Your Vo2 max or maximal oxygen uptake is the most widely accepted criterion of measurement of your aerobic fitness level, or aerobic capacity.
This value is important for runners in being able to see how much their aerobic fitness has improved and how much more improvement they are able to attain.
Your Vo2 max (the V = volume, o2= oxygen, max = maximum) is the measurement of the maximal capacity of your body to transport and utilize oxygen during exercise which also is closely related to the functional capacity of your heart muscle.
The higher your VO2max is, the more oxygen you will take in and the more energy you will have available in order to keep running.
I want to make a distinction that when I am referring to your running fitness level, I am referring to your aerobic fitness versus your anaerobic fitness.
Your aerobic fitness is important for endurance sports such as long distance running which requires you to move and use oxygen for a long period of time instead of requiring you to give off short but very powerful bursts of energy such as in Olympic weight lifting (more anaerobic).
Aerobic fitness requires the use of oxygen in supplying you energy whereas anaerobic fitness does not.
Therefore if you want to be able to compete in aerobic fitness sports, such as the marathon or half marathon you need to train aerobically.
As a marathon or half marathon runner training for long distance runs, everything is centered around your aerobic fitness.
This is why it is important to find your aerobic fitness level so that we can then help you figure out what speeds you need to run in order to run faster while being able to go for longer distances at those faster speeds.
However, before you even perform a running fitness test it is good to realize that as a human and a runner our running fitness level and how much we are able to improve it is bound by 2 factors:
Those runners who are less conditioned at the beginning of a training program will always be able to see the greatest training improvement versus those who are a more seasoned runner.
If you have been running a long time and your body is very much adapted to running it will be harder for you to see progressive change and you will have to work harder to shave off minutes if a finishing time is your goal.
Generally a normal active adult will be able to increase their Vo2max and fitness level by:
While a highly conditioned athlete may only be able to see:
When you are training for an endurance activity such as a marathon or half marathon, your muscles are going to be changing and adapting to become more aerobic in nature.
When you are focusing on becoming more fit and building your endurance and speed at the same time you will want to be targeting the right workouts in order to build more aerobic type muscle cells versus anaerobic (not conducive to endurance athletes) cells.
Hence another reason to find your aerobic running fitness level and you can do so by testing your Vo2max through the 1.5 Mile Cooper Running Fitness Test.
Your genetics obviously cannot be changed.
Some people are more endowed with endurance capabilities versus others and so will be more receptive to a long distance running program.
No matter what training program is used, some of us will never be able to reach an elite level of aerobic fitness (Vo2max) simply because of genetics.
We always have our own potential and improvements to achieve and challenge ourselves with and often that is one of the most fulfilling things we can encounter.
As an athlete we focus on what we can change and then we train to increase our potential in that direction.
That is why I always like to start and end each new training session with a fitness test.
A fitness test allows you to see what progress you have made.
Granted you will not always be able to increase your fitness level.
Genetics will play a role in shackling you to a certain level of potential.
Your aim though is to reach your full potential or at least that next attainable level.
A true Vo2 max test involves a procedure known as open circuit spirometry, a very pricey, complex, and quite uncomfortable test.
It also, should only be performed under the administration of an exercise science professional who is familiar with the equipment, calibration, and who can make accurate interpretations.
Since this test is out of the reach of most runners, the common solution is to perform graded submaximal Vo2 tests, designed by exercise physiologists, that can then be used to estimate (quite accurately) your Vo2max or your maximum fitness level.
For endurance runners, I like to recommend the 1.5 mile Running Fitness Test that can be done pretty much anywhere!
It is a very simple test with little room for user error and is appropriate for long distance runners who are used to running at least 2 miles.
The 1.5 Mile Running Test is one of the best Vo2max tests that you can take as a marathon or long distance runner.
It's also a simple test that only requires that you have an accurately measured 1.5 Mile distance (such as a track) and a stop watch.
Once you have your 1.5 mile finishing time, I have a Vo2 max calculator that you can use to find your Vo2 max inside the Find Your Running Fitness Level Quick Win Toolbox for Runners.
Here's what's inside the Find Your Running Fitness Level Toolkit:
This is a great little quick win toolbox for runners that you can use to help you find your Vo2max and test your Vo2max over and over again!
If you have a smart running watch, you may be able to look at your running history and see a Vo2max already calculated for you!
You can still choose to do the 1.5 mile Running Fitness Test to test your Vo2 max or you can compare your calculated Vo2 max value in the charts below to see where you fall on the spectrum of other men or women of your age.
Notice that there is a chart for men and for women and it is broken down by age groups.
The Vo2max Fitness Categories that will tell you what is a good Vo2max are:
I'll send you my free 24 Hour Timeline Checklist of Things You Should Do After a Long Run when you sign up!