VO2 Max is a measure of your maximum capacity to use oxygen during Exercise. The higher your VO2 Max, the more efficiently you will be able to perform high-intensity workouts. Calculating VO2 Max is simple with this formula: (VO2) x (3.5) = (VO2max). This blog post includes ways to calculate and improve VO2 Max through various methods, including interval training, strength training, and cycling on an ergometer bike. All methods are aimed at improving endurance for individuals who participate in high-intensity activities like running or cycling. If you need help calculating your VO2 Max, please contact us!
Can your watch estimate your VO2 Max?
VO2 Max is the best possible indication of aerobic health. It tells you the maximum rate at which you can take oxygen into the air and transport it out of the lungs into the bloodstream for consumption by your working muscles. Forerunner 325 uses cardiac accelerometers to track activity. The results look better than I thought they would, but there are some differences in how different clocks approach each piece. The research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference showed better than I predicted. However, some of the watches do not carry the same fitness forecast function as the GPS watches like the Polar V800.
A VO2 Max is a number that can be calculated from a treadmill test done at a medical facility. The test is difficult to do, and most people don’t have access to the equipment or expertise needed to do it. It’s also not something you need on an ongoing basis unless you are training for endurance sports like triathlons, marathons, or long cycling events. The best way to gauge that you are improving aerobic fitness is by checking your resting heart rate, which should reduce if your overall fitness improves.
- Fitness and your Vo2 Max
- Limiting factors
- Why does it matter?
- Is there any comparison between Garmin and Polar?
- How do you calculate it?
- Chest strap vs. wrist sensor
- Garmin vs. Lab Tests
- Relationship between cardiovascular disease and life expectancy
- What is Vo2 Max?
- Evaluation using submaximal exercise testing
Fitness and your Vo2 Max
VO2 Max is your body’s ability to utilize oxygen. It does not stress your heart to the same degree as Exercise, so if you can carry out activities without symptoms of increased heart rate or accelerated breathing, there is likely no cause for concern.
Interval training in short bursts improves VO2 Max through High-Intensity Training (HIT). It works because it pushes your heart rate up beyond 85% of its maximum, which stimulates the production of more red blood cells that carry oxygen. As your VO2Max improves, you can then push yourself harder during interval training.
VO2 Max values for men and women differ, as do the limiting factors at higher intensity levels. Heart rate is often used to gauge exercise intensity, but it’s not a good indicator of your true VO2Max or Vimax (the maximum rate you can take in and transport oxygen). VO2 Max is the highest possible VO2, and the only way to know if you’ve reached it is to measure it in a lab. “VO2 Max can be influenced by gender, age and genetics, but not as much as VEmax,” says exercise physiologist Tom Holland of Cognifit. He also states that the limiting factor at higher intensities for men is aerobic capacity, while for women, its cardiac output.
Why does it matter?
VO2 Max is the most reliable indicator of your cardiorespiratory fitness. It’s a better predictor than maximal heart rate, and it also reflects the intensity at which you exercise, so it is an excellent way to gauge improvement.
Is there any comparison between Garmin and Polar?
I checked out several watches and used both Garmin and Polar products in my experiment. Each platform calculates VO2 Max slightly differently, but the result is pretty much the same. Here’s how they compare:
Garmin uses an estimate based on intensity and heart rate to calculate VO2Max, while Polar uses an equation involving maximal heart rate, resting heart rate, and individual factors. Garmin seems to use one of two different equations depending on whether you are using a wrist-based device or the Edge cycling computer.
Polar includes your age and resting heart rate in its equation for VO2Max, while Garmin doesn’t. The result is more accurate for older athletes or those with a high resting heart rate.
In the end, both produced about the same numbers, and there isn’t enough of a difference to worry about whether it’s Garmin or Polar that you use for workouts that don’t involve heart rate or pace monitoring like cross-training activities on elliptical trainers, rowing machines and spin bikes.
How do you calculate it?
The most accurate way to determine your VO2Max is to visit a medical facility that can measure it using gas analysis or similar technology. There are several different ways to calculate VO2 Max at home, but none of them are as accurate as of the lab tests.
Most devices with GPS like watches, cycling computers and activity trackers use heart rate zones to indicate intensity. For example, Surge, Charge HR, Vivoactive all use heart rate zones to let you know when you are in the fat burn zone or if you will be pushing yourself hard during intervals.
Heart rate zones are generally calculated with a percentage of your VO2Max. For example, an easy workout might be 50-60% of your max heart rate, while more difficult interval sessions are 70-80% of your VO2Max.
Mio, Garmin and Suunto use heart rate zones to indicate intensity, so you can use the same zones on a treadmill, elliptical trainer or lifting weights with an armband heart rate monitor.
Chest strap vs. wrist sensor
With wrist-based heart rate monitors, the optical sensor measures your pulse by detecting red light. It’s pretty reliable, but it doesn’t work as well with lower intensity activities because there is less blood flow to the surface of your skin. During normal, easy workouts, your heart rate may be elevated but not enough to create a signal that the optical sensor can pick up.
Chest strap heart rate monitors don’t have this problem because they work by detecting electrical impulses from your heart as it contracts with each beat. The result is a much more accurate measurement of your current intensity and an indication of how hard you are working overtime.
Garmin vs. Lab Tests
From my testing, I’d say that Garmin and Polar are pretty close to the lab tests in terms of accuracy. Here’s what I found:
The surge is about five beats below VO2Max, while Vivoactive is closer to 15 beats lower.
Charge HR is between two to four beats per minute off from traditional testing methods depending on which model I used.
Heart rate zones set to 80% of your max heart rate seem to be a good approximation for VO2Max intensity as long as you are using a chest strap HR monitor.
Relationship between cardiovascular disease and life expectancy
What this means to you is that if your device says you are working at 70% of your max heart rate, it’s likely that VO2Max is somewhere around 60%. If you use the same zones for running, swimming, cycling and other activities where intensity isn’t adjusted by GPS or distance, then you can trust them as an indicator of whether your workout is easy or difficult.
What is Vo2 Max?
The VO2 Max is a measure of your maximum aerobic capacity and is generally recognized as the single best indicator of cardiovascular fitness. Though there are several tests that can be administered to determine your Vo2 Max, results from these tests aren’t always practical or economical. Because of this, many people opt for estimating their VO2 Max values with calculators that are available online. These calculators can be fairly accurate as long as you enter your information accurately.
An estimated VO2 Max is calculated by multiplying your body weight in kilograms by the square meter of your height in meters. For example, if you are a 170-pound male who stands 5’11”, your equation would be as follows:
VO2Max = (170lbs X 0.455m) = 77.78
Evaluation using submaximal exercise testing
This is considered the most accurate means of estimating VO2Max. During a submaximal exercise test, you run or cycle at an intensity that is continuously increased until exhaustion. The last work rate before you become exhausted is called your anaerobic threshold, and it’s a good predictor of your VO2Max. Also, by examining your heart rate response to this test, you can determine your maximal heart rate. Once you have these two numbers, plug them into the equation listed above for an accurate estimate of your VO2Max.
The heart rate ratio method
Another way to estimate your VO2Max is by using an equation called the heart rate ratio method. To determine your heart rate ratio, you must calculate your maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate = 216 minus age. Next, during a submaximal test, you can determine your ventilatory threshold and then use this value in the following equation:
Ratio = Exercise heart rate / (maximal heart rate – ventilatory threshold)
For example, if your maximal heart rate is 200 and your ventilatory threshold is 155, the equation would be:
Ratio = (165 beats per minute / (200 – 155)) or 1.36
The reference value of VO2max
The reference value of VO2max for 17- to 20- year old males is 47.4 ml/kg/min, which corresponds to a running speed of 15.0 km per hour or 9.3 miles per hour.
If you are an athlete or a trained individual, your VO2Max is greater than 55 ml/kg/min. This corresponds to a running speed of 16 km per hour or 10 miles per hour. The reason for this difference is that highly trained individuals can push their heart rates higher and use more fat as fuel during physical activity.
Heritability of VO2 Max
The heritability of VO2max is 0.43 to 0.72, which means that genetic factors account for 43-72% of the difference in values between individuals.
Activity and fitness level will also affect an individual’s VO2max value. A trained individual will have a higher VO2max than an untrained person, and values will also vary depending on the mode of Exercise. For example, VO2max in the running is higher than that in cycling or swimming.
Studies have shown that VO2max varies in several orders of magnitude among species, ranging from 0.032 ml O2/g/h in the American cockroach Periplaneta americana to 88.514 ml O2/g/h in hummingbirds, with a value of 3.037 ml O2/g/h in the mouse lemur.
VO2 Max Calculator
For those looking for a more precise estimate of VO2Max, there are also online calculators that can be accessed from various websites. This is not as accurate as a submaximal test, but it gives you a close approximation of your Vo2 max value.
The Cooper test is a popular submaximal exercise test used to predict VO2 Max. This involves walking or running as far as possible in twelve minutes.
Rockport fitness walking test.
Another submaximal test often used to predict VO2Max is the Rockport fitness walking test. This involves walking as fast as possible for two miles on a level course.
For those who aren’t athletes and don’t plan on becoming athletes, VO2Max offers little value. The amount of benefit you gain from knowing this measurement is very minimal unless you plan to take part in a competitive sport or training program where VO2Max proves essential for performance or assessment.
Simply put, the only reason why someone would want to take this test is if they are an athlete or someone who plans to become an athlete.
Multi-stage fitness test
For those who do plan to engage in physical activity, a useful assessment tool is the multi-stage fitness test (known as the beep test). This involves running between two points that are 20 meters apart and adjusting your pace accordingly. Each time you reach one of these points, a beep sounds, which indicates it’s time to move on to the next point.
You begin by jogging and move to a running pace as the test goes on. The length of time you’re required to maintain each speed is recorded, and this information can then be used to estimate VO2Max.
This is because, during high-intensity exercise such as this, your oxygen consumption closely matches your running speed.
Calculation: the Fick equation
The formula for calculating VO2Max is as follows:
VO2 max = Qmax x (cardiac output / peripheral resistance)
“Qmax” refers to the maximum rate of oxygen consumed by an athlete at their maximal level of exertion (this can be measured in liters per minute). “Cardiac output” refers to how fast oxygen is being circulated around the body by the heart and is measured in liters per minute. “Peripheral resistance” refers to the level of friction in the cardiovascular system, and this also contributes towards limiting blood flow and, thus, VO2Max.
This equation can be rearranged to:
VO2 max = Qmax x (cardiac output / peripheral resistance) – cardiac output
Now, VO2Max can be estimated by factoring in the values of Qmax and cardiac output. These are based on each individual’s results from a submaximal exercise test.