vo2 max meaning

VO2 Max Explained

vo2 max meaning

VO2 max is one of the most important factors that affect your running performance.

This article answers the most common questions about VO2 max which will help you understand it better. We’ll explore the factors that affect VO2 max and more importantly – how to improve it.

Here are the questions that we’ll look at in this article:

  • What is VO2 max
  • What affects VO2 max
  • How important is VO2 max
  • How to find your VO2 max
  • Can VO2 max be improved
  • What is VO2 max training
  • What is VO2 max pace

What is VO2 max?

VO2 max is the maximal rate at which you can consume oxygen during intense exercise. It is also called maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake, maximal aerobic power, or aerobic capacity.

VO2 max depends on the following factors:

  1. How much oxygen (with blood) your heart can pump to your muscles, and
  2. How much of that oxygen your muscles can use to produce energy

These two factors can be improved with training (which we’ll discuss later in this post). And that’s the reason why physically active people tend to have higher VO2 max values in comparison to sedentary ones.

You’ll want to improve your VO2 max because it allows you to maintain a faster pace aerobically than before.

What Affects VO2 max?

  • Age – Our VO2 max declines gradually as we get older. But if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, your VO2 max will decline at a slower rate.
  • Gender – Women have lower VO2max values than men. It’s because of their different body composition, lower hemoglobin concentration, and higher body fat content.
  • Genetics – Genetic factors are believed to contribute about 25-40% of a person’s VO2 max.
  • Training – Trained people have higher VO2 max than sedentary people.
  • Changes in Altitude – The oxygen content of the air falls with the increase of altitude. This causes VO2 max to decrease at higher altitudes.

How Important is VO2 max?

VO2 max is a great indicator of cardiovascular fitness. And the level of cardiovascular fitness determines the physical work capacity. So VO2 max does indicate our athletic ability.

A higher VO2 max allows you to produce more energy aerobically. This means that you can maintain a faster pace without going into the anaerobic zone.

So yes, VO2 max is important. But it’s also important to understand that VO2 max is just one among the many factors that affect your performance.

In fact, VO2 max has been proven to be a poor performance predictor when it comes to the top-level athletes.

An athlete with a comparatively lower VO2 max value can outperform others with higher VO2 max values. This could be the result of the first runner’s better running economy and fatigue resistance.

The importance of VO2 max also varies depending on your goal race. The shorter the race the more important it is. So for a 5k race VO2 max is very important. For longer races (10k – marathon) – it is still important – but secondary to lactate threshold.

How to Find Your VO2 Max?

There are several ways to find your VO2 max. The most accurate one is to get a VO2 max test in a lab. But it’s neither practical nor necessary for most runners as it’s expensive.

Some GPS watches also show your VO2 max. But remember they are just estimates and may be quite different from your actual VO2 max.

If you want to find your VO2 max without going to a lab, you can try some of the evaluation tests mentioned in this article on brianmac.co.uk site.

I found the calculating your VO2 max from a race result way the simplest. You simply input your race distance and time and then hit “Calculate”. And it will give your VO2 max value.

vo2 max calculator screenshot

To see the analysis of your VO2 max copy your VO2 max value. Then click on the “VO2 max page” link right below it. It will take you to another calculator. Select your age group and gender. Paste your VO2 max value into the VO2 max field. Hit calculate. It will assess your VO2 max and give you a rating from “very poor” to “superior” based on Cooper VO2 max tables.

vo2 max assessment calculator screenshot

Can VO2max be Improved?

Yes, VO2 max can be improved with training. But how much can you improve your VO2 max will depend on your genetic potential.

The amount of improvement varies highly from person to person. So the VO2 max of some people may double with proper conditioning. And some people may not see any change at all – no matter what they do.

The best way to increase your VO2 max is by performing VO2 max training which we’ll discuss below.

What is VO2 Max Training?

VO2 max training is a type of interval training. These intervals are longer with equal (or a bit less than equal) recovery time.

Interval Duration

According to coach Jack Daniels, it takes about 2 minutes for our system to gear up to functioning at VO2 max. So the ideal duration of intervals is 3 to 5 minutes each. Coach Pete Pfitzinger is also close and says that these intervals should be 2 to 6 minutes long – which means the distance between 500 to 1600 meters for experienced runners.

Intensity

The intensity of these intervals should be between 95 to 100 percent of VO2 max. Or 98 to 100 percent of maximum heart rate. You don’t need to always run at 100 percent of your VO2 max. And if you run faster than your VO2 max pace, you’ll use your anaerobic system too much which is not the goal of VO2 max training.

The duration and intensity are very important. Too short intervals will not be effective as your system won’t reach the proper level. Too long intervals will make you work anaerobically which isn’t the purpose of VO2 max training.

Training harder than the required intensity will compromise your workout. and you may not be able to complete the whole workout. So keeping these things in mind will help you with your VO2 max training.

What is VO2 Max Pace?

VO2 max pace is the pace that well-trained runners can maintain for about 8 minutes. And they can run at 95 percent of VO2 max for about 15 minutes. So this pace would be very close to 3k to 5k race pace for top-level runners. And slightly faster than 3k to 5k pace for the others.

You can also use your heart rate to estimate the right VO2 max pace. Your VO2 max training pace would be close to 94 to 98 percent of your maximal heart rate.

The simplest way to find the right VO2 max training pace is by using your goal race pace. There are some great online tools which can do that. One of my favorites is Jack Daniels’ VDOT Running Calculator.

v dot calculator screenshot

Just select your chosen race distance from the drop down or enter it. Then input your goal time. Hit “Calculate” button and it will show you the right paces to achieve your goal race time.

You can find your VO2 max pace by clicking on the “Training” tab. It is shown as interval training type.

Summary

  • VO2 max is the maximal rate of oxygen consumption during intense exercise.
  • It is affected by age, gender, fitness level, training, and altitude.
  • It can be improved with training but to your genetic potential. The improvement rate can be anywhere from 0 to 60 percent.
  • The best way to improve your VO2 max is through VO2 max interval training.
  • VO2 max is just one of the many factors that influence your performance. Some other factors are running economy, fatigue-resistance etc.

References:

  1. Daniels, Jack (2005). Daniels’ Running Formula (2nd ed.). Human Kinetics. ISBN 0-7360-5492-8.
  2. Pfitzinger, Pete and Latter, Philip (2015). Faster Road Racing: 5K to Half Marathon. Human Kinetics. ISBN: 978-1-4504-7045-2.
  3. Akalan C , Kravitz L , Robergs RR . V̇o2max: essentials of the most widely used test in exercise physiology. ACSM Health Fit J 8: 5– 9, 2004.

Leave a Comment