VO2 Max: What Is It and How Do I “MAX” Mine?!

Whether your doing an aerobic class at the gym, cycling, playing tennis, skiing, or running, your body depends on endurance achieved by oxygen (O2) consumption and optimal utilization (by the muscles) of oxygen.

We know that the heart is a muscle and it must be exercised to stay healthy and strong.  We also know that the stronger the heart is, the more blood is pumped out and the more O2, via our blood, gets delivered to our muscles. Once O2 is diffused into the muscle cells, its job is to reach the mitochondria (the “power house of the cell”) where it is used in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the energy muscles need to do work. This sounds pretty important, huh?  I bet you want to know how is O2 consumption measured during exercise?

Oxygen consumption (Vo2) is the volume of O2 inhaled minus the volume of O2 exhaled. It is usually measured in a lab with some sophisticated testing apparatus by medical students, scientists, or elite athletes and coaches to determine these measurements. VO2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen (O2) that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal workouts.

Oxygen rises linearly with exercise intensity until the O2 consumption plateaus, even if intensity continues to increase.  The point at which oxygen plateaus is the VO2 Max. VO2 Max is a great indication of your cardiovascular fitness and has synonymously been used with the terms aerobic or cardio fitness.  The take home message is this: if you exercise and begin to increase your intensity, you will increase your cardiovascular fitness or VO2 Max.  If your muscles get stronger and more efficient during their workout, they will be better able to utilize O2.  The more the muscles get a work out, the more capillaries are made in the muscle tissue.  More transport capacity (capillaries) for blood equals more O2. This sounds great!

“I don’t have access to this expensive testing apparatus so how will I know if I am increasing my VO2 Max?”

There’s really a few ways to do this, but I will out line two simple ways:

1. Monitor your exertion.  Go to your local high school track. Use either a fast paced walk, a jog, or full-out run, count how many laps you can do before you physically cannot go on any further.  That number is your base.  From now on, your goal must exceed that number of laps.  To mechanically fatigue at any number beyond your base would indicate an increase your estimated VO2 Max.

2.  If you want to measure your estimated VO2 Max using a calculation rather than your perceived exertion and number of additional laps ran, use the Balk Test: You’ll need a stop watch and a 400m track.

Note: 1609.344 meters= 1 mile

• Pick a day that’s not windy, set your watch to beep at the end of 15 minutes, and take the track for 15 minutes.

• Calculate the total number of meters walked, jogged, or ran.

• Use this formula (you may want to use a calculator)

(((Total distance covered /15) – 133) x 0.172) + 33.3

Example Case: 40 y/o non-athletic female:

1600m  / 15 = 106.6667

106.6667-133 = -26.33333

-26.33333 x 0.172= -4.529333

-4.529333 + 33.3 = 28.77067 (note she falls within normal limits for her age)


Age     Males   Females

30-39    39-48    30-38

40-49    36-44     26-35

50-59  34-41    24-33

NOTE:  Environmental factors have a lot to do with our cardiovascular system. Heat and humidity can put us at risk for heat injuries, so please see your doctor, drink water every 10-15 minutes, and wear wicking materials when you exercise.  If you’re in temperatures that are cold and blustery, be aware that some of you may do better in colder weather then in the heat.  As it gets warmer, conduct your exercise indoors or start your workouts before sunrise or at sunset.

There are other variables such as heart rate (HR) and the amount or percentage of aerobic power to use per fit or unfit individuals. However, this is as far as I will go for right now.  If you have any questions, please send me a comment and I will write you back.

Go estimate your VO2 Max and join me tomorrow as I discuss how to achieve fat loss and how it ties into VO2 Max!

Note: Always check with your doctor before starting any fitness regimen.  A thorough check up can’t hurt and should be done every year.  Many of the routines and diet plans that I create for myself may not be suited for you.  Ask me questions so I can help you if you have any limitations.

The Skinny on Fat Loss

If you have a scale that reads both total weight and fat percentage you may notice that it is a lot easier to lose “weight” then it is to lose fat.  February 1, 2010, I signed up for a fat loss program at my chiropractor’s office.  Each contestant has been given one month free at a local gym and invitations to attend several lectures on nutrition, detoxifying the body, and exercise.  Our chiropractor has certainly set us up to win, although for some, the hardest task will be compliance and will power.  What makes this contest unique is that the goal is not just dropping some overall poundage- we must lose the fat…not water weight… not muscle…FAT.  And fat is what will be measured for as the determining factor in the contest.

Losing fat is a combination of many factors.  The first of two factors I will discuss is clean eating. What do I mean by “clean” eating?  The unprocessed whole foods (preferably certified organic) which make up any given meal of the day. To accomplish this task, try to stay away from as many pre-made, packaged, processed meals as possible.  As convenient as they may be, these meals are usually loaded with chemicals, preservatives, artificial flavoring and coloring, excess sodium, and hidden toxic fats.  Try to buy a variety of fresh ingredients including an array of spices and herbs to flavor your food rather than use sauces and butters.  For snacks, peanut, almond and tahini butters are wonderful protein-filled spreads you can use on a crunchy apple or on veggies.  While dried fruit, nuts, and yogurt (soy or traditional) make the perfect snack you can carry anywhere.

Buying and eating clean is as important as how much and how often you eat.  I personally love fitness magazines.  I read them all, but I have two huge favorites—Oxygen magazine (for women, but anyone can benefit) and On Fitness (which is for men and women).  If you read the personal stories of either the fitness models or the everyday enthusiasts, such as you and I,they all share similar nutritional stories such that they eat small meals every three to four hours.  Our bodies require energy to function.  By today’s standards, most Americans eat three meals a day, but if you want to live at your optimal potential, if you want to make positive, noticeable changes in your life—feed your body good food and feed it the energy it needs consistently throughout the day.   Examine this scenario: OK, it is 7:00 AM, you feed your body white bread with butter, coffee, milk, and white sugar (or if you’re like many Americans, you skip breakfast all together). By noon you go out with some friends from work and have several ounces of beef on white bread with fried potatoes and a soda.  Maybe a piece of fruit at around 3:00PM and by 7:30-8PM you are famished and ready to gorge on anything in the kitchen before dinner hits the table.  For dinner, you might have steak, rice, salad, and a glass of beer or two.  Does this sound familiar to some?  This menu is neither “clean” nor is it comprised of 6-8 small meals, which are needed to fuel your body, maintain a robust metabolism, or get you ready for your next work out.

I’m not saying you can never have a drink with dinner, nor am I saying stay away from birthday cake forever, but a couple times a week is not a good idea either.  If you want to lose fat, we must omit a number of foods and bad habits from our daily life. For example, eating muti-grain bread is much better than white bread.  Having one of the spreads I mentioned rather than butter provides healthy oils (fats) that your nervous system requires to function along with protein for your muscles. If I began to dissect each food or brand, this blog might never end.  If asked what two items should be omitted immediately, I would choose refined sugar and hydrogenated oils.

The extreme temperatures  at which hydrogenated oils are created make them so that they cannot be nutritionally utilized by the body.  These oils are profitable to the companies they are peddled by in that they extend the product’s shelf life.  Chronic and systemic inflammation has been studied and discussed among scientists for many years.  I have personally witnessed in myself and in my clients an astounding increase in inflammatory symptoms and disease. In the Jan/Feb 2010 addition of Well Being Journal, Susan Smith Jones, Ph.D states in her article: Reversing Inflammation, The Use of Antioxidants to Prevent Chronic Disease, “Prolonged inflammation…produces a continuous onslaught of free radical damage that left unchecked for years often leads to various types of cancers.”  Jones states,  “Diet and lifestyle are foundational in supporting the body’s efforts to maintain optimal health.  The standard American diet (SAD) is often full of trans fats (from partially hydrogenated oils), refined sugars and excessive amounts of animal foods, all of which promote inflammation.  The SAD of today has about 50 times as much omega-6 fats as the diet of our ancestors a century ago and is radically deficient in omega-3 fats.  Omega-6 in excess promotes inflammation, while omega-3 is anti-inflammatory.”  Three years ago, I asked my doctor to test me for food allergies.  Many of my favorite foods, which I often did not rotate in my diet, became allergens my body fought off as foreign substances causing low-level inflammatory responses.  Eventually this chronic inflammation caught up to me and I noticed something was very wrong.  Knowing what foods I was allergic to saved my career and, I know, in the long run saved my life.  Are my eating habits perfect? No they are not, but I work on my nutrition and the amount I consume per day EVERYDAY.  I urge you to do the same.

The second ingredient to successful fat loss is exercise. In the past we have been introduced to aerobics and step class, steady-pace 60 min walks and today, boot camps are on the rise.  So which one works?  They all work.  They achieve different things for different people in different circumstances.

So, the real question should be, what is YOUR GOAL?

It is recommended that all sedentary individuals exercise at least 30 minutes every day at a moderate intensity.  If your goal is simply to begin an exercise regimen, you may want to take two -15 minute walks and work up to 30 minutes/day, and then eventually 60 minutes /day. If you have type II diabetes, as more than 23 million Americans now have, you might be interested in the newest correlation between exercise and lowering your glucose levels.

Researchers followed nine men with type 2 diabetes, to compare their blood glucose levels after 60 minutes of low-intensity cycling versus 30 minutes of high intensity cycling. In the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, research participants took the same medication and consumed the same prepackaged meals leading up to the exercise trials. Blood tests taken during an analysis 24 hours after the exercises showed that the lower-intensity cycling lowered blood glucose levels by 50 percent, versus a 19 percent reduction after high-intensity cycling.


Finally, you might be among the many exercisers who have hit a plateau where your weight hasn’t budged and/or your routine has become rote.  At this point, increasing the intensity of the workout , or changing the routine completely might demonstrate the outcomes you need to fulfill your goals.

If your mission is similar to the latter, you are in luck because this happens to be part of my goal in which I will outline.  My first goal was to increase my VO2 Max, which I plan to accomplish outdoors with adding sprint intervals, slow jogging, and jump rope.  Working as hard as I can during my workout (utilizing 70% of my VO2 Max), I involve all of the muscle fiber types (slow twitch fibers made for endurance, fast twitch for short duration and power and combination type fibers).  Chronic light exercise (less than 40% VO2Max) recruits and causes training effects in only the type 1 fibers that are slow, generate low force, and resist fatigue.  This fact has important implications in the specificity of training and the potential for transferring training effects from one activity to another.

Another benefit to increasing VO2 Max, by way of high intensity interval training (HIIT), is the ability to increase post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).  EPOC is the actual amount of calories (energy) the body continues to burn after a workout is over and is needed to restore homeostasis.  Basically, during the recovery phase (your post-work out phase) your body is burning more calories beyond your exercise routine (this is a good thing).  This does not happen during slow, mild exertion. Like VO2 Max, EPOC is facilitated and maximized during HIIT or rest-based training which is characterized by give-it-all –you-got training until you can’t workout at that intensity and then resting completely until you’re ready to push again.

To summarize, if one works to their highest potential, at their level of perceived exertion using sprints, cycling, runs, jump roping plus adding strength training with weights and their own body weight, and changes the routine every 4-6 weeks (for example) and incorporate a clean diet, is it fair to say that an increase of VO2Max, a decrease in the percentage of fat, and an increase in muscle strength and tone can be achieved at a faster rate?  Yes.

That’s my goal. My next blog will be my personal exercise prescription.

Note: Always check with your doctor before starting any fitness regimen.  A thorough check up can’t hurt and should be done every year.  Many of the routines and diet plans that I create for myself may not be suited for you.  Ask me questions so I can help you if you have any limitations

Barb’s First Week Meal Plan

Wow, I never thought the biggest challenge would be formatting my tabs from my word doc. to WordPress. I’ve played around with formatting for some time–if anyone has any suggestions as to how I can fit six columns horizontally in WP, let me know.  I’d appreciate it!

With that said, I had to retype it vertically so I am only going to to show two meals.

Day 1

Pre-workout Snack

2 apple slices, w/peanut butter and 1 L of water.


2 wheat-free waffles, 2tsp syrup, 1tsp soy butter,  10 whole blueberries.

1 oz. glass of Gary Null’s Green Stuff in water.


6 almonds


Small salad: red and green leaf lettuce, tomato, and 1/4 c. pumpkin and sunflower seeds, 2 tsp. olive oil and lemon.

1 c. water.


1 vanilla soy yogurt with dry cranberries.

1 c. green tea


1 c. squash soup, spelt croutons (4), large salad with 1/4 c three beans mix, celery, green onion spinach, drizzle olive oil and one tsp. red vinegar.

1 8 oz. water w/lemon

Day 2

Pre-workout Snack

1 millet toast with tahini and blackberry jelly, 1/2 lrg. banana

1 L water


scrambled tofu with tumeric and peper, 1 veggie burger patty

1 oz. glass of ‘Gary Null’s Green Stuff’, Red Stuff’ and ‘Suprema C’ in water.


10 grapes


1 c. tempeh w/salsa, 1 c. edamame steamed with a pinch of salt

1 c. water.


1 lrg orange

1 c. green tea


4 oz salmon w/tomato, cleaned capers (removes a lot of salt), steamed bok choy w/lemon

1 8 oz. water w/lemon

1 c. herbal tea w/lemon

We got a lot of snow, so keeping up with my usual outdoor activities was challenging. The good news (I think) was that shoveling heavy snow gave me a total body workout with major emphasis on my core and arms.  Proper body mechanics (bending hips and knees rather than at the waist and lower back) allowed me to do it ALL over again the next day when seven more inches fell in my area.

I was prepared for this storm, so I had plenty of ingredients and loads of time to prepare my meals and divide them for the week.

Moment of Weakness:

I did have some cabin fever, so I did snack a little more than usual. By day two of shoveling, I was sore all over, and therefore, I decided to give my body a break from any workout (especially triceps moves) for at least 24 hours.

How did you do this week?  I’d love to hear from you.

Week 2…Let’s Do It!

Bergen County Massage Therapist New Jersey (NJ) | Alterra Wellness