July 12, 2022
VO2 max is the number that describes your cardiorespiratory fitness. It’s a single number that captures your heart, lungs, circulatory system, and muscle cells all working independently and together. And not surprisingly, your VO2 max is connected to health, performance and longevity.
At the same time, many people find VO2 max difficult to understand on their Garmin smartwatch. Why? Maybe mixing letters, numbers and abbreviations together makes things look scary and complicated. Let’s skip past that problem for a moment. If you are really interested in fitness, then you will be fine with a funny name.
And in case you were wondering, it is pronounced vee oh two max.
Ask a physiologist about VO2 max and they will explain that it is the maximum volume of oxygen your body can import, transport and utilize in a single minute during intense physical activity. If that rings a bell, then great. You’ve got it and might be ready to scroll down to the VO2 max charts below. There you can instantly see how your VO2 compares to other people of your same age and gender. Otherwise, stick around.
Why VO2 Max Matters
Exercise physiologists have studied how the human body uses oxygen for long time. And the history of VO2 max as a performance metric dates back over a hundred years. Scientists observed that people are always using some oxygen even at rest. Start moving around or exercising and your body starts to use more and more oxygen as the intensity increases.
Why does your body need oxygen? Oxygen is the magical ingredient that makes aerobic energy production possible. That means transforming the energy stored in macronutrients like carbohydrates and fats into fuel for your muscle cells. That is why VO2 max is sometimes referred to as your aerobic capacity. It is also why endurance athletes spend a lot of time working to improve their VO2 max.
To directly measure oxygen consumption, you need to wear a special mask together with a machine capable of analyzing the contents of your respiratory gases. The goal is to measure how much oxygen is in the air you breath in compared to how much oxygen is in the air you exhale. The difference is how much oxygen your body is using.
VO2 max tests are typically performed in a laboratory and involve running on a treadmill. The speed of the treadmill increases gradually until you reach the intensity at which maximum oxygen consumption rate is achieved. It is quite a workout and should only be performed when healthy.
Compatible Garmin watches automatically estimate VO2 max during walking and running activities using a method developed by Firstbeat Analytics. Advanced analytics interpret combinations of heart rate and performance data to reveal your aerobic capacity. This means looking at how quickly you are walking or how fast you are running compared to how hard your body is working to keep up pace. The method can also be used for cycling if you happen to have a power meter mounted on your bike.
Understanding VO2 Max
The first thing to understand is that a higher VO2 max is generally better than a lower VO2 max. A higher VO2 max means that your body is better at taking oxygen from the air and delivering it to your muscles. The more oxygen your muscles can get, the more nutrients you can aerobically transform into the molecular fuel (ATP) that your muscles use to contract and perform. This is important because your aerobic metabolic pathways are by far your most efficient source of energy for your body.
Higher is better than lower, got it. But how high is high enough?
If you are a competitive marathon runner, triathlete, cyclist, or cross-country skier, then the answer is really, really high. Top endurance athletes practically dedicate their lives to improving their VO2 max.
For most people, however, a good VO2 max is understood in terms of so-called normal values. These are the ranges of VO2 max that researchers have identified in the general population. This is where things can get tricky. Similar VO2 max results can mean different things for different people.
A VO2 max of 40 can be excellent for one person, good for another and only poor for a third. What? The missing context here is that the first person is a 28-year-old woman, the second is a 42-year-old man and the last is a 20-year-old male student.
Making sense of VO2 max requires personal context. That is the challenge.
VO2 Max for Men vs. Women
Variation in physical performance between men and women mostly come down to differences in body composition.Research showsthat men typically have more lean muscle mass than women. And women tend to naturally accumulate more fatty tissue. Where fat deposits accumulate on the body also varies between men and women. Men tend to store fat around the trunk and abdomen, and women storing more fat around the hips and thighs.
These natural differences in average body composition are important for understanding what your personal VO2 max means. Muscles use oxygen while fat is simply stored energy.
On average, men have higher VO2 max values than women. So for a man and woman with the same VO2 max, the woman will have a better fitness level compared to her peer group.
Atopfemale endurance athlete will almost certainly have amuchhigher VO2 max thanthe average male. However, she will likely have alower VO2 max compared to atopmale endurance athlete.
What’s a Good VO2 Max for My Age?
Age is always a tough topic. It is not fun to think about, but our performance tends to get worse as we get older. As humans our peak fitness potential is usually around the age of 20. This is true for both men and women.
From there, fitness typically declines between 5%-20% per decade in healthy individuals between the ages of 20 and 65. Cardiorespiratory fitness losses can be managed through healthy lifestyle choices and regular physical activity. Past the age of 70, fitness levels decline even more quickly.
Several factors contribute to age-related fitness declines. One is the fact that total body mass or weight tends to increase as we get older, but lean muscle mass decreases. Another is that our muscles work less efficiently. This affects the large muscles that power our movement and the heart.
As we get older, our hearts simply cannot beat as fast as when we were younger. The force with which the heart beats to push oxygenated blood to the muscles also decreases.
The good news about VO2 max and aging is that for the most part accelerated fitness declines resulting from sedentary lifestyles can be reversed. This means that with proper care you can improve your fitness and feel younger and more energetic in the process.
Typical VO2 Max Fitness Scores for Men by Age Group:
Typical VO2 Max Fitness Scores for Women by Age Group:
Data reprinted with permission from The Cooper Institute®. For more information, go towww.CooperInstitute.org.
What About My Weight?
Weight management and fitness topics often go together and for good reason. Both are good health indicators and both benefit from healthy lifestyles. When you get your VO2 max from a smartwatch or fitness tracker, the number you see is what exercise scientists call your relative VO2 max.
This simply means that the number you see is how much oxygen you can use per kilogram of body weight in a single minute. That means that your body weight is already factored into the equation.
If you are curious about your absolute VO2 max, you can easily calculate it. Simply multiply the VO2 max shown on your watch by your body weight measured in kilograms.
What is a good VO2 max for me? ›
Elite male runners have shown VO2 maxes of up to 85 mL/kg/min, and elite female runners have scored up to 77 mL/kg/min. A good VO2 max for a 25-year-old male is 42.5-46.4 mL/kg/min, while a good value for a 25-year-old female is 33.0-36.9 mL/kg/min.What is VO2 max and why is it a good indicator of aerobic fitness? ›
VO2 max, or maximal oxygen consumption, refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. This measurement is generally considered the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.Why is VO2 max a good measure of fitness? ›
VO2 max is important as it can be used as a representation of how much oxygen your body uses during exercise at a maximum effort. This formula can be used to determine functions of both your central factors (blood, lung, heart), and peripheral (skeletal muscles) factors.What is VO2 max normal range? ›
The average untrained healthy male has a V̇O2 max of approximately 35–40 mL/(kg·min). The average untrained healthy female has a V̇O2 max of approximately 27–31 mL/(kg·min). These scores can improve with training and decrease with age, though the degree of trainability also varies widely.What is a good VO2 max for seniors? ›
Shephard continues that independent living seniors tend to have VO2 max values of at least 18 ml/kg/min (in men) and 15 ml/kg/min (in women). How Trainable is VO2 Max in Older Adults?What is VO2 max and why is it important? ›
VO2 max is the amount (volume) of oxygen your body uses while exercising as hard as you can. It's a common tool to understand your fitness level. Knowing your VO2 max can help you train for sports, track your fitness improvement, and improve your heart health.Is VO2 max maximal aerobic rate? ›
VO2 max (also maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake, peak oxygen uptake, or maximal aerobic capacity) is the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport through circulatory system and use oxygen in motor muscles.How is VO2 max a predictor of aerobic athletic performance? ›
The higher your VO2 max, the greater energy supply and the better potential for performance. More specifically, VO2 max represents the degree of ATP supply occurring when your oxygen-dependent energy system is running at the highest possible rate.Is VO2 max a measure of aerobic power? ›
What a VO2 Max test can tell you: Your aerobic capacity, as measured with a VO2 max test, is the maximal amount of oxygen your body can consume during maximal intensity exercise. It is the product of your maximal cardiac output and your arterial-venous oxygen difference.What is the best way to increase VO2 max? ›
You can train your Vo2 max most efficiently by working at a high intensity. Many running coaches recommend training at around 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate. Working near your max heart rate helps strengthen the muscles in your heart and increase the volume of blood it can pump with each beat.
What is a good cardio fitness score by age? ›
VO2max is normally expressed relative to body weight. So any variation in body weight affects VO2max. Large body mass (even if it is lean body mass) = lower relative VO2max compared to smaller athletes. Higher % body fat = lower VO2max than a similarly sized athlete with a lower % body fat.What is a good VO2 max for a 70 year old man? ›
|Age Group||5th Percentile||50th Percentile|
Generally, VO2max decreases gradually with advancing age, and the rate of decline is approximately 10% per decade after the age of 25 years, and more specifically was suggested to be 15% between the ages of 50 and 75 [1, 2, 3].What is a good VO2 max for a 75 year old female? ›
The corresponding values for females aged 6, 12, 18, 30, 50, and 75 years are 0.9, 1.8, 2.2, 1.8, and 1.1 L/min, respectively. Sex differences in relative VO2max are smaller than the above.What is the average VO2 max for females? ›
The average sedentary female will score a VO2 max of between 27 and 30 mL/kg/min. These scores can improve with training but may be limited by certain factors. Among them: Age plays a central role, with VO2 max scores typically peaking by age 20 and declining by nearly 30% by age 65.How do you calculate VO2 max by age? ›
Calculate your maximum heart rate by multiplying your age by 0.7 and deducting it from 208, which equals 187 bpm. Divide your maximum heart rate (187 bpm) by your resting heart rate (60 bpm) and multiply by 15.3. That's all. Your VO2 max is approximately 48 ml/kg/min.What is a good VO2 max by age and gender? ›
Elite male athletes V02 Max can climb up as high as 90 mL/kg/min, while female athletes to up to 80 to 77 mL/kg/min. A good VO2 max score for a 30-year-old man is 50-55 mL/kg/min, while a good score for a 30-year-old woman is 45-50 mL/kg/min.What is good Apple Watch VO2 max? ›
Apple Watch supports a VO2 max range of 14-65 mL/kg/min that is validated for users 20 years or older. To estimate your cardio fitness level, your Apple Watch also takes into account your: Age.How can I increase my VO2 max? ›
- Exercise at a high intensity. You can train your Vo2 max most efficiently by working at a high intensity. ...
- Train in intervals. ...
- Combine interval and continuous training. ...
- Keep challenging yourself. ...
- Find Your 5K and 10K times. ...
- Learn how to find your functional threshold power (FTP)
How do I know my fitness age? ›
- Step 1 – AGE - Enter your chronological age into a calculator.
- Step 2 – EXERCISE FREQUENCY - Subtract the number of days each week that you exercise for at least 30 minutes at a low to moderate intensity (where your heart rate is elevated)
|Age Group||5th Percentile||50th Percentile|
- A flexibility test, such as the sit and reach.
- An endurance test, such as the Cooper test.
- An upper body strength test, such as the push-up test.
- A core strength test, such as the plank test.
- A target heart rate test.
- A body size calculation, such as weight.
Vo2 Max scores can vary based on a number of factors in addition to fitness, such as your gender, age and genetics, but a vo2 max measurement for an average person in their mid 30s to mid 40s is likely to be around: Women – 31 ml oxygen/kg of body weight/minute. Men - 42 ml oxygen/kg of body weight/minute.What is a good VO2 max for 60 year old? ›
Despite that, studies have suggested that the Apple Watch's accuracy is less than 50 percent. The Apple Watch tracks heart rate using photoplethysmography. While this sounds complicated, it just means it uses light to track your heart rate.What is a good cardio fitness score on Fitbit? ›
For Excellent it's any number above 55, though Fitbit seems to display 55 as last (cardio fitness) number, but the fitness level can increase beyond to the number 55 up to 81 (or more?).. as Ryan Hall according to Fitbit is at 81, and the bar goes a little bit further than that..