What is a VO2 Max and Why You Should Know It!

So this week for my biomechanical assessment class I got to do a VO2 max test.  That means I ran really hard on a treadmill until I couldn’t run any more, while the air I breathed out was measured for oxygen and carbon dioxide.  Heres the What’s, and Why’s and what to expect if you were to go in for an exercise test.

What is VO2 Max?

  • VO2 max stands for volume of oxygen maximally consumed.  You are always breathing, which means you are always using oxygen.  Now, if you were to measure the oxygen you’ve used just sitting there per minute (which can be done!) it would be about 3.5 ml per kg of body weight per minute of you sitting there.  Now when you get moving, you use more oxygen, so that number goes up.  It can go up to 10 times your resting number when you’re exercising, and even higher for athletes.

How do you measure your VO2 Max?

  • There are several ways VO2 max can be measured.  You can estimate your VO2 max one way using equations, by running either a mile and a half or two miles on a track as fast as you can, and plugging your values into a formula.  This website is a handy tool if you want to try: http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/OneAndHalf.html
  • You can go to a lab and have yours tested.  If your local university has a physiology program, they probably have the equipment to do it, and most will be happy to test a volunteer for research purposes.  In addition, sometimes your doctor may call for a max test to rule out cardiac or pulmonary diseases.  Either way, going to lab usually entails riding a bike or walking and then running on a treadmill while you wear a mask or mouthpiece to catch the air you breathe.

Why would you want to know your VO2 Max?

  • VO2 max is closely correlated with health and all cause mortality.  Basically, the higher your VO2 max, the less likely you are do die from anything.  There are a ton of resources, but here is a quick chart so you can see how you compare if you do know your VO2 max:
    • vo2max
  • People will lower VO2 maxes are also more likely to develop heart disease.
  • You can improve your VO2 max by pushing yourself on the cardio.  In a training study, people improved their VO2 max by doing card 4-5 times a week for 3 months.

What to expect during a VO2 max test:

  • There will be a lot of people.  A max test takes at least three people to run: 1 person taking blood pressure and heart rate measurements, 1 person recording values, and 1 person monitoring the cart.
  • You will drool.  And its okay, everyone will be used to it.  The mouthpiece used to catch the air isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world.
  • It will be short.  VO2 max tests should only take between 8-12 minutes.  They want you to go long enough to get warmed up and all your muscles to be working, but not fatigued.
  • It will be hard.  The purpose of the test is to see how much oxygen you can maximally use, which means you have to work your muscles to the max.  The test is going to be hard, and its going to push you for longer than you would probably push yourself.  They are watching the numbers on the monitor, so they will know when you’ve hit your max before you do.

Hope this post peaks your interest in getting VO2 max tested!  PS: mine was 54 ml/kg/min!

happy maxing!




  1. Sooo awesome.! I’ve always wanted to get mine tested. I’m super jealous.
    And good job on yours 🙂


    • Jessica, if you live near a university I would inquire. I know both of my universities were happy to set up a test for people who were interested! Check and see if they have an exercise science program!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice job Jules and good V02max result – I am 39 and mine is around 64-67. PS V02max however is not improved by just general cardio – specific V02max workouts at the right intensity can improve max and threshold.


    • You are correct Noel. It does take a specific intensity to increase VO2 max, especially in already athletic individuals, and VO2 max is highly limited by genetics! PS AWESOME numbers! You’re clearly training right 🙂

      I tend to write to the layperson however, and any cardio can improve VO2 max in untrained/non cardio trained individuals!


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