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What Is VO2 Max And What Does This Tell Runners?

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VO2 max tells runners how fit they are, thus how fast they are based on the amount of oxygen pumped to the muscles. What Is VO2 Max And What Does This Tell Runners? www.runnerclick.com

Running in the age of technology means we can track just about every aspect possible. Runners know stats splits, cadence, and even our VO2 max.

Most of the data reported are easy to decipher.

We know just how fast we were going at specific miles. We learn just how many calories and burned and the number of steps taken.

But what really is VO2 max, and what does this really tell runners? Should we know our VO2 max score?

VO2 Max Explained

VO2 max is about oxygen in the body during exercise.

It is the maximum amount of O2, oxygen, that the body can use during a workout. This means its individual. It is measured per minute.

More in-depth, VO2 max consists of the amount of oxygen-rich blood that heart is able to pump as well as the muscles efficiency at then taking and using the oxygen.

First, all roads here lead to the heart.

Photo by Alexandru Acea on Unsplash

The left ventricle of the heart pumps blood, and this depends on heart rate and what is known as stroke volume. This is found by the return of blood back to the heart, as well as the heart’s ability to contact.

Other factors of volume stroke include the size of the heart’s ventricle and the amount of pressure in that left ventricle.

The next part of VO2 max determination is about oxygen in the muscles. This depends on the volume of the capillaries.

Without getting too deep into biology, the capillaries supply oxygen to the mitochondria in muscle cells. The mitochondria or “energy houses” have enzymes that play a role in aerobic metabolism.

Oxygen is then extracted after going through the muscles and circulates back to the heart.

In short, the amount of oxygen that can be used by the muscles depends on the muscle capillaries and the mitochondria of that runner.

How This Effects Runners

With this in mind, it might seem like a runner can’t increase their VO2 max when taking into considering how big their left ventricle is and their biology.

But this actually isn’t true.

The more fit a runner gets, the more they are able to improve their oxygen supply to their muscles.

Keep in mind that when testing VO2 max, there are many variables that come into play.

This includes the type of exercise (such as running or cycling), as well as temperature, altitude and other variables like how long the test of measuring VO2 max is.

It is believed that if runners increase their mileage each month gradually, over time they can improve the VO2 max.

Photo by Steven Erixon on Unsplash

What VO2 Max Tells Runners

So why should runners care about VO2 max anyway? For runners, VO2 max reveals how fit we are.

In terms of our performance, it’s related to how fast we run.

Think about it. The faster the run, the harder we breathe. The goal is to utilize the max amount of oxygen while running fast. The more oxygen we can use, the faster we can be. 

A high VO2 max score is important for distance runners. 

How does one find their VO2 max score?

This is done through what is called an incremental exercise test. This calls for the runner to breathe into a tube that measures oxygen and exhaled gases. This is done while running on a treadmill until the runner is exhausted. 

The max amount of oxygen consumed and recorded during the test is VO2 max.

However, there are smartwatches and apps that also determine VO2 max. Watches like certain Garmin ones estimate VO2 max while measuring pace and heart rate that is elevated to 70 percent maximum heart rate for that runner. The run must be 10 minutes or longer without stopping.

Factors like age, weight, and sex also come into play. 

The more fit a person becomes, the higher their VO2 score should be. 

In short, this number helps runner know their “fitness age,” allowing them to gauge their aerobic endurance.  

How To Increase VO2 Max

Runners can increase this number by gradually increasing their mileage, each month and each year.

However, they can also specifically do VO2 max training.

This consists of running as fast as the runner can for a few minutes during their runs. For example, start with a long warm-up of 10-minutes and run full force for six to 10 minutes. Then cool down for 10-minutes.

The idea is to run fast until exhausted.

But this might not sound like the most appealing workout.

Runners can also increase their VO2 max by interval running. This is VO2 max training scaled down to be more achievable week by week.

Run 30-second intervals of 30-seconds of fast sprinting followed by 30-seconds of recovery. Repeat for the duration of the run.

When this becomes doable over time, increase to 60/60 intervals the same way. Make sure to warm up and cool down each time.

Running hills is also another great way to improve VO2 max.

Do hill repeats that include running fulfill and jogging back down and repeat.

Doing all these types of workouts will yield results.


  1. Coach Jeff, VO2 Max for Runners, Running Website
  2. Jason R. Karp, Ph.D., The Science of VO2 Max and Its Impact on Running Performance, Running Website
  3. Garmin, Understanding What VO2 Max. Estimate Is, Company Website e

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