Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition. L2 Strength & Conditioning Coach.
Knowing your VO2max can be a good barometer of your fitness level.
In this article we will cover the following points:
- What is VO2max
- What impacts VO2max
- How to figure it out
- How does the lab test work?
- Can you work out energy expenditure?
- What's a good result?
- How to improve it
For athletes, finding ways to be better and stronger when working out is essential. Therefore, understanding your VO2 max is part of the territory as it enables you to push your body to the limits without putting your health and wellbeing at risk.
Alternatively, people who are more casual in their approach can use a VO2 max calculation to reach personal goals and targets.
Your VO2 max is an integral factor in exercise and sports performance because it helps you to improve across the board. 
The closer you are to your maximum, the harder you push and the fitter and healthier you become. However, a reliable VO2 max figure can be hard to find, regardless of whether you’re a runner, bodybuilder, or searching for bigger fitness achievements.
Therefore, this post will outline the best ways on how to measure it, as well as tips on improving your VO2 maximum. Please continue reading to learn more.
What Is VO2 Max?
You’ll hear the term a lot as it’s widely accepted and understood in professional circles. But, amateurs and casual performers may not be as familiar with the phrase, so it’s vital to understand the definition.
The best way to think about it is like a car’s engine. The engine can only create so much horsepower, and your body is the same. Simply put, VO2 max is the volume (V) of oxygen (O2) your body metabolises during intensive exercise. Therefore, it’s the body’s ability to take in and distribute oxygen effectively. 
It’s worth noting that you might not feel significant changes after improving your VO2 max. A common misconception is that you should be able to run faster without breathing as heavily, for example. In reality, your body will continue to show the effects of exercise, yet your muscles will push through and sustain a faster and consistent pace throughout. This typically relates to aerobic training.
What Impacts VO2 Max?
A number of features can increase or decrease your VO2 max, some them environmental and others hereditary. Below are the main elements to keep in mind when attempting to work out your peak aerobic performance:
- Gender: Generally speaking, men have greater oxygen volumes than women due to their larger hearts. Your VO2 max is determined by many things, and the amount of blood your heart can pump is a significant component. As a result of men having bigger muscles and internal organs than women, guys should expect to have higher volume-to-oxygen maximums. 
- Age: Your VO2 max declines with age. The drop is estimated to be around 1% every year. However, this only occurs once you pass the age of 25 since your body’s peak performance happens from 18 to 25. Your body isn’t properly developed up until the age of 18, so it can’t reach the same heights. 
- Altitude: If you wonder why pro athletes like to train at altitude, it’s because of their VO2 max. The lower air pressure means that O2 isn’t as easy to come back during exercise, resulting in a drop in VO2. Yet, the body is intelligent, so it works twice as hard to create more red blood cells to make up for the deficit. When athletes return to sea level, the RBCs remain, and their VO2 max is greater. 
- Temperatures: Temperature affects VO2 in a similar way to altitude. When the weather is colder, it restricts the amount of oxygen available, leading to a decline in your body’s volume maximum. The reverse is true in warmer conditions. 
These are four features you must evaluate to get an accurate calculation, but the list is by no means exhaustive. Therefore, the above highlights how challenging it can be to find a reliable representation.
How Do You Figure It Out?
Athletes have been doing it for decades because they need a concrete number to ensure they progress. Unfortunately, the method they use is exclusive as it’s expensive and complicated and requires scientists who can track your heart rate.
Thankfully, less invasive and exclusive options are available now, so you don’t need hooking up to a machine to learn your VO2 max!
A lab test is the gold standard of VO2 max calculations since it’s the most reliable. This is because it’s conducted by reputable professionals, experts in their field, who cover all the bases during the examination. While it’s tough, and expensive, to sanction a lab test, it is worth considering if you want to know your maximum volume of oxygen intake to the nearest decimal point.
A number of devices are required and used. For instance, an appropriate ergometer is used. An ergometer measures your work rate and if you are a runner, the ergometer wil be a treadmill, likewise, a cyclsit would use an indoor cycling machine.
A stopwatch is neceassary to record the time, the person being examined would wear a mask that measures exprired air connected to Douglas bags, there's also oxygen and carbon dioxide analyzers. A heart rate monitor may also be used.
Fitness Device Tracker
As technology advances, the line between a humble watch and a VO2 tracker is blurred. Currently, several high-end smartwatches purport to work out your VO2 max, so buying a FitBit or Apple watch might be a slightly cheaper and more accessible method. Still, it’s worth pointing out that the terms for calculating VO2 might be different, depending on the brand. Therefore, it’s vital to read the instructions and fine print beforehand.
An online calculator is by far the most straightforward tool. All it takes is a quick search to find a plethora of sites that leverage an algorithm to determine your results. Yes, it’s not 100% reliable if you don’t know who is behind the data, but that’s why you must choose a reputable calculator with data-driven results. For example, the Norwegian Institute of Science and Technology (NTNU) is an establishment held in high esteem, and it uses information from thousands of volunteers to hone its algorithm.
The Bleep Test
If you’re unfamiliar with the Bleep Test, it’s an aerobic activity designed to push your body to its endurance limits. It does this by beeping twice, forcing participants to reach a marked zone before the second beep. Although it’s less consistent, comparison charts that relate your Bleep Test score to a particular VO2 max do exist.
Therefore, it may come as no surprise to learn that military training may include a bleep test. The British Army demands a minimum of 'score' of 8.6 for candidates.
As you can see, there is a broad range of tools at your disposal. Which one you pick should depend on suitability issues, such as the price, accessibility, and reliability of the data.
How Does the Laboratory Test Work?
Most of the measurements for VO2 are self-explanatory, and if they aren’t, you can lean on technology to fill in the dots. The least obvious method is a lab test because the chances are, you don’t know how it’s conducted. It’s not that often you can pop into a sports medicine facility or medical lab test, although some educational facilities such as universities do provide the service.
Of course, you should know what to expect if you plan on utilising the technique, and that is:
- A heart rate test - the foundation of a Vo2 max test is to elevate your heart rate. To do it, you will be asked to perform a simple test - mainly walking, jogging, or cycling - and a facemask will be attached. The test will start slow, but the intensity will gradually increase until your body hits the “red zone.” 
- Endurance - the measurements begin when your body hits its physiological limit. 
- Formulas - physiologists use tried and tested formulas to turn the hard data into an easy-to-understand VO2 max.
What Does VO2 Max = 15.3 x (MHR/RHR) Mean?
The equation is a simple way to transform complex physiology questions into understandable answers. MHR stands for Maximum Heart Rate, and RHR means Resting Heart Rate.
By dividing the two, you’ll have a baseline figure. Then, if you multiply it by 15.3, you should get a figure which highlights how close to your maximum you are when exercising.
Can You Also Work Out Energy Expenditure?
Yes. There is an equation for those who want to know how much energy they expend; however, it’s not as simple or as easy to test.
The equation is:
VO2 = (10.8 x watts) / M (weight in kg) + (7)
Alternative methods do exist (such as an online total energy expenditure calculator), as is the case with VO2 max equations, but most people find this to be the less complicated version for figuring out calorie consumption during exercise. 
What Is a Good VO2 Number & Does It Matter?
VO2 goes up to 96, the highest level ever recorded, so anything close to the threshold is a good score. The average for men and women in their twenties is between 45 and 60, but you shouldn’t expect to do as well if you’re older than twenty-five since your VO2 max has declined by 1% since your mid-twenties. 
For instance, a twenty-something in the 75th percentile will be around the 48.0 mark. In comparison, the VO2 max for the same percentile for a fifty-something is 32.6, which is a drop of almost 16. And, this is only for men. For women, the scores are lower.
Does It Matter?
Yes and no. VO2 Max matters in that, when your score is high, you can take in a lot of O2 and deliver it to your muscles and organs to maintain your vital systems. As such, you can perform better because you have more oxygen to run faster or cycle harder. 
However, part of the reason why it doesn’t matter as much you might assume is two-fold. Firstly, your score is relative to numerous factors. Secondly, it’s not a concrete figure. Just because your VO2 max is low for your age or gender doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever.
If you are committed and determined to improve, you can boost the volume of oxygen in your blood with a couple of simple hacks.
How to Improve Your VO2 Max
Improving your VO2 max is doable, but it does require quite a lot of hard work. The best way to increase your blood’s oxygen volume content is to exercise as close to your max as possible for as long as you can. So, that means no long, peaceful walks in the countryside for the foreseeable future!
Instead, you should focus on the following.
Pick a Suitable Training Method
From cycling to running and lifting weights, there are too many training methods to choose from sometimes. The key is to pick a technique that will get you closer to your maximum and motivate you to exercise regularly. After all, you won’t experience an improvement if you only work out once a week.
The choice is yours, yet lots of people opt for interval or high-intensity-interval-training as it has been proven as an effective method. 
As the name suggests, the method encourages you to hit your peak levels of aerobic performance, but it only asks you to do so for a minute or two every interval. This is perfect considering that a relatively fit person can only sustain a VO2 max pace for roughly 6 to 8 minutes. 
You need to see improvements, or else you might become disillusioned with the process. Of course, you won’t notice them if you aren’t looking for them, which means you should set targets from the very beginning of your journey.
Always start small - a gradual incline is ideal at first - to avoid doing too much, too soon. Once you’re in the workout groove, you can then try and push your mind and body to its VO2 max limits.
You can’t exercise and boost your VO2 if you’re injured or suffering from the delayed onset of muscle soreness. DOMS and injuries are common since you have to push hard to reach your targets. You can do low-impact training instead, which is another version of HIIT, yet the easiest method is to sleep. You can read more about training when injured, here.
Sleep is when the body gets an opportunity to recover, which is why it’s vital to set yourself a deadline and stick to it throughout the week.
Nutrition is Key
The Amercian College of Sports Medicine recommmends consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise. 
Thus, an athlete, novice or experienced requires suitable nutrition to fuel their exercise, and aid recovery to maintain and improve performance. 
For instance a soldier has a much higher nutritional requirement than a sedentary person due to the additional demands placed on the body.
Furthermore, deficiencies of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes can impair for health.
Understanding your VO2 max is an excellent way to get to grips with your body and improve your fitness through aerobic training. Hopefully, this advice will help you to enhance your performance.