Everything You Need to Know About VO2 Max
Oxygen in the air you breathe is only as valuable as your body's ability to use it. VO2 is a key indicator for cardiovascular health that points to your capacity to consume oxygen in a given time. Increasing your VO2 max raises your fitness level, allowing you to achieve more in sports, weight training, and activities like running, swimming, or rock climbing. Higher VO2 max scores are also associated with having a lower risk for the most common chronic diseases.
What Is VO2 Max?
Your VO2 max is the maximal volume of oxygen in milliliters your body can utilize per kilogram of body weight per minute. Maximal refers to the oxygen uptake amount at your highest performance level.
The harder your body works during exercise, the more oxygen your muscles need. Red blood cells are responsible for consuming oxygen from the air and delivering it wherever needed in the body. Your heart is the pump that helps transport red blood cells around the body so they can deliver the oxygen obtained inside lung capillaries.
Research shows that hemoglobin levels increase with regular exercise, indicating an increase in oxygen-consuming red blood cells. Pushing your limits during exercise also boosts the volume of blood your heart can circulate with each heartbeat. Thus, the amount of oxygen your muscles can access improves.
How VO2 Is Max Measured
VO2 max is determined in a professional setting with what's called a maximal exercise test, or more commonly, a "stress test." On a treadmill or stationary bike, you're asked to push yourself to your maximal ability while an electrocardiograph machine is hooked up to your body. The electrodes are placed on your chest to measure your heart's electrical signals, and they can pick up information on how much oxygen is being supplied to the heart in order to determine VO2 max.
There's another lab test for VO2 called the Douglas bags method. It's performed using an oxygen mask and exercise equipment such as a stationary bike or treadmill. The mask measures the amount of oxygen coming in through your breath and the amount of carbon dioxide exiting through your breath as you push yourself to your maximum aerobic capacity. Cellular respiration converts oxygen to carbon dioxide, so from these measurements, the test determines how much oxygen your muscles consume.
Can You Measure VO2 Max On Your Own?
Fitbits, Garmin watches, and other fitness smartwatches can estimate your VO2 max score, but these can't be considered as accurate as a maximal exercise test. If you don't have a fitness tracker that measures VO2 max, you can use an online VO2 max calculator such as World Fitness Level. It uses data from large populations to score you based on your age, gender, maximum heart rate, resting pulse, height, and other metrics.
What's Considered a Good VO2 Max?
Your VO2 max is measured in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. Your age, gender, genetics, and your fitness level are the main factors affecting your VO2 max. VO2 max scores peak at age 20, and you can expect them to decrease by as much as 30% by the time you're 65.
The average VO2 max score for a sedentary male is 35 to 40 mL/kg/min. For a sedentary female, the average score is 27 to 30. Comparably, elite runners have VO2 max scores of up to 85 mL/kg/min for males and 77 for females. While you don't need to be an elite runner to be fit and healthy, getting your VO2 max to an above-average score is the goal.
Benefits of Increasing Your VO2 Max
Improving your VO2 max improves cardiovascular health, which has a range of benefits. Not only will your workout performance improve, but also your quality of life. When you have a higher VO2 max score, your heart puts in less effort for your body to perform the same basic functions, from digesting food to repairing tissues. Your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke decreases with better heart health, which can potentially increase your lifespan.
How to Improve VO2 Max
There are different approaches to increasing your VO2 max score. However, it's safe to say it can't be done without pushing your aerobic limits during exercise. The three way we are going to discuss below are excercises, altitude exposure, and supplements.
Exercises that Boost VO2 Max
A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that VO2 max improved with high-intensity interval training after eight weeks of exercising three days a week. Participants who exercised at a moderate instead of high-intensity level didn't experience comparable improvements in VO2 max. In the study, high-intensity intervals were performed as running sprints. However, any type of interval workout that gets your heart rate up to a maximum and pushes you to exhaustion works for increasing VO2 max. For example, you can use aerobic machines like an elliptical or stationary bike. You can also do intervals of plyometric jumps.
Exposing yourself to a higher altitude also increases your VO2 max. For example, some elite runners train in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, or Montana for the elevated altitude to improve their VO2 max for one to three months after getting back to sea level. There's less oxygen in the air at higher altitudes, so your body produces more red blood cells to compensate.
Which Supplements Help?
At, Tiger Fitness, our most popular VO2 max increasing supplement is MTS Nutrition Peak Physicor. It combines two clinically studied and trademarked ingredients, PeakO2 and Physicor, to safely help you build lean mass, lose fat, and perform better.
Maximizing VO2 relies on your core nutrition as well, and if your nutritional needs aren't met, your body can't utilize oxygen optimally. Iron is essential for hemoglobin production, and being iron deficient translates to fewer red blood cells. You can get your iron levels tested at a clinic, and if you're deficient, supplementing with iron can improve your VO2 max. Additionally, one study found that in subjects with high levels of physical activity, B vitamin supplementation was associated with higher VO2 max scores. However, B vitamins weren't correlated with higher scores for sedentary individuals.
Final Words on VO2 Max
The fitter you are, the more time it will take to raise your VO2 max score. To improve your VO2 max score, you’ll need to make a sound training plan to increase your work capacity. The duration and frequency of workouts are important, but above all, you'll need a high-intensity level that challenges your cardiovascular system.