Jan 20, 2022
What You Need To Know About VO2 Max

If you exercise regularly, you probably keep track of how many minutes you work out, how many calories your burn, and your heart rate.

But there’s another indicator that can help you improve your aerobic fitness.

VO2 max — or your oxygen uptake — shows how much oxygen your body absorbs and uses while working out. V is for volume, O2 is for oxygen and max is for maximum. Sports medicine physician Matthew Kampert, DO, MS, explains how to measure your VO2 max and how to improve it.

vo2 max“It gives you an objective view of your health,” says Dr. Kampert. “It gives you a good idea of how effective your training is.”

How To Measure Your VO2 Max

VO2 max shows how well your heart pushes blood to your muscles and how efficiently your muscles can extract that oxygen from your circulating blood. As you breathe in oxygen, it powers a metabolic reaction within your muscle cells that gives your muscles energy called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). You breathe faster and deeper while exercising because your body needs more energy to work

“During exercise, the body will use oxygen and produce carbon dioxide, which is let out as you breathe,” explains Dr. Kampert.

VO2 max is typically measured in milliliters of oxygen consumed in a minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min). Having a higher VO2 max number typically means you’re in good cardiovascular shape, but you could also increase your VO2 max by losing body fat.

What’s A Good VO2 Max?

Here are VO2 max averages for men 18 to 45 years old, based on activity level:

Activity level Average VO2 max
Sedentary 35-40 mL/kg/min
Active 42.5-46.4 mL/kg/min
Very active ≤ 85 mL/kg/min

Here are VO2 max averages for women 18 to 45 years old, based on activity level:

Activity level Average VO2 max
Sedentary 27-30 mL/kg/min
Active 33.0-36.9 mL/kg/min
Very active ≤ 77 mL/kg/min

How To Improve Your VO2 Max

Knowing your VO2 max is also a good baseline of your athletic abilities if you’re looking to train or perform at a certain level.

But if your VO2 max isn’t where you want it to be, you can improve it by trying the following types of exercise:

  • High-intensity training (HIIT) requires doing a few minutes of intense aerobic exercise, reducing intensity for a few minutes, and then increasing again.
  • Low-intensity training like running, biking, hiking, or rowing.

“You want to aim to decrease your body fat percentage while preserving lean muscle mass,” says Dr. Kampert.

» ALSO SEE: When is the most effective time to exercise?

While HIIT is an effective way to increase your VO2 max, switching up your low-intensity training can help as well, especially since those types of workouts are less stressful on your body.

Overall, improving your VO2 max and keeping track of it can play a huge role in your health, and can be a good indicator of your fitness level.

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