If you have been running for a while or if you have a GPS watch then you will likely have come across the term VO2 Max…
For me I get shown it on my Garmin every time I finish a run and it also often pops up on trackers like Strava… But what the hell does it mean and do you need to worry about it?
Breaking it down to simple English, your VO2 Max is numerical measurement assigned to your body’s ability to consume oxygen. It is measured in millilitres per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min).
VO2 is simply an abbreviation of the term Volume (V) of Oxygen (O2).
In order to get an accurate picture of your VO2 max you currently need to go to a lab and run on a treadmill whilst being hooked up to a face mask that is monitoring the air you breath whilst running on treadmill that is having the incline increased at regular intervals.
The guy in the white coat in the lab with you will then process your data and give you a VO2 Max score.
Whilst you will often see scores calculated by devices such as your running watch, these numbers are likely to be very inaccurate so it is not worth worrying about that stat a whole lot.
In a relatively healthy person your VO2 Max would likely be somewhere between the 30 to 60 range. In top athletes this number is a lot higher, for example someone like Chris Froome has a VO2 Max of 88.
What affects your VO2 Max?
In it’s most basic form it will come down to your genes/DNA and the chemical ability of the muscular cellular tissue system to use oxygen in breaking down fuels.
There are several theories around such as Utilization Theory and Presentation Theory if you wanted to look deeper into the science behind what affects your VO2 Max.
What does VO2 Max mean for us runners?
Essentially having a higher VO2 Max is a good thing as it shows your body is more efficient at taking in oxygen and delivering it to your muscles which allows you to go faster for longer periods of time.
Among a group of runners with the same VO2 max, you’ll see a wide variety in their PRs.
While elite runners do indeed have very VO2 maxes, the ones with the highest VO2 max aren’t always the fastest.
This means that I would not really put too much/any focus on your VO2 Max in your day-to-day running unless you are competing at an elite level where it could be considered a factor to improve.
Can you increase your VO2 Max?
The answer to the questions is: not always.
It has been shown in several studies that some people simply are unable to get any improvements in their VO2 Max, however, most people should be able to improve theirs between 5-20% over time… There have been reports for people increasing their VO2 Max over 60% but this was from a very low base.
Unless you are an elite runner I would not put too much thought into your VO2 Max, it will just become an extra number to obsess over without there being a lot you can do to focus on it.