Want to know how oxygen-efficient your body is? Your overall cardiovascular health is dependent on how efficiently you process oxygen.

VO2 treadmill testing for runners (or stationary bike testing for cyclists) is a convenient and accurate method to discover just how efficient your oxygen uptake is.

What is a VO2 test?

There are many aspects to fitness, strength, flexibility, endurance and functional movement. And with each aspect there are numerous tests that can be used to assess that aspect of your fitness. 

When it comes to measuring your heart lung (cardio) fitness, the gold standard is gas exchange analysis which tells us how much oxygen your body uses at different intensity levels of exercise.

A VO2 test (also known as a cardiorespiratory fitness test) measures the volume (the ‘V’) of oxygen (O2) consumed during exercise.

Considering that we take in approximately twenty thousand breaths every single day, the ability to efficiently (or inefficiently) intake and process oxygen is an important measure and accurate predictor of one’s level of overall fitness and athletic performance.

This data produced is the most accurate information available for giving individuals the best advice for calculating their training heart-rate zones.

Heart-rate zones are important for both weight management knowledge and also for competitive sport improvements in that they illustrate how well the body is utilising the air breathed in to oxygenate the muscles involved in exercise.

Types of VO2 tests

There are two types of VO2 tests: a submaximal and a max test.

For somebody beginning an exercise routine for the first-time (or recommencing a training schedule after a long lay-off), undertaking a submaximal VO2 test is a prudent and recommended option.

Armed with the results, a gym or personal trainer will be able to knowledgably determine a safe introductory level to recommend an effective exercise program.

Alternatively, a VO2 max test is conducted for the regular exerciser or competitive athlete who wants empirical evidence that their training is producing the maximum results they are aiming for.

Recent innovations have allowed the test to be conducted either on a treadmill for runners (and walkers) or a Computrainer for cyclists.

The Computrainer also produces power based data so that the cyclist can determine workload zones for use with a power meter, rather than attempting to conduct this test in the field with environmental or traffic influences.

If the athlete uses heart rate data for training purposes, the power results can be used to match to heart rate intensity.

What to expect from your VO2 test

The VO2 test (both max and submaximal) will inform:

  • Peak oxygen consumption
  • Calories burned at different heart rates
  • Aerobic and anaerobic threshold
  • Target intensity zones

Shot of a male patient running on a treadmill with oxygen mask and doctor in white uniform. The man is performing a VO2 Test.

The subsequent data produced will ensure a program can be designed by an accredited exercise physiologist or trainer to produce the results required by the client.

This is a big step-up from the generic wall charts featuring the whole population that are regularly found on gym and clinician walls.

VO tests were once the sole preserve of Olympic and professional athletes but are now available to anyone at a fraction of the cost.

All people undertaking a VO2 test (both sub-maximal and maximal), should be pre-screened to ensure it is safe to complete the test.

Those wishing to undertake a VO2 max test should undergo additional screening to ensure safety in completing this level of testing. Please note some clients may be asked to seek medical clearance from their Doctor before testing, as an additional safety measure.

How is a VO2 test performed?

Firstly, prepare for your test by refraining from exercise in the twenty-fours prior.

Refrain too from food, alcohol, coffee and smoking (really, please…?!) for the 3 hours prior to your scheduled appointment.

  1. Put on a heart rate strap and mask which covers the mouth and nose to collect expired air.
  2. Begin to exercise on a treadmill, stationary bike, your own bike on the Computrainer.
  3. Testing will typically last between 6 to 20 minutes.
  4. Cool down while the device prints out a results report that indicates your personal accurate training zones.

What results should I expect from my VO2 test?

The test experts will be overlooking the test to witness when your body’s consumption of oxygen remains steady, despite the increasing pace of the treadmill or the incline of the bike.

The test will likely last somewhere between ten to fifteen minutes and you will work up a sweat! Once the data has been analysed and assessed you’ll recieve your VO2 score.

Expect a number somewhere between 25-50. The average 21st century male with sedentary lifestyle characteristics will likely score in the range of 35-40 and the average female in the vicinity of 25-30.

The score is a calculation of oxygen consumed per minute against each kg of your body weight.

Scores are obviously influenced by age, gender, fitness level and, less obviously, by altitude. If you live at high altitude you have to get by on ‘thinner’ air and so your body will likely be more ‘oxygen-efficient’.

The fitter you are, the better you’ll score. After your benchmark test, the more you train (effectively), the greater you will improve on your baseline number.


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