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There are many ways to measure fitness. Sometimes, you can measure it by the number of miles you can run. In other cases, you can measure your fitness by the amount of weight you can lift. Per the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), you can gauge your overall heart and lung fitness by measuring the amount of oxygen your body consumes, which is called VO2. What is VO2 max and why should it matter to you? Here’s what you need to know.
Whether you’re a long-distance runner, a professional soccer player, or a bodybuilder, endurance plays a key role in your performance and success. After all, you need to be strong, but you need to be able to maintain that strength over time, too. VO2, which stands for volume of oxygen, is a significant factor in determining how long your body can keep going. By determining your VO2 max, you can not only gauge the health of your cardio-respiratory system, but you can also better understand your body’s ability to endure over time.
Every process in your body requires oxygen. You need oxygen to digest food. You need oxygen to create neurotransmitters that make your brain work. You definitely need oxygen to fuel your muscles when you’re physically active. To fully understand what is VO2 max, and to truly grasp its importance, you must first understand the physiology behind the VO2 measurement.
The amount of oxygen in the air is roughly 21% by volume. Nitrogen makes up most of the air you breathe, oxygen comes in second, and other gases – like argon and carbon dioxide – make up a very small by-volume percentage. If your body could consume all the oxygen you breathed in with every inhalation, the measured oxygen in exhaled air would be 0%. However, the body does not use all the oxygen it takes in, and some of it is exhaled with each breath. Most people’s exhalations contain about 15% to 18% oxygen, which means you only use anywhere from 3% to 6% of the oxygen you take in. The higher your use, the more efficiently your heart and lungs are delivering oxygen-rich blood to every cell in your body. This is why VO2 max is such a standard measurement of overall fitness.
Your body’s VO2 is a measurement of how much oxygen your body can use in milliliters per every kilogram of your body weight per minute. It’s difficult to get an accurate VO2 reading without sophisticated laboratory equipment, however. These gauges and monitors measure the amount of air you inhale, the amount of oxygen in that air, the volume of air you exhale, and the amount of oxygen in the exhaled air. Then, these figures are combined in a rather complicated equation to provide a number specific to your body and your current environment.
VO2 signifies the volume of oxygen your body uses at any point in time, but VO2 max describes the volume of oxygen your body uses when you’re at the point of maximum exertion. For example, your VO2 measurement while walking on a treadmill would be much lower than the measurement taken when you’re sprinting at your full capacity. VO2 max measurements are taken when you cannot possibly work any harder, and in most cases, the higher your VO2 max measurement, the fitter your cardio-respiratory system.
With all this in mind, what is VO2 max and why should it matter to you? It’s the measurement of the amount of oxygen your body uses, and the more efficiently your body can utilize the oxygen you take in when you breathe, the healthier your heart and lungs. That’s why so many people work hard to improve their measurements through cardio and aerobic training. Read this article to learn how to increase VO2 max.