How to maximize your VO2 max

Eliud Kipchoges\’ VO2 max is estimated to be close to 90; marathon runners under three hours average 65.5; and marathon runners of more than three hours are about 58.7. The average untrained adult clocks in at about 40. These numbers represent the maximum amount of oxygen a runner can consume in milliliters per kilogram of body weight in one minute (ml/kg/min).

What is VO2 max?

It sounds complicated, but simply put, VO2 max is a measure of how efficiently your body uses oxygen, a key indicator of cardio fitness.

If you don\’t know your VO2 max measurement, you\’re not alone. Before my VO2 max test at a specialty gym, I asked nearly every elite runner I met on recreational activities if they knew their VO2 max. Only a handful of the most competitive runners I know have been tested. Even so, they had all forgotten their exact scores.

What no one could forget, though, was how awful the test was. During this, you have to push yourself to the absolute limit. In a traditional VO2-max test, which is typically performed on a treadmill, intensity is increased by increasing speed or gradient in pre-set increments, with the aim of building to maximum effort in 10 to 20 minutes.

Imagine your hardest effort, add a claustrophobic mask to gauge your oxygen uptake, then push for a minute longer than you think you can until you\’re out of breath. Why, then, should you, me, or anyone else undergo such brutal punishment?

Why is VO2 max important?

Here\’s why: When you know what your VO2 max is, you can use that number as an accurate guide to improving it. And if you can improve it, you\’ll run further, faster and longer with less effort and fatigue. And who doesn\’t want that?

Think of it like the efficiency of your internal engine: a high VO2 max is like a car with a bigger engine. A car with a smaller engine has to work harder to go as fast as the larger engine, says Matthew Meyer, trainer at the Mile High Run Club in New York City.

While VO2 max is a great indicator for understanding and monitoring your fitness, it can help you set appropriate goals and evaluate your training, no program or trainer would ever suggest going out for a run at, say, 80% of your VO2 max. Instead, your VO2 max is used to identify more useful metrics: your heart rate zones and anaerobic threshold, says Silvano Zanuso, director of Technogym\’s medical and scientific department. This way, the test gives you the most accurate zones and thresholds for planning your training, he says.

My test results revealed a hole in my training: a need to build the bottom end of my cardio fitness (aka: easy runs and recovery efforts). Because I was constantly training at a higher heart rate, my watch overestimated my HR zones. As a result, the ranges were slightly too high.

How to improve your VO2 max

Regardless of what the specific numbers say, to actually move the needle and improve your VO2 max, study after study shows that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is your best bet. That\’s because HIIT forces you to temporarily reach or exceed your anaerobic threshold before returning to a lower aerobic intensity. This type of overload causes your heart and lungs to adjust to the demands you\’re placing on them.

Try this cardio-boosting HIIT circuit

Perform as many repetitions of the following moves as possible in 30 seconds, resting for 10 seconds between each. After completing all 5 exercises, rest for 1 minute before repeating the entire circuit again. Complete 4 rounds in total. Once you learn this, add 10 seconds of work until you reach 60 seconds total to improve your VO2 max.

Jump squats


Knees high


Alternate plyo lunge

How to improve VO2 max through running sessions

On the road or track, you\’ll need to push your limits with threshold tempo runs and interval sessions to increase your VO2 max. The only thing it teaches you is how to become a better athlete, says running coach Greg Laraia. If you want to take your performance to the next level, or if you\’re stuck in a rut and trying to figure out what\’s wrong, a VO2 max test will teach you how to tailor your training to get out of that rut zone.

But while we are all able to improve our VO2 max with more specific training, there is a genetic limit to our aerobic potential. So unless you were born Kipchoge, no amount of training in the world is going to push you to a VO2 max of 90ml/kg/min.

How to estimate your VO2 max

You can have your max capacity tested at performance labs, specialty gyms, and medical centers, but because it\’s so labor-intensive and expensive (anything from 80 to 200), many opt for an alternative, like this 10-minute self-study VO2 of 10 minutes max test here instead.

Note: This is a very high intensity test. Undertake it only if you are in good health and already exercise regularly. If in doubt, ask for advice first.

Vo2 clocks max

You can also try a running watch that includes a VO2 max estimator. The more you wear your watch, the more accurate your number will be. In general, they tend to underestimate because we very rarely reach our maximum capabilities during training.

That said, they all use heart rate during certain workouts while also factoring in other factors, like distance or altitude, to give you a more complete picture of your VO2 max.

#maximize #VO2 #max

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