VO2 Max: An Elite Athlete’s Dream Test

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So, how good are you?

From the elite athletes to the weekend warriors, we all like to push ourselves in our respective athletic endeavors. While new PRs (personal records) or top speeds are the ultimate goals, there are now ways to measure your fitness beyond your results in competition. When it comes to endurance sports, one of the most useful measurements of your capabilities is VO2 Max. Simply put, this test tells you the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during intense exercise.

“VO2 Max is an excellent measure of one’s aerobic endurance or ability to perform prolonged exercise at a relatively high intensity,” says Dr. Thomas M. Best, research director at the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute. “It is often used as a measure of one’s endurance as opposed to speed and power.”

Why is VO2 Max important?

As you get more serious about endurance sports like running, cycling, swimming and others, there can be a real value in knowing your VO2 Max. It used to require a time-consuming laboratory treadmill test to obtain a measurement. Now high-end fitness devices like Garmin watches and others can provide you with a pretty accurate estimate.

Your VO2 Max reading measures the milliliters of oxygen your body can use per kilogram of body weight. The exact interpretation of your reading will vary based on your age and gender. In general, scores of 45 and above are considered good, while scores of 40 and below are fair to poor.

Training with VO2 Max

Once you know your number, you can use it as a baseline in your training as you seek to improve it. In general, a higher number equals an increased ability to perform, so as it increases, you should be able to achieve faster race times.

If you’re new to exercise, simply getting started on a workout program will get your readings headed in the right direction. “If you’re a beginner, your metric will naturally improve as you undertake more aerobic exercises like running and cycling,” says Dr. Best.

More conditioned athletes will have to work a little harder to improve through training, but it can be done.

“Although there is a genetic element to VO2 Max, you can substantially improve it through upping the duration and intensity of your training,” says Dr. Best. “It turns out that one of the most effective ways to raise your VO2 Max level is to train at or near your body’s VO2 Max level of intensity, and running workouts are a great way to do that.”

For more information or to schedule a test, email Uhealthfitness@miami.edu.


Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.