VO2 Max Charts Explained – What’s V02 Max? (2020 Update)

vo2 max expalined

Looking to learn more about VO2 Max?

Then you’ve come to the right place.

Here’s the truth.

Whether you’re a beginner runner, a weekend warrior, or simply looking to improve your fitness level, the v02 max is a stat to track and embrace.

In today’s post, I’m going to share with you the full guide to The VO2 Max without using a lot of technical jargon or complicated sentences.

By the end, you’ll learn more about:

  • What is VO2 Max?
  • Why V02 Max is so important
  • What is a Good VO2 max?
  • How to measure VO2 max?
  • What’ the normal VO2max ranges are and how that compares to elite athletes?
  • The VO2 max charts you need
  • How to increase VO2 max?
  • And so much more…

Let’s lace up and dig in.

What’s The VO2 Max?

The VO2 Max is pretty simple: it’s the maximum volume of oxygen that a person can use during exercise.

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 level.

Think of the VO2 Max as horsepower in a car.

This metric  gauges the capacity of your engine (body) to utilize fuel (oxygen) when exercising.

Therefore,  the higher your VO2max score, the longer you can run, jump, row, swim, bike, you name it.

VO2 Max is measured in liter/minute, (L/min), or milliliters/minute per kilogram of body weight, (mL/min/kg).

Here’s what the words actually stand for:

  • The V in VO2 Max stands for volume. The reason it’s often displayed in scientific text with a dot above it to show that it not only refers to volume but volume rate per minute.
  • The O2 in VO2, as you might have already guessed, is the chemical formula for oxygen in its most stable state, which is the type of oxygen found in the air we breathe.
  • Max is simply maximum, or maximal.

The Main VO2 Max Mechanisms

Your VO2 max is made up of three main components:

  • Lung capacity & heart volume. The greater your lung capacity, the more oxygenated blood your heart can pump, and the higher your VO2Max score.
  • Capillary delivery. The more oxygenated blood that can reach your muscles, the higher your aerobic fitness score.
  • Muscle efficiency. The better your muscles are at utilizing oxygen from your blood, the better your VO2 max reading.

VO2 Max Testing

According to science, V02 max testing is the golden standard of cardiovascular fitness.

It’s also the most reliable indicator of aerobic endurance.

That’s why it’s often used to measure and keep track of the cardiovascular endurance of athletes before and at the end of a training cycle.

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The Factors That Impact VO2 Max

On average, sedentary males have a VO2max of roughly 35 to 40 mL/kg/min, while females score a VO2 max of around 26 to 30 mL/kg/min.

This number is affected by many factors, e.g., heredity, training, age, gender, and body composition, according to the UC Davis Sports Medicine Department.

Let’s explain a few.

Age & Aerobic Capacity

As you get older, your VO2 max goes on the decline.

Most people reach their peak around their late 20’s or early 30s.

Then, it starts to drop by roughly 10 percent per decade.

But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Research reports that even sporadic intense exercise can help improve VO2 max levels.

Gender and VO2 Max

Men have a higher V02 max  (roughly 15-30%) than women thanks to physiology.

The volume of blood your heart can pump determines in part your aerobic capacity.

Men are usually larger and bigger than women; therefore, have larger hearts that pump more blood.

Other factors also matter such as blood volume, muscle mass, and hemoglobin content—all of these make women’s VO2 max lower than men.

Heredity

Research out of the Cerritos College in California claims that genetics may account for as much as 10 to 30 percent of your VO2 Max.

Many genetic factors impact your VO2max including muscle fiber composition, muscle mass, body size, aerobic enzyme levels, and mitochondrial density.

Altitude and VO2 max

Your VO2 Max decreases the less oxygen available to consume at higher altitudes.

That’s why you’ll typically have a 5 percent reduction in the cardio fitness score for every 5,000 feet gained in altitude.

Training Status & V02 Max

Training drastically influences your cardio fitness score.

The exact extent of the impact varies greatly, but V02 max can be improved by up to 10 to 20 percent depending on the individual’s fitness level, fitness background, and training program.

Why VO2 Max Scores Are Important?

Figuring out your current cardio fitness score helps you understand your fitness level as well as how to improve it.

It also helps you decide your training pace, and it’s an excellent way to monitor your fitness progress (or lack) for the medium and long-term.

In general, individuals who are the least fit experience the biggest jumps, and those who are already-fit see the slightest gap.

But VO2 max scores aren’t just about how fast or long you can ride, run, or swim.

There are more implications to it.

More Benefits

Research has reported that the VO2 Max has a drastic impact on your lifespan.

A low score has been correlated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

People with a low VO2 max are also more to prone breast, lung, and gastrointestinal cancers, according to research.

The next two VO2max charts show the ideal levels of fitness for reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases, according to research from the Cooper Institute.
vo2 max charts explained
Source – Whyexercise.com

Congratulation for 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, of course, improving your V02 max (more on that later).

What Does VO2 max Means For your Fitness Performance?

By now, you understand that V02 max matters a lot.

But when it comes to reaching your performance goals, VO2max is only one half of the equation—the other half being efficiency.

These include skill training, proper technique, mental preparation, psychological profile, diet, lactate threshold training, etc.

This means that two runners with similar V02 max scores can have significantly different performances based on how they use oxygen during exercise.

A runner with perfect technique and training plan will be able to run faster and farther than their competitor with bad form and inconsistent training, even with the same VO2max.

That’s why a lot of personal trainers and scientists are hesitant about measuring VO2max as part of a tracking effort for endurance athletes.

It doesn’t tell the whole story, period.

What’s more?

Athletes with a higher cardio fitness score tend to score optimally in their specific sport of choice.

It doesn’t translate very well to other sports.

Eliud Kipchoge has dominated the marathon world for the past few years, but that doesn’t mean that he can achieve the same success in, let’s say, cycling or swimming.

For example, running optimally isn’t just about your ability to utilize oxygen.

Some of the factors that can impact your performance include:

  • Foot strike and length
  • Cadence
  • Muscle fiber recruitment
  • Running form
  • Physiology
  • Bodyweight

What is a Good VO2 Max?

So, what is a good VO2 max score? Just like any other fitness metric, there’s no one “good” VO2max score that everyone should shoot for as the answer depends on many factors.

These include:

  • Your age
  • Your gender
  • Your conditioning level
  • Elevation
  • Etc.

For example:

  • The average non-trained male achieves a VO2 max of roughly 30 to 40 mL/kg/min. The average non-trained female scores roughly 27 to 30 mL/kg/min.
  • Elite male athletes V02 max can climb up as high 90 mL/kg/min, while female athletes to up to 80 to 77 mL/kg/min.
  • A good VO2 max score for a 30-year-old man is 50-55 mL/kg/min, while a good a score for a 30-year-old woman is 45-50 mL/kg/min.

As a rule, the higher your cardio fitness score—the closer it is to 60—the better it is.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but when your score is high, it means that your body can process a lot of oxygen and deliver it to your muscles in the most efficient manner.

Here are some VO2 max charts for good averages based on gender, age, and fitness taken from top-end sports,  that show normative data in different population groups.

vo2max charts

Endurance Training And VO2 Max

A higher V02 Max is linked with a host of endurance sports, such as distance running, cycling, cross-country skiing, and rowing.

The living proof, renowned ultra-endurance runner Kilian Jornet was reported at 92.0 ml/kg/min during the peak of his conditioning, while Norwegian cross country skier Espen Harald Bjerke reportedly scored a Vo2 Max of 96.0 ml/kg/min.

v02 max chartHow to Increase Your VO2 Max

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

Sure, increasing your VO2 Max won’t help you automatically run, swim, or ride faster.

But it’s a step in the right direction.

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 V02 max, as it challenges your cardiovascular system to work to maximum effort.

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

Here’s a simple HIIT session for improving for your V02 max

  • Warm-up for 10 to 15 minutes by jogging at a steady pace, then perform 8 to 10 dynamic exercises to get your body ready for intense exercise.
  • Once you’re warmed up, run as fast as you can for one minute.
  • Take a one-minute break. Slow down and jog slowly.
  • Repeat the on and off cycle for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • End your session with a 5-minute cooldown jog.

Be Careful

Slow and gradual is the key when it comes to improving V02 max.

Don’t try to chew more than you can swallow.

VO2max training is no easy walk in the park since it has to challenge your body like nothing else before.

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

Another note.

Avoid doing VO2 max 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.

How to Measure your VO2 Max

VO2 max can be measured through various methods of physical evaluations.

These can be direct as in a lab or indirect, using submaximal tests outside of the lab setting.

Let’s explain what is it all about.

The VO2 Max Mask Test

The only reliable and bullet-proof way to get an ACTUAL reading of V02 max is by taking the test in an exercise laboratory.

During the fitness test, you’re asked to wear an oxygen mask that measures the amount and gas concentrations of inspired and expired air, while performing all-out effort exercise (on a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike).

The video below explains more about the VO2 max testing procedure:

The VO2 Max Mask Testing Protocol

You start off at a warm-up pace.

Then, every few minutes, you increase exercise intensity, whether by resistance, speed, incline, depending on the machine.

Then you keep pushing it further and harder until you reach exhaustion.

This is the threshold intensity point—measured by the equipment and recorded as a number.

At this point, your body switches from aerobic training to anaerobic training.

This means that your body has switched from using oxygen to generate energy to using either glycogen or creatine phosphate for fuel.

Typically, you’ll reach your VO2Max when oxygen consumption remains constant at a steady state despite an increase in training intensity.

But here’s the downside: direct testing is the most accurate, but accuracy comes at a high cost.

If you’re in a pinch, you can also get a reading of your VO2 Max by using other methods that don’t require expensive lab equipment.

Let’s look at a few alternatives.

2.  Submaximal VO2 Max Tests– Calculating Aerobic Capacity the Easy Way

Sure, submaximal V02 max tests are not as accurate nor reliable than those performed in a laboratory setting, but they’re still a useful way to determine your VO2 max levels.

Let’s explain a few.

The Cooper Method

The Cooper 12-minute run Test is widely used by coaches and fitness enthusiasts as it requires little equipment, and it offers a rough yet very reliable estimate of V02Max.

This method developed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a leading authority on aerobic fitness and exercise science as a way 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 Vo2max.

To perform the Cooper test, you’ll need

  • A flat surface or track at a stadium for a precisely measured road.
  • You can either time yourself or have an assistant record the distance/time you cover during the test.

The VO2 Max Testing Protocol

Warm up for 10 minutes.

Brisk walk for 5 minutes, then do a set of dynamic stretches to get your body ready.

Next, start the stopwatch, run as hard as you can in 12 minutes.

Last up, record the distance covered to the nearest 10 meters.

(Use the track, roughly 400m/437 yards per lap, to work out your overall distance).

Then compare and contrast your results.

Example: Mike warms up for 10 minutes and then times himself for 12 minutes, aiming to cover as much distance as possible.

At the end of the test, Mike ends up running 2.2 miles (about nine laps around a standard track).

Since 2.2 miles equals 3600 meters, he can estimate his aerobic capacity by doing a simple calculation:

VO2 Max = 3600 –504.9/44.73 = 69.19 ml/kg/m.

What a good VO2 max if you ask me.The vo2 max cooper method

The Astrand Treadmill Test

First designed by Per-Olof Astrand in the 50’s, the Astrand treadmill test is another useful assessment of VO2 max readings.

The procedure is also simple.

You simply maintain a steady running speed with a 2.5 percent increase in gradient every two minutes until exhaustion instead of running as fast as you can for the given duration.

To perform the Astrand test, you’ll need

  • A treadmill with adjustable speed and incline
  • A stopwatch or clock
  • An assistant to record the time.

The VO2 Max Testing Protocol

Set the treadmill at five mph (or eight km).

Run at this speed for three minutes with no incline, then increase the incline to 2.5 percent while maintaining the same speed.

Every two minutes thereafter, increase the incline by 2.5 percent but keep your running pace the same, until you reach exhaustion.

Once you can no longer keep it up, record your time expressed in minutes and fractions of a minute.

For example, if you reached total exhaustion after 15 minutes and 45 seconds, then you record 15.75 ( 15 mins + 60/45 seconds).

Scoring The VO2 Max Test

To get your VO2 max score, input your results into the following equation:

(Time x 1.44) + 14.99

For example, let’s say you’re a 27-year-old woman and were able to make it in 13 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s 13.50, so you’d calculate:

13.50 X 1.44= 19.44

19.44 + 14.99 = 34.43

Therefore, your aerobic capacity would be 34.43.

This is also a good VO2 Max score.
vo2 max norms

The Rockport Fitness Walking Test

Another test is The Rockport walking test.

This was first designed in the 80’s by scientists at the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

You can easily self-administer the test, and it’s well suited for sedentary individuals.

To perform the Rockport V02 max test you’ll need:

  • A level 1-mile (or 1.6 km) track (not a treadmill). High school tracks are great for this. Keep in mind that on full lap within the inside lane equals 400 meters.
  •  A proper pair of walking shoes
  • A stopwatch
  • An accurate scale.

No track, no problem, as long as you estimate the distance.

Use a mapping app to measure out a one-mile course on a smooth, flat, and unbarred route with no ditches, stop signs, or elevation.

Even an increase of 3 percent can skew the outcome of the test.

The VO2 Max Testing Protocol

Start by warming up for 5 to 10 minutes.

Hit the start button and immediate walk as fast as you can but avoid power walking or speed walking.

Once you reach the end of one mile, stop your stopwatch and record your results in decimals.

For example, 10 minutes and 20 seconds (20 seconds ÷ 60 seconds) = 10.3.

You should take your pulse rate and record your heart rate.

In case you’re not using a heart rate monitor, count the number of heartbeats for 30 seconds, and then multiply it by two to get your heart rate.

Scoring The VO2Max Test

Once you have your results, input them into this not-so-simple formula:

VO2 Max  = 132.853 – (0.0769 × Weight) – (0.3877 × Age) + (6.315 × Gender) – (3.2649 × Time) – (0.1565 × Heart rate) .

Still want more V02 Max tests?

There are many methods for estimating VO2 max scores.

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:

Conclusion

There you have it! Now not only you know what is a good VO2 max score but how to improve it as well.

VO2 Max is a great benchmark for measuring your cardiovascular fitness levels as it literally tells how well your body utilizes oxygen.

If you’re serious about reaching your full athletic potential, then VO2Max should be one of your supporting tools for measuring your fitness progress over time.

Just keep in mind that V02 max is just one piece of the puzzle.

You still need to eat clean, sleep well, work on your form, stay consistent, and all of that.

New to Running? Start Here…

If you’re serious about running, getting fit, and staying injury free, then make sure to download my Runners Blueprint Guide!

Inside this guide, you’ll learn how to start running and lose weight weight the easy and painless way. This is, in fact, your ultimate manifesto to becoming a faster and a stronger runner. And you want that, don’t you?

 Click HERE to check out my Runners Blueprint System today!

Don’t miss out! My awesome running plan is just one click away.

explain vo2 max
Young female runner jogging in the city street.

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