Understanding and applying vo2 max.

What is VO2 max?

VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in millilitres per kilogramme of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). A high VO2 max is associated with increased athletic performance. As a coach, it is possible to increase VO2 max. This is particularly important for high intensity athletes who work close to their VO2 max.

Influencing factors

Although we can influence VO2 max to a degree, some aspects of it we cannot escape. For example:

  • genetics play a major role in a person’s VO2 max and heredity can account for up to 25-50% of the variance seen between individuals. A lower starting point will, of course, mean that even significant progress might still leave an athlete behind a more genetically gifted one. It is also thought that genetics can cause some people to be ‘non-responders’ to endurance training designed to increase aerobic capacity, even when adhering to the protocol completely.
  • Age. VO2 max decreases with age, which links to the idea of a poor starting point affecting the results of training. Jackson et al, in studies on men and women published 1995-1996, found that the average rate of decline is generally accepted to be about 1% per year or 10% per decade after the age of 25. One large cross sectional study found the average decrease was 0.46 ml/kg/min per year in men (1.2%) and 0.54 ml/kg/min in women (1.7%). It is thought that being well trained at a younger age may slow the process.
  • obesity

Calculate your vo2 max



Improving your VO2 max

  • Lose weight. VO2 max relates oxygen intake to body weight, therefore, losing weight (fat, ideally) will increase vo2 max.
  • Interval or HIIT training. Periods of running (you could substitute for something like a spin bike) at close to max effort, followed by a rest period of fast walking to allow heart rate to go back down before the next interval starts has been shown to be the best cardio training for vo2 max.
  • Increase intensity of training. To grow muscle, we progressively overload our muscles by adding weight, reps, and/or sets over time. The same should be done with aerobic training to prevent progress stagnating. Run for longer, faster, take shorter rest periods- whatever your preferred approach is.
  • Prioritise it. If it is truly important to you, make it the centre of your programme. If you were unhappy with your performance on the football field, you probably wouldn’t play tennis 5x a week. Your diet, supplements and training should all be directed towards your main goal.

About the Author

Savannah Westerby, BSc Sport and Exercise Nutrition. IG:@savannahwesterby


  • Keith Crampton
    November 24, 2017 Keith Crampton

    Are there any clinics or places etc that I can go to to have these tests done professionally?

    • Shop

      Hi Keith,
      I would suggest sending an email to the sports department at your local university as they are always looking for participants free of charge!

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