What is VO2max?

VO2max (or maximal oxygen consumption) is a measure of your body’s maximum integrated capacity to extract, transport and utilise oxygen during exercise. VOmax is usually expressed in mL/min (millilitres of oxygen per minute) or in mL/kg/min (millilitres of oxygen per kilo of bodyweight per minute).

VO2max is positively correlated with both health and performance which makes it a great thing to measure and understand.

For active individuals, VO2max values of 40 to 50 (men) and 30 to 40 (women) mL/kg/min are common.

For sedentary individuals, values typically fall in the range of 35-40 mL/kg/min for men and 25-30 mL/kg/min for women.

Elite endurance athletes can display VO2max values upwards of 85 mL/kg/min for men and 75 mL/kg/min for women.

The higher your VO2max, the more performance potential you have. Let’s now look at the different ways to test it and what to do with the information that is collected.

How fit should you be before you do a VO2max test?

Many people think that they need to get fit before they complete their first test. Unfortunately, this will only delay progress since the training that is done in the meantime won’t be based on the athlete himself/herself and as such, won’t be specifically tailored to yield the adaptations that are needed to improve. 

For anyone wanting to be competitive in their discipline or anyone preparing for an upcoming race or event, it is important to get a test done in order to have a baseline to work from and to measure progress against. 

Nico completing a VO2max test

How to test your VO2max?

Until recently, a VO2max test required expensive equipment only available in certain laboratories. But thanks to new measurement tools such as the VO2 Master Analyser, it is now possible to test your VO2max almost anywhere

This allows you to use field testing protocols that will have a significant carryover to your sport rather than lab tests that don’t always reflect the true nature of your activity. 

For example, a soccer player can complete a 30-15 IFT test while measuring respiratory data with the VO2 Master, which will yield a more sport-specific VO2max value compared to a standard lab test done on a treadmill.

A soccer player completing a 30-15 IFT test while measuring ventilation data with a VO2 Master Analyser.

Using the same tool, a runner can perform a self-paced ramp protocol on the road or on a climb to find his true VO2max.

However it is still appropriate to complete a ramp test on a treadmill or a cycling home trainer to find an athlete’s maximum oxygen consumption.

What does a VO2max test tell you?

A VO2max test allows you first and foremost to quantify your body’s ability to extract, transport and utilise oxygen in a given training modality (cycling, running, etc..). But this measure alone doesn’t tell you the whole story.

In addition to your VO2max value, a ramp test also provides you with some key information about how your body functions at different exercise intensities.

For example, a VO2max / ramp test also allows you to determine your first threshold (often called LT1, VT1, Aerobic Threshold, etc..) and second threshold (often called LT2, VT2, Anaerobic Threshold, Critical Power, etc…). Those thresholds represent the boundaries between different exercise intensities

Vo2max test data including Ventilation and Muscle Oxygen from Moxy Monitors
Sample Data collected during a VO2max test

In order to make sure that your training zones are accurate and will yield the desired adaptations, it is very important to have measured those thresholds through a ramp/VO2max test. Otherwise you will rely on percentages and estimations that will not always be accurate for you. 

In addition to this, if your training is done well, your thresholds will shift over time. So it’s always a good idea to get tested a few times per year in order to assess your progress and recalibrate your training zones.

A VO2max test will also provide a detailed look into how you breathe during exercise. Combined with a simple Spirometry test, this information can help you improve your breathing coordination and in turn, your performance.

It is also possible to use one or multiple Moxy Monitor(s) during a ramp test. These sensors measure the balance between oxygen delivery and utilisation at the muscular level in real time. Placed on different muscle groups during the effort, this tool ads a level of insight into muscle coordination and how we use/recruit our muscles at different intensities. This information can help direct specific strength work that might need to be performed or even give us insights into how the technique could be improved.

Another option is to add Lactate Testing to the mix and get even more information on what is going on internally.

Moxy Monitor
Moxy Monitors to help assess muscle oxygen levels and coordination during cycling

In summary, here’s what you can expect to learn from a complete VO2max / ramp test:

  • Your VO2max (maximal oxygen consumption)
  • Your HRmax (maximal heart rate)
  • Your 1st and 2nd thresholds (and at what percentages of VO2max and HRmax they each occur)
  • Your breathing capacity, function and coordination
  • Your muscle coordination / recruitment patterns (when using Moxy Monitor)

How to use your VO2max test results to guide your training?

Once you have established your physiological profile, you can optimise your training according to your specific needs and the demands of your event/sport.

Your training zones (intensity and/or heart rate) should be based on what was measured during the test. That way, you can be sure that the training that is done will trigger the right adaptation in order for you to get better.

Your VO2max test results can also inform your training focus. 

For example, if your VO2max and 2nd threshold are high but your 1st threshold is low (in relative and/or absolute terms), you might need additional base work (Zone 1-2) to improve your metabolic efficiency, your recovery and your fat burning ability.

If the athlete has a tendency to hyperventilate (breathe more rapidly than is needed at a given intensity), you could use this information to focus some of the work on breathing coordination during your runs or rides.

The VO2 Master Analyser collected respiratory data in real time

How much does a VO2max test cost?

The cost of VO2max tests has come down significantly over the years with the advent of tools such as the VO2 Master Analyser. Here at Upside Strength you can get a full VO2max test (including spirometry and using Moxy Monitors) as well as a complete report and training recommendations for 375.-

This test can be done in a gym, on a field, or even in the comfort of your own home if you happen to have a home trainer or a treadmill available. Book your free consultation below!