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What is VO2 max? How to Measure and Improve It

If you like to work out, you’ve probably heard the word “endurance” at some point. But do you know how endurance is measured and how you can improve it?

Your cardiorespiratory endurance is determined through your maximum oxygen uptake, or VO2 max. This might sound complicated, but it’s simply a way to measure your body’s maximum ability to consume oxygen while performing intense exercise. 

It’s called VO2 max because it refers to the volume (V) of oxygen (O2) that you can consume. This test is commonly used to determine an athlete’s level of aerobic fitness before or during training.

How to calculate your VO2 max 

VO2 max is measured in milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min). Basically, it measures approximately how much oxygen a human body consumes per minute.

The scientific basis for VO2 states that as you consume oxygen during exercise, your body is able to produce adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. This is the molecule that provides your cells with the energy they need to function. 

If you have a high oxygen consumption during exercise, your body will be able to produce more ATP, providing your cells with more energy. A higher VO2 max also means that your cardiorespiratory system is working well.

There are certain procedures that can be used to determine a person’s VO2 max. These tests are usually conducted inside a sports performance lab, hospital, or clinic, and they’re mostly performed on athletes who want to improve their performance.

VO2 max test

Before starting this test, you’ll be given a face mask. This mask connects to a machine that will measure your respiratory rate during exercise, as well as the concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air you inhale and exhale. You’ll also use a heart strap to measure your heart rate.

Patients are required to wear comfortable clothes; avoid training or exercising for 24 hours before the test; and to steer clear of caffeine, alcohol, food, and tobacco for at least 3 hours before the test.

The test can be performed on a stationary bike or a treadmill, and it usually only takes 10 to 20 minutes to complete. The test is called a Cooper’s endurance test or incremental exercise test, and it requires the intensity of the exercise to increase incrementally. 

You reach your VO2 max when your oxygen consumption remains the same even as the intensity of the exercise increases. It’s common to feel fatigued and to have to stop exercising a short while after reaching your VO2 max.

VO2 max chart 

Your VO2 max is a good indicator of the efficiency with which your heart and lungs are working to distribute oxygen to the rest of your body during exercise. The higher your VO2 max, the higher your cardiorespiratory endurance. 

A low result might indicate a higher risk of developing certain cardiovascular diseases. These results can also be used to accurately determine the type of exercises that need to be included in someone’s physical therapy or weight-loss program.

If you’re not an athlete or don’t have access to a professional VO2 max test, you can still get an estimate of your VO2 max through online resources. There are many online VO2 max calculators that can give you an approximate VO2 max value, as long as you can provide certain data about your running times.

What is a good VO2 max?

Your ideal VO2 max will vary depending on your age, gender, and weight. On average, a sedentary man will have a VO2 max of 35 to 40 ml/kg/min; a sedentary woman, on the other hand, will reach approximately 27 to 30 ml/kg/min.

You can use the charts created by the Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research (see above) as a guide to understand what a good VO2 max is depending on your gender and age.

How to increase VO2 max 

Regular exercise plays a large role in your health. If you want to improve your VO2 max and, in turn, your cardiorespiratory endurance, you should try aerobic exercise. Some of the most popular aerobic exercises include:

  • running
  • cycling
  • high-intensity interval training
  • rowing
  • dancing
  • boxing
  • aerobics
  • cross-country running
  • swimming

Aerobic exercises are designed to increase your heart rate, which is key to improving your VO2 max. You can perform aerobic exercises even if you don’t have time to go to the gym. These simple exercises can improve your aerobic endurance:

  • running in place
  • jumping jacks
  • skipping rope
  • side hops
  • burpees
  • jumping squats

Perform several sets of these exercises and you’ll get a full workout without even having to leave the house. You should always remember to stretch after you train, drink plenty of water while exercising, and switch up your routine with more relaxing activities, such as yoga.

Remember that, to improve your physical condition, you’ll need to increase the intensity of your workouts gradually. Don’t overexert yourself, since this could increase your risk of developing injuries.

You should also listen to your body and rest when necessary. For example, you can decrease the intensity of your workouts during your period if you’re feeling fatigued. Or go for a yoga session if yesterday’s workout left your muscles too sore.

Increasing your VO2 max can improve your overall fitness level and physical condition and make you feel more energized. VO2 training isn’t always easy, since it’s a demanding physical activity. But if you remain consistent and exercise regularly, you’ll be reaping the rewards soon!




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