Training for Endurance: VO2max



by Coach Caroline

If you are a runner or a serious cardio junky, you probably own a Garmin or other similar device to measure mileage and track your heart rate. Most recreational runners and athletes calculate Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) using a common formula (MHR = 220 - age) to find their ideal training zones. A 40-year-old woman, for example, would have a MHR of 180. Generally speaking, this method works well with the caveat being that it isn’t precise for each individual, but rather a suggestion for the average person based on age alone.

Setting Your Target Heart Rate

To understand your MHR for maximum performance, I recommend getting your VO2max tested. VO2max is the measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. In exercise, the higher the workload (i.e. the faster you run), the more oxygen your body requires in order to metabolize the energy needed. The point at which you reach maximum consumption is the VO2max. This is often an all-out sprint, which can only be sustained for a short time. In short, the higher your max the higher your ability to exercise intensely.

During our recent visit to DEXA FIT, I had my VO2max tested and the results were eye opening. I was put on a treadmill with a large mask over my nose and mouth. With gradual increases in speed and incline, the facilitator brought me up to a full sprint where I was no longer able to speak. I held that pace for 30 seconds while he measured my breathing and heart rate.

As a lifelong runner, I wasn’t overly surprised to learn that my VO2max came in at 47.4 mlO2/kg/min. For my gender and age bracket, that puts me at a Superior level (above 40). To give you some comparison, a couch potato might come in at a “very low” level of below 23, while Lance Armstrong’s is 85.

How to Apply VO2max to Your Training Program 

My peak heart rate at my VO2max was 171. From there, I was given a complete breakdown of specific training zones so that I know where to keep my heart rate in order to meet my personal fitness objectives:                               


Given this information, when Coach Lee asks me to do an Aerobic run, as a 40-year-old woman I might initially think I should keep my heart rate at 140. However, based on this test, I should keep my heart rate between 123 and 138. And, during that hour-long run, I’ll burn between 534 and 636 calories.

If you are serious about your training, and want to achieve optimal results in target heart rate zones the VO2max test is for greatest tool for success. The test can be done at DEXA FIT alone for $99, or combined with the DXA Body Composition scan and the Resting Metabolic Rate scan for $266. If you have questions, please ask me! I’m happy to help get you set up.