How to increase your VO2 max?

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Tuesday, 17 November 2015 1192 Views 0 Comments
How to increase your VO2 max?

You’ve heard the term but don’t know what it means? Read on…

You may have heard trainers used words like ‘VO2 max training’ and ‘VO2 max testing’, and you’re probably wondering what they mean. Your search ends here.

VO2 max, in the lay mans language, is your body’s ability to consume oxygen. It is the rate at which your body takes in oxygen and pumps it to your organs. It is expressed in the form of a number which ranges between 30 and 60 in a healthy adult.

VO2 max is specifically used by athletes as it is directly related to the speed at which you run. The more the oxygen the body can consume, the faster you can run. When the athlete runs fast, he breathes harder, forcing his lungs to take in more oxygen, than normal, which is then pumped to the muscles. This enables the athlete to run faster and longer.

However, there is a maximum limit after which the amount of oxygen taken in does not increase. This level is the VO2 max for that runner. The higher the VO2 max, the better it is for the runner.

The measuring units 

VO2 max is expressed in ml per kg of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min), which usually ranges between 30-55 for normal human beings depending on age, gender, the running altitude and fitness level of the athlete. (Although seasoned athletes can have their VO2 max as high as 90-98) The World record for the highest VO2 max level is held by cyclist Oskar Svendsen touching 97.5.

Why is it important?

Although important, it is not really whole in itself. The measure of oxygen consumption alone cannot determine the runner’s performance. What matters is how efficiently the body is able to utilise the oxygen, which is determined by the blood volume, hemoglobin level, red blood cell count and the capillary density in the muscles of an individual athlete.

The factors that usually determine VO2 max

In general, VO2 max is higher at a young age and decreases as age increases. Males have a higher VO2 max than females, although it can be increased with fitness and training. Also, VO2 max decreases at higher altitudes due to low pressure, which causes less oxygen to infuse with the blood.

It may not be necessary that the athlete with the highest VO2 max would run the fastest. Therefore, a better measure of performance is Velocity at VO2 max which is the speed at which an athlete runs at his VO2 max.

How to work on increasing your VO2 max?

  • There are VO2 max specific trainings given to athletes. Preparing the athlete to be able to run at his fastest speed at his VO2 max level for the longest time possible is what constitutes the training.
  • The easiest way to increase your VO2 max is by doing interval training that consists of 10-minute warm-ups, a six-minute time-trial that requires you to run at your fastest, at your VO2 max, without slowing down and a 10-minute cool down. But the six-minute session might exhaust you, so it would be better to go for multiple, short rounds, with the same/slightly higher intensity. This will enable the runner to spend more time at his VO2 max, which he can slowly work on increasing.
  • There are various ways in which this training can be altered. You can do the 30/30 or 60/60 training in which you start with a 10-minute jog, then run for 30 seconds at your highest pace, then slow down to an easy jog for 30 seconds. Continue altering between fast and slow pace for at least 12 segments and try to reach as high as 20.
  • The basis of enhancing your VO2 max is interval training. Instead of using time as a measure, you can measure your high speed sessions in meters. Run for 800 meters at your VO2 max and then slow down for 400 meters.
  • If you know your body well, you can train it better by working on your lows. VO2 max will give you a better understanding of your body and if given proper attention, can make you a great runner.


1. Bassett, D. R. J., Limiting factors for maximum oxygen uptake and determinants of endurance performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2000, 32 (1), 70-84.

2. Helgerud, J., Maximal oxygen uptake, anaerobic threshold and running economy in women and men with similar performances level in marathons. European Journal of Applied Physiology 1994, 68, 155-161.

3. McLaughlin, J. E.; Howley, E. T.; Bassett, D. R. J.; Thomson, D. L.; Fitzhugh, E. C., Test of the classic model for predicting endurance running performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2010, 42 (5), 991.

4. Active Expert Matt Fitzgerald who is the author of several books on triathlon and running, including Runner’s World Performance Nutrition for Runners (Rodale, 2005) and his newest, Brain Training for Runners.


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