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If you’re a runner or a running coach, you’ve probably heard about VO2 max. The greatest single predictor of a person’s aerobic fitness is their VO2 max. Without a high VO2 max, a runner cannot achieve a high level of performance. It is particularly significant for medium distance races (800 to 3,000 meters), run at or near 100% VO2 max.
What is VO2 Max?
The maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental activity, the activity of increasing intensity, is known as VO2 max (also maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen absorption, or maximal aerobic capacity). The name is made up of three abbreviations: “V” stands for volume, “O2” stands for oxygen, and “max” stands for maximum.
In this comprehensive article, I’ll answer all of your questions about VO2max so you can understand how to train effectively and perform when it counts.
How VO2 Max is Measured?
The laboratory measurement of VO2 max offers a quantifiable value of endurance fitness that may be used to compare individual training effects and persons in endurance training. In exercise performance, maximum oxygen consumption represents cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance capability. Elite athletes, such as elite distance runners, racing cyclists, or Olympic cross-country skiers, may reach VO2 max values of more than 80 mL/(kg.min). In contrast, some endurance animals, such as Alaskan huskies, may reach VO2 max values of more than 200 mL/(kg.min).
VO2max is expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min) and is determined by two factors:
Each beat, how much blood does the heart pump to the muscles? (Cardiac output)
How well the muscles extract and use oxygen from the blood
Some Common Tests to Measure VO2 Max
Some personal trainers and fitness instructors may be certified to do VO2 max tests. These tests are referred regarded as “submaximal” since they do not always provide the degree of information that a controlled laboratory test can. Submaximal exercise tests are still an effective approach to assess your VO2 max and total heart and lung endurance during exercise. Your degree of fitness will determine which form of VO2 max test is ideal for you. If you’re a trained athlete or have a high degree of fitness, your doctor or teacher may have you complete one of the following tests:
compare your best speed or time to average results from others for similar activities
Does VO2 Max Affect your Running Performance?
As Oxygen is so important while running quickly, a high VO2 max might be a good indicator of your fitness. In other words, the faster your body can handle oxygen, the faster you’ll be able to run. While the possibility exists, other elements can impact the outcome on race day. Your VO2 can tell you how big your aerobic engine is, but it can’t tell you what you can accomplish with it.
Even if two runners are running at the same speed, one utilizes less oxygen than the other at that pace. The runner that uses less oxygen to maintain the same speed uses oxygen more effectively, allowing them to run a quicker race. It was the quicker runner, according to logic. No, not at all. Even if the quicker runner has a lower VO2 max, they are still the better runner. It all comes down to how well the runner can utilize the oxygen they take in. It is possible to have a larger engine (oxygen capacity) but a poor ability to utilize it to generate energy.
What is considered a good VO₂ max?
There is no single “good” VO2 max that everyone should aim for. For your convenience, we’ve included some research-based averages depending on gender and activity levels:
Gender (18 to 45 years of age)
Average VO₂ max
≤ 85 mL/kg/min
≤ 77 mL/kg/min
Why A Higher VO2 Max Doesn’t Equal a Faster Performance?
Researchers discovered an adverse link between VO2 and running economy during the Nike Sub-2 Marathon Project. Those with higher VO2 maxes were less economical, whereas those with lower VO2 maxes were more economical. A higher running economy was a significant advantage for runners attempting to break the two-hour barrier in the marathon. Only a small percentage of world-class marathoners are lucky enough to have a high VO2 max and Running Economy.
Eliud Kipchoge, the sub-two-hour runner and world record holder, is likely one of these lottery winners. What interests me about this study is that, based on lab testing, just a few of the competitors lining up for the race would have a chance to run under 2 minutes! Imagine going ready for your goal race, all pumped up and ready to break your personal best, and the physiologist handing you the test results says, “You have no chance of running that time.” Oh, no. When it comes to performance, the running economy plays a significant impact. The following items are included in a functioning economy:
Your body’s capacity to utilize available oxygen
Muscle fiber recruitment ability
The capacity to produce more force while consuming less energy
This explains why having a high VO2 max alone isn’t enough to win a race. Adding weight training and plyometrics to your routine can help if you want to enhance your running economy. Drills are a wonderful approach to improve your form if you want to enhance your running efficiency.
What Affects VO2 Max?
A few significant factors influence VO2 max:
Age: VO2 max decreases at a rate of 1-2 percent every year beyond the age of 30.
Training: Training helps your body to become more aerobically robust, which has an impact on your VO2 max scores. Beginning runners see the biggest rise in VO2max scores, which gradually taper down as training progresses. VO2 starts rising in less and less percentages as you increase your workout.
Gender: Men’s VO2 maxes are naturally greater than in women. Men have larger muscle mass and hemoglobin levels than women, which might alter VO2 max results.
Elevation: At higher elevations, aerobic capacity is diminished due to a reduction in oxygen concentration. As a consequence, performance times are reduced. If you’re going to train at a high altitude, you might want to rethink your training strategy to get the most out of it.
Why increase your VO₂ max?
The answer to this issue appears to be rather straightforward, based on studies into the advantages of VO2 max: it will help you live longer. According to a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Bioscience, boosting your VO2 max can help your body better distribute and utilize oxygen, allowing you to retain your health and physical fitness long into your senior years. Other everyday advantages that you may see within days or weeks of beginning to enhance your VO2 max include:
becoming less weary or winded when engaging in activities such as stair climbing
lowering your stress levels
strengthening your immune system and reducing the number of times you become ill
Benefits of Increasing Your VO2 Max
The coordinated functioning of different physiological systems contributes to the value of VO2max as a representation of entire body health. It demonstrates how the heart, lungs, blood vessels, muscles, and nervous system interact. Here is a brief overview of benefits that you may get when you aim to boost your VO2 Max
Feel Better And Less Stressed
Exercise is a well-known way to decompress after a long day, but a better level of fitness might even prevent physiological stress from building up in the first place. We all know that people who are more physically active feel less physiological stress and are more robust to the effects of stress when it does occur. There is also a strong correlation between regular physical exercise and emotions of personal happiness or wellbeing.
Walking Through Daily Challenges
Daily living becomes simpler as your fitness level improves. As a consequence, you feel more energized. It doesn’t matter if you’re going for a jog, grocery shopping, or cleaning out the garage. Any physical exercise necessitates the expenditure of energy. The particular energy cost of an activity can be described in terms of the amount of oxygen required to do it and as a percentage of your VO2max. This proportion of your maximal capacity influences how easy or difficult things feel and how quickly you can complete them.
Faster, Higher, and Stronger
It should come as no surprise that your VO2max, as the defining indicator of aerobic performance capability, influences how well you perform in a range of sports. While aerobic fitness is particularly crucial for endurance activities like running and cycling, it also plays a role in sports like soccer, basketball, and any other sport that causes you to pant for oxygen. According to research with recreational runners, a 5% improvement in VO2max fitness results in a 5-minute reduction in 10k running times.
Level Up Your Health
Your level of fitness has a big influence on your risk of non-communicable illnesses and general health. Physically active people have a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Additional research from the American College of Sports Medicine found that a 10% improvement in VO2max might reduce the risk of all-cause death by 15%.
Although aging is unavoidable, regular exercise and an active lifestyle can protect you from many of its side effects. It’s no coincidence that the same activities that improve your fitness also help you lose weight, keep your bones strong, and keep your brain healthy. IN MANY STUDIES, higher VO2 max scores have also been associated with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Even for individuals who haven’t been active in the past, research suggests that it’s never too late to get the benefits of regular exercise.
Would Every Runner Benefit From A VO2 Max?
No, I don’t believe so. If you’ve just raced a 5k or 10k, you can get a fair estimate of your VO2 max, or at least your velocity at VO2 max, from your PR. The arithmetic may be crunched with the assistance of charts or internet calculators. It’s only necessary to know your VO2 max (and your velocity at VO2max) if your training plan requires it. Unfortunately, VO2 max loses its usefulness as a performance measure at a certain point. Even if they are training quicker than ever, highly trained individuals may lose a few points. This shows that, though VO2 max is a good indicator of cardiorespiratory fitness, it isn’t always related to endurance training. Rather than preparing for a single, calculated variable, it would be best if you prepared for the specifics of your race distance and needs. Aside from that, VO2 max is a useful parameter in the scientific study since it may be used to identify and isolate training gains.
Is VO2 Max Helpful in Preventing Heart Disease?
Cardiovascular health is essential for long-term happiness. Individuals with a good VO2 max are more likely to enjoy prospective health advantages such as a longer lifespan, a lower risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer risk. Individuals with low VO2 max values, on the other hand, were shown to be at higher risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer in researchpublished in JAMA Oncology by Susan Lakoski and colleagues. The study followed nearly 14,000 men for 38 years to see a link between aerobic fitness and major health problems. These results shouldn’t come as a shock. We all know that endurance training is a wonderful way to avoid cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. We are also aware of its important significance in mental wellness. So, whether you’re a competitive runner or just run for the sake of it, you can rest comfortably that you’re protecting and caring for your long-term health.
Limiting Factors of VO2 Max and Endurance Exercise Capacity
Whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend runner, your ability for endurance exercise is limited to some factors. Although the typical increase in VO2max is 15% to 20%, it can rise to 93 percent with proper training. Even then, some factors could limit your VO2 Max. So let’s discuss those factors first, and then we will move to the final part on how to improve it.
Individual diversity in the exercise economy is demonstrated by differences in oxygen consumption across people doing equivalent exercise intensities. As a result, people with equal VO2max levels might have drastically varied endurance performances depending on their movement economy. In fact, athletes with similar VO2max levels have observed substantial correlations between 10-kilometer running performance and economy.
The Lactate Threshold
Lactate levels in your blood are created and eliminated in a balanced manner during rest and steady-state activity. Lactate can be used as fuel by the muscles, heart, and liver during this period. Because the body cannot eliminate the lactate created during exercise, this balance begins to tip at the lactate threshold. During intense, all-out exertion, the lactate threshold is reached when lactate builds up in the circulation faster than the body can eliminate it. Anaerobic metabolism generates energy for short bursts of high-intensity exercise (no more than a few minutes) until lactate builds up to a point where it can no longer be absorbed and accumulates. The lactate threshold is the name given to this stage.
Lactate may be absorbed quickly during moderate activity in a steady state, but it is created quicker than the body can absorb it during high-intensity activity. A modest dip in pH indicates the lactate threshold (from 7.4 to about 7.2). This decrease is expected to generate tiredness and diminish the strength of muscular contractions, resulting in a decrease in performance. The maximum lactate steady stateis the largest exertion sustained without lactate constantly building over time (MLSS).
The athlete is obliged to back off or slow pace at this moment. A greater lactate threshold, presumably, suggests an athlete can maintain a high-intensity exertion for a longer period until fatigue. As a result, many people believe that LT is an excellent technique to predict athletic performance in high-intensity endurance sports.
Lactate Threshold Values
60 percent of maximum VO2 max for the average individual
A recreational athlete’s VO2 max ranges from 65 to 80 percent
An athlete with a VO2 max of 85 to 95 percent is considered an elite endurance athlete
Genetic Limitations to Endurance Exercise
Individuals with genetic differences in muscle fiber type proportion (slow-twitch vs. fast-twitch) are also prevalent. Slow-twitch muscle fibers have a higher capacity for mitochondrial respiration than fast-twitch muscle fibers because they contain larger mitochondrial mass and enzyme levels. Elite endurance athletes have many slow-twitch muscle fibers in the muscles that contribute to their endurance activity. In fact, elite marathon runners are said to have more than 90% slow-twitch muscle fibers in their leg muscles.
Sweating is a typical physiological reaction to prolonged activity that allows the heat created during energy metabolism to be dissipated. Unfortunately, this naturally occurring reaction can lead to significant fluid loss and decreased endurance. Insufficient fluid balance during lengthy activity or training sessions causes many negative physiological outcomes, including elevated heart rates and temperatures. According to research, rising body core temperatures have been linked to weariness in the muscles (due to impaired mitochondrial respiration) and the central nervous system.
Although dehydration is a natural physiological constraint to endurance exercise, it may be mitigated to some extent by proper hydration techniques both before and during exercise. For pre-exercise and exercise hydration, endurance athletes currently employ various methods and products, including the intake of solutions containing water, salt, simple carbohydrates, electrolytes, and glycerol.
How to Improve VO2 Max for Running?
It turns out that training at or near your body’s VO2 max level of intensity is one of the most effective methods to boost your VO2 max level, and running sessions are a wonderful way to achieve so. You can improve VO2 Max with the help of the following training:
Exercise at a high intensity
Exercise at a high intensity is the most effective way to increase your Vo2 max. Many running instructors advise that you work out at 90 to 95 percent of your maximal heart rate. Working at or near your maximum heart rate strengthens your heart’s muscles and increases the amount of blood it can pump with each beat. Subtract your age from 220 to get an estimate of your maximum heart rate.
Train in intervals
According to Trusted Source, a review of research published in 2013, Interval training improves Vo2 max somewhat more than continuous aerobic exercise. Interval training consists of brief bursts of high-intensity activity followed by rest intervals.
30/30 and 60/60 Intervals
30/30 and 60/60 intervals are a wonderful approach to include VO2max training into your training program. These routines are good fitness boosters that runners with a moderate fitness level may handle. Begin by doing 30/30 intervals. Run 30 seconds hard, at the quickest speed you could keep for around six minutes in a race, after warming up with at least 10 minutes of easy jogging. Then, for 30 seconds, ease into an easy jog. Alternate 30-second rapid and slow parts until you’ve finished at least 12 and as many as 20 of each. Each time you perform this workout, increase the amount of 30/30 intervals you finish, then transition to 60/60 intervals. Start with at least six and work your way up to as many as ten. You can do this on a track, trail, or even treadmill.
Shorter hill intervals of 20 to 90 seconds are ideal for building strength, power, and speed. For VO2max growth, somewhat longer intervals of two to three minutes are ideal. Warm-up for hill intervals exercises by running for at least 10 minutes. Then sprint upward for two to three minutes (pre-determine your time) before jogging back down to your starting place and repeat. Start with a set of 4 × 2:00 or 3 × 3:00 reps if your fitness level is low. Runners who are in good shape can complete as many as 10 x 2:00 or 7 × 3:00. Pace yourself so that you don’t slow down during the workout owing to early exhaustion or feel that you could do more at the end.
The most challenging type of VO2max training is lactate intervals. Before moving on to lactate intervals, make sure you have a good fitness level by doing 30/30, 60/60, and hill intervals. This sort of training is best done on a track. Warm-up by jogging for at least 10 minutes, then sprint around the track for 800 meters (two laps on a full-size running track) to 1200 meters (three circuits on a full-size running track). For the next 400 meters, slow down to an easy jog.
In your initial lactate intervals exercise of a particular training cycle, run shorter intervals (800m) and gradually work your way up. In these exercises, run for a total of around 5000 meters at a fast pace (6-7 x 800m, 5 x 1000m, 4 x 1200m). Again, attempt to maintain the quickest possible speed for the last interval without slowing down. It can’t be denied that VO2max training is difficult. That is why most runners only perform a small amount of it. But you aren’t like the majority of runners, are you? Make the most of your mental toughness by dedicating yourself to VO2max training. The benefits will be well worth the effort of a little heavy breathing.
Combine interval and continuous training
Including both continuous and interval training in your workout routine may be more beneficial than doing just one of the two. A 10-week training regimen with six exercises per week was employed in many studies that revealed the greatest increase in Vo2 max. Participants alternated between intervals and continuous running throughout the experiments.
Participants rode a stationary cycle for six 5-minute sessions on interval days at a workload similar to their Vo2 max, followed by two minutes of rest.
Participants ran as far as they could for 30 minutes the first week, 35 minutes the second week, and at least 40 minutes the subsequent weeks on continuous running days. It’s important to note that this program is fairly strenuous and is only appropriate for persons who are already physically fit. Participants in the first trial to adopt this program had gains in Vo2 max near the conclusion of the trial, but they began to drop out due to the difficulty of the training.
Keep challenging yourself
Almost any endurance exercise can help you boost your Vo2 max when you initially start trying to do so. Gains will be slower as you get more well-trained, and you’ll have to exercise at a higher level to keep progressing. Increase the frequency of your workouts, the duration of your workouts, or the speed you move throughout the activity to make your training more difficult.
Find Your 5K and 10K Pace and times
Knowing how quickly you can run 5 kilometers and 10 kilometers might be useful if you’re a runner. The speed at which you can run these two distances generally corresponds to the speed you must run to reach 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate.
Find your functional threshold power (FTP)
If you’re a biker, determining your functional threshold power might be beneficial (FTP). The greatest amount of power you can tolerate for an hour is your FTP. It might help you figure out how hard you should be working to improve your Vo2 max. Perform a test on a bike with a power meter to determine your FTP. Ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes after your warm-up. You may discover an approximation of your FTP by subtracting 5% from this power score.
Workouts to Improve VO2 Max
Begin with a light running warm-up and dynamic mobility exercises. Run as far as you can in four minutes and keep track of your progress. Allow for four minutes of rest. For the final four reps, run the same distance but 15 percent slower. For example, if your first interval were one mile, you would complete the following four trials in 4 minutes and 36 seconds.
Begin with a 15-minute easy-riding warm-up. For 15 minutes, ride at a faster pace, but one that allows you to carry on a conversation. Perform five 3- to 5-minute intervals at a high enough effort to bring your heart rate to 90 to 95 percent of your maximum. To cool down, do ten minutes of easy riding.
How long does it take to Improve VO2 Max?
If you’re currently inactive, you’ll probably see an increase in your aerobic capacity four to six weeks after you begin training. The more fit you are, the longer it will take for your Vo2 max to rise. To keep making progress, you’ll need to increase the difficulty of your exercises. You can raise the intensity, distance, or frequency of your workouts to keep yourself challenged.
Your Vo2 max measures the greatest quantity of oxygen your body can consume during exercise. Exercising at or near your maximal heart rate is the greatest approach to enhance your Vo2 max. In endurance running, elite athletes typically have extremely high Vo2 maxes. Increasing your Vo2 max can assist you in improving your cardiovascular health even if you aren’t an athlete.