VO2 Max: What exactly is it?

Do you need a VO2 max measurement before working with clients? How would you do that? My VO2 Max is 44. Ok, cool. What does that mean?!


   It is a measure of your maximum aerobic capacity or maximum oxygen uptake. It measures the volume of oxygen one can transport through the body as you exercise. It can be used as an indicator four your overall cardiovascular system health. When you exercise your muscles need oxygen and the level of your VO2 max can indicate if that oxygen is being delivered efficiently.

   Age, Gender, Genetics, Altitude – these can all affect your VO2 max. VO2 max does not indicate how likely you are to be good at a sport (as some think). Yes, if you partake in an endurance sport it can be an indicator, but for the most part it’s just one of many measurements used.

  VO2 max can also be looked at as the difference between oxygen inspired and oxygen expired in a particular unit of time. I can break the measurements down into 2 categories: Lab vs Gym.

a.      Lab – If done in a sports performance lab, either a treadmill or stationary bicycle is standard in testing. The goal is to analyze both the concentration of gas (oxygen/carbon) and your respiratory rate. They use a mask like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, which connects over your face. There is date measured with the proper computers along with a heart monitor. The VO2 max is reached when oxygen consumption remains at a static position even with an increase in the workload. You then become anaerobic rather than aerobic.

b.      Gym - Sub Maximal Tests are used in a non-lab setting. The two most common Sub Maximal Tests are: YMCA 3 Minute Step Test, and the Rockport Walk Test. Both of these can easily be done in any standard gym setting. All NASM CPT’s should be able to perform this with their clients. I have video links here to both.

                                                              i.      RockPort

                                                            ii.      YMCA

   I personally don’t think it’s important unless you have an endurance athlete who needs as many baseline measurements as possible to see if he or she is working more efficiently. For anyone else, it’s just a baseline number for motivation.

  Training harder will increase your VO2 max. However, for a minute let’s think of it like increasing your 1 mile run time. At 46, can someone increase their 1 Mile run time through training? Sure. Can they beat their 1 mile run at 16? Unlikely.

In summary, VO2 max is not that important to the average fitness goer, and even the fitness professional, personal trainer, and group class instructor. The primary way to access your client’s capacities are going to be subjective like the talks test.

Ask them how they feel during the exercise routinely. If they are doing bodyweight squats for a set of 20, you should have asked:

1.    How do your knees and back feel?

2.    What feels like it’s firing/working?

Those questions will answer multiple important issues. You will find out if your client gets tired by their mannerisms and how out of breath they appear while talking and exercising simultaneously. In addition, you can access if their level of body awareness which is simply their ability to engage muscle groups and put themselves into the proper positions.

Always check in with your clients during and after exercises so you can develop into a better FIT (Fitness Industry teacher) by honing your craft of assessing the proper work rate for your clients.