Numbers are the friend and foe of long time runners. We meticulously log miles, finish runs on round numbers, look for mere seconds to count a race as a PR. Hence my excitement at taking a test that often makes people puke to have some more numbers. While VO2 Max is a point of debate for many coaches, I always find more information helps me understand my body and running better.
VO2 max represents the maximum ability of your body to consume oxygen and is a key indicator of your potential as an endurance athlete. Your performance in endurance sports depends on your ability to consume oxygen at a high rate for a sustained period of time. A high VO2 max is necessary for success in endurance events, but a high VO2 max alone does not ensure success.*
HOW TO TEST VO2 MAX
The first step in my VO2 Max was the RMR Testing that I detailed last week. This test was also performed by Dr. Gonzalez who I found via the New Leaf website. The New Leaf program is specifically tailored to sync the new information to your Garmin! That means while running it will tell you the actual heart rate zone you are in and more accurately calculate a calorie burn (more on calorie burn another time!).
VO2 Max is tested for your specific sport, which means my heart rate zones calculated via running will not apply to cycling or cross fit. The test is performed by putting you on the treadmill or bike trainer, then placing a mask over your mouth and nose. This is the most uncomfortable part for most people as it then requires you to breathe only through your mouth for the system to measure your levels. The entire test will take only 10-15 minutes.
A practitioner starts you at an easy level, then either increases the speed or the incline every couple of minutes until you reach a point where your VO2 Max levels…or you cry uncle because it is your max after all. In my case, we actually ran the test twice and I definitely preferred sticking to a lower speed an increasing the incline, it’s less “I want to puke” instigating.
VO2 MAX AND HEART RATE
A few months ago I pulled out my shiny new Garmin 910XT and was excited to test out training by heart rate. I finally had a strap that would pick up my low heart rate at rest and I loved the easy access to this new data.
But when I started calculating my heart rate online and then attempting to train in those zones, I found it nearly impossible. Here are a few examples of the charts I found:
Chart 1: Uses the standard HR Max calculation and thus the ranges are pretty wide for each category.
Chart 2: In this chart I would be doing tempo runs at 137-147 and sprints at 145-154. This is actually closer to my final results, but still not very accurate.
The other thing missing from these sources is how the body uses fuel. Once I sat down with Dr. Gonzalez at IIPTR it became clear that I am a fat burning machine…right until I get to my thresh hold and then I drop off like like someone tied a lead weight to my feet!
Chart 3 my New Leaf results with HR zones calculated from my VO2 Max and in person testing. This is an example of some of the data you would receive from a New Leaf assessment. These are my results…you can see I really only have 3 zones and that’s because as noted at the end of Zone 3 I drop like a bomb and never made it to Zone 4. This is neither good or bad, it’s just how my body reacts.
VO2 Max 44 -- I think I could have gone further, but unfortunately this was the 2nd time we performed the test as the HR monitor wouldn’t pick up correctly the first time and I really wanted the zones.
Fat usage remains high right up to the end of Zone 3, which is seen more accurately in another chart. This is important for marathon runners because it helps you to understand how you need to fuel during the race!! Since I only start to tap in to carbs when my heart rate gets higher I am likely to need them on hills, as heat increases or if my heart rate starts to increase due to fatigue.
What do some of the elites look like? I think this table proves that VO2 Max can be used to help with training or guide changes, but it isn’t the
|92||Matt Carpenter||Pikes Peak marathon course record holder|
|87.4||Marius Bakken||Norwegian 5k record holder|
|85||Dave Bedford||10k world record holder|
|85||John Ngugi||World XC Champion|
|82||Kip Keino||Olympic 1500 champion|
|81.1||Craig Virgin||twice World cross country champ|
|81||Jim Ryun||US miler WR holder|
|80.1||Steve Scott||US miler 3:47|
|78.6||Joan Benoit||1984 Olympic Marathon Champion|
|71.2||Ingrid Kristiansen||ex-Marathon World Record Holder|
|67.2||Rosa Mota||Marathon runner|
For non-elites here is some info to see how you would compare…I won’t lie I like being in the “superior” category…but now I’ve totally got a goal to get on the elite level which would be closer to 50 for females.
|13-19||<25.0||25.0 – 30.9||31.0 – 34.9||35.0 – 38.9||39.0 – 41.9||>41.9|
|20-29||<23.6||23.6 – 28.9||29.0 – 32.9||33.0 – 36.9||37.0 – 41.0||>41.0|
|30-39||<22.8||22.8 – 26.9||27.0 – 31.4||31.5 – 35.6||35.7 – 40.0||>40.0|
|40-49||<21.0||21.0 – 24.4||24.5 – 28.9||29.0 – 32.8||32.9 – 36.9||>36.9|
|50-59||<20.2||20.2 – 22.7||22.8 – 26.9||27.0 – 31.4||31.5 – 35.7||>35.7|
|60+||<17.5||17.5 – 20.1||20.2 – 24.4||24.5 – 30.2||30.3 – 31.4||>31.4|
|Male (values in ml/kg/min)|
|13-19||<35.0||35.0 – 38.3||38.4 – 45.1||45.2 – 50.9||51.0 – 55.9||>55.9|
|20-29||<33.0||33.0 – 36.4||36.5 – 42.4||42.5 – 46.4||46.5 – 52.4||>52.4|
|30-39||<31.5||31.5 – 35.4||35.5 – 40.9||41.0 – 44.9||45.0 – 49.4||>49.4|
|40-49||<30.2||30.2 – 33.5||33.6 – 38.9||39.0 – 43.7||43.8 – 48.0||>48.0|
|50-59||<26.1||26.1 – 30.9||31.0 – 35.7||35.8 – 40.9||41.0 – 45.3||>45.3|
|60+||<20.5||20.5 – 26.0||26.1 – 32.2||32.3 – 36.4||36.5 – 44.2||>44.2|
Surprisingly for me the HR zones actually told me that while my RPE (rate of perceived exertion) is high, my body can handle more and thus I have been able to push a little harder or longer in tempo and interval workouts. The standard result for most folks is they finally have a true number to gauge their hear rate and realize they have been pushing too hard. If you sit down with someone after doing the test, they can use the data to tailor your training plan.
Have you ever done a VO2 Max? How about just breathing through your mouth with a mask on!
I am grateful for the random cards that show up in the mail from a friend letting you know that no matter how far apart you are the friendship remains.
*Definition from HSS.EDU