VO2 max and Cardiorespiratory fitness

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For athletes, VO2 Max is a popular buzzword.

There are tons of discussions about improving numbers scores, calculating them, and what it means to our overall health.

So that begs the question, what is VO2 Max, and why is it so important?

What is VO2 Max?

Knowing your VO2 Max score is an excellent way to gauge your improvements in your physical health. But how?

VO2 Max is also known as your maximal oxygen uptake. It measures your overall cardio fitness and endurance capacity. For these reasons, athletes are often interested in knowing their scores and improving their numbers, especially if they are considering training.

Your maximal oxygen consumption is directly related to the ATP that your body produces. ATP is adenosine triphosphate energy and is considered the “molecular unit of currency” of intracellular energy.

ATP is an energy-carrying molecule that’s present in all living things. It takes chemical energy from the breakdown of food molecules and releases it to provide power and fuel to other molecules.

Your body naturally produces ATP through cellular respiration, a metabolic reaction that breaks down glucose using oxygen. The more oxygen brought into your body by breathing, the more ATP your body naturally creates.

Measurement

VO2 Max measures milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of your body weight, with the unit mL/kg/min.

VO2 Max Test

The ideal method to determine your VO2 Max score is to take the VO2 Max test in a sports performance lab, where an exercise physiology professional is present. The test takes 10-20 minutes to complete. To get the best results, it’s also crucial that you prepare yourself properly.

Ensure that you dress in comfortable workout clothes, try not to do any high-level cardio or training beforehand, avoid any food, alcohol, caffeine, or anything that could affect your performance during the test.

Once you show up for the test, you’ll be fitted for a face mask to ensure a comfortable, snug fit. A heart rate monitor will also be strapped across your chest to measure your heart rate.

The test is in the form of an aerobic fitness activity, usually running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike. The intensity of the activity will be monitored and will gradually increase. Your body will eventually reach aerobic capacity, which is the point where your oxygen consumption levels plateau regardless of the increase in activity intensity.

Once you hit the plateau, this is the point your body switches from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism. You will find that your body will start to get tired.

With the maximum oxygen consumption level, the test administrator will calculate and provide you with your VO2 Max score.

How to Calculate VO2 Max

Since it is generally inconvenient and pricey to get your VO2 Max measured at a lab and impractical for the general public, therefore many have found different formulas and algorithms to calculate a VO2 Max estimate.

The most accurate one after the direct lab test is the FirstBeat Method. The FirstBeat Method looks at your oxygen consumption in correlation with your speed throughout your workout and analyzes the data along with other background information, such as age.

Other calculation methods are the Cooper test or the Uth-Sorensen-Overgaard-Pedersen estimation, which looks at your maximum heart rate and resting period.

At this point, you probably understand why knowing your VO2 Max score is essential. But what is a good VO2 Max score?

VO2 Max Range

Like most aspects of fitness, ranges between men and women are divided—an ideal score for a male in his 20s would be 45 and up. A score of at least 36 is considered adequate.

As the age increases, the score decreases because of the natural decline in fitness within the human body.

For women in their 20s, 35 and up is considered satisfactory. A score of at least 29 is adequate. Just like the numbers in men, the score will decrease as the person increases in age.

The Cooper Test follows a separate range because the calculation is different. These ranges are also essential to know if you used the Cooper Test to receive a VO2 Max score.

For men in their 20s, the average score is 2,200. A score of 2,400 means that his performance is above average. 2,800 and over means that he’s in the best possible shape.

For women in their 20s, the average score is 1,800. A score of 2,200 is above average, and 2,700 and over means that she’s in the best shape.

Just like with the other scores, the ranges in the Cooper Test decrease as the age increases. This means that a woman in her 30s can get a 2,000 from the Cooper Test and still be considered above average health.

What Factors Impact VO2 Max Numbers?

When looking at health and VO2 Max ranges, we should consider a few factors to improve accuracy and the correct interpretation.

These factors influence the VO2 Max numbers.

Age

The main factor in looking at your max number is age. Your 20s are your peak stage regarding your health, and that’s reflected in your VO2 Max score as well. The score will naturally decrease over time.

Gender

Due to the difference in body size, blood volume, and hemoglobin content between men and women, there’s a difference in ranges as well.

Altitude

Altitude is vital to know because, at higher altitudes, there is less air to consume. Generally, an athlete runner’s VO2 Max decreases by 5% for every 5,000 feet of increased altitude.

Estimation Methods

If you don’t want to schedule a doctor’s visit or lab test, you can still estimate your VO2 Max at home.

Cooper Test

Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper developed the Cooper Test for military use in 1968. It is a 12-minute run to see where your physical fitness lies. Dr. Cooper discovered the distance ran or walked in a 12-minute time span can give us insight into one’s physical fitness level.

To calculate your estimated results, follow this formula:

Kilometers: VO2max = (22.351 x kilometers) – 11.288

Miles: VO2max = (35.97 x miles) – 11.29

The unit used to measure the distance will determine which formula you can use to calculate your VO2 Max numbers.

Uth–Sørensen–Overgaard–Pedersen Estimation

This method relies on collecting data like your resting heart rate and your maximal heart rate. To get a measurement using this estimate, you need to follow the formula:

(VO2max = 15.3 x HRmax/HRrest)

You’re taking your maximum heart rate and your resting heart rate and dividing them by each other. Then you’ll take your answer and multiple it by 15.3 to get your VO2 Max estimation.

Why is My VO2 Max Score So Important?

It should be clear that it can be beneficial for athletes to know their V02 Max, but there are many reasons why the general public should also be aware of their scores.

Predict Athletic Performance

For athletes and runners specifically, knowing your VO2 Max score can help predict your athletic performance. In some cases, it can also help gauge your potential competitiveness compared to your competitors.

VO2 Max directly contributes to your running economy, which is a great indicator of your physical capacity. Running economy is the measure of how a runner uses their energy. Your body performs exchanges between oxygen and carbon dioxide. People who consume a lower volume of oxygen while running have a better running economy than ones that don’t.

With this data, you can predict and compare physical ability and potential success in endurance activities. For example, for two runners exercising at the same intensity, the runner with better running economy is consuming less oxygen, which means they are exerting less effort, and the exercise level is easier for that runner.

If your maximum oxygen capacity is high and your energy exertion rate is low, you are more equipped to handle endurance activities.

Assessment of Physical Health

Regardless of whether you are an athlete, VO2 Max is a great indicator of your cardiorespiratory fitness and overall health.

A low VO2 Max score indicates poor physical fitness, which is associated with many health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, obesity, pulmonary diseases, cancer, and more. Knowing your VO2 Max score can give you a more definite idea of your fitness level, which can motivate you to make the necessary adjustments to improve.

Aerobic fitness levels are directly related to your heart health, which can extend your life’s longevity, giving you the means to live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

Baseline for Training Programs

Your VO2 Max score is useful when determining what types of physical activities are suitable for your physical capabilities. Whether you are an athlete in training or tackling obesity, your score can help choose an exercise intensity suited to your body’s current limitations. This can prevent injuries and increase the rate of success.

VO2 Max can help determine your vVO2max (velocity at maximal oxygen intake), which is the intense running pace for a person to reach maximal oxygen uptake. Training at this pace can help you increase your VO2 Max score and improve your overall health.

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