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By:Alex Borja

Many out there may have never heard the word, "VO2 max" let alone know exactly what it is. It is not common knowledge and therefore I thought it deserved a place on this site for those of you who are interested in improving your fitness. First I will be discussing what VO2 max is and why it's important. I will then show how to calculate yours and apply it to your work out routines.

What does "VO2 max" mean anyway?

There are many words that describe VO2 max and some such common phrases are, "maximal oxygen consumption, peak oxygen uptake, and aerobic capacity". Maybe this has given you an idea of what this VO2 max is. It is a tool used to measure how our body uptakes oxygen, delivers oxygen to the tissues, and utilizes oxygen. In other words it all has to do with how efficient our body is at using oxygen as a fuel source during exercise. The VO2 max is the single most used measure of cardiovascular fitness and maximal power.

You have a VO2 max 24/7 as you are always taking in oxygen and utilizing it. At rest, the common VO2 max is 3.5 l/min of oxygen consumption. VO2 max in men is approximately 40-60% higher in males than females.

If we break down the formula we can see why it gets its strange name. The "V" = volume per time. The "O2" = oxygen maximum - oxygen minimum. VO2 max is measured either as an absolute value or a relative value. The absolute is measured in liters of oxygen per minute (l/min). The relative value is measured in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). Phew, OK got all that? Ill elaborate on why there are both absolute and relative values without trying to confuse you on the math.

When you compare your VO2 max to your friends (for those of you who are competitive) you will want to see how they stack up against each other. But say your buddy isn't the same size as you; in fact he is about 50 pounds bigger than you. He will absolutely take in more oxygen than you purely by his size as his body requires more to operate than does yours. This is what's called an absolute value. It is the end all be all value and doesn't take into account how fit you are per se, just how big you are or how much oxygen you require. You could literally have a couch potato weighing several hundred pounds with a higher absolute VO2 max that a smaller fitness buff who always works out.

This is where that handy relative value will come in handy. It takes into account how your body uses oxygen rather than amount you take in which wouldn't be fair to smaller people if we didn't have this relative value to use. Now you can get the attention you deserve by showing off your expert knowledge of what VO2 max means.

Normally VO2 max measurement requires sophisticated state of the art equipment that cost thousands of dollars. I'm assuming you don't have all of that so ill just let you in on the other option. Many various equations have sprung up so that anyone can check out what a relatively accurate VO2 max might look like for them. I have here two easy methods so try them out and see where you lie. Odds are that your true value lies somewhere in between the two values due to the standard error associated. It's worth not buying the fancy equipment for accurate results for these free estimation equations:

Method #1:

Although a little dry it is more accurate than the rest available here. You will need to time your 1 mile walk time and HR for this one as well:

Estimated VO2 max (ml/kg/min) = 132.853 – (0.0769 x body weight in [pounds]) – (0.3877 x age [years]) + (6.3150 x gender [female = 0; male = 1]) – (3.2649 x 1-mile walk time [in minutes and hundredths]) – (0.1565 x 1-minute heart rate at end of mile [beats per minute]).

The outcome will have a standard estimate of error of +/- 5 so take account for this in your final answer. For example, if your final measurement is 40 ml/kg/min then you know your VO2Max is somewhere between 35-45 ml/kg/min. (Subtract and add 5 to your final score)

Method #2:

Not quite as accurate but simple to calculate:

HR MAX = 220 – YOUR AGE

HR REST = Take carotid or radial pulse and count the number of beats in 30 seconds and then multiply by 2 to get beats per minute (BPM). More accurately: Count number of beats in 1 minute. This is your resting heart rate. For a more detailed description and pictures view this article.

So where do you stand? I will leave a few key milestones of VO2 max readings by which you can compare yourself. If you're not where you desire, don't forget to train hard! I recommend another useful article called, "Calculating your Heart Rate" for useful information on improving your heart and VO2 max. Remember you WILL get there and CAN get there. You just have to put in the time and be consistent and you will be rewarded.

The values below are in relative form (besides resting value) and are taken from ASCM Guidelines of exercise testing and prescription which I hold a certification in. These will give you an idea of where the average values for VO2 max lies within your gender and age population groups.

VO2 Max Values:

At Rest: 3.5 l/min

Males under the "fair classification" and aged:
20-29: 42.2 ml/kg/min
30-39: 41.0 ml/kg/min
40-49: 38.4 ml/kg/min
50-59: 35.2 ml/kg/min
60-69: 31.4 ml/kg/min
70-79: 28.0 ml/kg/min

Females under the fair classification aged:
20-29: 35.5 ml/kg/min
30-39: 33.8 ml/kg/min
40-49: 31.6 ml/kg/min
50-59: 28.7 ml/kg/min
60-69: 26.6 ml/kg/min
70-79: 23.8 ml/kg/min

World class male athletes, cyclists, and cross country skiers: 75 ml/kg/min or higher
World class female athletes, cyclists, and cross country skiers: 70 ml/kg/min
Few rarely exceed: 85 ml/kg/min
Competitive club athlete: 70 ml/kg/min