Simple Fitness, Food and Health Hacks

Hey, I'm Julien. Each week I share a newsletter designed to make you fitter. It's short, smart and actionable16k read it, I'd love you to join too. It's free.

How to Test Your VO2 Max: Easy, Accurate, and Affordable Methods to Choose From

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

We may receive a commission from our affiliate links at no additional cost to you. See disclosures page.


VO2 max – it’s the fitness metric that’s moving beyond elite athletes and into the mainstream.

If you care about your health and longevity, this measurement of your body’s oxygen-processing power matters.

test-vo2-max
  • Save

A simple test could give you the key to a longer, healthier life.

Discover how to test your VO2 max, understand the results, and learn the best ways to boost this critical marker of fitness. Plus, find out why doctors may soon be checking it alongside your blood pressure.pen_spark

The Rising Popularity of VO2 Max

Once a niche term known primarily within professional athletic circles, VO2 max has seen a remarkable surge in mainstream attention. 

This shift is backed by data, with Google Trends highlighting a consistent increase in searches over the past five years. The term has broken out of its athletic echo chamber, attracting interest from “unfit subjects”—a clinical way of describing everyday adults concerned about their health. 

Dr. Peter Attia, a renowned longevity expert, has played a pivotal role in this awakening. Through podcasts and online forums, he’s championed VO2 max improvement as a cornerstone of a longer, healthier life, linking modest increases to significant reductions in mortality risk.

How to Take a VO2 Max Test

If you’re seeking the most accurate assessment of your aerobic fitness, the Laboratory Graded Exercise Test (GXT) is the gold standard. Unlike field tests that provide estimations, the GXT directly pinpoints your VO2 max, along with other valuable insights into your cardiovascular and metabolic health.

What to Expect During a GXT

A GXT typically takes place in a sports science lab or medical facility. Here’s how it goes:

Preparation:

  • You’ll discuss your medical history and fitness goals with a technician or exercise physiologist.
  • They’ll fit you with a mask connected to specialized equipment that analyzes your breath.
  • Electrodes will be attached to your chest to monitor your heart rate (ECG).

Warm-up:  You’ll start on either a treadmill or stationary bike at a low intensity.

Graded Exercise:

  • Every few minutes, the intensity (speed and/or incline on a treadmill, resistance on a bike) will increase incrementally.
  • The technician will monitor your breathing, heart rate, and may ask you to rate your perceived exertion.

Maximal Effort:

You’ll continue exercising until you reach volitional exhaustion, meaning you feel you absolutely cannot go on.

Cooldown: The test ends with a gradual cooldown period.

Why Choose the GXT?

  • Unmatched Accuracy: The GXT provides the most precise VO2 max measurement available.
  • Personalized Insights: Besides VO2 max, the GXT reveals information about your metabolic thresholds, ideal heart rate training zones, and how your body responds to exercise.
  • Diagnostic Potential: In some cases, the GXT can help identify underlying health conditions that may be affecting your performance.

While the GXT offers superior precision, it’s important to consider that it’s generally more expensive than field tests and requires access to specialized facilities.

Accessible Alternatives: The Cooper Test and Smartwatch Estimates

While lab-based tests offer the most precise measurements, there are simpler ways to get a sense of your VO2 max.  These options are great if you’re looking for an affordable baseline or want to track trends over time.

The Cooper 12-Minute Run Test

Developed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper in the 1960s, this classic field test is based on the simple principle: the farther you run in 12 minutes, the higher your estimated VO2 max.

Here’s how it works:

  • Find a flat, measured track or running path.
  • Warm up with some light jogging and stretching.
  • Set a timer for 12 minutes and run as far as you can at a steady pace.
  • Record the distance covered.
  • Use an online calculator or a Cooper test chart to estimate your VO2 max based on your distance, age, and gender.
image 5
  • Save

Smartwatch Estimates

Many popular smartwatches and fitness trackers now offer VO2 max estimations. These devices use your heart rate data during workouts, along with other metrics like pace and GPS data, to calculate a value.

Keep in mind:

  • Accuracy varies greatly between devices and brands.
  • Estimates are best used for tracking changes over time rather than as an absolute number.
  • Factors like resting heart rate and how consistently you wear your device can influence the results.

Pros and Cons

TestProsCons
Cooper TestSimple, affordable, requires minimal equipmentAccuracy affected by pacing, weather, terrain
SmartwatchConvenient, tracks over timeLeast accurate, varies between devices

Remember: These methods provide estimates of your VO2 max. If you want the most precise measurement for serious training or health assessments, consider a laboratory-based GXT.

Practical Advice for Improving Your VO2 Max

Improving your VO2 max starts with consistent aerobic exercise. Giordano emphasized the importance of a diversified workout routine to enhance aerobic capacity, recommending a mix of long-distance, high-intensity, and strength training exercises. Such a regimen not only boosts VO2 max but also supports overall health and longevity.

Conclusion

Taking a VO2 max test offered profound insights into my aerobic fitness, revealing strengths and areas for improvement. It served as a reminder of the importance of cardiovascular health in achieving a long, active life. For anyone looking to understand their fitness level and lay a foundation for healthy aging, investing in a VO2 max test is a step toward informed, proactive health management. The test is more than a measure of athletic potential; it’s a guidepost for living well.

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

Share via
Copy link