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I’m sure every runner/athlete has come across the term “VO2 max”. But, do you know what is VO2 max and how does it relate to runners/cyclists ?

Simply put, VO2 max is measurement of your body’s ability to consume oxygen. You can also understand it as highest rate at which you can transport oxygen to your muscles for production of energy.

Your VO2 max would depend upon your RBC count, how adapted your muscles are to distant running, and how much blood can your heart pump.

How much is the normal VO2 max

For most runners this value is somewhere in between 40 and 60. Typically, most runners can sustain this intensity level for 8 minutes. VO2 max values are determined in a lab by measuring ventilation, oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations of inhaled and exhaled air.

Is higher VO2 max a good thing?

Certainly yes. It means your body can take in more oxygen and deliver it your muscles, enabling you to run faster for a given effort. Elite runners have varied VO2 maxes. In fact, elite marathoners have lower value of VO2 max than elite milers and 5K runners. However, higher VO2 max numbers does not always mean being fastest.

Women tend to have about 10 percent lower VO2 max levels than men because they have higher essential fat stores and lower hemoglobin levels.

Higher VO2 max means your heart has the ability to pump more blood with each beat and your circulatory system can efficiently deliver that blood to your muscles. Training helps to improve heart’s ability to pump more blood per beat, density of your capillaries and sustaining maximal heart rate for longer period of time.

Your running performance would not only depend on VO2 max but also how efficiently you use it. With varying race distances, factors such as your running economy and lactate threshold also play an important run to decide how fast you run. That is why marathon runners have lower VO2 max values because as race distance increases, maximal amount of oxygen you can deliver to your muscles start to be less important ad efficiency becomes a crucial parameter.

How do I increase my VO2 max

If you haven’t been training at professional level for several years, you can improve your VO2 max thereby improving your race times.

Inexperienced and amateur runners can improve their VO2 max by completing more miles. However, more experienced runners need to do harder workouts:

Repeated spells of running at about 95% of VO2 max can increase your VO2 max. Repeats of 2 to 6 minutes at this effort level are best. Between hard spells, jog for 50% to 90% of your hard spell duration.

A higher VO2 max lowers the chances of heart disease, dementia, depression and type 2 diabetes. Reason being, higher VO2 max is usually associated with good fitness and health habits, especially with age.

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