David D.

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