Garmin VO2max – how to make it higher

VO2max: The Key to Athletic Performance – how to make it higher

VO2max, or maximal oxygen consumption, is a measure of cardiovascular fitness and the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can use during exercise. It is expressed in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). A higher VO2max means that the body can use oxygen more efficiently, which can lead to improved athletic performance.

There are several factors that can affect VO2max, including age, gender, body composition, and genetics. Age is a major factor in VO2max decline, with your VO2max potential decreasing by about 1% per year after age 30. Gender also plays a role, with men typically having a higher VO2max than women. Body composition is another important factor, with a higher percentage of body fat being associated with a lower VO2max. Finally, genetics also play a role in VO2max, with some people being born with a higher genetic potential for VO2max.

There are several ways to improve VO2max, including endurance training, strength training, and interval training. Endurance training is the most effective way to improve VO2max, as it helps to increase the efficiency of the cardiovascular system. Strength training can also help to improve VO2max, as it can help to increase muscle mass and muscle power. Interval training is a type of training that combines high-intensity exercise with low-intensity exercise, and it can also be an effective way to improve VO2max.

VO2max Forerunner 645
I had 65 in a lab a few years back and sometimes Garmins give me as low as 50 – to be fair, normally on a new device when, maybe, the data is not all there.

VO2max is an important measure of fitness, and it can be a useful tool for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. By understanding the factors that affect VO2max and how to improve it, people can improve their overall fitness and athletic performance.

Here is some additional information about VO2max:

  • VO2max can be improved through endurance training, strength training, and interval training.
  • VO2max is a good measure of progress in fitness training.
  • VO2max is a good indicator of overall fitness and health.
  • A higher VO2max is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

How to Improve Your VO2max

There are several ways to improve your VO2max, including:

  • Endurance training: This is the most effective way to improve VO2max. Endurance training involves gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your workouts. You can do this by running, biking, swimming, or doing other aerobic activities.
  • Strength training: Strength training can also help to improve VO2max. Strength training helps to increase muscle mass and muscle power. This can help you to burn more calories during exercise and improve your overall fitness.
  • Interval training: Interval training is a type of training that involves alternating periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of low-intensity exercise. Interval training can be a very effective way to improve your VO2max.
  • Tabata-like Intervals: Super short intervals with even shorter recoveries eg 40 seconds on and 20 off. Your heart rate doesn’t recover in the ‘rest’ and probably mimics you being in a VO2-like effort hence the time at the higher zones is boosted.

Seen another way your broad strategy might be either

  1. Maintain weight, lose fat (by definition increase muscle percentage); or
  2. Maintain weight, maintain muscle mass, and improve muscle function.

Effectiveness of Different Exercise Intensities

The chart to the right (via ace-coach and researcher Alan Couzens), clearly shows that an hour spent at Zone 4 or 5 intensity will increase your VO2max far more than an hour of endurance exercise. However, high levels of high-intensity workouts are unsustainable as they accumulate too much fatigue.

Most research suggests that elite athletes favour high volumes of low-intensity work, to slowly and progressively increase VO2max. There will be numerous other associated benefits, such as an improved running/cycling economy.

However, you’re not a pro and probably have significantly less available time for training. Thus the time-crunched athlete might favour a higher proportion of harder training than Pro’s, which would be where your 2×20-minute threshold sessions on the bike come in or when 1-mile/1-kilometre running reps pay off.

The chart implies you can increase, relatively easily, your VO2max by 1.0 with about 2 hours of hard training in a month.

Is Garmin VO2max Accurate?

Garmin’s VO2max seems to change quickly, and it has always seemed to me to move quicker than the likely change in my real physiology. However, the improvement the chart indicates is possible, and a half-point increase in VO2max in a week appears quite plausible for many people. Perhaps even more than that.

The only way to truly test accuracy is with a lab-based test, which is extremely difficult for the average person to find, organize, and execute. It can also be expensive on a regular basis. I haven’t done a lab test for quite a few years now, but when I last did, the lab test was significantly higher than what Garmin showed. This was on an older Garmin watch, and I’m reasonably sure that Garmin has improved its algorithm since then.

I’ve also noted quite big differences between Apple’s VO2max and Garmin’s, where the latter is higher for me. Apple tends to be highly rigorous in its metrics, but I believe it is showing a walking VO2max, which I believe can come out lower.

Pre-Requisites & Other Points

Only outdoor running workouts longer than 10 minutes and recorded with a Garmin GPS device will update your VO2max estimate. Heart rate data from either an optical HR sensor or a chest strap is required. Don’t confuse the VO2max setting in your Garmin Connect profile, which is only shown on your profile and not used elsewhere.

Garmin uses different methods to estimate VO2max, including those for running, cycling, walking, and all-day HR recording. These methods should all be broadly similar, but they may differ slightly due to the different muscles that are used in some activities.

Garmin’s VO2max

So, that is the kind of short-term training you will want to undertake to boost your VO2max metrics according to Garmin. I would caution you that Garmin’s VO2max algorithms are NOT identical across all its devices, but they should be consistent across devices launched after about 2019.

I would also point you to a measure called vVO2max. This is your actual running speed while at your VO2max level of effort. It takes into account your running economy and is actually a far more important measure that determines how fast you will actually be in real life.

Still, it’s always good to see your Garmin VO2max rising, and it’s always good to compare VO2max values among friends.

new VO2max Features For Fenix & Forerunners … and Enduro









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25 thoughts on “Garmin VO2max – how to make it higher

  1. According to their own white paper materials, FirstBeat/Garmin say the VO2Max estimate is about +-9% and is sensitive to an “accurate” max heart rate value. Also it is validated under indoor conditions that Garmin doesn’t allow you to use VO2Max detection, which is bizarre. I expect real world error to be higher because of pace derived from GPS and HR derived from wrist HR in addition to uncertainty over the calibration of max HR and weight.

    They very much misrepresent the accuracy of the estimate by showing it as a whole number and an arrow pointing to a single spot on a gauge. Internally it also has a decimal in the fit file, I think. But actually it should have error bars around the gage in order to express the actual uncertainty in the measurement. It should say something like (52) (64) rather than 58.

    This would still be low relative to your lab test but just about within the error bars.

    I think the presentation of the information as firm whole number rather than a range is bad user interface and the source of a lot of confusion.

    Think about how they handle visualization of the green HRV range as a moving band of averages. This is much better handling of uncertainty.

    I think the visualization and presentation of VO2max estimate needs an overhaul to present it in a more useful way.

    1. ah yes, i forgot it was stored internally as a decimal and i like the idea of an accuracy boundary.
      i’m not sure if those links apply to the current models, they are dated. thank you for including tho.

  2. Huh. The CMS erases the symbols I tried to use:

    (52) left-arrow 58 right-arrow (64)

    The gauge should show the estimate is something between 52 and 64, centered on 58.

    Since a range like that encompasses all of good to superior or very poor to good, I can see why it is problematic.

  3. I had a garmin 235 my vo2max was 57. Changed to a garmin 245, after wearing for a while my vo2max was 50.

      1. I removed the VO2Max and training status cards from GCM and the same widgets from the watch so long ago that I don’t remember when. I turned on the Pause Training Status feature around 2 years ago. The main effect is that this removes the VO2Max and status cards from the end of workouts. These things are not useful at best and actively frustrating or demotivating at worst.

        I also turned off the Performance Condition notification which is highly influenced by the intensity of the early part of a run. And also just turned off Performance Condition entirely because it is a fairly useless derivative of VO2max.

        I use the Fitness, Fatigue, and Form numbers in TrainingPeaks instead. Along with threshold HR, which I find much more useful.

        The threshold HR detection with a chest strap seems like a reasonable estimate in Garmin which has close agreement with TrainingPeaks detection for me. It’s also useful in setting heart rate zones in a way that VO2max is not.

        I have basically opted out of the VO2max ecosystem in Garmin and I find it a much better experience.

        Pausing Training doesn’t actually stop the vo2max calculation from happening and being recorded. It just stops putting it in your face after every workout. I will occasionally look at what it calculated and say, “huh”, but that’s it.

    1. I just downgraded the firmware on the Epix2, everything was reset to factory settings and my VO2 max automatically dropped by 2 values.

  4. A SEO post with mis-leading information about VO2max. It doesn’t change that ridiculously fast in real-life. Garmin’s VO2max algorithm is as mis-leading as this post.

  5. I find the vo2max algorithm on my forerunner 935 very simplistic. If I do a lot of hard interval training I can sky rocket my vo2max to 63 and if I do a lot of steady long runs (2 hour +) the vo2 drops to more normal values, around 53.

    I think garmin has a bias towards interval and uses how fast your heartrate drops in rest to calculate v02. I definitely does not take age into concern (I’m 53).

    Like more of those’s stats, garmin marketing tries to sell them as scientific, but in real life they are quite simple and of limited use.

    (accoording to a lab test and coopertests my vo2 max should be around 52 or 53)

    1. the included chart shows that your body has a bias towards interval training. Whether that matches any similar Garmin bias IDK.
      how would it take age into account? VO2max is an absolute measure about processing oxygen. if you are saying that as we age then we find it harder to recover, i would agree with that, however vo2max capacity declines with age too.

      that said the 935 is, for sure, an old algorithm, the later devices definitely have a different algorithm, i have my charts that show my vo2 changes with my device if one of the devices is the 935.
      i agree, it does sound wrong that your vo2 can increase by +10 simply based on the training you describe

  6. Not sure if it’s still the case but on the 645, Garmin used the VO2max value to index into a lookup table to predict race times. I once decided to see if I could actually run its marathon prediction at the Frankfurt marathon & all went swimmingly until ~32k when I detonated, had to walk for a while, have a stern chat with myself & then continue running at a slower pace with a few extra walk breaks thrown in for good measure. Looking back on it I probably could have run a pb that day just not the pb is was predicting.

  7. I had VO2max 42 and it dropped to 33.
    Had no change on my workouts, even increased my run from 4km to 5. Why so?..

    1. it shouldn’t drop that much in a short time frame
      did yo change watches
      over what time frame did it happen
      why did you think either 33 or 42 was right/wrong?

  8. Are you sure that “Only outdoor workouts longer than 10 minutes and recorded with a Garmin GPS device will update your VO2max estimate”? When riding indoors on a trainer I routinely see updates to my Garmin VO2max estimate after a virtual ride or workout.

    1. You can get bike VO2 updates on trainers as long as there is a power meter.

      Running requires outdoors

  9. I used to like all these performance numbers. But then got disillusioned with them.

    If I want to know my fitness, I go racing.
    Inbetween racing, I go training, where hopefully I’m getting fitter. But if not, well at least I tried my best.
    I try to be satisfied just with that.

  10. You’re quoting Alan Couzens with the chart at the top, but Alan is famously a proponent that the best way to improve V02 is lots of low intensity. True, the chart shows that per min, intervals improve your vo2 – but you’re limited by the amount of fatigue you can accumulate. So they way to improve V02 in long term is lots of lower intensity which doesn’t generate the same fatigue.

  11. I used my shiny new 965 for the first time at a track session this evening. It bumped my VO2max number by +1 while simultaneously dropping all of the predicted race times over what my 945 was saying up until now.

    That said, I think the slower times are more realistic & might challenge me to try & match/beat them whereas the 945’s predictions were beyond me I think. Strange the VO2max number increased though.

      1. And after a run at lunchtime today, it’s dropped me back down again. Ah well it was great while it lasted!

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