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How to Measure and Improve Your VO2 Max

How to Measure and Improve Your VO2 Max

Find out how to measure and improve your VO2 Max score by increasing it and see how accurate Apple, Coros, Polar, and Garmin watches are compared to lab tests!

Watch a Review: Testing Apple, Polar, Coros, and Garmin Watches for VO2Max Accuracy!

What Is VO2 Max?

According to Garmin, the top brand in fitness watches:

“VO2 max is a single number that describes your cardiorespiratory fitness. It tracks the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize in a single minute of intense exercise. This information is essential for understanding your ability to fuel activity by using your aerobic energy pathways. In other words, the higher your VO2 max, the more oxygen you can import, transport, and utilize to aerobically transform the energy stored in nutrients into performance.”

Put another way, our go-to running expert, Dave from Chase the Summit says that, in short, “VO2 Max is measurement of the maximum rate of oxygen your body is able to use during exercise.” 

V = Rate

O2 = Oxygen

Max = Maximum

What Is VO2 Max For? Who Should Use It?

Per Dave, “The moral of the story is that the higher your VO2 Max is, that is a direct indication of how fit you currently are when it comes to cardio exercises like running and cycling.”

A black Garmin watch with VO2 Max score of 51 in the excellent range on the display

What Is a Good VO2 Max Number?

There is a VO2 Max scale that ranges from Poor to Superior. The full spectrum of numbers is divided into 5 categories:

  • Poor
  • Fair
  • Good
  • Excellent
  • Superior

Both gender and age for VO2 Max are factors that are considered, which is why there is a chart for females and a chart for males. 

Below you can check out screenshots from Dave at Chase the Summit’s video to see these charts.

VO2 Max chart for males:

Age  20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69 70-79
Superior 55.4 54 52.5 48.9 45.7 42.1
Excellent 51.1 48.3 46.4 43.4 39.5 36.7
Good 45.4 44 42.4 39.2 35.5 32.3
Fair 41.7 40.5 38.5 35.6 32.3 29.4
Poor <41.7 <40.5 <38.5 <35.6 <32.3 <29.4


What is a good VO2 Max for females?

Age  20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69 70-79
Superior 49.6 47.4 45.3 41.1 37.8 36.7
Excellent 43.9 42.4 39.7 36.7 33 30.9
Good 39.5 37.8 36.3 33 30 28.1
Fair 36.1 34.4 33 30.1 27.5 25.9
Poor <36.1 <34.4 <33 <30.1 <27.5 <25.9


How Is VO2 Max Calculated?

VO2 max is typically measured in milliliters of oxygen consumed in a minute per kilogram of body weight (mL/kg/min).

To get the most accurate VO2 Max score, you can pay a specialized lab to test you for it as Dave and his wife do in the video. Dave then uses the lab results to compare the accuracy of the estimated VO2 Max scores he has gotten from using several different running watches from brands like Garmin, Coros, Apple, Suunto, Polar, and Amazfit.

Getting Your VO2 Max Score From a Lab

In this case, the test will be conducted at a specialized facility using specialized equipment. You will likely be tested on a treadmill or stationary bike. You’ll wear an ECG heart rate sensor on your chest along with a mask with a hose that connects to a machine that measures the oxygen going in and carbon dioxide going out to determine how much oxygen your body is using during the exercise. 

During the test, a technician incrementally increases the intensity of the exercise until you cannot sustain the intensity. Yes, as Dave points out, it is very strenuous.  

Getting Your Estimated VO2 Max From a Fitness Smartwatch

Many smartwatches these days offer an estimated VO2 Max score. These watches combine a variety of information collected by your watch to estimate your VO2 Max, including gender, age, GPS activity for steps and speed, and heart rate.  

So, which smartwatches came the closest to a lab VO2 Max score?

How Accurate Are Smartwatches with Estimated VO2 Max?

In his testing, Dave scored in the excellent range for his age with a VO2 Max of 51.1.

When he compared that score with many of the running watches he used, he found that Garmin, Coros, Apple, and Suunto produced scores close to the lab score. We highly recommend you watch the video for more detail or check it out in the image below where the scores are circled in the brand’s app from left to right: Garmin, Coros, Apple, and Suunto.

An image of four apps (Garmin, Coros, Apple, Suunto respectively) with VO2 Max scores circled in red

He found that his Polar Ignite 3 and Amazfit running watches resulted in scores that deviated a bit more from the lab scores. 

Factors That Play Into VO2 Max Accuracy on Your Smartwatch

The optical heart rate sensors in wearables can produce different results because of several variables, including:

  • Skin Color
  • Body Fat Percentage
  • Arm Hair Density
  • Tattoos
  • Size and Tightness of the Watch

How to Improve or Increase VO2 Max

As we learned above from both Garmin (running GPS watch experts) and Dave (serious ultra runner), the higher your VO2 Max number, the better. So, to improve it and your cardio workout, you’ll want to increase it. This will typically consist of workouts that push your heart rate into a higher zone (90–95 percent of your max heart rate). 

Workouts you can do to increase your VO2 Max may include:

  • High Intensity
  • Interval Training
  • Interval combined with continuous training
  • Exercises that challenge your endurance
  • Finding your 5K and 10K times—the pace you can run the distance
  • For cyclists, finding your functional threshold power (FTP)—the highest amount of power you can sustain for an hour

Final Thoughts on VO2 Max Accuracy

We highly recommend our partner Dave's video on Chase the Summit. He is a serious runner who has tested and reviewed many multisport GPS watches over long periods of time from top brands like Garmin, Apple, Coros, Polar and more. He has over 100K subscribers on his YouTube channel for his honest reviews of running and fitness products.

In his video, you can get a complete understanding of how to get an absolute VO2 Max score from a lab. But more importantly, he shows you the brands you can trust on your wrists for accuracy if VO2 Max is something you want to measure and improve to get the most out of your workouts.

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