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  • David Price

VO2 max – Not just for Olympic athletes

What is VO2 max ? It is the maximum rate of oxygen your body is able to use during exercise. Oxygen is a critical ingredient in the respiratory process whereby your lungs absorb it and turn it into energy called adenosine triphospate (ATP). ATP powers your cells and helps release carbon dioxide when you breathe out. The benefits are simple, the better your VO2 max the more oxygen you can consume and the easier aerobic exercise will become. Higher VO2 max scores are associated with certain endurance sports most specifically, cycling, rowing, distance running and cross country skiing. Tour de France winner Miguel Indurains’s VO2 max was reported at 78 whilst cross country skier Bjorn Daehlie achieved 96 !

Why increase your VO2 Max

Based on research, the benefits of improving your VO2 max should help you live longer, it’s a great indicator of your body’s performance, as you are reducing the daily load on your body and making it work more efficiently. Improving your VO2 Max should have some good short term gains such as:-

· Less exhausted going up stairs or climbing steep hills.

· Reduction in stress levels

· Boosting your immune system

How do you measure

  • Cooper test – involves a 12 minute run then applying the formula (35.97 x number of miles run) - 11.29 = VO2 max score

  • VO2 Max test on a treadmill in a lab

  • A wearable that provides a measurement, Fitbit charge 2, Fitbit Iconic, Fenix 5, Forerurnner 935, vivosmart 3, apple watch 3 to name a few. They are reported to be +/- 5/10% accurate.

Scores - VO2 max scores depend on Genetics, age, gender, fitness level and elevation

  • Age 40 to 49 – Good 39 to 43.7 / Excellent 43.8 to 48

  • Age 50 to 59 – Good 35.9 to 40.9 / Excellent 41 to 45.3

  • Age 60+ - Good 35.8 to 40.9 / Excellent 36.5 to 44.3

How do you improve

  • Perform high intensity interval training 2 to 3 times a week

  • Add some hills to your training

  • Aerobic activities – running, swimming, rowing, cycling and skipping


VO2 max is a good benchmark figure for measuring our aerobic fitness, especially as we age. As a number of the low impact sports such as rowing, swimming and cycling are a very good way to improve this score, it would be good to include these into our work out routines. To provide some inspiration there's a report of a 80 year old man with a score of a 35 year old. His secret was to continue his endurance and strength exercises and while training on a regular basis. He worked on a farm for most of his life, doing manual work, but continued to exercise after he retired, working out daily.

Brett’s view

I’ve been out an about running quite regularly as the weather has improved. I’d love to know what my VO2 max level is compared to my age group peers… best I get a watch first.

David’s view

I am very fortunate as my Garmin watch gives me a reading of this measure, and I have been slowly improving as I get fitter and lighter. I don’t have time to train like an athlete every day but it has kept me motivated as much as my daily weigh in and fat measurement ! I have included a few more hills into my walking, running and biking since reading Dr Lazarus’s book. Unfortunately, the cooper test wouldn’t work for me as my right knee only goes so fast !


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