VO2 max is the most talked about measure of physical fitness. Even our watches can estimate it. However, if VO2 max was the only factor effecting fitness then every race would be won by the person with the highest (which it’s not).
Furthermore, a runners peak VO2 max is determined mostly by their genetics. Despite this, it is good to know your baseline VO2 max so you can use this as a basic measure of fitness and watch it change over time.
What is VO2 max?
It can be a very complex topic which we won’t go into too much depth here. Basically, VO2 Max is the highest rate of oxygen that can be utilised by an individual during intense exercise. It is measured as millilitres of oxygen used in one minute per kiloof body weight (mL/kg/min). It is based on the idea that the more oxygen your muscle can use, the better the muscles work, as muscles turn oxygen into fuel.
What is the average VO2 max?
If you ask 30 sports scientists you will get 30 different answers to this question. However, below are the commonly cited “normal value”. This data is adapted form The Cooper Institute’s data.
Age Specific VO2 Max Normal Values (MALE)
|Excellent||> 60||> 56||> 51||> 45||> 41||> 37|
|Very poor||< 30||< 30||< 26||< 25||< 22||< 20|
Age Specific VO2 Max Normal Values (FEMALE)
|Excellent||> 56||> 52||> 45||> 40||> 37||> 32|
|Very poor||< 28||< 26||< 22||< 20||< 18||< 17|
It is also important to remember that VO2 Max is just a measure of potential for endurance. The ultimate measure of endurance will always be performance on race day!
How to increase VO2 max
The best and quickest way to increase VO2 Max is to include High Intensity Interval Training to your regular training program. HIIT has been shown to increase VO2 Max significantly quicker and to a higher degree than high volume low intensity training (in the short term) (Helgerud et al. 2007). A combination of the two will bring about the greatest benefits, as discussed in our article on the 80/20 training method.
Helgerud, J., Høydal, K., Wang, E., Karlsen, T., Berg, P., Bjerkaas, M., … & Hoff, J. (2007). Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(4), 665-671.
Pearson, A. G., Bastianelli, B., Workman, A. D., Herman, C. W., Schulz, J., Cornett, A., & Moore, R. W. (2018). Accuracy Of Vo2max Prediction Using A Gps Watch Following A 15-minute And Three Subsequent Runs: 2765 Board# 48 June 1 2. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 50(5S), 674-675.
The Cooper Institute (2009). Physical fitness assessments for
adults and law enforcement. Dallas, Texas