How to Increase Your VO2 Max

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An important measure of sports fitness is aerobic capacity or VO2 max, which is the amount of oxygen your body can consume and turn into energy. It's important for your body's ability to compete in short to long-distance races. When improved it can offer a competitive edge. Here are some ways to get just that.

  • Start exercising! Couch potatoes actually have the most to gain in the VO2 max game. Just by beginning a moderate running program (25 miles per week), a sedentary person can improve VO2 max by 20 percent. In terms of percentage, the gains go down from there.

  • If you increase your mileage to get VO2 max improvements, try to keep up the pace. Decreasing your speed and running longer won't yield the same results.

  • Though there is some controversy about whether they improve VO2 max, many exercise physiologists advocate intensity drills. Try running at a pace that will bring your heart rate to 75-80 percent of maximum.

  • It's not practical to run long distances at such high intensity, so most people increase speed in a few intervals, or drills, per training session: 3 to 5-minute bursts of speed with a slower recovery pace between.

  • It's hard work to achieve optimal VO2 max--which varies considerably due to choice of sport and genetic makeup--but once you're there, it's hard to lose it. Competitive athletes may "taper," or decrease training, for weeks before a major event with little noticeable loss in this fitness component.

Tips & Warnings

  • To get your maximum heart rate in terms of beats per minute, subtract your age from 220.
  • VO2 max is only one aspect of successful training. A positive outlook, form and lactate (lactic acid) threshold can actually outweigh an impressive VO2 max.
  • While fat loss can boost VO2 max, muscle loss will hamper it. Pay close attention to nutrition that balances carbohydrates and proteins.
  • Always go slow when expanding an exercise program. Increase mileage gradually to avoid stress and injury. And if you really are starting from the couch, consult a physician to make sure your body can cope.

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