6 Ways to Improve Your Vo2 Max

Vo2 max is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise. It’s also called peak oxygen uptakeTrusted Source, maximal oxygen uptake, or maximal aerobic capacity. Tests that measure Vo2 max are considered the gold standard for measuring cardiovascular fitness.


In the following video, you can see an example of a Vo2 max test performed on a treadmill.


Elite athletes in aerobic sports usually have high Vo2 maxes. Increasing your VO2 improves your potential of performing at a high level in your sport. However, it isn’t the only factor that determines success. Other factors such as lactate threshold and muscular endurance also play an important role in maximizing performance.


Even if you’re not an athlete, improving your Vo2 max can potentially improve your overall health. Low levels of cardiovascular fitness correlate with an increased risk of heart disease. Increasing your overall levels of cardiovascular fitness is associated with benefits such as:


increased lifespan

better quality of life

reduced stroke risk

reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer

improved mood

better sleep

In this article, we’re going to look at how you can improve your Vo2 max. We’ll also provide you with sample workouts to help get you started.



Tips to improve

You can increase your Vo2 max in two ways: by increasing the amount of blood your heart can pump and by increasing how much oxygen your muscles can take up. The following tips may help you develop these two components.


1. Exercise at a high intensity

You can train your Vo2 max most efficiently by working at a high intensity. Many running coaches recommend training at around 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate.


Working near your max heart rate helps strengthen the muscles in your heart and increase the volume of bloodTrusted Source it can pump with each beat.


You can approximate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.


2. Train in intervals

A 2013 review of studiesTrusted Source found that interval training produces slightly better Vo2 max improvements than continuous aerobic exercise. Interval training consists of alternating short periods of high-intensity activity with periods of rest.


3. Combine interval and continuous training

Incorporating both continuous training and interval training in your workout program may be more effective than only performing one of the two.


Many of the studiesTrusted Source that have found the largest increase in Vo2 max have used a 10-week training program consisting of six workouts per week.


In the studies, participants performed intervals and continuous running on alternate days.


On interval days, they performed six 5-minute sessions on a stationary bike at a workload close to their Vo2 max separated by 2 minutes of recovery between each interval.


On continuous running days, participants ran as far as possible for 30 minutes per day the first week, 35 minutes the second week, and for at least 40 minutes during the remaining weeks.


It’s worth noting that this program is quite intense and is only suitable for people who are already fit. In the first study to use this program, participants continued to see increases in Vo2 max at the end of the study, but participants started to drop out because of the difficulty of the training.


4. Keep challenging yourself

When you first start trying to increase your Vo2 max, virtually any type of endurance training will likely have a positive effect. As you get more well-trained, the gains will come slower and you’ll have to train at a higher level to continue improving.


You can make your training harder by increasing how often you work out, the duration of your workout, or how fast you move during the exercise.


5. Find Your 5K and 10K times

If you’re a runner, you may find it helpful to know how fast you can run 5 kilometers and 10 kilometers. The pace that you can run these two distances roughly correlates with the pace you need to run at to achieve 90 to 95 percent of your max heart rate.


6. Learn how to find your functional threshold power (FTP)

If you’re a cyclist, you may find it helpful to find your functional threshold power (FTP). Your FTP is defined as the highest amount of power you can sustain for an hour. You can use it to determine how hard you should be working when trying to improve your Vo2 max.


You can find your FTP by performing a test on a bike that has a power meter. After your warm-up, ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes. You can subtract 5 percent from this power score to find an estimate of your FTP.


Sample workouts

Here’s two examples of how you could set up a Vo2 max workout for running or cycling.


Running workout

Start with a warm-up consisting of easy jogging and dynamic mobility.

Run as far as you can in four minutes and record the distance.

Rest for four minutes.

Run the same distance 15 percent slower for your remaining four reps.

For example, if your distance for the first interval was one mile, you would run your remaining four trials in 4 minutes and 36 seconds.


Cycling workout

Start with a warm-up of 15 minutes of easy cycling.

Ride at a harder pace for 15 minutes, but easy enough that you can still hold a conversation.

Perform five intervals between 3 to 5 minutes in duration at an intensity that raises your heart rate to 90 to 95 percent of your max.

Finish with 10 minutes of easy cycling to cool down.



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