VO2 max: Everything you need to know

Find out everything you need to know about the standard of cardiovascular fitness - VO2 max

October 28, 2019
VO2 max: Everything you need to know

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You must have heard the term VO2 max at least once.  But what stands behind that scientifically sounding name?

VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise. Its commonly used to test the aerobic endurance or cardiovascular fitness of athletes.

Although VO2 max is commonly measured at runners, it’s an effective way of determining cardiovascular fitness. This means it’s useful to know for any cardio activities, not just running. If you want to improve your performance, knowing your VO2 max might be useful. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about VO2 max.

Why is VO2 max important

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VO2 max is a measure of how much oxygen your body uses during exercise at a maximum effort. In other words, how much oxygen your heart can pump and how much of that oxygen your muscles can use. VO2 max is mostly mentioned in the context of distance running, but its higher scores are associated with some other endurance sports, such as cycling, rowing, and cross-country skiing. Having a higher VO2 max can lead to better performance in these sports.

However, the higher VO2 max does not automatically mean you will be a better runner (or have better performance in mentioned sports). Other factors can influence your performance, for example, your mental focus. Therefore, if you take elite runners with approximately the same VO2 max, you will probably see a wide range of personal records. As DNAfit states, VO2 max is just one piece of the puzzle, but you can use your score as a guideline for improving your performance. 

In conclusion, VO2 max can be an important factor for professional runners, or a running enthusiast looking for improvement. If you are paying attention to your overall fitness and always strive for improvement in all fields, or maybe looking to break your personal record, it might be interesting information for you to know and act upon.

VO2 max formula

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The only way to precisely measure VO2 max is in a sports performance lab. The test usually takes between 10-20 minutes. During the test, a treadmill or stationary bike is used, and the subject is wearing a face mask. This mask is connected to a machine that can analyze your respiratory rate and volume alongside the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in inhaled and exhaled air. 

Private clinics, fitness centers, and elite gyms often offer such tests. The price of this testing is often not cheap and that is the reason why it’s mostly conducted only on professional athletes.

However, if you would still like to know an approximate estimation of your VO2 max, there is a way to measure it by using a simple VO2 max formula.

VO2 max=15x(HRmax/HRrest)

  • HRmax - stands for maximum heart rate. The simplest way to measure it, according to Mayo Clinic, is to subtract your age from the number 220. For example, if you are 30, your HRmax will be 190 (220-30=190)

  • HRmin - your resting heart rate. Measure it in the morning upon waking up, by using a sports watch or check it manually.

For example, if you are 30 years old and your resting heart rate is 80, your VO2 max formula will look like this:


Besides formula, various sports gadgets, such as sport watches, can give you an estimation of your VO2 max. This is an easy way to track your VO2 max alongside all your other fitness statistics.

VO2 max table chart

So, is your VO2 max value bad, average, or above average? There are table charts that can help you determine that.

How to increase VO2 max

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It doesn’t matter have you tested your VO2 max in the lab or not, you can still improve your performance by increasing your VO2 max. After all, you can only gain from doing so, there’s nothing to lose. So, how do you increase VO2 max?

Research suggests that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) significantly enhances VO2 max. This happens because HIIT trains your body to work at incredibly high levels for a period that is just enough to push or surpass your anaerobic threshold before returning to a steadier, aerobic state. Apply this logic to any other exercise - if you push your limits, you can increase your VO2 max. As with any other discipline, the change does not happen in the comfort zone.

Adding intervals to your run, instead of running at a slow, steady pace, is a great way to increase your VO2 max. For example:

  • Run fast for one minute

  • Jog slowly for two minutes

  • Sprint for 30 seconds

  • Jog slowly for two minutes

  • Repeat 

If you are not a fan of running, but still want to increase your VO2 max, apply the same principle to swimming, cycling, rowing, or any other cross-training activity.

As Runner’s world concludes, you can increase your VO2 max with any workout, done regularly, that places a higher, continuous demand on your cardiovascular system. However, you should be working out at an intensity right below your anaerobic threshold for at least 15 minutes.


VO2 max is commonly measured in professional athletes to improve their performance. Although it is a good measure of cardiovascular fitness, it doesn’t mean that athletes with higher VO2 max will automatically have higher results. However, amateur athletes who are looking to improve their performance can also benefit from knowing their VO2 max.

The only precise way to measure VO2 max is in a laboratory, but you can get a rough estimation by using simple formulas, or even some sports gadgets. Table charts can help you determine if your VO2 max fits the norms.

If you are looking to increase your VO2 max, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is your best bet since it’s scientifically proven to increase VO2 max.

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