Aug 24, 2018

Using VO2 Max in SportTracks

Push your limits by tracking and training with VO2 max

If you're the type of person who uses data to improve your running, cycling, rowing, skiing, etc. — VO2 max is a number you should be paying attention to. Recent advances in technology have taken this tried-and-true endurance metric out of the lab and placed it gently into your regular workouts and analysis sessions, without forcing you to strap on a face mask.

The basics: What is VO2 max?

Not to be confused with lung capacity or lung volume, VO2 max is the measure of how efficiently your body takes in and delivers oxygen to your muscles. It's an assessment of your aerobic fitness. The higher your VO2 max is, the better equipped you are to excel in your sport.

Until recently, VO2 max was a metric that you could only get by visiting a sports performance lab and enduring an uncomfortable and difficult test. The test requires you to run on a treadmill (or ride a stationary bike, etc.) at high intensities while wearing a face mask and a heart rate strap. As an alternative, you could calculate various forms of heart rate data to determine a less accurate VO2 max measurement.

A person running on a treadmill wearing a face mask while taking a Vo2 max test indoors

Today we have watches and bike computers that can estimate your current VO2 max. While not as accurate as lab tests, they're widely considered to be accurate enough to be valuable. Lab tests only provide a snapshot of your level of fitness at the time they're taken. When your fitness improves or declines, the costly test results lose their accuracy. VO2 max estimators accompany you on every workout and race, and provide much more insight on your current state.

How to interpret the data

A VO2 max reading is a number from 0 to 100, which runs the gamut from corpse to superhero (an Olympic cross-country skier holds the record for the highest-ever recorded VO2 max with a reading of 96). The average VO2 max for non-athletic men is around 40, the average for women is around 30.

A good way to get started is to gather some data and later analyze it to determine your baseline. Like the name implies, VO2 max is about maximums. It's more fitting to look at intense efforts, rather than easy workouts. Some VO2 max estimators require a few minutes of activity to stabilize, so keep this in mind during analysis.

Once you have your baseline figured out, you can start training to improve it. A quick Google search turns up plenty of suggested workouts designed to improve your VO2 max. The goal of these workouts is nice and simple: Train to make your VO2 max number go up. Be warned: these workouts tend to be intense. Advancements in this area aren't the golden key to crushing PRs and achieving your goals, but it can certainly help and it's worthy of your time and attention.

The main fitness chart from the Workout Detail page of SportTracks training software showing Running Power, Heart Rate, and VO2 max

How can I track my VO2 max?

If you work out with a Garmin watch or bike computer that runs a VO2 max estimator, this data will automatically be imported into SportTracks with your workouts, and you can analyze it in your Workout Detail chart and on your Health page. If your Garmin device has access to Connect IQ, there are a multitude of free VO2 max apps available for you to download and use.

To display your VO2 max data on your Health page, first choose the panel you want to use and click its gear icon. In the window that opens select "VO2 max." Depending on what Connect IQ app you're using, you may have more than one choice (such as separate options for Running and Cycling). When you're done, just select the "Close" button. Your VO2 max chart will now be visible.

Thanks for checking out this post! If you have any questions about VO2 max, we would love to hear them in the Comments section below...



Sam, While you article in very general terms is important information, the generalizations caused several major issues. For example, VO2 max can never be ZERO! You are dead if VO2 max was zero. VO2 max is also NOT how efficient you take in oxygen into your body. VO2 max is the maximal amount of oxygen your body can consume per minute and determined by the physiological integration and functioning of cardiac system, cardiovascular blood delivery, the pulmonary system, and metabolic biochemistry of the muscle. Metabolic efficiency IS NOT MEASURED USING VO2 max values! It is measured in a variety ways that looks at things like the amount of oxygen consumed at a given running pace, cycling watts etc. Furthermore, average VO2 max values are age dependent. The value you quoted for men = to 40 mls/kg/min was for a male age 40-49 yrs old while the female value = 30 mls/kg/min was for a 50-59 yr old. For example, if a 65 yr old male athlete had a VO2 max of 40 mls/kg, his VO2 max would rank him at the 83rd percentile saying he was aerobically fitter than 83% of the men his age. But, if that same value occurred in a 25 year old, the person would rank in the 30th percentile or is onlyh fitter than 30% of the population his age according the standards that are published by the American College of Sports Medicine Exercise Testing Guidelines; the gold standard organization in this area. Finally, it is basically impossible for any healthy active person to have a VO2 max below 16.5 mls/kg which is equal to 1st percentile at best in men or women. Thus, any VO2 max below this number are only seen in people nearing the end of their respective lives. Dr. B. FACSM, FNAASO.. Please be careful in the future in how you generalize important fitness info so we as health professionals do not mis-inform our readers! Thanks.

Thanks for filling in some of those details, Jazzer. We always strive to make advanced sports tech information as approachable as possible, so even complete beginners can read the articles and get something out of it. One of the challenges of this approach is deciding what to put in, and what to leave out. The goal of this article wasn't to provide a complete understanding of VO2 max from top to bottom, but rather to explain the basics and share the news of how it's now integrated into SportTracks, and how you can get it to display on the Health page.

But again, you have a valid point, and we appreciate your feedback. 

None of the data SportsTracks collects can estimate the athlete's VO2max. Plus, it is irrelevant for training purposes anyhow. What folks need is their vVO2max. [velocity at VO2max] Elite runners have about twice as high vVO2max as do ordinary runners. e.g, the elite 4.5min/mile at 70(mL/kg/min) and the typical runner 9min/mile at 70(mL/kg/min). Note the VO2max values are the same.

Runners can estimate their running economy [vVO2max] by running as fast as they can for exactly 6:00 minutes. Then calculate their velocity by dividing the distance they ran in meters and dividing by 360 secs. e.g. 1600 meters / 360secs = 4.4 m/sec. As the athlete improves he/she can simply run the test to see how much farther they can run in 6:00mins.

No problem Sam. As past President of the Midwest Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine and Fellow in ACSM who has been one of authors of the ACSM guidelines, I always try, in a positive way, to add commentary so we do not mis-inform people. In the future, I would suggest to just to add a few specifics when you using sample values. And always make sure generalizations are not out-right wrong, i.e., VO2 max ranges from 0-100 mls/kg/min. I would even consider adding a reference link when possible to a credible source. Have a great day!

I see this in my Health page, but not in Workout details chart, even though I have Garmin Fenix 5+ and run with HRM. I guess I need dedicated ConnectIQ field for that?


I see the VO2max Value in the activities, but no values in the health page when selecting VO2max, even not if I select VO2max (running) or VO2max (biking).
What can I do?
I have a Fenix 5s.

Regards, Axel