My VO2 Max Testing

When my running/massage therapist friend Kyle asked if I would be interested in doing a VO2 max test for free I literally jumped at the offer within seconds. I think my response was “hell yeah!”.

VO2 max is (according to Wikipedia) “the maximum rate of oxygen consumption”. It’s basically how well your body can use the oxygen that it’s taking in and is a measure of fitness. People with a higher VO2 max level will be able to take in and use more oxygen than someone with a lower VO2 max level and can therefore can work more intensely.

It’s one of the reasons many athletes do altitude training. Altitude training (at a specific range of metres above sea level) produce more red blood cells to compensate for the fact that there isn’t as much oxygen available. Then when the athlete goes back to sea level they’re at an advantage as they have a lot more red blood cells than previously and therefore can run harder and faster for longer because they have more oxygen available <—please correct me if I’m talking codswallop, I’m clearly no expert!

Unfortunately finding out your level is not something you can really do without going through a proper extensive test on a treadmill with blood sampling and measuring your oxygen intake – which can be quite pricey. So I was so chuffed to be able to have mine tested for free!

It’s part of a study run by Southampton Solent University – the other week they had the whole of the Southampton football club come in and get there’s tested. Very cool.

Southampton Solent Health and Sport ScienceI knew that this would be hard. It’s no secret that I hate running short distances and I hate that feeling of max effort when your sprinting. I’ll never be a fast sprinter and I’ll never get my 5k time significantly down as mentally and, very likely, physically I just don’t have that drive in me. I like long distances, getting into my stride and just enjoying the run. But for this test it was all about max effort. Oh joy.

I turned up feeling very nervous and without any real idea what to expect (apart from running on a treadmill). I had electrodes attached all over my chest, shoulders and hips. Embarrassingly I had to take my top off for the entire thing, but luckily I was wearing a sports bra which is kind of just like a crop top anyway but I still felt fairly naked.

The tester, Grant, took some readings of my base-line HR and other bits and bobs to make sure I didn’t have any pre-existing issues. None were found, whew. Then it was time to get warmed up and begin the tests.

The treadmill was huge and there was no computer screen to show how fast and far you’re running. This was frustrating – I like feedback! The treadmill was also facing a wall.

VO2 Max Test 2

I’d be running three minutes and then would jump to straddle the stationary sides to get my blood quickly taken, then I’d jump back on the treadmill which would then increase by 1km/hour and another three minutes would commence. This cycle would continue for however long I could keep going.

The pace at the start, as you can imagine, was easy peasey and I trotted along thinking “pft, this is nothing”. But as the three minute intervals went on it started getting a lot harder. For example (if I’ve worked this out correctly), say the pace was 9.40mins/mile the next interval would be 8.49mins/mile, then 8.06mins/mile, to 7.30mins/mile. These are quite significant jumps. And three minutes is actually quite a long time. Especially when there’s nothing to look at or listen to apart from Grant’s occasionally “doing well, getting great data” which I imagine are his stock phrases he tells all his participants… 😉

VO2 Max TestThree minutes is a long time and I longed for those 10 seconds of pause where my finger would be pricked and blood would be taken. I started counting down the minutes and found myself despairing when I realised I’d counted too quickly!

It started just getting too hard. I tried to push on but I found myself moving back on the treadmill as my pace just couldn’t keep up. I was harnessed in so there was never a danger of falling off but I knew it was time to stop. I finished and was very much finished. Sweating like a beast.

I instantly felt disappointed. Why couldn’t I go on for longer? It was very frustrating. Grant said my results were good when I asked him – but I think he was trying to make me feel better as he could tell I was disappointed. The only point of reference I had was that Kyle had said he’d lasted for 30 minutes. I lasted for just 20. Never mind that Kyle is a 5min/mile runner and also male! And I know I’m not in as good a shape as I was this time last year, but still the competitive and perfectionist Anna was not consoled.


My VO2 max magic figure is 56 and I have a resting heart rate of 53. Both of these are pretty good as a female and, despite my initial disappointment, on reflection I’m really pleased with these numbers. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to improve my VO2 max score. Some people can, some people can’t – Paula Radcliffe’s never changed from when she was a young girl to when she was an Olympic athlete (but she was very, very gifted anyway). And it’s unlikely I’ll get tested again, but it’s good to know!

VO2 normsI got a neat report as well with lots of my data and figures that I could geek out over (and scratch my head in confusion). Essentially though some important figures for me were my training zones. I wear a heart rate monitor and obviously my Garmin so it’s nice that I have some actual figures that I can run by in order to hit certain workouts.

  HR Pace                      
Easy Run <162 >8min/mile
Steady Run 162-172 8-7.26min/mile
Tempo Run 172-185 7.26-6.26min/mile
Interval Run >185 <6.26min/mile

Obviously over time (hopefully) I can improve on the paces with more training. But who knows!

Have you ever had a VO2 max test done?

Do you ever get unreasonably disappointed in yourself? I have high expectations for my performance and I’m a perfectionist so always want to be the best I can be. Often though this can cause me a lot of disappointment and frustration (hello injuries).

Do you use a heart rate monitor to work out?