You’re here for a VO2 max chart, instructions on how to take a VO2 max measurement, and a plan for VO2 max improvement. And you’re on the right track!
While VO2 max has been an important metric for endurance athletes for decades, VO2 max is slowly catching on as a common buzzword when it comes to measuring norms for cardiovascular and aerobic fitness capability.
Plus, with the American Heart Association announcing it as a “vital sign” when evaluating a patient’s health, we thought it was time to take a deep dive into the world of VO2 max. And it’s surprisingly fascinating.
So what is VO2 max, how is it most accurately measured, why is it important, how do I compare to VO2 max norms, and how can you use it to improve your health?
In this article, we’ll answer these questions and review VO2 Max by age and gender to gauge your standings and make a plan to improve in the weeks to come.
V02 Max Charts by Age + measurement and improvement
In this article, we’ve really geeked out on VO2 max. We’ve even analyzed our VO2 max history for the last several years and correlated VO2 max ebbs and flows with….
Before we dive too deep, let’s start with a simple VO2 max meaning.
What is VO2 Max?
The term VO2 max refers to how much oxygen is available for your body to use during exercise. More literally, the VO2 max definition is your maximal oxygen consumption or maximal aerobic capacity.
In other words, VO2 max levels are how much oxygen your body can use and absorb while exercising with maximum effort.
It’s easy to see why endurance athletes care so much about their VO2 max scores: the more oxygen their body can utilize, the higher performance they can achieve.
While it’s not a guarantee that the athlete with the highest VO2 max will win the race — because all high-level athletes have high VO2 maxes — it can give a slight edge and is necessary to play at an elite level.
But why is VO2 max important for non-athletes like the majority of us?
Why is VO2 max important?
According to the American Heart Association, a low VO2 max level can indicate specific risk factors like heart disease, dementia, certain types of cancer, depression, and Type 2 diabetes.
It’s such a precise marker that they believe it’s a more accurate risk indicator than either your blood pressure or smoking history!
Given this and the fact that VO2 max is one of the strongest metrics for overall aerobic health and can help you better train and track your fitness progress, why hasn’t VO2 max caught on in our doctor’s offices and gyms?
Some of the pushback is that VO2 max relies heavily on several factors, with a major complaint that up to 50% is predetermined by genetics, such as your age and sex. Other uncontrollable factors include altitude and even pregnancy (my VO2 max levels plummeted 40% around the time I had our baby).
However, we think this loses sight of the goal, given that fitness level is still a leading determinant in your VO2 max level — and it’s something that you can improve quickly. In just a few workout sessions, you can increase your VO2 max scores.
So while it’s not so hard to measure VO2 max (we’ll go into that below), the most accurate readings are a tad more challenging to get. The thing is, VO2 max measures your oxygen efficiency at maximum effort… so without working out until exhaustion, you can’t get a perfect reading.
But, luckily, there are a few other ways to get around this to give you an idea of what your VO2 max level is and how to improve it from there.
How Do You Measure for VO2 Max?
A VO2 max reading is measured in milliliters of oxygen consumed each minute per kilogram of body weight.
The VO2 max units are mL/kg/min.
It’s essentially a measurement of two things: the volume of blood pumped by the heart and how efficiently your muscles can take and use the oxygen from the blood, per minute.
The most accurate way to learn your VO2 max is to schedule an appointment at your nearest testing lab or clinic. At the test, you’ll wear an oxygen mask-like device that analyzes how much volume of gas you inhale and exhale, a heart rate monitor, and run on a treadmill until exhaustion or until your oxygen consumption plateaus.
In the event that your oxygen consumption plateaus, it means that you’ve flipped from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism and are no longer using oxygen to break down carbohydrates for energy.
A quick Google search of labs near us shows a VO2 max test cost of $150 USD, conducted at a university’s medical center.
Not willing to shell out money? Here are other ways, albeit less accurate, to learn your VO2 max level, and we’ll list them in order of most accurate to least:
1) Bruce Protocol Treadmill Test
This is the test that is most likely performed at your local clinic, but medical supervision is highly recommended.
You’ll be running to your maximum effort, and if untrained or unaccustomed, you could become injured. Plus, you won’t have your gas-analyzing mask to help check your vitals or if your oxygen consumption plateaus.
But, we’re sharing how to do it because it is a common VO2 Max test in a clinical setting. Good luck and take solace knowing that you’ll likely be done in around 20 minutes or less if you follow the VO2 max pace intervals below.
VO2 Max Intervals:
- Stage 1 (Minutes 0-3): 1.7 mph at 10% incline
- Stage 2 (Minutes 3-6): 2.5 mph at 12% incline
- Stage 3 (Minutes 6-9): 3.4 mph at 14% incline
- Stage 4 (Minutes 9-12): 4.2 mph at 16% incline
- Stage 5 (Minutes 12-15): 5.0 mph at 18% incline
- Stage 6 (Minutes 15-18): 5.5 mph at 20% incline
- Stage 7 (Minutes 18-21): 6.0 mph at 22% incline
Once you’ve recorded your time in minutes (and use fractions, so 15 minutes and 45 seconds would look like 15.75), use these calculations to find your VO2 max reading:
VO2 Max Calculator for Treadmill Test:
Men VO2 Max = 14.8 – (1.379 x T) + (0.451 x T²) – (0.012 x T³)
Women VO2 Max = 4.38 x T – 3.9
2) Cooper Run Test
The next most accurate VO2 max measurement is a basic test used in the military to assess aerobic health. The Cooper Test is straightforward, but not easy. All you have to do is see how far you can run or walk in 12 minutes.
This test, developed in the 1960s by Dr. Kenneth Cooper who has been dubbed the “father of aerobics,” was designed to be run on a 400-meter track. However, any flat piece of land works, or even a treadmill put at a 1% incline to mimic outdoor running.
It’s recommended to do a 10-15 minute warmup. Then, start your timer for 12 minutes, make sure you can accurately track your mileage or kilometers either on the track, with your Apple Watch, an app, or otherwise, and GO! Then, do a short cooldown and grab your calculator.
VO2 Max Calculator for the 12-Minute Running Test:
Here is the calculation used to discover your VO2 Max levels, which is the same for both females and males:
When using kilometers:
VO2 Max = (22.351 x kilometers) – 11.288
When using miles:
VO2 Max = (35.97 x miles) – 11.291
As a rough target, you’re in great shape if you can run over 2000 meters, or 1.25 miles in 12 minutes. The pace for this is about 9 minutes and 30 seconds per mile.
3) Your Watch
The two running tests mentioned above are your best VO2 max tests because they measure your aerobic fitness at maximum effort.
However, your watch, like our Apple Watches, can also tell you what your VO2 max scores are. Garmin is also a good watch for VO2 max. If you just want to see where you fall on the VO2 max chart, your watch is a great starting point.
Our watches provide graphs so we can see how our VO2 max has changed over time, which is fascinating. Here are our graphs and how we analyzed them:
By the way, the average level of 30 for a female in the 30-39 age range is low. The VO2 max average on Ryan’s graph below is more accurate. For the most accurate VO2 max averages, see the VO2 max by age charts in the next section.
Although it’s still a great measure of VO2 max, I listed the watch third for accuracy for two reasons:
- Studies show that your watches likely overestimate your VO2 max, making it 5-10% higher than it is. This is because it uses data from your heart rate based on your wrist, which isn’t the most accurate and your watch band might not be very tight.
- Again, VO2 max measures your capabilities at maximum endurance, and while your watch consistently tracks your workouts, not every time you’re working out until pure exhaustion.
Still, this is a great option and you can use it to make measurable improvements!
How to See VO2 Max With Apple Watch:
For those of you with an Apple watch, to find your VO2 max, go to the health app on your phone. Click “Show All Health Data” and scroll until you see “Cardio Fitness.” Your VO2 max is listed there.
If you’ve used a Garmin watch, feel free to share your experience in the comments.
4) Non-exercise VO2 Max Calculations
You’ll find that there have been many attempts to determine VO2 max without actually exercising. While these are helpful, they are suboptimal and we don’t recommend them.
In the same study published by the American Heart Association, they analyzed thirteen different equations — all using some sort of combination of resting heart rate, waist circumference, age, sex, percentage body fat, and so forth. But they found that the people on the extreme ends of having either very high or low fitness, had underestimated VO2 maxes.
They summed up by saying these non-exercise calculations are helpful in grouping people in large brackets, but exercise tests are by far the best method.
I ran my numbers through one of these calculations, and it estimated my VO2 max to be 60, while my Apple Watch said 45, for example. So, where does that fall on the VO2 max chart? Let’s see.
V02 Max Chart By age and Gender
Now that we’ve determined how you can measure your own VO2 max levels, let’s see how your level compares to the VO2 max norms.
These are the measurements publicized by The Cooper Institute (yes, of the same Dr. Kenneth Cooper who created the Cooper Run Test above) and Garmin.
Remember the levels in this VO2 max chart are most accurate, so if your watch is telling you something else, ignore it. Also, your VO2 max measurements are probably not perfect unless you’re testing in a lab.
Therefore, focus not just on one measurement, but on how your VO2 max trends month by month. We’ll talk more about how to improve your VO2 max in the next section.
How to Increase Your VO2 Max Levels
The best way to increase your VO2 max scores is… you guessed it, working out at high intensity.
Your VO2 max scores can increase with HIIT workouts (high-intensity interval training), which are workouts where you work out intensely for 30 seconds to 3 minutes, with a recovery period in between. This is either pure recovery or a lower-intensity exercise.
Consider a few of our favorite HIIT workouts to try, attached to longer programs if you find you like them:
Or, you can download our free 8-Week Bodyweight Workout Program. Other high-intensity workouts include hill runs and sprint intervals — no matter if you’re running, cycling, or swimming.
In fact, oxygen restriction (like with swimming) can improve lung capacity and increase VO2 levels.
Finally, a meta-analysis of training programs points to long-term and well-planned programs to promote the best VO2 max increases. In the analysis, workout programs that are around 10 weeks long and 6 days a week seem to win out.
So, as mentioned above with our program recommendations, no matter what you find, follow a well-structured, multi-week program to give yourself the best shot at health and aerobic fitness.
What If VO2 Max is Not Improving or Dropping?
That’s a loaded question. But, just as metabolism is influenced by sleep, exercise, and stress rather than just diet, VO2 max is influenced by more than just HIIT workouts.
Focus on living a balanced and healthy lifestyle by reducing stress, increasing sleep quality (and quantity), eating real food, and finding more ways to move throughout the day.
I wish there was a VO2 max device that you could breathe into and see a real-time VO2 max score. Maybe someday. This technology does exist for measuring your metabolism, and it’s incredibly helpful. Check out our 3-month study with our Lumen Metabolism Trackers.
Closing THoughts on the V02 max chart
VO2 max is an important health metric and perhaps the best indicator of all for aerobic health.
Yet, it’s not often measured or tracked, despite being called by the American Heart Association a better indicator of mortality risk than smoking history or blood pressure. Even for us, we underestimated its impact on measuring our fitness and tracking the efficacy of our workout programs.
The good news here is that your VO2 max levels are in your hands. With training programs that take a long view, especially ones that include high-intensity training, your VO2 max levels can increase in just a matter of days.
Ideally going forward, you’re able to take VO2 max measurements through an endurance test, like the Cooper Run Test. But for those of you with a wearable, likely, you’ve already logged months or years of VO2 max data. If you have, review your history and share your analysis in the comments section below.
We hope these VO2 max charts by age and gender shed some light on where you stand, and give you a target to shoot for in your fitness journey. No matter where you are today, your VO2 max can improve when you’re ready.
Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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