How to Increase Your VO2 Max

The best training techniques for improving your aerobic capacity

There are a number of different techniques you can use to improve your athletic abilities. One in particular involves increasing your VO2 max.

The term VO2 max refers to the maximum rate at which your body can consume oxygen during physical activity. The higher your VO2 max, the more oxygen you’ll be able to deliver to your muscles and therefore, the better your body will be able to perform and endure physical activity.

Related: What is VO2 Max?

“Increasing your VO2 max requires your respiratory system to collect oxygen more efficiently and your cardiovascular system to absorb and transport it to tissues in your body,” says Crystal Reeves, a NASM certified personal trainer and co-founder of MadSweat Fitness.

Although some studies have shown that 25 to 50% of your body’s natural VO2 max is probably determined by your genes, it is still possible to elicit an increase through specific types of training.

“Athletes who want to increase their VO2 max will need to incorporate interval training workouts in their exercise programs,” says Reeves.

Related: What is Interval Training?

So what exactly might your interval workouts involve and how often should you perform them? The details of an interval workout and frequency of training will vary greatly among individuals. The specifics of your workouts should coincide with clearly defined goals. 

“During interval training athletes might increase speed, incline or resistance to increase their heart rate,” adds Russell Wynter, also a co-founder at MadSweat . “The modality used will be based on the athlete’s sport and how often they perform these types of workouts is highly independent from one athlete to the next.”

Wynter mentioned that calculating VO2 max usually involves expensive lab equipment that isn’t typically available to the amateur athlete so aside from monitoring your performance, you may not be able to track your progress directly.

However, heart rate training is an effective and more readily available tool that you can use to gauge your training and growth. Wynter explains NASM’s heart rate zone stage training and how it can be used for interval training below.

Zone 1: 65 to 75% of your max heart rate

Zone 2: 76 to 85% of your max heart rate

Zone 3: 86 to 95% of your max heart rate

“Zone 1 is used primarily for warming up, cooling down and recovery,” says Wynter.” Zones 2 and 3 are used in interval training. When looking to improve VO2max athletes must train in zones 2 and 3.”

He notes that training in zone 2 will stimulate increases in both anaerobic and aerobic capacity, while training in zone 3 exclusively increases anaerobic capacity, which is related to your lactate threshold—the point at which your body is no longer able to clear lactate and your muscles begin to fatigue.

“With respect to intervals, start with a work to rest ratio of 1:3 (e.g. sprint for 30 seconds and recover for 90 seconds) and progress to a 1:1 work to rest ratio,” says Wynter.

Keep in mind that adequate nutrition is an important part of any training program, especially those that include high intensity exercise. In terms of pre-and post-workout fuel, Reeves recommends the following guidelines:

  • Consume a high carbohydrate meal 2 to 4 hours before your workout.
  • Aid recovery by consuming 1.5 grams of carbohydrates for every kilogram of your own bodyweight after your workout.
  • Drink 14 to 22 ounces of fluid (preferably water) 2 hours before exercise.
  • During exercise aim to drink 6 to 12 ounces every 15-20 minutes.

Related: How Much Water Should You Drink to Stay Hydrated?