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How do I Increase VO2 Max?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated May 17, 2024
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VO2 max is basically the amount of oxygen the body can effectively use during extremely strenuous exercise. Athletes strive to increase VO2 max to better perform during competition and sustain a high level of endurance. Athletes just starting out, or people who were previously sedentary, may find themselves at the bottom of the VO2 max ladder, but there are ways to increase the oxygen level quickly and effectively. The first step in doing so is getting tested to find out your current level of VO2 max and designing a workout plan that will help you increase your oxygen level quickly and safely.

Aerobic workouts, such as running, cycling, or using elliptical machines, are a good way to begin the process meant to increase oxygen intake. One must realize, however, that people who are already quite athletic may not see large gains in VO2 max when they start and maintain their training program. The biggest gains are generally seen in people who are relatively sedentary in daily life and who take up a training routine. Working consistently over several weeks is the key to one's ability to increase VO2 max.

A workout routine meant to increase VO2 max will be rigorous and consistent. You will need to do the workout at least three times a week for six months or more to see noticeable gains. When working out — whether on a bicycle, treadmill, elliptical, or other aerobic machinery — it is important to monitor your output. The most effective way to increase your VO2 max level is to work at about seventy five percent output, which essentially means you are working almost as hard as you possibly can, but not quite. You are exerting about seventy five percent of your possible best effort.

Many trainers recommend burst intervals for VO2 max training. This means you will do an aerobic activity — cycling, for example — for a defined period of time, then you will rest for a defined period of time. The idea is to ramp up your heart rate to the correct level, sustain it, then let it drop off to a lower rate. Repeat the process to help build endurance and oxygen consumption. You should cycle at a pace above your normal race pace, if you have one to begin with. If you don't, you should ride at a pace that is faster than you are used to. Generally speaking, your VO2 max is reached when your heart rate is above its target zone, which is the optimal heart rate for an efficient workout.

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