Training Tips

VO2 Max and What It Means For Your Workout

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, VO2, VO2 Max and What It Means For Your Workout

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The maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise is important for many reasons. As a client breathes in, oxygen travels through their blood to all their tissues and organs. The amount of oxygen taken in and how long it takes determines your rate of oxygen consumption.

VO2 max can tell you a lot about your quality of life. By having a good VO2 max you can improve quality of sleep and even prevent various health problems. Also, the more oxygen a client can inhale in a short period of time, the higher their aerobic capacity. 

Having a higher aerobic capacity and great energy production increases athletic performance. Mitochondrial adaptations are another result of aerobic training that could help you live longer. 

Genes play a heavy role in a person's VO2 max, but it is no excuse to have a low score. There are ways to improve VO2 max through training. Let’s take a closer look at how to achieve greater aerobic endurance no matter your genes.

What Is VO2 Max?

First, let’s break down what VO2 max stands for: 

  • “V” represents volume
  • “O” stands for oxygen 
  • “max” for maximum. 

In other words, it is how much oxygen a person can consume during exercise and in what period of time.

It is measured in milliliters of oxygen consumed in one minute, per kilogram of bodyweight: mL/kg/min. The value of a client’s VO2 max test tells you a lot about their aerobic or cardiovascular endurance.

Measuring VO2 max requires wearing a mask connected to a machine that measures the amount of air breathed in and out. You are also connected to a heart rate monitor while exercising on a treadmill or bike. 

The test starts slow and gradually increases the intensity. Once you begin to reach complete fatigue, your body will want to stop. This is when you know you are close to achieving your max value. The test itself is extremely draining.

You need to put in a lot of effort and push your body to its max limit to attain the most accurate measurement. Essentially working until you physically can’t anymore. 

If you take a look at Topend Sports you will notice the average maximal oxygen uptake depends on age. For a male between the ages of 18-25, the average VO2 max is 42-46 ml/kg/min. For a female, the average VO2 max value for an 18-25-year-old is 38-41 ml/kg/min.

How to Improve VO2 Max?

There are many ways to train aerobically. Aerobic exercise means your muscles use oxygen to produce energy for training. Anaerobic exercise is when a workout demands more than oxygen.

If you want to improve VO2 max you must increase exercise intensity. This can range from high intensity interval training or long-duration training at an increased pace. With this type of training, you need to learn what your limit feels like.

Pushing past your limits and the mental barriers that training induces is challenging. Though your body can in fact push further than your mind allows you. Keep this in mind when trying to achieve a higher VO2 max. Remember, that VO2 max score is not the same as max heart rate.

Aerobic endurance can increase through endurance training as well. When you reach your aerobic threshold and continue to push, you enhance your lactate threshold. This leads to increased oxygen consumption. This is even more beneficial for an endurance athlete.

You can use any type of fitness plan that includes running, cycling, or HIIT training. Performing any type of cardio can also help you improve resting heart rate and weight loss

HIIT Training

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is normally executed in a short period. When utilizing HIIT training for improving VO2 max, you want to maintain it for a longer duration. Instead of going for 10 minutes total of 2 min all out and 1 min of rest, aim for a 20-minute workout total with 3 minutes all out and 2 minutes of light running.


Running for longer distances can include 3 minutes of 85% or all out running. For the rest period, incorporate longer times of low-intensity running. Long distance running for VO2 max includes longer rest periods because of the exercise duration.


Lastly, cycling can help improve VO2 max as well. Try 30 seconds all out with 30 seconds off. Repeat for 10-20 sets. Gradually increase to 60 seconds on 60 seconds off. All out means putting in a hard effort. This varies for each person, but you should be able to go as hard as you can for the entire 30 seconds.

How Does VO2 Max Influence Your Workout? 

Training aerobically for VO2 max increases cardiorespiratory fitness and oxygen uptake. Improvements in VO2 max lead to greater changes in exercise performance. Not only does it increase total running speed, it also increases leg muscle strength and power. 

More oxygen means more blood flow. The faster you can run, the harder you can train. The stronger a muscle, the less energy it needs to use. This is because when a muscle is stronger it does not need to recruit as many muscle fibers. 

The stronger the muscle, the less fibers it needs to recruit to execute a movement. This all leads to the body moving much more efficiently. In addition, less energy and focus is required for muscle activation and execution. This allows the body to naturally improve mechanics and technique.

It doesn't matter if you perform circuit training or high intensity training. Any type of aerobic training can help influence other workouts. It just depends on how you perform them.

VO2 max is a general indicator of aerobic fitness level. Knowing your body’s limits can help you understand when you are not pushing hard enough. 

The energy inside your cells comes from ATP. Without oxygen the body cannot breakdown metabolic substances to create ATP. This is necessary even without exercise. As you exercise the body demands even more oxygen. Making muscles energy production essential to function.

If you are looking to help clients improve VO2 max and want to understand more about their genetics, take on the ISSA’s DNA-based Fitness Coach certification. You’ll open a new avenue of income and provide more insight to your clients’ training programs.


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