VO2 Max is defined as the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can utilize and transport (via blood) to your muscles while engaged in exercise. As the intensity of a workout increases so does the amount of oxygen the body requires and thus consumes in order to produce energy. So why does this matter?..........Read on.
For every individual there is a maximum level of oxygen consumption, beyond which increases in exercise intensity, don’t lead to further increases in oxygen consumption. So in other words you can reach your "V02 Max" (maximum level of oxygen consumption) but the intensity of your workout can continue to increase beyond this limit and ultimately force your muscles to stop due to fatigue.
V02 Max is generally the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness and experts believe that it's a key physiological determinant of an athlete’s running performance.
How V02 Max is Measured - VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in millilitres per kilogram of body weight / per minute (ml/kg/min). The most accurate way to determine an athletes V02 Max is in a sports performance lab, on a treadmill or bicycle. The test usually takes 10-15 minutes, with the intensity rising from complete rest to an all out effort. During this time, the volume of oxygen concentration of inhaled and exhaled air is measured. These test provide your V02 Max score, maximum heart rate and estimated lactate threshold (*Lactate threshold is defined as the intensity of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood at a faster rate than it can be removed).
There are alternative methods of estimating a runners V02 max and while they are not as accurate as being tested in a lab setting, they provide a baseline measurement for a coach/athlete to use in determining current cardiovascular fitness.
V02 Max Estimates
Improving your V02 Max - Research has shown that there is a strong component of genetics that determines an individuals V02 Max, however it is something that can be improved through training by both training volume and intensity. Generally the less fit an individual is, the greater the improvement that can be made.
3 main components have the most significant impact on V02 Max:
1. Age - Generally a runners V02 Max is at its highest point for someone in their 20's and slowly declines with age. The average rate of decline is generally accepted to be about 1% per year or 10% per decade after the age of 25.
2. Gender - Elite female runners can have a higher V02 Max that most men, however for the most part women typically have values 20% lower. This is due to busy size, composition, blood volume and hemoglobin content.
3. Altitude - VO2 max decreases as altitude increases above 1600 meters. For every 1000 meters above this level, maximal oxygen uptake decreases even further, by approximately 8-11%.