How to Increase Your VO2 Max

Understanding how to increase your VO2 Max is one of the most crucial components in determining how fit you are and whether your training activities are working.

Advancements in technology have made it much easier for people to obtain VO2 Max measurements, with good quality wearable devices capable of delivering accurate results.

So what is VO2 Max, how can you measure it and how can you improve it? Read on as we take a comprehensive look at VO2 Max.

What is VO2 Max?

Maximal oxygen uptake, maximal oxygen consumption, peak oxygen uptake and maximal aerobic capacity are different ways to describe VO2 Max.

It is the greatest amount of oxygen that can be used by the entire body. VO2 Max is primarily related to the ability of the heart and lungs to transport oxygen and body tissues to use it.

It provides a measure of a person’s aerobic fitness and their ability to sustain long periods of moderate to high-intensity physical activity with large muscle groups.

Elite athletes generally have high VO2 Maxes and can improve their performance by pushing the boundaries of their VO2 Max.

Obtaining VO2 Max gains can also benefit everyday athletes or anyone who wants to improve their overall health and wellbeing. Benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Improved quality of life.
  • Great life expectancy.
  • Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Lower risk of cancer and diabetes.
  • Better overall mood.
  • Improved sleep.

How is VO2 Max Measured?

For elite-level athletes, VO2 Max is generally measured in a laboratory setting during intensive cycling or running tests.

You should schedule a test with a trained exercise physiologist who will monitor you for any issues as the test progresses.

It is imperative that you are well-rested and hydrated before undertaking the test to ensure you produce your optimum results.

The test requires the athlete to breathe through a mask while pushing themselves to the point where they no longer cycle or run any further.

Measurements are taken on the amount of oxygen breathed in and out of the mouth along with other elements including body mass, muscle mass and lung volume.

The VO2 Max result is given as a figure per millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of mass per minute.

There is no set frequency for the number of times you should test, but two or three times per year should be sufficient for most athletes.

It is worth noting that some everyday fitness trackers can deliver fairly accurate VO2 Max results by measuring heart rate and speed of exercise.

However, wrist devices are often susceptible to outside influences, which may reduce the accuracy of the results they produce.

See the VO2 Max norms for men and women at different ages and levels of fitness below:

How Can You Improve VO2 Max?

As we have already mentioned, improving your VO2 Max can have a significant impact on your fitness levels and overall health. Here are some of the best ways to improve it:

Pre-Workouts & VO2 Max

Before we assess some of the more strenuous ways to improve VO2 Max, it is essential to ensure that you are fully prepared to undertake such activity.

A study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma discovered that taking pre-workout supplements improved VO2 Max by more than 10 percent over three weeks of training.

Participants gained significant cardiovascular benefits, while endurance capacity and lean body mass results were also positive.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

One of the most efficient ways of improving your VO2 Max is to regularly undertake high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

HIIT is where you train at close to flat out for short periods in activities such as cycling, running or rowing.

Many elite-level coaches recommend training at around 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate to benefit from HIIT.

Combination Training

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the United States found that blending HIIT with continuous training may be more effective than only performing one of the two.

They found that the most significant increases in VO2 Max were delivered by study participants who undertook a ten-week training program consisting of six workouts per week.

By performing HIIT and continuous running on alternate days, the improvements in VO2 Max were greater than those garnered by participants who focused on one type of training.

Keep Pushing Yourself

When you initially make a concerted effort to increase your VO2 Max, the additional activity is guaranteed to have a positive effect.

However, as your fitness improves the gains will slow down and you will have to ramp up your training to keep improving.

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

Find Your Functional Threshold Power (FTP)

Finding your functional threshold power (FTP) is particularly useful if you use cycling to get fit or maintain your fitness levels.

FTP is defined as the highest amount of power you can sustain for an hour, and you can use it to determine how hard you should be working when trying to improve your VO2 Max.

To find your FTP, use a bike that has a power meter. After you warm up, ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes and subtract five percent from the power score to find an estimate of your FTP.

How Long Will it Take to Improve my VO2 MAX?

How long is a piece of string? There is no definitive answer to this question as it is dependent on several factors, including your fitness level.

As a rough guide, if you are currently inactive you should start to notice improvements in your VO2 Max about one month after you start training.

If you already have a decent level of fitness and activity, you will need to make your workouts harder to gain tangible improvements in VO2 Max.

Which are the Best Pre-Workout Supplements?

We’ve explained what VO2 Max is, how it is measured and some of the ways you can improve it through your training activities.

As we touched on a little earlier, if you are about to embark on a training program, supplementation can help to deliver improved VO2 Max gains. Some of the best pre-workout ingredients include:

  • Caffeine: Most of the best pre-workout supplements contain caffeine. It can enhance mental sharpness, reduce pain perception and boost blood flow throughout the body, all of which are essential for anyone undertaking physical training.
  • Beta-Alanine: Beta-Alanine has emerged as a key component of pre-workout supplements to boost athletic performance and reduce the risk of muscle soreness. Keeping your muscles from becoming tired allows you to undertake more activity, thus providing better gains.
  • Creatine: One of the most popular pre-workout supplement ingredients aids muscle growth when taken in combination with high-intensity exercise. If you are a weightlifter, creatine should be one of the first ingredients you look for in a pre-workout supplement.

The Final Word

Improving your VO2 Max can help you improve your cardiovascular health, regardless of whether you are an elite athlete or a couch potato.

Before you embark on any training, check out our guide to the best pre-workout supplements to find out which products can support your efforts to improve your VO2 Max.