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:

Quinn, M. S. (2022)

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:

Wood, R. (2019)

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. 

Discover how your VO2max responds to training 

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All about vo2max: For athletes, Exercisers & Health Seekers. Polar Blog. (2020, November 19). https://www.polar.com/blog/vo2max/

Bumgardner, W. (2022, August 10). Find your fitness level with a 1-Mile Walk test. Verywell Fit. https://www.verywellfit.com/rockport-fitness-walking-test-calculator-3952696#:~:text=The%20Rockport%20walking%20test%20is,ml%2Fkg%2Fmin

Capritto, A. (2022, July 15). Vo2 Max: The fitness metric that can help you run faster and work out harder. CNET. https://www.cnet.com/health/fitness/vo2-max-the-fitness-metric-that-can-help-you-run-faster-and-workout-harder/#:~:text=Elite%20male%20runners%20have%20shown,36.9%20mL%2Fkg%2Fmin

Crawford, S., & Walker-Journey, J. (2010, July 14). How VO2 max works. HowStuffWorks. https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/triathlons/training/vo2-max1.htm 

Elizabeth Quinn, M. S. (2022, October 27). Cooper test: A 12-minute run to check aerobic fitness. https://www.verywellfit.com/fitness-test-for-endurance-12-minute-run-3120264

Jewell, T. (2022, October 18). VO₂ max: Definition, how it's measured, how to improve. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/vo2-max#increasing-it

Kaloc, J. (2022, October 7). Can your Garmin accurately measure your VO2 max? We Love Cycling magazine. https://www.welovecycling.com/wide/2022/10/07/can-your-garmin-accurately-measure-your-vo2-max/

Noonan, V., & Dean, E. (2000). Submaximal exercise testing: Clinical application and interpretation. Physical Therapy, 80(8), 782–807.

REI. How to measure and improve your VO2 max: Rei Co-op. REI. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/how-to-measure-and-improve-your-vo2-max.html

Salier Eriksson, J., Ekblom, B., Andersson, G., Wallin, P., & Ekblom-Bak, E. (2021). Scaling VO2max to body size differences to evaluate associations to CVD incidence and all-cause mortality risk. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 7(1).

Vo2 Max testing: Vo2 max testing near me: Vo2 Max test UK. https://www.boxnutrition.co.uk/vo2-max-testing

Wood, R. (2019), Convert beep test scores to VO2max. The Complete Guide to the Beep Test, https://www.beeptestguide.com/conversion.htm


Kelsey Brown, BSc

Kelsey holds a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science (University of Winchester) and works as a part of the science team, carrying out research for trait and action creation and blog content. She plays netball for her local team and after enjoying learning her wedding dance so much has started Latin and Ballroom dance classes with her husband.

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