How aerobically fit are you? One way to find out would be to measure your V02 max. V02 max is a measure of the maximal amount of oxygen your body can take in and deliver to muscles and tissues in one minute during maximal exercise. It’s essentially a measure of aerobic fitness and endurance.
V02 max can be measured in a fitness lab. This is sometimes done using a graded exercise test. You might be asked to exercise on a treadmill or stationary cycle while the resistance or incline is gradually increased to the point where you can’t exercise any longer. During a graded test like this, you reach a point of “exhaustion” where your oxygen consumption plateaus. This corresponds to your V02 max or maximal aerobic capacity, which can be measured in a lab.
Fortunately, you don’t need to go to a fitness lab to get an idea of what your aerobic capacity is. You can do a simple test at home to roughly measure your V02 max. It was developed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper and can be done on a running track.
The Cooper Test for Measuring V02 max
To do this test, find a running track with a known distance. Have someone time you while you run the track as fast as you can. To get an accurate measure, you’ll need to push hard during the 12-minute run. When the 12 minutes is up, calculate the distance you ran. Once you know the distance, use this formula to calculate your V02 max:
V02max = (35.97 x miles ran) – 11.29
This simple test measures aerobic capacity reasonably well in people who are motivated enough to push themselves. Once you’ve measured your V02max, there are tables online where you can compare your aerobic capacity to other athletes and non-athletes. You’ll find separate charts for men and women since males have V02 max measurements that are15% to 30% higher than females. V02 max declines by about 1% per year after the age of 25, so these charts are also organized by age. A V02 max that’s superior for a 50 year old woman might only be average for a 30 year old male.
V02 max values are partially determined by genetics, but they can be increased by as much as 20% through training. V02 max measurements may be as low as the 20’s for a sedentary female and in the 80’s or 90’s in elite male athletes. One of the highest V02 values recorded is 96, measured in an elite, male cross-country skier. Athletes that participate in running and cross-country skiing typically have the highest V02 max measurements since their sports require superior aerobic endurance.
The Bottom Line?
V02 max isn’t the only measure of sports performance, but it is the gold standard for measuring cardiovascular fitness. This simple test you can do on a track will give you an idea of how your aerobic capacity compares to that of other people your age. Keep in mind that you can improve your aerobic capacity to some degree through training, so keep working out.
MacKenzie, B. (2001) “V02 max”
Med. Sci Sports Exerc., 27(1)
Exercise Physiology. Fifth edition. McArdle, Katch and Katch. 2002.
Cooper, K. H. (1968) A means of assessing maximal oxygen uptake. Journal of the American Medical Association 203:201-204.