Once we’ve been running for a while and started to settle into a groove, it’s tempting to try to improve. Most runners find themselves in constant competition with themselves, hoping for a PR at their next race, attempting to complete an interval in less time, or increasing distance to new lengths.
What starts out as a fairly simple intention to improve (I want to run a mile faster, etc.) often escalates to involve more complex goals and strategies. Before we know it, we find ourselves utilizing measuring tools that were once foreign to us – such as VO2 max.
What is VO2 Max?
In short, VO2 max is a measurement of your body’s ability to consume and use oxygen during exercise.
It’s no secret that our muscles and lungs need oxygen to exercise, and makes sense that the harder we exercise, the more oxygen our body uses.
What VO2 max tells us is essentially how efficient our body is at utilizing oxygen. It measures our maximum oxygen usage during cardiovascular exercise, such as running, biking, swimming, etc. The more oxygen our body can deliver, the easier exercise will feel.
Why is VO2 Max Important?
VO2 max is a common measurement used to determine your fitness level. A higher VO2 max means that your body is more efficient at utilizing oxygen, so theoretically, intense exercise should feel easier for you than someone with a lower VO2 max.
Many athletes strive to increase their VO2 max. Increasing the efficiency of oxygen use throughout your body is a great way to improve your athletic potential.
VO2 max is particularly useful for runners who are trying to increase their pace or ease on the run. This measurement really comes in handy when you feel like you’ve reached a plateau and workouts don’t seem to be getting any easier.
Tracking your VO2 max is a beneficial way to learn whether or not your body is making improvements during training, or if your progress has stalled.
How to Calculate and Test Your VO2 Max
The trouble with many performance measurements is that they can be complicated to calculate on your own. While elites may have the tools and professional support needed to take advantage of a variety of statistics, it can sometimes be challenging for regular runners to find the same access.
Many professional runners have access to doctors and trainers who hook them up to machines that are able to accurately determine their VO2 max during exercise.
But what about the rest of us, who are just looking for more strategies to help them achieve their next PR?
Well, there are a few formulas we can use to calculate our VO2 max by hand. While these formulas certainly do not provide the same level of accuracy as a doctor’s office, they are helpful in giving us a general idea of our fitness level and VO2 max.
Here is one of the simpler options for calculating your VO2 max.
This formula requires you to know your maximum heart rate as well as your average resting heart rate. Resting heart rate can be determined easily by counting the number of times your heart beats in a minute while you are at rest.
Maximum heart rate can be calculated in a variety of ways, but one of the simple methods is to subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 40 years old, maximum heart rate would be calculated as: 220 – 40 = 180. MHR will vary quite a bit from person to person, so it’s important to remember that this method provides a very rough estimate.
With that being said, one of the more straightforward ways to calculate VO2 max looks as follows:
VO2 Max = 15.3 x (MHR/RHR)
Simply divide your maximum heart rate by your resting heart rate, and then multiply by 15.3.
This formula is a great starting point when you’re trying to measure your VO2 Max for the first time. Ideally, as your fitness improves, your resting heart rate will decrease.
If you’re looking for a really accurate estimate, the next best step would be to purchase a heart rate monitor to wear consistently during training. This heart rate monitor will calculate your specific MHR and RHR to give you more accurate data to plug into this formula.
>> Check out my favorite running watch with a heart rate monitor here!
In addition, quite a few running watches now provide data points that include VO2 max. If you use a running watch that provides this information, measuring your VO2 max is as simple as looking on your watch.
How to Increase Your VO2 Max
Once you’ve measured your VO2 max, you’ll be able to use this piece of data to help monitor your running performance. VO2 max can be especially useful for any runner, whether you’re just starting out or are training for a win. Here are a few ways you can increase your VO2 max and improve your performance on the run.
One of the most effective things you can do to increase your VO2 max is to incorporate a variety of HIIT workouts into your training. This type of high intensity interval training quickly increases your heart rate and keeps your body working at a high level of intensity for short periods of time.
During HIIT workouts, your heart has to work harder to continuously adjust to the drastic increase and decrease in efforts. This type of training is effective in triggering your body to produce maximum oxygen to fuel your muscles and lungs.
There are a variety of HIIT workouts that you can try at the gym or even right at home. Some of the best HIIT workouts involve nothing other than your bodyweight, but provide a great workout. And if cross training doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can easily incorporate HIIT on the run.
Incorporating a variety of intervals at least once a week during your training will likely have the same effect. Mix things up between short intervals and longer ones, and make sure you reap maximum benefits from these workouts by giving your full effort during every single interval.
You can never learn too much about your body. Taking the time to understand your VO2 max and what it is telling you about your fitness level is beneficial for every runner, from beginners to elites.
As your training progresses, there’s hardly anything more satisfying than seeing the numbers change to reflect your efforts. Running is a lifelong sport, so why not challenge yourself to improve and grow?
More running training tips:
- 4 Tempo Run Variations to Increase Your Speed
- The 3 Best Interval Workouts to Get Faster
- 30 Ways to Improve Your Health and Fitness