Imagine two friends running a race with the same height, weight and training under their belt. One effortlessly blazes through the finish line, while the other lags behind, dry heaving by the time they reach the finish line. How is that possible? It’s all got to do with VO2 max.
What Is VO2 Max?
Daphnie Yang, CPT, founder of HIIT IT!, says, “VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can use during intense exercise. Many athletes want to increase theirs because it is an indicator of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.”
Basically, the more efficiently your body is able to transport and use oxygen, the harder you can train without feeling totally out of breath, according to Yang. Fitness coaches measure VO2 max by having you run on a treadmill, while strapped to a machine that measures the amount of oxygen you’re using. But you can approximate your own VO2 max by using an online tool, like this one. Simply enter the number of miles you ran and the amount of time it took you. Then, check out this chart to see your rating and how you compare with other people in your age group.
Keep in mind that your running pace can vary considerably, depending on how you feel that day and your level of effort. To get a more honest estimate of your own VO2 max, it’s best to pick a day when you’re feeling strong and rested, and can put in at least 90 percent exertion.
Press HIIT to Boost Your VO2 Max
Think your haven’t reached your full potential? If you want to sprint the speeds of Usain Bolt, or power through land and water like world record-breaking triathlete Jan Frodeno, then you’ll have to condition your body with intense training.
“A common mistake is always sticking to running or cycling. There are many other exercises to make your body demand oxygen,” Yang explains. HIIT forces your heart to work at a maximum effort for short intervals, alternating with periods of recovery. And because you’re working your heart rate at intense levels, you’ll naturally increase your VO2 max. HIIT is also a great way to take a break from the dreadmill and bike and supplement your cardio workout and strength training routine.
Get started with this HIIT workout, designed by Yang, which you can do up to three times a week. (Alternate it with running or other cardio workouts and strength training, and you’ve got an A+ training week.) “These five moves are great for increasing your VO2 max because each move requires you to recruit your arms, abs and legs, therefore increasing the physical demands of the body,” Yang says.
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15-Minute HIIT Workout to Boost Your VO2 Max
Perform each exercise for one minute with 20 seconds of rest between each move. Work your way up to two rounds, then eventually three.
1. Pencil Squat
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart (a). Keeping your chest high, sit back into your heels with your hips back and down and knees bent. Your knees shouldn’t go past your toes. Keep your palms at chest height facing each other (b). Engaging your core, hamstrings and glutes, explode off the ground through your heels and drive your hips forward (c). Raise your arms toward the sky as you jump up, forming a point with your hands (d). Return to the ground and sink back into the squat.
2. Plyo Lunge
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your hands at your sides (a). Step your right foot back, keeping your left foot planted in front. Bend both knees to lower your body to the ground until your left thigh is perpendicular to the floor (b). As you lower, lift your left arm straight overhead and keep your right arm at your side (c). For the next rep, explode out of the lunge, scissor-jump your legs and alternate which arm is raised (c). Land with your right foot in front and your left foot behind you (d).
3. Plyo Curtsy Lunge
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your hands out in front of you with your palms facing each other (a). Step your left foot behind you to your right, and lower into a half-squat (b). Driving through the balls of your feet, jump and land on your left leg, with your right foot behind you to your left. As you jump, swing your arms up to help propel you, and land with them at your sides (c).
4. Star Jumps
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart (a). Keeping your chest high, sit back into a squat, drawing your hips back so your knees don’t go pass your toes. Place your hands down between your thighs so your palms face each other (b). Driving from your heels, jump off the ground and lift your arms up toward the sky (keeping them close to your ears) (c). Land softly on the ground and sink back into the squat (d).
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5. Mountain Climber/Burpees
How to: Get into a high plank position with your hands shoulder-distance apart and your shoulders stacked above your wrists (a). Drive your right knee toward your chest and then bring it back down to plank. Alternate sides and bring your left knee toward your chest. This is one rep; do two reps of mountain climbers (b). Then, from high plank position, jump your feet forward so you land in a low squat (c). Driving from your heels, jump up as high as you can, land softly before dropping back down into a high plank (d).