VO2 max – we hear the term branded about a lot in sport, but what does it actually mean and how useful is it?
VO2 max (or maximum aerobic capacity or maximal aerobic power) is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can actually use (not just inhale) within a single minute and is the best single measure of cardiorespiratory endurance and aerobic fitness.
VO2 max is a good measurement to have for doing scientific research, but outside of the lab, it’s just a number and not actually very useful to athletes or coaches. Athletes with the highest VO2 max measurements aren’t always the fastest athletes!
What is far more important is how good (or economical or efficient) your body is at actually using the oxygen that it inhales.
More economical athletes use less oxygen for any given intensity of exercise.
This table shows two runners - both have the same VO2 max score (45 ml/min/kg). The “green” runner reaches his VO2 max when running as fast as he can - 13 kph. When running as fast as he can, the “purple” runner, who is much more economical, manages to run at 14.5 kph.
As athletes become fitter, energy demands on the body during exercise at a given pace are reduced therefore athletes become more economical. Quite often, VO2 max doesn’t change, we are just able to run faster before reaching it.
If you want to know more about becoming an economic “purple” runner, then please get in touch.
NB: VO2 max can only be properly measured in a lab – any other way of calculating it (like on your Garmin) are only ever going to be rough guestimates so don’t take them too literally.