How do I measure my VO2 max?
Kelsey Brown, BSc
January 27, 2023
What is VO2 max?
Your VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. Your body converts the oxygen you breathe into a source of energy known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels your muscle contraction. The greater capacity you have to deliver oxygen to muscles and the better your muscles are at extracting oxygen to generate ATP, the longer you can exercise at a higher intensity. Therefore, having a high VO2max is beneficial for endurance performance.
Measuring your VO2max is a helpful way to gauge your aerobic fitness and can be used to track any improvement. Increasing your VO2max can improve your athletic performance. However, improving your VO2max can also have a positive effect on general health such as lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease as well as affecting performance, so is not something that only athletes should aim to do.
3 ways to measure your VO2max
1. VO2max Test
The most accurate (albeit not particularly accessible) way to measure your VO2max is to get tested in a laboratory setting. During this test, users wear a mask and heart rate monitor to measure their oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange and heart rate. The test itself is carried out on a treadmill or bike, after a 5-minute warm-up at 3-5 mph the speed or resistance is increased by 1-2 mph or 1-2% incline every 1-2 minutes until you cannot carry on exercising. Your VO2max is calculated based on how much oxygen your body can use each minute, this is calculated using this formula:
VO2max = maximum amount of oxygen consumed in 1 minute (millilitres)/body weight in kilograms
The more oxygen your body can use, the longer you can work out at a higher intensity. Here are a few example score ranges for men and women between the ages of 20 and 49:
2. Wearable data
Some wearable devices such as Garmin and Apple watches have a function that can estimate your VO2max by monitoring your heart rate and distance covered while carrying out a brisk walk or a run. This measurement isn’t as accurate as the one mentioned above because it does not directly assess how much oxygen your body uses during exercise, however, it is still a useful measure of VO2max if a lab test isn’t an option. So, if you have a device that can estimate your VO2max, be sure to check it out!
3. Submaximal exercise tests
Submaximal exercise tests are an alternative method to lab testing which can be carried out at home or by certified fitness instructors.
3a. The Cooper run
The Cooper run test is thought to be an easy method to measure VO2max and aerobic fitness. The test is carried out over 12 minutes and requires you to run (or walk if that’s more your speed) as far as you can in 12 minutes. Make sure to warm up before you start! After completing the 12-minute run/walk, you can use one of the equations below to calculate your VO2max, depending on if you measured your run in miles or kilometres.
(22.351 x distance covered in 12 minutes in kilometres) - 11.288 = VO2max
(35.97 x distance covered in 12 minutes in miles) - 11.29 = VO2max
3b. The Rockport 1-mile walk test
The Rockport 1-mile walk test has similarities to the Cooper run test but the calculation takes into account more factors such as your weight and age. To carry out this test you need to walk for exactly 1 mile (on a level track/level surface) as fast as you can. Record your walking time in minutes using decimals (for example 7 minutes 30 seconds would be recorded as 7.5), and take your heart rate. You can then calculate your VO2max using the following equation:
132.853 - (0.0769 x weight in pounds) - (0.3877 x age) + (6.315 if male or 0 if female) - (3.2649 x walking time) - (0.1565 x heart rate)
3c. 20 m multistage fitness test (beep test)
The beep test, a common test carried out in many secondary schools in the UK, is another way we can measure our VO2max. To carry out this test, you need to set up two markers 20 m apart and “the beep test” audio (which can be found on Youtube). You will run back and forth in the 20 m space, timing your arrival at markers with the audible beeps. The time interval between the beeps gets shorter with every level, meaning you have to run progressively faster. The top level you reach can help you estimate your VO2max using the chart below:
These are just a few easy methods you can use to gauge your VO2max, which, if you are looking to improve your performance, can definitely be a useful measurement of your progress.
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