If you’re a runner, you’ve probably heard the term VO2 max tossed around. For any casual runner or exerciser, it’s probably not the most important statistic to know. But if you’re a competing athlete, or love marathons or cycling races and want to improve, knowing your VO2 max could be helpful.

What is it?

Simply put:

VO2 max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption you can take in during cardiovascular exercise

It’s a measure of cardiovascular fitness. To get this measurement, you need scientific equipment most often found in a lab. They put you on a treadmill, strap on a contraption that measures CO2 expended and O2 intake, and gradually increase the work until the amount of oxygen you take in plateaus. This means you’re running really hard, and they push you until you really can’t run any harder. Theoretically, the more oxygen you take in, the more ATP or energy your body can produce.

It’s expressed as liters per minute (L/min) and the higher the number, the greater capacity for cardiovascular exercise (i.e. the fitter you are, the longer and faster you can run/row/bike etc). Athletes have a much higher L/min than non-athletes and men have a higher L/min than women.


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There are a lot of other tests you can do to estimate your VO2 max but of course it won’t be as accurate as in a lab.

How do I improve it?

Good question! If you want to get better at whatever sport you like (or torch serious calories!), interval training is a great way to start.

Begin by warming up for 10 minutes, then doing a 30/30 workout. Run as fast as you can for 30 seconds, then jog for 30 seconds. Do this 12-20 times. It will be pretty hard in the beginning if you aren’t used to this type of training, but once you get better at it, make sure to increase the number of intervals you do. Switch to 60 seconds work, 60 seconds recovery once you improve.

You can also do hill training. Short hills (20-90 seconds) are good for developing power and strength while long hills (2-3 minutes) increase your VO2 max. Warm up for 10 minutes then run up the hill as fast as you can for 2 minutes, then jog back down the hill and do it again. If you’re new to this, start with 4 times. If you’ve done this before, try doing it up to 10 times. If that gets easy, start doing a 3 minute hill.

Another great way to do interval training without bringing a stopwatch is by using landmarks. Sometimes I’ll sprint from one power pole to another then jog to the next one.

What’s the takeaway?

Unless you are a competitive athlete, knowing your VO2 max isn’t super important. However

you should always be pushing yourself in your workouts.

Interval training is especially helpful for losing weight because you burn a high amount of calories in a shorter period of time. Whether it’s lifting weights, zumba, running, rowing, cycling, or swimming, pushing yourself will improve your level of fitness, make you better at the sport, help you to lose weight and be generally fitter as a whole.


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