How to Improve Your VO2 Max for Training (And Your Health)

If you’re serious about your fitness — and just being a healthier person in general — then you’re probably monitoring your fitness markers. Your VO2 max is hopefully one of them. You can track it using a wearable device like your Atlas watch (Log > Graph Data > VO2 Max).

where-to-find-your-vo2-max

Let's talk about this metric a little more, as well as how to improve your VO2 max as an athlete and why you should care about it in the first place, regardless of your fitness goals. 

What is VO2 Max?

Let's start at the beginning.

For those who aren’t too familiar with the term, VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize when you’re working out. Notice those people hooked up to a breathing mask while undergoing a difficult treadmill test? That’s how their VO2 max is measured.

This number is measured in milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight. So, when you check it on your Atlas watch, you'll see a number followed by "ml/kg/min," like in the example below using the CrossFit workout Annie.

vo2 max

For athletes, it’s often used to check their cardiovascular fitness or aerobic endurance before their training program begins and after it’s done. But as we'll discuss in a moment, it's a number that we should all care about, regardless of our fitness level or aspirations.

Before you start measuring, however, you should know that your VO2 max can be affected by a few factors.

Age

Your VO2 peaks when you reach your 20s and declines by about 10% per decade. This isn't to say you have no control over it, but you should be mindful not to compare yourself to people who are much older or younger. Their bodies are simply going to operate differently. 

Gender

Female athletes often have higher VO2 max values compared to males. However, when adjusted based on one’s blood volume, body size, and hemoglobin content, males often have higher VO2 max scores by about 20%.

Altitude

Since the measurement of your VO2 max is dependent on your oxygen intake, the altitude of the area where you’re at could affect your VO2 max scores. For instance, if you’re in a high altitude area, which means there's less oxygen, your VO2 max will also, as a result, decrease.

running by the moutains

How to Improve Your VO2 Max With Fitness

Increasing your body’s ability to utilize oxygen is one of the best ways to help you reach your fitness goals, especially if it’s endurance-related. The higher your VO2 max is, the better your body is able to take in oxygen to distribute to your muscles, and the better your physical endurance is.

You don’t necessarily need to have the highest VO2 max in order to become the best athlete, but a person with low VO2 max often doesn't perform as well as those people who have a higher VO2 max. In short, if you want to see progress in your levels of fitness, then you’ll have to work on improving your VO2 max scores.

Fortunately, knowing your VO2 max provides you with insight into your current fitness level, and you can treat it as a starting point and tweak your training regime to improve it. Now, what's the most efficient way to go about this? Simple.

Incorporate More High-Intensity Interval Training

In theory, any workout that pushes your limits can help improve your VO2 max, and high-intensity interval training is an incredibly efficient approach. Increasing your VO2 through HIIT is possible because HIIT pushes your body to work above your anaerobic threshold for a certain period of time before returning back to an aerobic state.

You can work more HIIT into your programming by training on time intervals. It involves short bursts of aggressive movement followed by short periods of rest, repeated for rounds. For example, a HIIT session might include three rounds of max reps of: 

  • 20 sec back squats
  • 40 sec rest
  • 20 seconds push-ups
  • 40 sec rest
  • 20 seconds V-ups
  • 40 sec rest

It might feel easy at first, but as you get through these rounds, your lungs will be burning and your heart will be pounding. This is the kind of fitness that will ultimately improve your VO2 max.

athlete doing push-ups

The Benefits of Increasing Your VO2 Max

Now, while competitors and other elite athletes might be following this metric closely, what if you're the everyday gym-goer? If you’re not an athlete or you’re not competing in any sports event, do you still need to increase your VO2 max? The answer is yes. Why? Here are some of the reasons.

It Can Help Alleviate Stress

Exercise is an excellent remedy for stress. However, if you have a higher fitness level, then your body will be able to prevent stress from getting to you in the first place. When you better equip your body to handle stress, you'll be much tougher against the negative repercussions of it.

It’s Easier to Manage Everyday Tasks

Everyday tasks like climbing stairs, walking to work, and running errands require physical energy and oxygen use, and the higher your VO2 max score is, the more effortless these activities will seem and the less hard your body will have to work to complete them. This means you’ll be able to complete tasks a lot easier and faster, with your body sustaining less wear and tear.

(Let's be honest: We've all, at some point in our lives, climbed a flight of stairs and arrived at the top out of breath. Improve your VO2 max and you'll fly up the stairs like lightning.) 

climbing stairs

Monitoring your fitness levels is important in order to determine the areas where you can improve as well as to see the state of your overall health. Track your VO2 max and use it for planning your fitness program, as well as to measure your progress and your general health. 

This is easier than ever when you use your Atlas Wearables watch. Automatically track your VO2 max — along with other metrics like heart rate, heart rate zones, RMSSD (heart rate variability, or HRV), resting heart rate, and sleep — follow the trends over time, and adjust your lifestyle accordingly.