written by runnergirl training
VO2 max is the maximal amount of oxygen that can be used. It is measured in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. This measurement shows an athlete’s aerobic fitness level, or the ability to sustain exercise for a given amount of time. See more below!
To be clear, VO2 max is not the same as AT, or lactate threshold which is the point that the body can no longer remove the accumulated lactic acid. VO2 max tests are typically conducted on a treadmill or exercise bike. There is a specific testing protocol used & the gasses exchanged collected via tubes to machines. The machines analyze the inhaled and exhaled air. As the test’s intensity increases over time the athlete’s oxygen consumption also increases. There is a point where the amount of oxygen used levels off even though the test continues to increase in intensity. This the point of VO2 max. At this point the athlete is painfully uncomfortable and the energy system used switch from aerobic (with oxygen) to anaerobic (without oxygen). Complete exhaustion and muscle fatigue force the athlete to stop.
The test takes 10 – 15 minutes to complete. The athletes must be well rested before beginning the test and to not have exercised for a few days to allow muscles to be fueled and not energy depleted. There are also submaximal testing protocols that estimate VO2 max. However, the most accurate test is the maximal test.
Is it possible to improve your VO2 max? Yes, but a large component of it is genetically predetermined. The means most of us cannot change from an average person’s VO2 max to that of an elite Olympic marathoner. There are also other factors that can play a role in improving VO2 max. Those factors are age, altitude, and gender. Did you know that age age 20 you will have the ability to achieve your peak VO2 max? Due to body size, blood volume levels, etc women tend to have a lower VO2 max than men. Since there is less oxygen at higher altitudes, there is roughly a 5% decrease in VO2 max for ever 5,000 feet gained in elevation.
Norms for VO2 Max:
Sedentary person: 35 ml/kg/min
Athletic women ages 18-45: 56-45 ml/kg/min
Athletic men ages 18-45: 50-60 ml/kg/min
Olympic marathoner: 60-70 ml/kg/min
Highest recorded, cross-country skier: 90 ml/kg/min
How to train to increase VO2 max:
Increase training volume:
If you are a runner, run more miles. If you are a cyclist, ride more miles. And if you are a swimmer, swim more miles. An increase in training volume will improve your aerobic base of conditioning. If the longest distance you have run is 6 miles then use a training program to increase that to 10 miles.
Since VO2 max is a measurement of oxygen uptake per body weight it will improve your measurement the less you weigh. Since muscle helps power you through workouts and increases your metabolic level you really want to focus on losing fat and not just mere body weight.
Using track or speed workouts will improve your ability to run faster. A track workout I recommend is Yasso 800’s. Only do 1 track or speed workout per week. Overtraining will not improve VO2 max and will likely lead to illness or injury.
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