Beginners guide to VO2 Max

Beginners Guide to VO2 Max

April 17, 2019

VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in millilitres per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min), it correlates directly to fitness capacity and one of the factors that helps determine an athlete's capacity to perform sustained exercise.

The VO2 Max measurement is generally considered the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. The more oxygen an athlete can use during high-level exercise, the more energy an athlete can produce. This VO2 Max test determines cardiorespiratory fitness; because the muscles need oxygen for prolonged aerobic exercise, the heart must pump adequate amounts of blood through the body to meet the demands of aerobic exercise.

A number of factors have an impact on an athlete’s VO2 Max, making it difficult to directly attribute performance differences between athletes to VO2 Max. Age, Sex, Altitude, Technique, Mental Strength and other physiological characteristics can change this. Most athletes generally use their VO2 Max as a measurement of their fitness and training progression. However, for a more comprehensive picture, other key elements in addition to VO2 Max should be considered.

Work Economy, Lactate Threshold, and VO2 Max all impact oxygen utilization during exertion, oxygen utilization is what ultimately affects speed and performance. Work Economy influences an athlete’s speed for a given amount of oxygen; this includes a variety of characteristics, such as build, biomechanics and the quality of an athlete’s technique.

Endurance athletes should pay more attention to their Threshold Value. Whereas VO2 max measures peak oxygen consumption at the highest level of exertion, threshold is a measure of one’s exertion capacity at below maximal levels and may be a more relevant value for athletes who consistently perform at a  below maximal effort. Any middle to long distance effort will rely more heavily on a high threshold than a high VO2 Max. If you think of the Threshold as the ceiling, the VO2 Max is the roof.

An athlete cannot increase their threshold without raising their VO2 Max to accommodate it. Ultimately, increasing Work Economy, VO2 Max and Threshold will all boost oxygen utilization and performance.

VO2 max limit is largely determined by genetics, but it can be increased through training, most people can increase their VO2 Max by between 5% to 20%.

The VO2 max levels of endurance athletes, such as swimmers, runners, cross-country skiers, cyclists, and rowers, tend to be the highest. Male endurance runners can range from 65 ml/kg/min to a VO2 max of around 85 ml/kg/min while female runners can attain a VO2 Max of around 77 ml/kg/min.

How do you compare?

If you want a high VO2 max, choose your parents carefully. A group of Scientists concluded that heredity determines up to 50 percent of your endurance ability. Still, that leaves 50 percent that can be influenced by training.

Consistent aerobic conditioning will increase your max, but only by so much. French exercise physiologist Veronique Billat found that the fastest way to reach your potential is to run intervals at a speed that elicits your VO2 max, a pace known in lab circles as velocity.

Here are two solid beginner training sessions to try out.

(Remember; always make sure you are passed fit by a Medical Practitioner before any strenuous exercise).

Session 1

Warm-up: Easy 1500m jog, followed by 4 × 100m drills with 100m recoveries. If you’re on a track, run the straights fast and recover around the bends. Do the first drill at 10k pace, the next at 5k pace and the last two at 3k pace in order to prepare your body for the Main Set.

  • Main Set: 5 × 4 minutes at 3k pace with 4 minute recovery jogs

Cool Down: Easy 1500m jog

As you improve you can try graduating to a 4 × 5 minute main set with 5 minute recoveries.

Session 2

3 minute hard, 1minute recovery x 3.

You are going to work hard for 3 minutes hard and recover for 1 minute. If you’re running, this will be around 3k race pace and then recovering at a slower pace. Make sure to warm up for at least ten minutes with some faster strides if you’re running or do some big gear work if you’re cycling to really fire up the central nervous system.

The session is as follows:

Warm up for 10 minutes easy

  • 3m x 1m x 3

Recover for 5 - 10 minutes with easy running or cycling

  • 3m x 1m x 3

Cool down for 10 minutes

As you improve and become fitter and more experienced, extend the length of time you work hard to 4 or 5 minute efforts, you can also try and increase the number of drills you do.

Now that we have that covered, get out and take care of business people, get the show in the road. When it comes to world class sporting apparel we have you covered, no matter your discipline.


The Element Twenty Two Team

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