What’s VO2 Max and Why You Should Care

If you’ve been running, or doing any other aerobic training, then you’ve probably heard about VO2 Max.

What is VO2 Max?

VO2 Max is a measure of your body’s ability to use oxygen. The higher your VO2 Max, the greater your body’s ability to take and use oxygen while you’re training.

V = volume
O2 = oxygen
Max = maximum

VO2 Max is measured in ml of oxygen consumed per kg of body weight per minute of activity.

How is VO2 Max measured?

The most accurate way to measure VO2 Max is to use a device that measures oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output during increasingly difficult exercise. Think of the sort of set up you see in movies when athletes are running on a treadmill with a face mask and lots of computers.

Alternately, many gyms simply measure heart rate and use that as an indication of oxygen use.

If you’re after an approximation of your VO2 Max then you can use one of the simple VO2 Max tests on ShapeSense. Also, many sports watches can calculate an approximation of your VO2 Max by using the heart rate data they collect while you’re exercising.

Strava will tell you how much time you spent working at your calculated VO2 Max threshold as well although I can;t see where it tells me my actual VO2 Max.

What’s influences your VO2 Max score?

There are several factors that can influence your VO2 Max score. They are

  • Age – as you get older, your ability to use oxygen efficiently reduces.
  • Weight/body composition – your VO2 Max relies on organic tissue that can use oxygen. If you’re carrying a lot of fat, your ability to use oxygen is decreased.
  • Fitness – fitter people can use oxygen more efficiently than unfit people
  • Gender – men tend to have higher VO2 Max scores.

What’s a good VO2 Max score?

According to the VO2 Max article on Wikipedia

The average untrained healthy male will have a VO2 max of approximately 35-40 ml/kg/min. The average untrained healthy female will score a VO2 max of approximately 27-31 ml/kg/min. Elite male runners can consume up to 85 ml/kg/min, and female elite runners can consume about 77 ml/kg/min. Five time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain is reported to have had a VO2 max of 88.0 at his peak, while cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie measured at 96 ml/kg/min.

So where does that put the rest of us? This table from ShapeSense lists the normal VO2 Max ranges for men and women of different ages and activity levels.


What can you do to increase your VO2 Max?

You can increase your VO2 Max through training. The science behind this is covered, in this article at Active describing how to improve your VO2 Max.

In short, the key is high-intensity interval training where you push your body. This causes your body to react in several ways that improve your body’s use of oxygen.

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