3 Ways to Calculate Your Vo2 Max

Published September 10, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<article> <section> <p>A good way to think about VO2 max is to think about cars. New cars drive fast and run super smooth. Old cars that haven’t been maintained are clunky, and are nowhere near as fast or efficient. If you were to measure the two cars, you’d clearly find that the new car is in much better condition. </p> <p>That’s what VO2 max is, just for your body. It’s a measurement of how much oxygen your cardiovascular system can pump to your muscles while you exercise. And besides making you faster at running or walking a mile, VO2 max can be an indicator of things like disease or high blood pressure.</p> <p>In this article we’ll breakdown VO2 max, why it’s important to calculate, and 3 ways you can test your VO2 max—one of which you can do right now!.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/smart-watch-arm-fitness-tracker-activity-technology-0239.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/smart-watch-arm-fitness-tracker-activity-technology-0239.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/smart-watch-arm-fitness-tracker-activity-technology-0239.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/smart-watch-arm-fitness-tracker-activity-technology-LR-0239.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="smart-watch-arm-fitness-tracker-activity"> </picture> <header>What is VO2 max?</header> <p>Here’s an easy way to remember what VO2 max is: Think of it as your body’s maximum ability to take in oxygen during a workout <sup>1</sup>. The higher your VO2 max, the better your body is at delivering fresh oxygen to muscles during exercise.</p> <p>An even simpler definition: it’s a test that measures one’s cardiovascular endurance. There are several ways to measure this, a few of which we’ll cover later in this article.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Why calculate your VO2 max?</header> <p>Measurements like VO2 max, maximum heart rate and resting heart rate are all forms of ‘<i>biofeedback</i>’ (a fancy way of saying ‘how your body responds’) to vigorous <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/" rel="noreferrer">exercise</a>.</p> <p>This information helps you see how fit you are, and can also be used to measure how much your fitness has increased over time.</p> <p>For example, if a sedentary person started <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/10-reasons-why-walking-is-the-best-exercise" rel="noreferrer">walking</a> or <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/" rel="noreferrer">working out at home</a>, they’d be able to measure a noticeable difference in their VO2 max, or the amount of oxygen their body is getting while exercising, from the first test to the second.</p> <p>Besides that, fitness tests like VO2 max can also indicate one’s risk of developing heart disease, as well as more accurately predict if you’re prone to things like high blood pressure <sup>2</sup>.</p> <div class="sub-head">Is VO2 max important?</div> <p>It is, but many people reading this have lived their life to this point without ever even hearing the term ‘VO2 max’. So don’t think you’re unhealthy because you don’t know it or you calculate it and don’t get a “good” score. </p> <p>(We’ll teach you how to test yours in a second.)</p> <p>Since a strong cardiovascular system is the #1 fitness indicator for good health in most people (except the elderly—theirs is muscular strength), VO2 max is a good way to assess how healthy you are.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>3 ways to calculate your VO2 max</header> <div class="sub-head">How do you calculate VO2 max?</div> <p>Calculating VO2 max depends on where you’re testing it and for what purpose. The most accurate way to test your VO2 max is with an exercise physiologist. Since most of us don’t have lab access or a rolodex full of friends with PhDs, we’ll show you a few other ways, too.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/timer-stop-watch-classic-hand-0239.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/timer-stop-watch-classic-hand-0239.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/timer-stop-watch-classic-hand-0239.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/timer-stop-watch-classic-hand-LR-0239.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="smilling-woman-healthy-skin-0161"> </picture> <div class="sub-head">1. The Heart rate equation</div> <div class="sub-head"><span style="font-size:.8em;">a. Find Your Pulse</span></div> <p>The most accurate place to take your pulse is on the carotid artery in your neck. To find your carotid artery, place your index and middle finger together on your chin. Slide your fingers down your chin to where your head connect to the neck, then move over two inches to the left. You should feel a “beat”—that’s your heart.</p> <p><i>Found it?</i> Good job!</p> <p><i>Can’t find it?</i> It’s there, we promise—you wouldn’t be reading this if it wasn’t! </p> <div class="sub-head"><span style="font-size:.8em;">b. Find your resting heart rate</span></div> <p>Now, calculate your <i>resting heart rate</i>. This is the number of times your heart beats per minute (BPM) when you are doing absolutely nothing. For the most accurate reading, measure right when you wake up (and definitely before you drink coffee). You can also lay down and relax for a few minutes, too, if you don’t want to wait.</p> <p>Record that number. It will be somewhere between 60 and 90. For this example, we’ll say 70 BPM.</p> <p>(Just so you know, this number is how you track your VO2 max score improvement over time. Generally speaking, a lower resting heart rate means a healthy cardiovascular system.)</p> <div class="sub-head"><span style="font-size:.8em;">c. Find your maximum heart rate</span></div> <p>Now, calculate your <i>maximum heart rate</i>. This is easier—simply subtract your age from 220. For example if you’re 40, your maximum heart rate is 180. </p> <p>This number represents an estimate of the number of times your heart can beat in one minute. You could also go run a mile as fast as possible then measure it, but we’d say this is the better way to do it.</p> <div class="sub-head"><span style="font-size:.8em;">d. Use the VO2 formula</span></div> <p>Finally, apply the VO2 max formula. To make this easy, follow the math below step by step.</p> <p><i>First</i>, divide your maximum heart rate from your resting heart rate. </p> <p>(i.e. 180 / 70 = 2.57).</p> <p><i>Now</i>, times that number by 15.</p> <p>Your answer = (15 x 2.57 = 38.57)</p> <div class="sub-head"><span style="font-size:.8em;">How do you calculate VO2 max mL/kg/min?</span></div> <p><i>Last</i>, you have to label it to make it a true VO2 max reading. </p> <p>(We know, this reminds you of all the cranky math teachers that used to tell you to label your work)</p> <p>VO2 max is measured in milliliters per kilogram per minute (mL/kg/min). So just tack that on the end.</p> <p>VO2 max = 38.57 mL/kg/min</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-running-outdoor-road-mountain-0239.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-running-outdoor-road-mountain-0239.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-running-outdoor-road-mountain-0239.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-running-outdoor-road-mountain-LR-0239.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="man-running-outdoor-road-mountain"> </picture> <div class="sub-head">2. Use Technology</div> <p>FitBits and other fitness devices come with all sorts of apps to track your fitness. If you aren’t sure if yours tracks VO2 max, google it. Even your iPhone or Droid might have a free app you can use.</p> <div class="sub-head">3. Get a VO2 max test</div> <p>If you’re willing to pay for it, you can get a truly accurate reading of your VO2 max by taking a VO2 max test. Many gyms and fitness facilities offer it to their members for a one-time fee. </p> <p>You can also look in your area for colleges with exercise physiology programs. In all likelihood they have an exercise physiology lab and all the equipment to perform the test. Maybe you can help a student with their dissertation (and get a free test!).</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What’s a good VO2 max?</header> <p>You’ve got your results. Now, <i>how do you stack up?</i></p> <p>Age, gender, and even altitude play a role in determining a good VO2 score. <i>(We see you, people in Denver!)</i> <sup>3</sup>.</p> <p>Use the chart below to see where your VO2 max score rates on the scale.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://wm-blog-content.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/blog-content/vo2-max-infographic-0239.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://wm-blog-content.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/blog-content/vo2-max-infographic-0239.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://wm-blog-content.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/blog-content/vo2-max-infographic-0239.jpg"> <img src="https://wm-blog-content.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/blog-content/vo2-max-infographic-LR-0239.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="vo2-max-infographic"> </picture> <p>VO2 max, like anything else fitness-related, is simply a piece of information. Physical fitness is a lifestyle. So whatever your score is,know there’s still work to do, improvement you can make.</p> <p>If you’re happy with your score—<i>great</i>! But don’t decide you’re “done” working out. You can always get a little better!</p> <p>And if your score didn’t rank where you wanted—<i>even better</i>! You now have a tangible <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/how-to-set-realistic-fitness-goals-you-can-achieve" rel="noreferrer">fitness goal</a>. Use this information to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/3-simple-tips-for-workout-motivation" rel="noreferrer">motivate you</a>, and get a better score next time! </p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/lifestyle/fitness-and-exercise/what-is-vo2max" rel="noreferrer">What is VO2 max? How to Measure and Improve It</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/health/cardiorespiratory-endurance#tests" rel="noreferrer">Cardiorespiratory endurance tests</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.verywellfit.com/what-is-vo2-max-3120097" rel="noreferrer">VO2 Max Testing in Athletes</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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