What Is A Good VO2Max, And How Is It Determined?


Vo2 Max Definition

Vo2 max is the maximum rate at which the heart, muscles, and lungs can use the maximum amount of oxygen during exercise. This is used as a way to measure a person’s individual aerobic capacity.

By determining one’s Vo2 max we are able to assess the body’s overall body function and healthy by measuring the effectiveness of multiple body systems. Research has shown that VO2 max may actually be a stronger predictor of future cardiac events, such as heart attacks when compared to other established traditional risk factors including smoking, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes (1).

How To Calculate Your VO2 Max

With advances in technology, you no longer are limited to going to the doctor’s office to calculate your VO2 max. Features on Apple Watch, Garmin, Polar, and other running watches now include metrics to calculate VO2 max. Thankfully, there is another way to calculate your VO2 max without having to buy a smartwatch or go to the doctor’s office.

Use this formula:

VO2 Max = Max Heart Rate/Resting Heart Rate x 15.3

For your maximum heart rate, perform a field test or use a maximum heart rate calculator.  To measure your resting heart rate, check your pulse for 15 seconds while resting and multiply the counted beats by 4. 

For a more accurate representation of your VO2 max, a spirometer is the best bet in completing a vo2 max test. A spirometer assesses how well your lungs work by measuring the amount of air you inhale, how much you exhale, and how quickly you exhale. This tool is also used to diagnose asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other conditions that affect breathing. 

VO2 Max Expectations by Gender, Age, & Activity Level

Men typically have more lean muscle mass than women, research shows, while women tend to accumulate more fatty tissue. Muscles require oxygen, while fat is stored energy. Knowing these important factors, we can surmise that men have a higher VO2 max than women. 

Age-wise, fitness declines somewhere around 5%-20% per decade in healthy individuals. Past the age of 70, fitness levels decline rapidly. By maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, cardiorespiratory fitness losses can be managed. Thankfully, a decline in fitness due to a sedentary lifestyle can be reversed by simply being more active and therefore feeling more energetic in the process. Hiring a personal trainer or following a training plan are the ideal ways to successfully improve vo2 max. If not, merely adding more physical activity to your week can be helpful in improving your cardiovascular fitness, and therefore your v02 max. 

VO2 max isn’t merely important for Olympic or elite athletes only. It’s proven that lower fitness levels are attributed to a high risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality rates stemming from various cancers. Good fitness levels significantly reduce the likelihood of developing chronic illness. VO2 max is great for moderately active individuals and athletes to assess their training and performance. 

What Does VO2 Max Mean for Runners and Cyclists?

Your VO2 max metric is important in improving your ability to sustain longer periods of performance. As an endurance athlete, it is vital to measure and track your VO2 max for personal feedback, to provide training insights, a look at performance, and how to improve future training efforts. By determining your VO2 max, you can identify the optimal training load and therefore work to maintain and improve your fitness levels. It can also be used to reveal when you aren’t challenging yourself enough or when you’re on the verge of burning out from overdoing it. 

Vo2 Max Improvement

Whether for health reasons or for fitness reasons, improving your VO2 max is essential for a healthier lifestyle. 

Here are some tips to help improve your VO2 max-

1.Exercise at high intensity 

Working near your maximum heart rate helps strengthen the muscles in your heart and increase the volume of blood it can pump with each beat (2). But remember, you don’t need to do this every since workout. Your body needs rest. Constantly pushing your body to the brink of maxing out because of high intensity can create a higher risk of injury.

2. Train in Intervals

One of the most popular forms of exercise right now is H.I.I.T. (High-Intensity Interval Training or hiit). This combines short bouts of high-intensity exercise and a period of rest (which changes based on fitness levels).  An example of a H.I.I.T. exercise with work and rest time would be twenty seconds of burpees followed by forty seconds of rest or thirty seconds of burpees followed by a minute of rest. Compared to aerobic fitness exercises, which include most endurance sports, a study found that interval training produced better VO2 max than continuous bouts of aerobic exercise (3).

3. Find your Functional Threshold Power (FTP)

 FTP is the highest amount of power you can sustain for an hour. If you’re a cyclist, this can be helpful to determine in order to find how hard you should be working as you try to improve your VO2 max.

Factors That May Influence VO2 Max Values

There are a few factors that influence VO2 max values, some of them being gender, age, genetics, altitude, size, and temperature. We’ve gone over gender, age, and size, but let’s get into the other factors.

  1. Genetics- Based on genetics, the type of muscle fibers in your heart, the size of your heart and lungs, and your heart’s pumping capacity you can have a low or high vo2 max. With these factors, your genetics can account for 20%-30% of your VO2 max according to Cerritos College in California. 
  2. Altitude- With lower air pressure comes less oxygen available, normally due to higher altitudes. This lowers your VO2 max thanks to the pressure of oxygen in the arterial blood. 
  3. Temperature- With warmer temperatures you consume more oxygen, which also affects VO2 max. 

How your Vo2 Max is Calculated

    There are multiple ways to calculate your VO2 max, the most accurate being the spirometer, but there are other forms as well. 

  1. Spirometer- A spirometer assesses how well your lungs work by measuring the amount of air you inhale, how much you exhale, and how quickly you exhale.
  2. Perform a field test- 

VO2 Max = Max Heart Rate/Resting Heart Rate x 15.3

For your maximum heart rate, perform a field test or use a maximum heart rate calculator.  To measure your resting heart rate, check your pulse for 15 seconds while resting and multiply the counted beats by 4. 

  1. Cooper Test- 

    VO2 Max = 0,0268 X Distance (m) – 11,3

    A run test, make sure you warm up before completing a run for 12 minutes, cover as much distance as you can. The terrain must be completely flat without turns that distort the results. 

  1. Rockport Test

    VO2 Max = 132,6 – (0,17 X weight) – (0,39 X age) + (6,31 X gender) – (3,27 x time) – (0,156 x HR)

    You will have to travel a mile, walking as fast as you can, and note how long it took you to travel it. This test is designed for those that can’t run for 12 minutes. For gender, you must place a 0 if you are a man and a 1 if you are a woman. 

How VO2Max is Measured

VO2 max is measured by the maximum volume (V) of oxygen (O2) your body can process. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

How long should VO2 max intervals be?

VO2 max is between 1-5 minutes long.

How quickly does VO2 max improve?

Once you’ve improved your VO2 max, you normally need less than one high-intensity interval a week to maintain it. Most people can improve their VO2 max through training by 15%-20% in as little as 4-6 weeks (4). 

How accurate is Apple Watch VO2 max?

Not very accurate. 


Does losing weight increase VO2 max?

Yes and no. Normally, VO2 max is calculated using the kilogram of body weight. Body composition is the bigger factor in determining an increase in VO2 max based on body fat and muscle of the body. If your lean muscle mass has increased then yes since muscle utilizes more oxygen consumption than fat. 

Does holding your breath increase VO2 max?

No. A research study found that there was no increase in VO2 max or lactate threshold between 15 runners, with one group breathing normally and the other with short periods of holding their breath. 

What is the highest recorded VO2 max?

Previously held by a cross-country skier, the highest ever recorded VO2 max is 97.5 by Oscar Svendsen, an 18-year-old cyclist from Norway.  The test was conducted in Sept 2012 at the University College of Lillehammer by physiologist Joar Hansen (5). 

References-

  1. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa011858
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547686/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774727/
  4. https://simplifaster.com/articles/how-trainable-is-vo2-max/
  5. https://www.topendsports.com/testing/records/vo2max.htm
kaelyn buzzo  Kaelyn is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach (ISSA) with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing (English) and a Minor in Nutrition from the University of South Florida. Read More.