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 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
- Maintain weight, lose fat (by definition increase muscle percentage); or
- 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.
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.
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