VO2 Max

Fitness can be measured by the volume of oxygen you can consume while exercising at your maximum capacity. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen in milliliters, one can use in one minute per kilogram of body weight.

Those who are more fit have higher VO2 max values and can exercise more intensely than those who are not as well conditioned. Numerous studies show that you can increase your VO2 max by working out at an intensity that raises your heart rate to between 65% and 85% of its maximum for at least 20 minutes three to five times a week. A mean value of VO2 max for male athletes is about 3.5 litres/minute and for female athletes it is about 2.7 litres/minute.

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Factors affecting VO2 max

The physical limitations that restrict the rate at which energy can be released aerobically are dependent upon:

  • the chemical ability of the muscular cellular tissue system to use oxygen in breaking down fuels.
  • the combined ability of cardiovascular and pulmonary systems to transport the oxygen to the muscular tissue system.


Improving your VO2 max

The following are examples of workouts for improving oxygen uptake:

    1. Run at maximum speed for 5 minutes. Note the distance covered in that time. Let us assume that the distance achieved is 1900 metres. Rest for five minutes, and then run the distance (1900 metres) 20% slower, in other words in six minutes, with 30 seconds rest, repeated many times. This is equal to your 10 Km pace.
    2. Run at maximum speed for four minutes. Note the distance covered in that time. Rest for four minutes. In this case we will assume the you run a distance of 1500 metres. Now run the same distance 15% slower, in other words in 4 minutes 36 seconds, with 45 seconds rest, repeated several times. This approximates to a time between the athlete’s 5 Km and 10 Km time.
    3. Run at maximum effort for three minute. Note the distance covered in that time. The distance covered is, say 1000 metres. Successive runs at that distance are taken 10% slower or at 3 minutes 18 seconds, with 60 seconds rest, repeated several times. This approximates to your 5 Km time.
    4. Run at maximum effort for five minutes. Note the distance covered in that time. The distance covered is 1900 metres. Rest five minutes. The distance is now covered 5% slower with one and a half minutes rest. This is approximately 3K pace for you, i.e., five minutes 15 seconds/1900 metres.
    5. Run at maximum effort for three minutes. The distance covered is 1100 metres. When recovered, the athlete then runs the same distance 5% slower, i.e., three minutes nine seconds/1100 metres, with one minute rest, repeated several times. This is at 3 Km pace.


When and how often

It is suggested that in the winter sessions (1) and (2) are done weekly, and in the track season sessions (3), (4) and (5) are done weekly by runners from 800 metres to the half-marathon. Although it would be convenient to use the original distance marks made by the duration efforts, this doesn’t take into account the athlete’s condition before each session, so the maximum effort runs must be done on each occasion when they may be either more or less than the previous distance run. The maximum duration efforts are in themselves quality sessions. If the pulse rate has not recovered to 120 beats per minute in the rest times given, the recovery period should be extended before the repetitions are started. The recovery times between the reps should be strictly adhered to. These workouts make a refreshing change from repetition running. When all five sessions are completed within a month, experience shows substantial improvements in performance.


% MHR and %VO2 Max

It is possible to estimate your exercise intensity as a percentage of VO2 Max from your training heart rate. David Swain (1994) and his US based research team using statistical procedures examined the relationship between %MHR and %VO2 Max. Their results led to the following regression equation :

%MHR = 0.64 × %VO2 Max + 37

The relationship has been shown to hold true across sex, age and activity.

%VO2max and Speed

% of VO2 Max Speed
50 Very slow running
60 Slow running
70 Steady running
80 Half Marathon speed
90 10 km speed
95 5 km speed
100 3 km speed
110 1500 metres to 800 metres speed