Maximising Cardio-Vascular Health and Fitness

What VO2 max can tell us

Knowing your VO2 Max gives you an increased awareness of your overall fitness level and the efficiency of your body as it processes oxygen. It is a useful measurement for tracking your cardiovascular health as well as your progress when training for endurance sports as it shows the efficiency of your body’s use of oxygen. It is recommended that you test your VO2 Max about once a year if you are trying to maintain your current level of fitness. If you are training to improve your cardiovascular health, you should aim to test your VO2 max every 6-12 weeks so you can chart your progress.

What Is VO2 Max?

VO2 Max is a measure of the maximum volume (V) of oxygen (O2) your body can use while working out as hard as you can. It’s a measure the millilitres of oxygen used per minute per kilogram of body weight. Other factors can affect the measurement other than cardiovascular fitness, such as muscle adaptation to exercise, red blood cell count, the volume of blood your heart can pump, age and genetics. Even among highly trained athletes, VO2 max levels can vary significantly. Men show slightly higher volumes than women but an overall frame of reference for the general population typically falls within a range between 30 and 60 ml/min/kg.

A higher VO2 max indicates a higher anaerobic threshold, which should mean a higher level of lactic acid tolerance. Functionally, this means that a level of exertion that used to be anaerobic and short-term for you—producing lactic acid—can now become aerobic with a longer duration potential and going the distance.

What Is VO2 Max Testing?

A qualified fitness professional will operate the testing procedure which involves wearing a breathing mask while performing an increasingly difficult exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. The mask measures the ventilation, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels as you breathe in and out. The test is not meant to be easy as it will push you to your highest limits of exertion and typically takes 10 to 20 minutes.

How Do I Improve my VO2 Max?

The best way to increase your VO2 Max is to get consistent aerobic exercise. Your qualified trainer or exercise physiologist will likely recommend at least 30 minutes, three to five days a week. Incorporating intervals will further increase your VO2 Max such as you could do a relaxed 5 minute run and switch to 3-4 minutes at your maximum pace followed by a period of breathing recovery before increasing to maximum pace again. Continue alternating paces until you have run your target distance.

To maximize fat burning, there are two ways to approach this.

  1. To train in a relaxed breathing zone for an extended period of time which relies mostly on fat as fuel
  2. To exercise to increase your VO2 max by doing interval training which will almost entirely rely on glucose, and leave the fat burning for the hours after exercise in the absence of consuming carbohydrates