VO2 Max Testing - What's It Like? What's It For? Should You Do It?

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

Disclaimer: I'm the worst social media person on earth. I didn't take any photos or videos from my VO2 Max Test...I know...I failed the social media community, and the world at large. I'm sorry everyone...I'm sorry! Forgive me! No, but seriously, I didn't take any media from the test, so I hope the race photos infused in this article serve as inspiration to get you hyped for 2020 races, even if they aren't about VO2 Max testing.

VO2 Max Simply Defined: "VO2 max, also known as maximal oxygen uptake, is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise." (Source)


Several weeks ago I did a VO2 Max test at the University of Virginia. I'd never done a VO2 Max test before, and the test administrator did mention that the "stress" of doing it the first time could mean that results aren't going to be 100% correct. After the test, she thought it went very well though and we got very accurate numbers.

I was told that I shouldn't do any strenuous activity the day before so that my maximum effort for the test would be a true maximum and I wouldn't have issues with fatigue from the previous day. Sadly, I can't remember what I did the day before...I think it was a short run at a low effort. In any case, I followed the instructions because I wanted to perform at my best and get the most accurate results possible and not waste money.

What's It Like? (What it was like for me)

I'm sure people have varying experiences for their first VO2 Max test. Some people stress easily and become anxious when doing new things - I was just a tad nervous because I always feel pressure to do my best work. However, besides a bit of nerves, I loved the experience. The lady who was in charge had two assistants with her (students at the university) and they all did a great job. They took it step by step, talked through everything with me, let me know exactly what to expect, and we all made jokes throughout. Having good test administrators makes a huge difference!

I had my height, weight, and blood pressure taken. I came it at 5'9 (no shock there...I've been that tall since I was 13), weighed 151 (yeesh...lost some weight), and my blood pressure was 118/64 (awesome! I used to have high blood pressure for years from not sleeping enough and always stressing myself out).

They hooked me up to an EKG to track my Heart Rate throughout the test. This meant having 6 or so little disks stuck to my chest/stomach area and having a little box hooked around my waist and resting on my left hip. I thought the box and wires would distract me during the test, but I don't remember noticing them much at all.

It took us some time to get the mask positioned and tightened properly on my face, but after a few moments of adjustment, that was also set and ready to go. I've heard people say that the mask is hard to breath through when it's on, but that wasn't the case for me at all; I felt fine breathing through the mask.

We started the test at a walking pace for a few minutes. My HR was at 70bpm. We then did a warm up for several more minutes that started at 6mph and ended at 6.8mph. My heart rate went from 131bpm to 151bpm during the warm up.

Once the warm up was over, we took the treadmill up to 7mph, and from there the speed stayed the same for the remainder of the test. Instead of adjusting speed, they began to increase the incline on the treadmill by 2.5% every two minutes.

By the end of the test, when I reached my hardest effort and stepped off the treadmill, I'd been running for 12:13 (not including the warm up time) and tapped out when the treadmill hit 12.5% incline at the 7mph pace. The previous incline of 10% was hard, but I was doing okay...that 12.5% put a quick stop to it though. I don't think I made it more than 30 seconds on that setting.

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My Results:

I walked on the treadmill for a few minutes to cool down, and then went and took a shower (had to be at work afterwards) while they compiled the data.

I blotted out the signature for this article.

My Max HR was 200. My VO2 Max was 61.2. My Peak RQ was 1.12.

What's This Information For?

Previously, the only way I'd known what my maximum HR was the traditional method of 220-Age which brought me to 192bpm. I also tried a test with my Suunto 9 and chest-strap HR monitor to estimate my Max HR and VO2 Max. While somewhat close, the test was inaccurate. I believe the Suunto test had my Max HR at 195 and my VO2 max at 57 or so. I like accurate data because it leads to optimal training, so that wasn't good enough for me.