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Understanding V02 Max and Your Fitness Level

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Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific exercise. This month we breakdown your V02 max and help you understand your maximal oxygen intake and what it means for your level of fitness.

What Is V02 Max?

To keep it simple, the V02 max is how good your body is at using up oxygen. But first, to really understand what it means we’ll need a simple lesson in basic physiology.

Oxygen Delivery

It all starts in your nose/mouth – literally. As you inhale oxygen rushes in to your lungs where there is an oxygen exchange in the blood in tiny tissues called your alveolar sacs. All this is happening because of your body’s natural pump called your heart. The heart helps the newly oxygenated blood go from the lungs and to the heart where it can be sent out to the rest of your body.

What Oxygen Consumption Means For You

So, you get to the gym. You go from a resting state, hop on the treadmill, start doing some burpees, or start lifting some weights. Your muscles use oxygen to help your body move. You start breathing heavier as oxygen demands increase as your heart beats faster trying to get oxygen rich blood out to your muscles which are gasping for oxygen. This is where your V02 max comes into play.

What The V02 Max Means

While you’re running/doing burpees/lifting weights, the V02 max is how well your body is at using oxygen. Overall, it’s a pretty good measure of ones overall cardiovascular health. This is why some people will be gasping for air sweating like crazy while others will be performing the same exercise routine with ease. The body as we know it is very good at adapting to stresses we put on it (although often it eventually comes back to haunt us when the stress is unhealthy). When it comes to physical fitness, the case is a little different, however. As our bodies demands for oxygen increases the heart adapts to getting better at pumping out blood to the rest of our body.

The heart is just like any other muscle in the body and this applies to your workouts as well. As your heart needs to meet the demands of your muscles, the heart muscles of the left ventricle (the heart chamber responsible for pumping out blood to the rest of your body) becomes stronger and better at getting blood out to the rest of the body.

The End Result:

Your body becomes more efficient at delivering oxygen to your tissues. This is why people with efficient V02 often have lower blood pressures and slower heart rates when their body is at rest. When it comes to exercise, your body also becomes more efficient and adaptive to high intensity exercise with high oxygen demands.

The Easiest Way To Find Out Your V02 Max

The easiest way to find out your V02 Max is usually performed on a treadmill in a sports performance lab under strict protocol. Lung gasses are measured as a person is taken to higher and higher performance levels until you reach your maximal effort – which can only be sustained for so long.

A non-lab way to test your V02 Max:

This way won’t give you a precise numerical V02 max but with a simple notebad you can determine a trend in your V02 max and whether it’s worsening, getting better, or going nowhere. Start out with moderate exercise and take your intensity to higher and higher levels. The goal is to increase your exercise to the point where you have to stop your intensity due to simple exhaustion.

A person who is unconditioned and overweight may reach their V02 max just walking on a treadmill. At the same time a conditioned person may reach their V02 max during a round of Crossfit WOD’s or HITT training.

Increasing Your V02 Max: Your body is a machine. Bump up your intensities, specifically HITT to the point of exhaustion. You’ll be surprised what your body can do one week what it couldn’t do a week earlier. There’s also a lot to be said for nutrition as optimal athletic performance and optimum nutrition go hand in hand. For example, an anemic person who increases iron in their diet could increase their oxygen carrying capability of their blood and thus increasing their V02 max.

So the moral of the story: get out there. Take yourself to exhaustion and watch your cardiorespiratory system benefit.

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Clark, M., Corn, R., Lucett, S. NASM Essentials Of Personal Training. National Academy Of Sports Medicine. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008. 51. Print.

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