VO2 Max Fitness Testing: What is it?

VO2 Max Fitness Testing

If you are a sports fan, like many of us are, you have no doubt heard the term ‘VO2 max’. But unless you are an athlete or fitness professional, you may not know what it means. At the most basic level, it is a way of testing someone’s aerobic fitness but is also so much more than that.

VO2 Max Simplified

For both athletes and the general public, knowing what your aerobic fitness level is can be very important. For an athlete, knowing their fitness level and if has increased or decrease make a huge difference to their individual training programs. For the average person, knowing your fitness level is a great place to start when beginning a gym program. But what exactly is fitness testing?

VO2 max testing is the term used to describe a way of testing a person’s maximal oxygen uptake or cardiovascular fitness. As you are aware, when we perform any type of exercise, our heart rate increases. When we participate in cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, not only does our heart rate increase but our breathing as well. As our heart beats faster, more blood is pumped through the body, and with it, more oxygen.

You are probably wondering what all this has to do with fitness. In simple terms, the fitter you are the more oxygen you are able to move around your body (through your blood) when you exercise. VO2 max testing allows fitness professionals (such as a coach, personal trainer, exercise scientist, or exercise physiologist) to work out how much oxygen is being carried in your blood and pumped into your muscles during exercise. The more oxygen you can pump through your body during exercise, the higher your fitness level.

Maximal and Sub-maximal Fitness Testing

When the time comes to perform a fitness test, there are a number of tests available to help fitness professionals work out your fitness level and they fall into two groups: maximal and sub-maximal testing.

Generally reserved for professional and semi-professional athletes, maximal VO2 max testing is full-on and pushes the athlete to the absolute limit of their cardiovascular abilities. Maximal VO2 max testing requires the athlete to exercise to the point of complete fatigue, where they physically cannot run or cycle anymore. Maximal VO2 testing is more complex and requires a number of professionals to help perform the test. If you have ever seen a photo of an athlete on a bike or treadmill, hooked up to a large computer by a strange contraption on their head and tube in their mouth, you are seeing a maximal VO2 max test in progress.

Thankfully, sub-maximal VO2 max testing is much easier to perform and participate it, and is preferable for sporting teams and the general public. Sub-maximal VO2 max testing determines your fitness level by the way your heart rate responds the intensity level or work load used during the test. Once the work load/intensity level and heart rates are known, a fitness professional can then tell you your fitness level, or how much oxygen you are pumping through your body.

Types of VO2 max Fitness Tests

Fitness professionals have a variety of choices when it comes to performing a VO2 max test and the type of test they choose will often depend on who is being tested and where. When testing an individual, exercise or monarc bikes, treadmills, and steps are the most common methods used, while the beep test is a popular choice when training sports teams.

Bike tests

Bike tests are the most common option for fitness testing in a gym. Most gyms will offer the choice of an exercise bike with built in fitness test such as the LifeCycle bike (the best option for older adults, or for someone who is obese, or very unfit) or a Monarc bike. The Monarc bike is designed specifically for fitness testing and has a weight attached to the wheel. This weight is adjusted every 3 minutes to increase the work load while you are exercising and the way in which your heart rate responds helps to determine your fitness level.

Treadmills/walking tests

A walking test is one option that is more commonly used by personal trainers who don’t work in a gym. In this test, your heart rate is recorded as you walk for a set distance (normally 1.6 kms) and the time it takes is also noted. Your heart rate and the time it takes to walk the distance is then used to determine your fitness level. One of the advantages of this test is that you can instantly see that your fitness has improved at the next test by the time it takes you to walk the distance.

Step tests

A popular home testing method and often used by schools, the step test combines the height of the step with the number of steps you complete in one minute, to calculate your fitness level. As with the walking tests, you can instantly tell if your fitness has improved at your next test by how many steps you are able to do.

Beep test

Popular with sporting clubs and other organisations, the beep test requires participants to run between two markers set 20 meters apart and is known as a multi-stage test. The athlete or client is required to run between the two markers, starting when the beep sounds and arrive at the other end before the beep is heard again. As the test progresses, the beeps sound closer together, making it necessary to run faster as you are getting tired, just to keep up. Once the athlete misses two beeps in a row (i.e. cannot reach the marker before the beep sounds) they need to stop and the last staged noted is the equivalent of their fitness level.

VO2 max fitness testing is a great way for all people, athlete or not, to discover their fitness level. When you are starting your journey to health and fitness it helps to have a starting point to refer back to in the weeks and months that follow to see how you are improving and fitness testing is a great way of doing just that.