In reading about exercise and fitness, it is likely that you have come across the term “VO2 Max” at least once. Is this metric something you should be concerned with, or is it geared more towards elite athletes? Read on for everything you need to know to become a VO2 Max expert.
What Is VO2 Max?
VO2 Max is a measure of the maximum volume (V) of oxygen (O2) your body can use while working out as hard as you can. It is measured in millilitres of oxygen used per minute per kilogram of body weight, and it shows the efficiency of your body’s use of oxygen. While this measurement is a useful tool for charting your cardiovascular fitness, it is not the only metric you should use. VO2 Max varies according to a number of factors, including red blood cell count, muscle adaptation to exercise, genetics, and the volume of blood your heart can pump. Even among elite athletes, VO2 Max levels can vary drastically due to these external factors. For an overall frame of reference, average VO2 Max for the general population typically falls within a range between 30 and 60 ml/min/kg, with men showing slightly higher numbers than women. VO2 Max deteriorates as your body ages, so older individuals typically have lower VO2 Max than their younger counterparts.
What Is VO2 Max Testing?
A qualified fitness professional can test your VO2 Max for you. The test involves wearing a breathing mask while performing an increasingly difficult exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. The mask measures the ventilation, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels as you breathe in and out. The test will push you to your highest limits of exertion, so keep in mind that this test is not meant to be easy. While the test takes varying amounts of time for each individual, it can typically be completed in about 10-15 minutes. VO2 Max can also be approximated from race paces and other in-the-field data, but these methods only give an approximation, not an exact calculation of VO2 Max.
Why Should I Measure My VO2 Max?
Knowing your VO2 Max gives you increased insight into your overall fitness level and the efficiency of your body as it processes oxygen. It is a highly useful metric for tracking your progress on your journey to cardiovascular health. It is recommended that you test your VO2 Max about once a year if you are trying to maintain your current level of fitness. If, on the other hand, you are training to improve your cardiovascular health, you should aim to test your VO2 max every 6-12 weeks so you can chart your progress.
How Do I Improve my VO2 Max?
The best way to increase your VO2 Max is to get consistent aerobic exercise. Most experts recommend at least 30 minutes, three to five days a week. You can further increase your VO2 Max by incorporating intervals into your training. For example, let’s say you are going to run 5 km, and it usually takes you about 25 minutes. Run the first 5 minutes at a relaxed, comfortable pace, then switch to 2-5 minutes at your maximum pace. Keep alternating paces until you have completed your target distance or time.
Now that you have an understanding of VO2 Max, it’s time to get tested. With Metabolic Measures, the test comes to you and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have. This is the first step towards improved cardiovascular fitness for now and for the rest of your life.
Author: Jarrad White, cofounder of Metabolic Measures is a Physiotherapist and VO2 Max testing expert based in Perth, Western Australia.