Here’s Why Runners Need To Know About Maximum Oxygen Uptake

By October 8, 2020December 9th, 2020No Comments
Know Your VO2 Oxygen Intake Limit

VO2 max is also known as maximum oxygen uptake. This is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. It is a common measurement used to establish the aerobic endurance of an athlete prior to or during the course of training.

The unit of measure for VO2 max is millilitres of oxygen per kilogram. The best way to increase your VO2 max is to run shorter intervals of 800 metres at your maximum speed, followed by 200 metres slow jog. Keep the running cycle till you complete 5K (5,000 metres).

There are several methods you can use to measure VO2 max, but many require equipment such as a treadmill or a calibrated exercise cycle in a sports performance lab under controlled conditions. You would be outfitted with a face mask that is connected to a machine, which can analyze your respiratory rate and volume alongside the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in inhaled and exhaled air. A heart strap would be worn around your chest to measure the heart rate. The duration of the test is for approximately 20 minutes.

To prepare for the test, you would have to dress in comfortable gym clothing. Food, alcohol, tobacco and caffeine should be avoided five hours before the test with no exercises or training workout 24 hours prior to the test. Fortunately, today we have other simpler means to calculate VO2 max.

First Stage

You have to determine your Resting Heart Rate (RHR), which can be done by feeling your pulse while at rest in the morning before you get out of bed. The pulse can be felt on the wrist or the side of your neck under the jaw using two fingers. Measure the heart beats per minute. This way you will get your Resting Heart Rate.

Second Stage

You have to calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). There are a number of simple ways, but the most accurate way to calculate your maximum heart beat is to get your reading from a GPS watch which has a heart monitor. In my experience of achieving this reading, it is better to run a 10K at tempo pace rather than a fast 2K or 3K. Even if you do not have a GPS watch, after your 10K run, feel your pulse and take a reading.

Your per minute reading will be your Maximum Heart Rate.

My maximum heart rate using a GPS watch during 10K at 64 minutes was 157 as follows:

Here's Why Runners Need To Know About Maximum Oxygen UptakeMy maximum heart rate during a 3K at 17:26 minutes was 146. If you are a beginner, then run as fast as you can for approximately 800 metres, followed by 200 metres of a slow jog continuing the cycle for 5K.

Third Stage

The simplest way to calculate VO2 max is by using the following formula:

VO2 Max= 15 x (Maximum Heart Rate divided by Resting Heart Rate)
VO2 Max= 15 x (MHR/RHR) Millilitres of oxygen per kilogram per minute
Hence for a person with Heart Rate Max of 157 and Resting Heart Beat of 48.
VO2 Max= 15 x (157/48) ml/kg/min
VO2 Max= 15 x 3.27 ml/kg/min
VO2 max= 49.05 ml/kg/min

Factors that influence VO2 max are the following:

Age Factor

Age plays a central role with VO2 max score, typically peaking by age 20, and declining by nearly 30% by the age of 65 for a sedentary person.


Gender also contributes with a man’s VO2 max generally being higher than a woman’s.


Altitude contributes simply because there is less air to consume at 15,000 feet than at sea level. As such, a runner training at high altitudes will generally have 5% decrease in VO2 max for every 5,000 feet gained in altitude.Here's Why Runners Need To Know About Maximum Oxygen UptakeHere's Why Runners Need To Know About Maximum Oxygen Uptake

How are results incorporated into training

VO2 max values cannot be used in every day training, but follow-up VO2 tests can be used as a measure of progress. However, since heart rate, speed and or power is typically measured during a VO2 max test, various heart rate, speed and or power levels can be garnered from testing and then associated to appropriate training zones, which are then applied to everyday training.

How does training affect VO2 max

Training results in an increase in the efficiency of oxygen transport within the body. By lowering the resting heart rate (RHR), and the HR at sub maximal loads, the heart pumps more blood with every heartbeat. This, in addition to other physiological changes, increases the oxygen extraction capability. When an individual is tested before and after training while performing exercise at the same load, a lower HR is shown after training because more blood (thus, oxygen) is delivered in each heart beat. Such HR differences during exercise can be used to predict aerobic fitness. The percentage of increase in VO2 max is dependent on many variables and differs considerably from individual to individual, ranging from 5 to 20%. In general, individuals who are the least fit see the largest changes and individuals who are highly fit see the smallest changes.

Health considerations

Significant amounts of research and public health data indicate that low aerobic fitness levels are correlated with an increased risk of premature death from many causes but in particular from cardiovascular disease.

Accordingly, higher aerobic fitness levels are associated with numerous health benefits e.g. longer lifespan, better quality of life, reduced risks for stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, improved mood and self-esteem, and improved sleep patterns. To improve or maintain cardiovascular health an individual must engage in cardiovascular exercise (run, walk, swim, cycle etc.) at least 3 times per week.

Predictor of performance

VO2 max is also a predictor of performance, although its correlation to athletic success in endurance sports is only 30-40%, with other factors such as sustainable lactate threshold, motivation and training playing a role. In general, however, the higher a VO2 max the more potential for a successful performance in an aerobic endurance event.

Sanjai Banerji

Sanjai Banerji

Started running at the age of 48 in 2008 and has run more than 50 half marathons, marathons and ultra-races in 13 cities in India and abroad. In 2019, he became one of the oldest Indians to run in the top three marathons in Asia (Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore). His book, ‘Crossing the Finish Line’ was published in 2019.

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