How to increase VO2max

How to increase VO2max

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The VO2max it's a indicator used to measure the maximum amount of oxygen that the body is able to use in a unit of time.

A high value of VO2 max indicates a good ability of our body to use oxygen more efficiently, making us feel less fatigue for the same physical effort.

Vo2max is therefore an indicator of the efficiency of our cardio-respiratory system and according to some studies, such as that of American Heart Association it is also a useful parameter for estimating life expectancy.

In this article I will provide you with some tips on how to increase VO2max on the basis of the studies I have carried out in recent years and on the basis of the advice I have received from the authoritative coaches to whom I have turned to improve my state of form, in particular through the practice of running.

How to measure VO2max

The first step in using VO2max as an indicator of your training status is obviously to start measuring it.

There are several methodologies for measuring VO2max, each with different degrees of approximation, let's see some of them:

  1. Calculation of VO2max with metabolimeter: Professional athletes who have dedicated laboratories and who need to determine their VO2max with maximum precision undergo a stress test on a treadmill which involves the use of a metabolimeter able to measure the gaseous exchanges of VO2 and VCO2 with great accuracy. The completely non-invasive test involves running on the treadmill wearing a special mask.

    VO2max measurement with metabolimeter - By Cosmed - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

  2. Calculation of VO2max with cycle ergometer: This method of measurement is the one that I also use every year when I undergo the competitive media examination for the practice of athletics, which is necessary in Italy to participate in competitive competitions. It is therefore a measurement method within everyone's reach, with a very affordable cost (between 40 and 60 Euros). Also in this case, the examination is completely non-invasive and requires the subject to pedal for a certain number of minutes on a special exercise bike (cycle ergometer) to which the doctor applies increasing resistance on the pedals. The subject who undergoes the examination will therefore have to pedal maintaining a basically constant number of revolutions per minute within an interval indicated by the doctor, all while heartbeats are measured using electrodes applied by the doctor.
    The number of minutes during which you will have to pedal will be higher the more your cardio-respiratory system is in good health as it will take you longer to reach the maximum effort level required by the test.
  3. VO2max calculation via GPS watch with heart rate monitor: This is the measurement mode I use in all my workouts. VO2 max is calculated directly from my watch Garmin Fenix ​​5 detecting and interpolating the data relating to my heartbeats (detected via the wrist sensor or via the ANT heart rate belt if and when I wear it), the distance traveled and the speed reached. The measurement is made available directly on the watch face, after each run, or on the dedicated screen of the Garmin Connect app. The data detected by my Garmin Fenix ​​5 is usually in line with that detected by the cycle ergometer in the annual competitive medical examination so I believe it can be a valid indicator for all those who can accept a reliable measurement even if not "of maximum precision".

    The Garmin Fenix ​​dial with my VO2max value

    The Garmin Connect screen that indicates the value of my current VO2max and the graph that indicates the evolution over the last 4 weeks

    In the PC version of Garmin Connect you will also find a useful table that indicates the intervals determined by Garmin to indicate the goodness or otherwise of your VO2 max:

    Based on Garmin's indications, the VO2 max will be updated after you have performed a running or cycling activity that meets the following parameters:
    - the activity must last for at least 10 minutes without stopping
    - the activity must be recorded in the open air with an active GPS signal
    - you must have activated the wrist sensor to detect beats or you must wear an ANT heart rate monitor connected to your watch
    - you will need to reach a beat value of at least 70% of your maximum beat value.
    - the activity must last for at least 20 minutes without stopping
    - the activity must be recorded in the open air with an active GPS signal
    - you must have activated the wrist sensor to detect beats or you must wear an ANT heart rate monitor connected to your watch
    - you will need to reach a beat value of at least 70% of your maximum beat value
    - your bicycle must have a power meter installed

  4. Calculation of VO2max using the Cooper test: this is the most “approximate” method but with the great advantage of being able to be performed without a GPS watch with heart rate monitor. You just have to run for 12 minutes at the maximum speed you can and measure the distance traveled. You will then have to apply this formula: Distance traveled in meters - 504.9) / 44.73. You will get your VO2max estimate in ml / min / kg.
    In my case, the last time I ran for 12 minutes at maximum speed I traveled 2.73 km = 2.730 meters so (2.730 - 504.9) / 44.73 = 2.225.1 / 44.73 = 49,74 which is not very far from the VO2max value of 51 indicated by my Garmin Fenix.

How to increase VO2 max

The best way to increase VO2 max is to train well and consistently, planning in your training schedule repeated sessions.

My advice is to alternate short repeats, long repeats and uphill repeats.

If you want a specific program, however, I recommend that you contact a FIDAL certified professional trainer who will be able to create a table dedicated to your level of training, your age, the number of workouts you can do in a week.

Among the training techniques recommended to improve VO2 max, however, I point out the repeated 30-30 by Billat, named after Veronique Billat, French physiologist and coach who developed the related protocol.

To apply the Billat protocol to your training you will first have to determine an additional indicator: the vVO2max (speed at VO2max). This is the minimum speed in which the body's maximum oxygen consumption is reached. Seen from the opposite point of view, this is the maximum speed at which we can run while our muscles consume all the oxygen we breathe.

Thanks to the work of two other scholars, Léger and Mercier, we can calculate with a good approximation the vVO2max simply by dividing our VO2max by 3.5.

In my case therefore, the VO2max detected by my Garmin Fenix ​​of 51 corresponds to one vVO2max of 51 / 3,5 = 14.57. The determined value is to be understood in Km / h.

According to the protocol for repeated 30-30 by Billat you should run for 30 seconds at vVO2max and for another 30 seconds at 50% of vVO2max. The number of repetitions is simply given by the number of times the speed is maintained.

In my case I will therefore have to run for 30 "14.57 km / h and another 30" at 7.28 km / h.

To transform the speed in km / h in minutes per km it is sufficient to apply these simple formulas:

  • to determine the minutes: INT * (60 / speed in km / h)
  • to determine the seconds: [(60 / speed in km / h) - INT (60 / speed in km / h)] x 60

So in my case:

INT * (60 / 14.57) = 4

[(60 / 14.57) - INT (60 / 14.57)] * 60 = 7.08

So I will have to run for 30 "at 4:07 per km and run (or better walk) for another 30" at 8:14 per km.

If you want to convert the distances to run into meters you can simply multiply your vVO2max by 30. So 4.7 * 30 = 141 meters.

Simplifying and approximating, in my case, I could plan repetitions on the track from 150 meters to run at 4:07 min / km with recoveries of 70 meters in soupless running or brisk walking.

How to train VO2max thanks to GPS watches

If all the formulas and calculations I wrote about in the previous paragraphs have caused you confusion or discomfort, it is good that you know how helpful the most recent GPS watches can be and how to use them best.

In my case I use Garmin Fenix ​​5, a medium-high range watch, but Garmin and also other brands such as Suunto, Polar or TomTom offer many GPS watches with similar characteristics with prices starting from 200 Euros.

These are watches that, in addition to detecting beats directly from the wrist, without the need to use a heart rate monitor (even if at the cost of sacrificing a little precision) also allow you to plan your training sessions down to the smallest detail.

To make you better understand what I mean here below I propose a screenshot of one of my last workouts ...

As you may have guessed, this is a 1 km repetition workout to be covered 5 times, at a pace of about 4:40 min / km, with 1:30 recovery between one repetition and the other, preceded by 10 minutes of warm-up followed by a 5-minute cool-down.

An advanced GPS watch in this type of training is particularly useful because it is able to help us beat the times by avoiding running too slowly or too hard or resting for too long or too little time between one repetition and another.

If you go below the fixed intervals, the GPS watch emits an audible alarm accompanied by a visual indication of the parameter to be corrected.

At the same time all experienced coaches like the same Fulvio Massini to which the screen of the training schedule that I am trying to follow refers, underline the importance of learning to run at certain rhythms even without the use of GPS watches, so as to develop a sensitivity that can be very useful in different situations.

For this purpose, in my opinion, the exercise that Fulvio proposes to his students, called "the Swiss"Where you must try to get as close as possible to run a predefined distance (for example two laps of the track) at a predetermined pace (for example 5 minutes per km).

When I tried it on the occasion of one of his internships, I didn't do badly in this exercise, making a few seconds wrong, even if on other rhythms I tried on my return the results were less encouraging and I had to go back to using frequently. a GPS watch to have recurring indications on rhythms and distances. However, I set out to "try the Swiss" every time I have the opportunity to improve my perception of the various rhythms.

Returning to the repetitions, it is however to be considered that they should always be run on the same stretch, therefore either on the track or on a measured stretch to be covered several times so as not to be misled by other variables such as curves, uneven surfaces, climbs, etc.

I hope I have been able to give you some useful information on how to calculate your VO2max and above all on how to improve VO2max with targeted workouts. For my part, I continue to train and "study" to improve myself with the humility of a 50-year-old who has found many opportunities for fun and socialization in running! :-)

Our other related articles that may interest you are:

  • VO2max and Cooper's Test: what they are and what they are for
  • Running pace calculation
  • How to perform the Conconi test
  • Lactate test: what it is for, how it is performed and how it is evaluated
  • How to become a running instructor

Video: Whats a Good VO2 Max? VO2 max test explained + my VO2 max test data (June 2022).