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What is VO2 Max?
It measures the maximum amount of oxygen the body is able to absorb and utilise while exercising as hard as you can. Oxygen is the cornerstone in energy production for the muscles during the aerobic stage of the workout, this means that being able to take in more oxygen would correspond to more energy for the body to utilise.
It is typically used to measure the aerobic fitness and endurance of an individual, the unit of VO2 max is in ml/kg/min. Those who are continually seek to push their fitness boundaries can use their VO2 max as a gauge and train to increase and optimise this parameter (1).
How VO2 Max is measured
For the most accurate way of calculation, the VO2 max test must be conducted in a lab based setting. In the testing centre, one would be required to don a face mask while running on a treadmill or stationary bike. Test subjects will be placed at stress and made to exercise as intensely as possible and the actual oxygen intake will be then be recorded of which the VO2 max value will be calculated (2).
VO2 max can still be measured outside the lab and these sort of tests are know as submaximal tests. With the help of certified fitness trainers or health care professionals, VO2 max can be gauged through activities such as the 2.4 KM run test, multistage bleep test. For those with a lower fitness level and not suitable for excessive physical exertions, the Cooper 1.5 mile walk run test or treadmill test can be used (1).
Omni calculator has a interesting method of calculation which uses only your resting heart rate and age to give you your VO2 max, but likewise, this should only be taken as a rough reference.
Runner’s blueprint gives a good depiction of the corresponding VO2 max values to various levels of fitness levels over the spread of different age groups and gender.
Why is VO2 max so important to even non athletes?
While VO2 max serves its purpose as a guideline for athletes to understand their current aerobic fitness and set the stage to enable them to work towards improving their game, this parameter actually has far reaching benefits for individuals like you and me.
In a researched published in 2018, it is said that even though we are not able to exceed our genetically programmed lifespan, but with a healthy and fit lifestyle in midlife, we would be able to increase our chances of reaching the later end of our lifespan.
VO2 max is the single most convincing indicator of our life expectancy. With the increase in our fitness levels, it can not only prevent muscle catabolism and physical disabilities, there is a greater chance of enjoying quality of life in old age, thereby reducing the chances of hospitalisation and entering long term care.
As seen from the runner’s blueprint table, both men and women who generally have better VO2 max ratings have a significantly lower risks of contracting cardiovascular diseases.
Improving our VO2max can also have nearer term benefits such as (3) :
- Increased endurance resulting in greater capacity in going through daily activities without getting exhausted.
- Help to positively manage stress levels
- Help to bolster our immune system
How do we improve our VO2 max?
Here are some ways to help individuals improve their VO2 max levels, it involves as series of well programmed exercise regimes, maintaining a regular exercise schedule and finding ways to gradually improve performance levels (4)
High Intentsity Interval Training
High intensity interval training (HIIT) and Tabata related exercises can help to improve VO2 max levels. This is because, it requires the individual to exercise as hard as possible (as many reps as possible – AMRAP) in a fixed time interval of say 30 to 60 seconds, and going through a lower intensity or short break before engaging in the next exercise interval. This method of training helps to push the aerobic capacity of the individual by working the heart at its near max rate.
It would be good to don a smart watch or heart rate sensor to better monitor your heart rate during the workout, try to aim and sustain at 80% or more of your maximum heart rate (MHR)
Another way to improve the VO2 max capacity is to improve on endurance activities such as running or cycling. For example, when covering 5KM and 10 KM runs, try to constantly improve your timings and keep the heart rate at more than 70% of MHR.
VO2 max is an indicator that we all can work on to increase longevity and improve quality of life. However, it is always important to consult healthcare professionals or fitness trainers when embarking on any exercise or workout regimens.
Improving your VO2 max comes with not only the initial drive and motivation to enhance your fitness levels and live healthy, but also the effort to sustain such a lifestyle.
By : Alvin Ho
B (Eng), MBA, Certified Allied Healthcare/Fitness Professional (EIMS), Master Fitness Trainer / Fitness Nutrition, Resistance & Endurance Training Specialist (NFPT)