Fitness trackers and wearable fitness technology are a rising trend for both serious athletes and individuals who like to occasionally exercise. Both types are caring more about their health stats these days, and VO2 plays a big role in that department.
VO2 Max has been used in high-end watches for a while now, but it has begun to go mainstream, being used on the latest popular fitness devices too.
For example, the Fitbit Charge 2 uses VO2 Max to display its Cardio Fitness score. The higher end Garmin devices are using it too, such as the Fenix 3 HR. So, what is VO2 Max, and how does it measure overall fitness? Can a fitness tracker or smartwatch be trusted to give a correct reading?
The maximum volume of O2 (oxygen) which is transferred to the blood, is what VO2 Max represents. When you exercise, this level increases, and VO2 Max is the level at which the amount of oxygen you processes hits its max and levels out. The milliliters of oxygen processed per kilogram of body weight per minute, is how VO2 Max is measured. So, if you are a serious athlete, more oxygen can pass through your body versus a less fit athlete.
Why VO2 Max is important in fitness
If you want to concentrate on improving your physical fitness, looking at your VO2 Max score is one of the best ways to do so. There are lots of fitness wearables to look at, if your VO2 Max is a big focus.
These include the Garmin Forerunner 735XT and the 630, along with the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Fenix 3 HR. Also in the mix are the Jabra Sport Pulse and the Polar V800.
There are several benefits to knowing your VO2 Max. Garmin’s Fitness and Wellness product manager, Shane Harman gives some insight.
“VO2 Max is displayed as a number, anywhere from 40-80 (the total millilitres of oxygen that you can process per minute). You can therefore understand in black and white your current level of fitness. By implementing training you should hopefully see that number increase. If it is not increasing, your training is not having the desired effect and you can look to make some changes,” Harman explains.
It is important to keep in mind that a normal medical VO2 Max test is done in a lab and requires an individual to wear a mask while performing an increasingly difficult treadmill run, and during that time, the volume of oxygen entering and leaving the lungs is measured. This level of accuracy is not within the capability of a wristband or watch. Therefore, wearable tech measurements are just a good estimate.
It is critical to enter your age, sex and weight correctly into your device, because that information determines many of the assumptions your device will make about you. The next important elements are heart rate and speed, which can both be measured accurately with wearable devices.
Improving your amount of aerobic exercise is the best way to improve your VO2 Max score, and this should be able to create a change in 4-12 weeks. Keep in mind, if you don’t train hard enough, your levels might decrease.
There are a few issues, however, with VO2 Max. When running uphill, your heart rate is usually higher, and your speed is slower. This can be measured as a lower fitness level. The same thing can happen for downhill runs too.
Garmin and Fitbit track your score over time, so if you’re changing your routes, the average should be pretty accurate. Just make sure to get out running several times before you start focusing on your scores.