Measures of fitness: Maximal Aerobic Capacity

When setting goals for one’s self, these goals must have particular characteristics. One of these characteristics is measurability. 

Measurability in this context is a metric that reflects a current position and a change in it. Essentially, it allows us to track progress descriptively. 

Instead of stating, “I want to be able to run for longer distances,” give yourself a metric to analyze. Instead, you could write, “I want to be able to run a marathon.” Simple, straightforward, and quantifiable.

Now, for many of us, this isn’t a novel realization.

However, what may be, is another way to measure our aerobic fitness; well, at least a way to measure it at home: VO2Max.

VO2Max goes by many names: maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake or maximal aerobic capacity. In essence, VO2Max measures how much oxygen your body can take in, transport, and utilize during exercise.

In a clinical or lab setting, we would have participants rigid up to a metabolic cart – a device that measures the expelled air during exercises and compares it to the partial pressure of oxygen at your given altitude (hence why training at altitude can significantly improve your fitness). Unfortunately, most of us don’t have metabolic carts sitting at home waiting for use to nearly puke into them. What we do, though, however, is a cell phone. With only a cell phone you can calculate a fairly accurate VO2Max.

BUT HOW!?!?! You may ask.

The Cooper 12-minute run and the Cooper 1.5 mile / 2.4 km run tests. These tests are used worldwide to test students, athletes, the military, police, and the like. The beauty of these tests is their simplicity and repeatability. Both tests can give you the same output, but I recommend picking one depending on your goals.

The 12-minute version is excellent for those who care about how far you run in the time, and the 1.5 mile / 2.4 km test is how fast you can run which is potentially under 12 minutes; which then may produce different results when VO2Max values are compared. Semantics aside, do both and see how they line up for yourself.

Now ideally, you would complete these tests on level ground or a track to have the most accurate measures of VO2Max given the formulas, but if you’re just looking for change, any surface is viable as long as it is reproducible. As another alternative, a treadmill can be used for either test; note, however, that treadmill running is not identical to outdoors thus, an inclination of 1% should be used if on a treadmill.

Now lace up those shoes on and get to it!

How to do the Cooper 12-minute run and 1.5 mile / 2.4 km run tests?

Materials:

  • Measured track/distance, phone GPS tracking app, treadmill set a 1% incline
  • Stopwatch or phone

Calculations

  • 12-minute test: VO2Max ( = (22.351 x distance in kilometers) – 11.288
    • VO2Max units: mL/kg/min
    • Correlation of 0.90
  • 1.5 mile / 2.4 km test: VO2Max = (483/time) + 3.5
    • VO2Max units: mL/kg/min
  • VO2Max Values Table
Age 20-29 Age 30-39 Age 40-49
Mean 54.4 43 Mean 49.1 34.1 Mean 47.2 38.4
St Dev. 8.4 7.7 St Dev. 7.5 4.6 St Dev. 7.7 6.9
Percential Men Women Percential Men Women Percential Men Women
1 34.86 25.09 1 20.18 16.20 1 20.18 16.20
10 43.63 33.13 10 26.97 21.64 10 26.97 21.64
20 47.33 36.52 20 29.83 23.92 20 29.83 23.92
30 50.00 38.96 30 31.89 25.57 30 31.89 25.57
40 52.27 41.05 40 33.65 26.98 40 33.65 26.98
50 54.40 43.00 50 35.30 28.30 50 35.30 28.30
60 56.53 44.95 60 36.95 29.62 60 36.95 29.62
70 58.80 47.04 70 38.71 31.03 70 38.71 31.03
80 61.47 49.48 80 40.77 32.68 80 40.77 32.68
90 65.17 52.87 90 43.63 34.96 90 43.63 34.96
100 73.94 60.91 100 50.42 40.40 100 50.42 40.40
Age 50-59 Age 60-69 Age 70+
Mean 42.6 34.4 Mean 39.2 31.1 Mean 35.3 28.3
St Dev. 7.4 5.7 St Dev. 6.7 5.1 St Dev. 6.5 5.2
Percential Men Women Percential Men Women Percential Men Women
1 20.18 16.20 1 20.18 16.20 1 20.18 16.20
10 26.97 21.64 10 26.97 21.64 10 26.97 21.64
20 29.83 23.92 20 29.83 23.92 20 29.83 23.92
30 31.89 25.57 30 31.89 25.57 30 31.89 25.57
40 33.65 26.98 40 33.65 26.98 40 33.65 26.98
50 35.30 28.30 50 35.30 28.30 50 35.30 28.30
60 36.95 29.62 60 36.95 29.62 60 36.95 29.62
70 38.71 31.03 70 38.71 31.03 70 38.71 31.03
80 40.77 32.68 80 40.77 32.68 80 40.77 32.68
90 43.63 34.96 90 43.63 34.96 90 43.63 34.96
100 50.42 40.40 100 50.42 40.40 100 50.42 40.40

Values are measure in VO2Max (mL/kg/min).

Adapted from Loe, H., Rognmo, Ø., Saltin, B., & Wisløff, U. (2013). Aerobic Capacity Reference Data in 3816 Healthy Men and Women 20-90 Years. PLoS ONE, 8(5), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0064319

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by: Troy Wilson BScKinH, MScKin, PKin, Team Canada Athlete and RockTape ambassador

rocktape.ca for all your recovery and fitness needs!

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