Many running-related resources mention VO2 Max. This article will discuss what a VO2 Max is, provide a simple way to measure it, and explain how even a new runner can use VO2 Max to track gains and set goals.
What is a VO2 Max?
The more oxygen a person can consume during intense exercise, the more energy they can produce. VO2 Max (or maximal oxygen consumption) describes the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can use during intense exercise. VO2 Max is considered to be the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.
The most accurate way to measure your VO2 Max is at an Exercise Lab. There you will get fitted with a mask to measures the amount of gas concentrations you inhale and exhale. You will exercise on a bike or treadmill with the intensity increasing every few minutes until you reach exhaustion.
Since attempting this intense VO2 Max lab test can be dangerous for individuals who have respiratory or cardiovascular problems, several other less intense tests have been developed. These sub-maximal tests do not require an individual to max out their oxygen consumption by reaching exhaustion. For those unable to access a sports lab, or those new to running, a sub-maximal test can be a great way to estimate VO2 Max.
How can I measure my VO2 Max?
One sub-maximal test is the Rockport Walk Test. All you need is a flat running surface, a timer, a scale, pen and paper, and a calculator and you can test yourself.
1. Record your weight immediately before starting your warm up.
2. Warm up for 5-10 minutes.
3. Walk One Mile as fast as possible and record your time.
(Note that One Mile is 1609.344 meters. Four laps on a standard track is 1600 meters. Some tracks have an official One Mile starting line. You can also use a treadmill or a GPS watch to measure a full mile, but even those devices have some margin of error. Do your best to try to be accurate.)
4. Record your Heart Rate immediately upon completing the Mile.
5. Plug your numbers into this calculator to see how well you score: For those who really love math, this calculator uses the following Rockport Walk Test formula:
VO2 Max =
– (0.0769 × Weight in Pounds)
– (0.3877 × Age in Years)
+ (6.315 × Gender, using 1 for Male or 0 for Female)
– (3.2649 × Time)
– (0.1565 × Heart rate)
How can knowing my VO2 Max help me?
In general, a higher VO2 Max score indicates a better capacity for endurance than a lower score. We can improve our VO2 Max through endurance training to a certain extent. As we get fitter it will improve, but we are limited by genetics and age-related changes. The best way to minimize our natural VO2 max decline is to stay active and it is never too late to start. According to the ACSM, research has shown that people of any age, including adults 65 years of age or older, can achieve a 10-30 percent increase in VO2 Max in response to endurance training.
People who see clear measurable improvements are more likely to stick with a training program. If you are new to running or returning after some time away from running, try using the Rockport Walk Test once per month to your track endurance gains over time.
If you are new to racing or considering a race distance for the first time, you can use your estimated VO2 Max to help you set a race goal. This calculator will help you determine what your potential is based upon your age, gender, and VO2 Max, assuming you are equally prepared for longer races as you are for shorter races.
Understanding how to estimate your potential as an endurance athlete is the first step to setting realistic achievable goals. Our VO2 Max is one way to determine our personal endurance capacity. The Rockport Walk Test is a simple way to measure our VO2 Max and can track how training improves our score over time. We can use our VO2 Max score to set goals that are appropriate to our abilities. By setting realistic goals and achieving success, training and racing can remain an enjoyable and positive experience over the course of our lives.
Featured Image Credit: Memorial Hermann
Shannon McGinn is an RRCA Certified Distance Running Coach and the owner of Creating Momentum LLC.
She is a life-long runner, becoming more involved in racing after surviving cancer. She considers herself a marathon and ultramarathon specialist, earning several USATF National Championship top 10 or better placements in the 50k and 50M distances. She has not missed a day of running since December 2011. Please feel free to send any questions about this article to shanmcginn[at]gmail.com