What is VO2 Max and What it Means – A Beginners Guide

What is VO2 Max and What it Means - A Beginners Guide

It doesn’t matter where you’re at in your fitness goals, VO2 max aka maximal oxygen uptake is an important piece of data that could help you improve. You might be getting serious about your fitness habits. You could be starting your fitness journey. It doesn’t matter where you’re at when it comes to fitness and health, tracking VO2 max can be very beneficial in letting you know if your work is paying off. Below I’ll go through the benefits and how to measure VO2 max and why exactly it is important. If you’re struggling to break through a fitness plateau this could also be helpful for you.

You’re tracking your progress and goals. Maybe you’re not quite there yet? You might just be getting your feet wet when it comes to fitness. Either way the analytics are a key to knowing where you came from and where you’re headed. Tracking progress and goals will let you know if the work you’ve been doing is paying off or needs a change.

What is VO2 Max

VO2 max is the ability of your body to consume oxygen. This measurement is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during intense exercise. VO2 max measurements can help determine your endurance and maximum physical performance. In a more complex way it is the measurements of how your body takes in the oxygen. It’s the measurement of your red blood cells, how your muscles react to distance training and how strong your heart is.

How is VO2 Max Measured

The test for VO2 is traditionally performed in a lab. Usually done while on a treadmill or stationary bike, specifically calibrated devices are used to measure your analytics. A face mask is connected to a machine that measures respiratory rate, concentration and volume. Heart rate is then measured by a chest strap.

The testing begins once physical activity has started. The VO2 max is reached when your oxygen consumption doesn’t increase although the workload has. It is usually done when a high workload is achieved, during a sprint or finish. This is also when muscle fatigue sets in due to the lack of oxygen traveling to the muscles.

There are two formulas as seen below.

VO2 Max = Maximum milliliters of oxygen consumed in 1 minute / Body weight in kilograms

VO2 Max = 15.3 x (Maximum Heart Rate / Resting Heart Rate)

The heart rate numbers are calculated by taking a measurement over the course of a minute.

VO2 Max Variables

Once you have your baseline score for VO2 max it’s just a matter of consulting the VO2 Max table to determine where you line up. It is important to know the common factors that will have an impact on your score.

Age is a huge factor in the VO2 test. Most commonly we all have our highest scores at around 20 and by the time we’re 65 the score declines by almost 30%.

Altitude is another well known factor when it comes to fitness. The higher the elevation the less oxygen there is to consume. If you’re testing at a higher altitude your score will be lower than if you were to test at sea level. This isn’t entirely bad, with the high altitude training you’re actually making your lungs more efficient.

Higher scores are usually associated with specific sports or physical activity. Since it is a measurement of oxygen intake if your regular physical activity doesn’t require constant heavy breathing, you will probably score lower than a marathon runner. Some of the endurance sports that have the highest scores are cycling, rowing, and cross-country skiing.

Keep in mind a high (or low) score doesn’t directly correlate with your ability to perform the activity. It is directly linked to your internal ability to consume oxygen. While VO2 Max scores can be very helpful in achieving success in a certain activity, they are by no means the only measurement of success. I’ll go into how exactly the VO2 Max applies to your fitness below.

Benefits of VO2 Max

The ability to consume and utilize more oxygen has more benefits than just breathing better. When your body is getting the maximum amount of oxygen it leads to other benefits. The first being less stress and feeling better in your every day life. Exercise already has stress relieving benefits while acting as a way to prevent physical and physiological stress from building up. People who exercise regularly have shown a better ability to handle stress when faced with challenges. There are also studies that have been done that link a higher personal well being with physical activity.

VO2 Max can also be see as the amount of oxygen your body needs to burn in order to perform a task. As you rase your VO2 Max the ‘fuel’ you need to burn in order to complete tasks goes down. This will lead to higher energy levels and more productivity throughout the day.

As age being one of the biggest variables in the overall VO2 Max test, the task of staying physically fit and active will help turn back time. Regular exercise and staying conscious of your overall health can help you reduce the aging process. As we age our muscles, bones, and brain begin to deteriorate. If you’re constantly moving and staying active you’ll fight the degrading process. Your body and mind will stay healthy for a longer period of time.

VO2 Max Norms for Men
Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 Under 35.0 35.0-38.3 38.4-45.1 45.2-50.9 51.0-55.9 Over 55.9
20-29 Under 33.0 33.0-36.4 36.5-42.4 42.5-46.4 46.5-52.4 Over 52.4
30-39 Under 31.5 31.5-35.4 35.5-40.9 41.0-44.9 45.0-49.4 Over 49.4
40-49 Under 30.2 30.2-33.5 33.6-38.9 39.0-43.7 43.8-48.0 Over 48.0
50-59 Under 26.1 26.1-30.9 31.0-35.7 35.8-40.9 41.0-45.3 Over 45.3
60+ Under 20.5 20.5-26.0 26.1-32.2 32.3-36.4 36.5-44.2 Over 44.2
VO2 Max Norms for Women
Age Very Poor Poor Fair Good Excellent Superior
13-19 Under 25.0 25.0-30.9 31.0-34.9 35.0-38.9 39.0-41.9 Over 41.9
20-29 Under 23.6 23.6-28.9 29.0-32.9 33.0-36.9 37.0-41.0 Over 41.0
30-39 Under 22.8 22.8-26.9 27.0-31.4 31.5-35.6 35.7-40.0 Over 40.0
40-49 Under 21.0 21.0-24.4 24.5-28.9 29.0-32.8 32.9-36.9 Over 36.9
50-59 Under 20.2 20.2-22.7 22.8-26.9 27.0-31.4 31.5-35.7 Over 35.7
60+ Under 17.5 17.5-20.1 20.2-24.4 24.5-30.2 30.3-31.4 Over 31.4

VO2 Max – In Conclusion

It’s never too late to start your physical journey. Even if you’ve never been physically active before, it’s as easy as taking a walk around your neighborhood. Although VO2 Max is an important factor in overall fitness, it is just a piece of data to let you know where you’re at currently. It should be a tool to give you insight on where you’re going, where you came from, and where you want to be.

I introduced you to what VO2 Max is, explained how it can be beneficial both mentally and physically. I also told you why VO2 Max is important in fitness tracking. The key to this whole process is to get out there and get active. Even if you don’t have a way of keeping track of your VO2 Max, as you exercise consistently, you will begin to feel the benefits.

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