Quantification: V02 Max

This post has been a long time coming, but it’s better late than never! Way back when I first started training I wanted to be able to have a way of showing definitive progress. There is always the obvious stuff like weight/fat loss. The problem those is that they can happen with zero improvements to overall health or fitness. I love data and I really enjoy being able to compare things. I wanted more health specific data that I can track to show improvements. Initially I had all sorts of things in mind that I wanted to get done, but I soon realized these tests aren’t cheap and I wouldn’t be able to do all of them. I, of course, measured my weight, body fat, and blood pressure. The only fancy tests I was able to afford at the time were my VO2 Max and my Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR).

Your VO2 Max is basically the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. It is often measured in ml/kg/min, that is milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. If you notice your body weight is calculated in the equation, so someone that weighs more is often going to have a lower V02 Max score. This is part of the reason I wanted to get tested prior to starting all of this. I know that just by losing weight I should improve my test results (and that is going to feel great!), but I wanted to be able to say ‘This is where I was and this is where I am now’. There is something very satisfying and encouraging about being able to quantify your progress.

There are a lot of people who take your VO2 Max and judge your worthiness as an athlete by your results. There are also a lot of people who generally don’t use the score for much. There are several reasons for this. The first is what is mentioned above; you might have two people with the same level of aerobic fitness, but the slightly lighter person could be considered more fit when we all know that isn’t necessarily true. Also, we need to realize that two athletes with the same VO2 Max could be moving at two different speeds. It’s not hard to imagine that two people could be using the same amount of oxygen but that one could be clearly faster than the other. For these reasons, and others, it’s probably not the best idea to base your fitness level solely on this number. As I mentioned though, for some it can be nice to have some sort of frame of reference though. Your VO2 Max is determined by many factors. Some, like your genetics, may be beyond your control but your VO2 Max is still trainable to a certain degree and knowing where you fall can at least tell you what you need to work on and if you’re making progress.

I got my VO2 Max test at my local Endorphin Fitness. I was assisted by their director of coach operations, Parker. My test was a pretty standard way of testing. They place a mask on you that catches all of your exhalation while you are running on a treadmill. The treadmill is gradually increased in both speed and elevation until you reach your VO2 Max. My test results were disappointing, though not surprising. As an untrained individual with a desk job and almost 100 lbs (45kg) of excess body fat I didn’t expect to do well. Even when I was younger breathing while running was always the hardest part. My lungs always gave out before my legs did. I always blamed it on all of the second hand smoke I was exposed to, but maybe my body just isn’t that great at processing oxygen.

Whatever the reason, my VO2 Max when tested came out at 32.3 ml/kg/min. When compared to the population I fall solidly in the “poor” spectrum (an elite athlete might have well over 50 ml/kg/min). It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it is what it is. I would like to think that there is just more room for improvement, so I have to stay encouraged to do so! The test also revealed that I have an estimated max heart rate of 195. While that doesn’t necessarily indicate anything with regards to my fitness, I think that it is a little reassuring that my heart can get going when it needs to! One other thing the test revealed is my anaerobic threshold. This is basically the point where you switch from using oxygen to move your muscles (aerobic) to not (anaerobic). From my understanding this is also the point where you begin to ‘feel the burn’ as you’re not able to clear the lactic acid build up in your muscles as quickly as it’s being produced. Apparently mine is around 72% of my max heart rate, which is at 182 bpm.

Knowing this information by itself doesn’t mean much, but taken together and developing a training program focused around improved these stats can make a huge difference. So far I have been focusing mainly on improving my overall fitness, but with the start of the new year I’ve begun focusing more on the little aspects that are going to make a big difference. I haven’t finished the program yet and I am still tinkering with some ideas, but when I have completed it I will be sure to share it. Ok, I’ve spent enough time at this computer, time to get up and move!

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