7 Measures of VO2 Max, and 6 Ways to Improve It
Calculation of your VO2 max involves determining the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. A deep dive into VO2 max will have you finding a bunch of VO2 max charts that plot out what you are hoping for.
A person’s VO2 max varies based on many different variables, such as age or gender.
What is VO2 Max?
The maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during physical activity is the measure of your VO2 max. Typically measured in millimeters of oxygen consumed in one minute based on each kilogram of body weight.
How Do I Test VO2 Max?
The clinical testing of your VO2 max is done in a laboratory. The person is either on a stationary bicycle or treadmill. Put into a position where the intensity of effort increases every couple of minutes, the subject exercises until exhaustion while wearing a special mask.
The mask measures both your inspired and expired air to determine the volume and gas concentrations. In addition, many clinics also analyze both resting heart rate and the heart rate of the subject as the intensity of exercise increases. All of this data is analyzed and used to determine VO2 max and cardiovascular fitness.
Recognizing that not everyone has access to a clinic like this, or lacks the financial resources for this type of study, there are other options.
Smartwatches have started to add a VO2 max to the list of amazing things they can do for a runner. Analysis of studies published in Runner’s World magazine, the chest strap heart rate monitors produce more reliability than the wrist sensors, and the data on women appears to be (overall) more accurate than that of men.
There are also VO2 max calculators. Based on a lot of aggregate data, they allow the athlete to input measures they have to determine their probable max.
7 Factors Impacting VO2 Max
There are many factors that impact your VO2 max.
1. Activity Level: Sedentary people have a significantly lower Vo2 max than people who exercise regularly.
2. Age: Generally speaking, younger people have a higher max than their older counterparts, if all else is equal.
3. Gender: Women have a lower VO2 max than men.
4. Genetics: In some respects, what you are born with can’t be changed. Genetics factor into this equation regarding the size of your body, types of muscle fibers, etc.
5. Size: The bigger the body, the bigger the heart, the more VO2 capable your heart is.
6. Altitude: Higher altitudes can make for a lower VO2 max.
7. Temperature: Your body consumes more oxygen in warmer temps.
What is a VO2 Max Chart?
A VO2 max chart explains things for you based on age and gender. When you analyze the chart, it will typically be gender-specific, and then have age as a second measure.
The chart will categorize your number as anywhere from “very poor” or “poor” to “great” or “excellent.”
What Does a VO2 Max Test Tell You?
The simplest way to explain it is to say that it measures the amount of oxygen you use when doing intense exercise. Your VO2 max is then compared to others of your gender and age group to decide what kind of “shape” you are in.
Of course, other things weigh in such as air temperature, the altitude you are exercising in and your own genetics.
What is a Good VO2 Max for My Age?
Determining a good VO2 max for your age depends very much on one thing: your age! If you are looking to find a good VO2 max for yourself, find a chart that is gender-specific.
So if someone tries to generalize this piece of data within, say, a large running group, if that group has mixed ages and genders, that is not really accurate.
What is a Good VO2 Max for a Woman?
Most female elite athletes have a score between 60-85 ml. It is important to remember, however, that determining what is a “good” VO2 max depends on many variables.
V02 Max Norms For Women
|13-19||Under 25.0||25.0 - 30.9||31.0 - 34.9||35.0 - 38.9||39.0 - 41.9||Over 41.9|
|20 - 29||Under 23.6||23.6 - 28.9||29.0 - 32.9||33.0 - 36.9||38.0 - 41.0||Over 41.0|
|30-39||Under 22.8||22.8 - 26.9||27.0 - 31.4||31.5 - 35.6||35.7 - 40.0||Over 40.0|
|40-49||Under 21.0||21.0 - 24.4||24.5 - 28.9||29.0 - 32.8||32.9 - 36.9||Over 36.9|
|50-69||Under 20.2||20.2 - 22.7||22.8 - 26.9||27.0 - 31.4||31.5 - 35.7||Over 35.7|
|60+||Under 17.5||17.5 - 20.1||20.2 - 24.4||24.5 - 30.2||30.3 - 31.4||Over 31.4|
When determining your own VO2 max you need to factor in your age. See the chart above for an example of what you should be shooting for!
What is a Good VO2 Max for a Man?
Everything we just discussed for women in tackling the question, “What is a good VO2 max for me”, is equally true for men. You need to factor in the other variables.
V02 Max Norms For Men
|13-19||Under 35.0||35.0 - 38.3||38.4 - 45.1||45.2 - 50.9||51.0 - 55.9||Over 55.9|
|20 - 29||Under 33.0||33.0 - 36.4||36.5 - 42.4||42.5 - 46.4||46.5 - 52.4||Over 52.4|
|30-39||Under 31.5||31.5 - 35.4||35.5 - 40.9||41.0 - 44.9||45.0 - 49.4||Over 49.4|
|40-49||Under 30.2||30.2 - 33.5||33.6 - 38.9||39.0 - 43.7||43.8 - 48.0||Over 48.0|
|50-69||Under 26.1||26.1 - 30.9||31.0 - 35.7||38.0 - 40.9||41.0 - 45.3||Over 45.3|
|60+||Under 20.5||20.5 - 26.0||26.1 - 32.2||32.3 - 36.4||36.5 - 44.2||Over 44.2|
As you can see by the VO2 max running chart, a superior score for a man is anywhere 44 and higher. However, while a 44 would score a 60+ your old man as superior, if you are 19 years old that is just a “fair” score. In other words, age matters.
6 Ways You Can Improve Your VO2 Max
Since none of us is getting any younger, let’s look at six ways to improve VO2 max.
1. High Intensity Exercise: If every workout you do is at the same intensity, perceived effort and/or pace, you won’t improve.
2. Combine Interval with Continuous Training: Sure, doing track work and then resting between efforts or sets is very important for some workouts. However, it is equally important that some are not complete rest intervals, if you are looking to improve VO2 max. Try jogging between hard efforts on the track for some workouts.
3. HIIT Training: High intensity interval training helps increase that VO2 max. Incorporate this into your workout.
4. Tempo Run: If you don’t already, put some tempo runs into your workout plan. Include a warm-up, then run so man miles at a goal pace, then wrap up with a cool down. These tempo runs are great for increasing VO2.
5. Strength Train: It always comes down to adding some strength training to your workouts. Why? Strength creates speedier and stronger runners. Don’t neglect this piece.
6. Race: This part is simple. If you are a runner who never races, you don’t know what goal efforts look like. Get out there and race some. Then, after a few months of making some of the above changes, race again.
Bringing It All Together
The long and short of it is that if you want to make gains as a runner and athlete, improving your VO2 max is an excellent way to achieve your objective. Determine how you are going to measure your starting point in regards to V02 max, whether that involves a lab test or using your own smartwatch.
Then, look at the chart based on your gender and age to determine what is good for you.
Lastly, implement some of the suggestions into your training program. Work hard and watch the magic happen! Run happy friends!