So what is VO2max? It's a measure of how much oxygen our body is able to process. In previous articles, I've explained the main principles of energy productions. The logic is simple - the more oxygen we can deliver to our muscles, the more aerobic energy we can produce. So V - stands for volume, O2 - for oxygen and 'max' - for maximum. In other words, it's our body’s oxygen capacity, or the speed in which our body can process oxygen. That's why VO2 max is measured in milliliters (of oxygen) per kilogram (of body mass) per minute - ml/kg/min.
VO2max - is really a marker that indicates the fitness level of an athlete. It shows the aerobic capacity and endurance of an athlete and is crucial during preparation for runs, bike rides and all kinds of races. Interpreting your VO2max is pretty simple – the higher the number the fitter you are, and vice versa.
How can it be measured?
On physiological level, when we inhale, air fills our lungs, this is where oxygen separates from other gases and gets absorbed into our blood. Oxygen is then transported via the blood stream to our muscles' energy centers (mitochondrias), which catalyzes nutrients into energy. So by analyzing the content of our inhale and exhale we can get a pretty accurate evaluation of our oxygen consumption.
Needless to say, the more we move, the more oxygen we need to create more energy. But increasing the rate of our oxygen consumption can't go on forever and at some point we hit a plateau despite the increasing intensity of movement.This is when we've reach our oxygen consumption limit - the VO2max.
If you’ve seen athletes in labs running on a treadmill or spinning pedals with a mask on their face – this is most likely what is being measured. The mask is connected to a gas analysis machine which measures the levels of gas in the athlete’s breath – enabling accurate measurements of VO2max by the end of the test.
Obviously measuring VO2max in a lab is not available to everyone. But don't worry there are other ways.
Another effective measurement tool is simply a smart watch. Modern smart watches these days use and indirect approach of analyzing VO2max and is based on data such as training load, heart rate and even oximetry.
It's a good way to track the dynamic of your VO2max, even if not 100% accurate. The advantage here is that your device collects your data all the time as long as you are wearing it. Unlike the lab test method, which only collects data during a limited period of time. Plus any temporary conditions that might influence your performance in the lab, such as something you ate or lack of sleep, can same way result on the VO2max results.
If you want to estimate your VO2max right now and the above methods are not available, you can perform a "bleep test" (or "beep test"), and then use a "bleep test VO2max calculator" to estimate your VO2max.
Bleep test is a shuttle run test commonly used in army, and you’ve probably done it for school during “PE class”.Instructions are quite simple and you can easily find them online together with VO2max calculators, or can even download an app that will guide you through it via audio instructions.
We often do bleep tests during our fitness bootcamps and weight loss programs, to evaluate the fitness level of the participants. Honestly, we never use these results to estimate VO2max, because for a number of reasons it just doesn't make sense. Over time, your Vo2 max measurements could give you a good idea of how much your fitness has improved over time.
What’s considered normal VO2max?
The range of “normal” VO2max is wide. For example, for men between 20-40 years old, normal VO2max is between 31 to 42 ml/kg/min. Women tend to have lower VO2max in general. Trained athletes and Olympians should have a VO2max of over 80.
For example, famous cyclist Lance Armstrong had a VO2max of 84 at the peak of his career, and 66.6 after chemotherapy.
The world's highest recorded VO2max belongs to a former Norwegian cyclist Oskar Svendsen, measuring at 97.5 ml/kg/min.
Racing dogs, for example, participants of the "Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race" show a VO2max of around 240ml/kg/min. And average horse would have levels around 180ml/kg/min.
How can you use VO2max?
VO2max data help you develop an efficient training strategy.
Progressing in fitness and sports is always about testing your limits. Unlike the common saying "go hard or go home", actual training plans consider thorough planning where the athlete does not go hard and give 100% on every workout. It’s more like tapping a new step of stairs a few times before actually climbing on it. Only this can result in sustainable progress.
Knowing your body's oxygen capacity and it's dynamic allows you to plan an accurate long term training strategy, programmed according to your performance results. This is crucial if you want to compete or have ambitious fitness goals. In other words, by planning according to your VO2max, you could see results a lot faster e.g., run or cycle faster and longer. In addition, the recovery process after intense anaerobic training will also be more efficient, because at the end of the day, all processes require aerobic energy.
How to improve VO2max?
Scientist believe that every person has oxygen capacity predetermined by genes. Nevertheless, with training it is possible to achieve significant improvements.A numbers of studies show that VO2max is a dynamic indicator that is affected by our lifestyle and training. And surprisingly, the group of people their oxygen capacity the quickest is untrained people, who can can benefit from pretty much any kind of activity.
Now it gets more tricky for people who train regularly or have trained for a long time. You will realize that it takes a lot more effort just to make small improvements in performance.
Improving VO2max is associated with increasing the anaerobic threshold (aka lactate threshold). According to many studies, we get significant VO2max improvements from interval style training. .
But of course, approaches can be different, and most of the time when we plan our training strategy, we don’t plan specific parts of our program just to improve our VO2max. Training methods usually works best when you consider everything in totality, pushing progress forward by applying efforts from different angles.
From our experience training competitive athletes (Iron man, Tough Mudder, Spartan, Marathon racers) in our fitness bootcamps, they come to us because they’ve hit a plateau in their results, this is common! The best thing you can do is to change your “vector”. What we mean is, if you have hit a plateau in you running, for example, try something new like cycling, swimming or weight training. New angles will open new horizons and lead to new achievements.
Do reach out to us if you have questions or need a consultation.
And don't forget to enjoy your journey!
Live! Train! Enjoy!
Written by Anton.
VO2max, weigh loss, endurance, fitness boot camp, bootcamp, weight loss programs