Reaching your fitness goals is a passion that will keep you going for years. Those goals for specific levels of strength, endurance, and overall good health are some of the best goals you can ever set. One of the hardest parts of setting goals is deciding how you want to measure them. You can measure them by how you look, how you feel, how much you can lift, how fast you can run a mile, and so on. Checking your endurance, though, is a bit trickier than most. One of the best ways to do it is by calculating your VO2 max.
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In simple terms, VO2 max is the measurement of how much oxygen your body takes in and delivers to the working muscles during exercise. During exercise, your body takes in oxygen and changes it to adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, a form of energy. That ATP is what powers your cells to release carbon dioxide which is a waste product. The faster that ATP works, the better your body will be able to adapt to activities like high intensity exercise that requires you to take in a lot of oxygen. If your intake is slow, your body is going to have a harder time to adjust to the higher intensity and you'll be much more out of breath and unable to continue that specific exercise.
When your VO2 max is measured, the measurement will basically be telling you how much oxygen your body is able to process while exercising at a steady state. This is a great indicator of endurance because it allows you to see how much oxygen your body can take in while still breathing at a regulated pace. At your max or anaerobic threshold, your body will stop using oxygen to fuel your cells and move from aerobic to anaerobic exercise, shortly after which you'll have to decrease your intensity in order for your body to keep going.
Unfortunately, it's a bit difficult to measure and the most accurate method is to have a VO2 test done in a lab or doctor's office with special equipment. Generally, you'll wear a mask that measures your oxygen intake and expired gases as you slowly increase intensity in some form of exercise such as running on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike. The VO2 max is measured by how many milliliters of oxygen your body consumes in one minute per each kilogram of body weight (it looks like mL/kg/min).
Basically, VO2 max is one of the best ways to measure your endurance. The longer and more you can endure, the stronger your body is and the more fit you are for anything in life--exercise, emergencies, hard work, etc. If you want to know your endurance level and become your best and fittest self, knowing your VO2 max is a great way to get started.
There's no one perfect level or score of VO2 max. Below is an overall guide to understanding scores per mL/kg/min
|50 - 55
|65 - 80
|46 - 53
|65 - 80
These measurements are just average, though, and you should talk to your doctor and consider other factors like your age and fitness level, and even the altitude of your area.
There are a few basic ways to improve your VO2 max. The first one is to keep exercising! Doing the same exact thing every day is probably not going to avail you much, though. You'll need to increase intensity to really increase your VO2 levels. You can do that by occasional intense workouts, or by switching through a variety of aerobic exercises like running, swimming, and cycling during a workout (if you have that capability). Probably the best way is to perform High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT intervals during your routine, increasing intensity for a few seconds or minutes, then slowing down to your normal level and then increasing your intensity again.
Three-time top 10 overall, Ironman World Championships
Two-time winner, Ultraman World Championships
Inductee, Ultraman World Championships Hall of Fame
Three-time #1 Age Group World Ranking, Ironman All World Athlete
M.A. in Physical Education with an emphasis in Exercise Physiology, San Diego State University
Ironman Certified Coach
United States Triathlon Association, Level 1 Certified Coach
Learn more about Real Life Ironman Kurt Madden!
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