The ultimate measure of fitness or just another metric?
Athletes in all sports have long been obsessed with their VO2 max, as the indication of their aerobic fitness level and a direct predictor of their aerobic performance. This week we’re going to unbox that a little more to help give you a better understanding of why VO2 max is important and how to structure your long term training.
What is VO2?
Okay, so first things first what is V)2 max for all of us without a Sports Science degree? Quite simply put your, V)2 max is your maximal amount of oxygen you can take in transport and utilize. It is designed to be the measure of the function of your respiratory system to take in the O2 (oxygen gas), your cardiovascular system to transport it, and then your muscular system to be able to use it efficiently.
That is why every off season in every sport the coaches will prescribe a certain amount of Long Steady State (LSS) work, to build on the efficiency of this system and come back to training in season ready to increase the intensity and be ready for whatever you are training for. In rowing these are often referred to as UT2 sessions – something you could do for 40-60mins at a moderate intensity.
What can I do to increase my VO2?
Generally speaking, and in the absence of any respiratory disease, breathing does not limit performance in aerobic exercise. However there are some adaptations in the respiratory system that cannot be changed, your lung size is the prime example of this as genetically the size of the lungs is dictated by the height of the individual (apologies to all those under 6ft!).
Training at your with different aerobic thresholds (percentages), allows the body to decrease the respiratory rate an athlete can work at which results in inspired air staying in the lungs for longer periods of time and an increase in the tidal volume of the individual (see pt 1 of these blogs for what tidal volume is). Essentially, if you want a more efficient aerobic system, you have to work for different times & intensities to allow the body to adapt to the stress you are creating. Just like anything, rowing for 40-60mins only gets you good at rowing for 40-60mins there has to be continued differentiation between the different types of training conducted to elicit a bigger response from the body.
What am I looking at then?
For a healthy, sedentary person they will likely have a VO2 max of around 30-40ml/kg/min. Compared to an elite athlete whose VO2 max may be in the range of 70-80ml/kg/min you can see how the more efficient the aerobic system is, the better the individual will be at being able to take in transport and utilize that O2.
The highest VO2 max scores are found in sports that require greater amounts of musculature to be utilized for more sustained periods of time, so rowing and cross country skiing are great sports for developing this over all.
How do I measure my VO2 max?
Honestly, the best thing anyone can do no matter where they are in the world is go see your local sports science department at your local university and get booked in to conduct a VO2 test. This way you are getting 100% accurate measurements on all the metrics measured and a true representation of what your current measurements are.
Yes, there are other tests out there but in all honesty they are difficult to do accurately and you have to remember they will not be measuring you on the same test equipment all universities have available (you’re talking about a $30-50k piece of testing equipment here!). These tests usually cost around $30-60 and take about an hour and there are test procedures available for doing it on the rower if that is what you want to look at specifically.
Remember training should be something that you enjoy. At its core yes, it should be something that drives performance, but only in a discipline that you want to see improvements in. If your goal is to be better at a given distance, then training absolutely has to be geared towards that and knowing and understanding some of the science behind this can be a great training tool. However if its just to do something during the day and to move a little then ENJOY IT!! Don’t get bogged down with metrics and data, row because you want to and get that enjoyment from it.
Yours in fitness, education and learning about breathing a little deeper.