On the quest for improved health, enhanced body composition, and increased lifespan, one metric stands out from the crowd: VO2 Max. Popular figures in the fitness industry such as Peter Attia, Andrew Huberman, Mark Sisson and Evolve, have underlined the significance of this fitness parameter in a comprehensive health strategy, backed by scientific literature.
VO2 Max or ‘maximum oxygen consumption’ represents the peak rate at which your body can transport and use oxygen during intense exercise. It serves as a very clear indicator of cardiovascular and aerobic endurance and is a parameter that can be improved with targeted training. This training can be standard cardiovascular exercise done for 30 minutes or more but more targeted or specific training is the short sharp sprint like training where you go all out for up to 4 minutes. Devastating. Think sprinting at max for 4 minutes of doing 4 minutes of straight burpees 🤢
Dr. Peter Attia, renowned longevity expert, has highlighted a groundbreaking study, “Cardiorespiratory fitness, body mass index, and markers of ageing: findings from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study” which outlines that having a VO2 Max in the top quartile can make you four times less likely to die from any cause. This evidence underscores the profound influence of aerobic fitness on health and lifespan.
Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman has shed light on how VO2 Max plays a critical role in cognitive function. Backing up his claim is a seminal paper, “Exercise, Fitness and Neurocognitive Function in Older Adults: The “Selective Improvement” and “Cardiovascular Fitness” Hypotheses,” which demonstrates that aerobic exercise promotes neurogenesis – the formation of new neurons, thereby benefiting cognitive health and resilience. Basically stated, if you have a good/great cardio capacity, which is tested by V02 max, you will have a healthy brain that stays younger to help stave off the really scary brain diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. I think this is the thing that scares us the most.
Mark Sisson, best-selling author, and fitness guru, emphasises VO2 Max’s role in body composition management. His arguments are supported by research like the study, “Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism,” suggesting that an enhanced VO2 Max leads to superior metabolic efficiency, thus improving fat burn during workouts and aiding in weight management and muscle toning. Mark is 80 years old and still pretty ripped. I have been reading his work for 20 years and apart from only eating one giant turkey leg a day I think he is proving to be someone all of us should listen to if we want a few more decades of greatness.
The overwhelming body of evidence points to one conclusion: honing your VO2 Max can provide a holistic solution for attaining superior health, a well-sculpted body, and increased longevity.
So now you want to improve your V02 max right?
Improving your VO2 Max is not as daunting as it might sound. In fact, there’s a straightforward and proven way to do this: zone training. By exercising in specific heart rate zones, you can train your body to utilise oxygen more efficiently, thereby enhancing your VO2 Max.
Zone 1: Light Exercise (50-60% of Max Heart Rate)
This zone is ideal for warming up and cooling down. Exercising in this zone helps improve your body’s ability to transport oxygen from place to place. Your muscles need oxygen to function properly hence the need to “warm up” by moving blood, which is filled with oxygen, to the working parts.
Zone 2: Fat-Burning Exercise (60-70% of Max Heart Rate) – 6-7/10 difficulty
Training in this zone can help increase your endurance and improve the efficiency of your body’s fat metabolism. It’s suitable for long, slow runs, or recovery sessions after more intensive workouts. This is why we tend to recommend zone 2 cardio for people looking for fat loss without a big impact to their recovery when training on our Warrior Workout programme. During this type of cardio you can hold a conversation although you’ll be slightly out of breath.
Zone 3: Aerobic Exercise (70-80% of Max Heart Rate) – 7-8/10 difficulty
This zone helps enhance the size and strength of your heart, improving your cardiovascular system and increasing your VO2 Max over time. Activities such as steady cycling or running can be performed in this zone. This type of cardio will feel tough, holding a conversation will be very hard and the person you’re talking to will probably just wander off anyway as they can’t really understand what you are saying.
Zone 4: Threshold Exercise (80-90% of Max Heart Rate) – 8-9/10 difficulty
This zone is where you improve your lactate threshold, allowing you to exercise at higher intensities for longer. Interval training, such as hill sprints or tempo runs, works well in this zone. Very tough
Zone 5: Maximal Exercise (90-100% of Max Heart Rate)
Exercising in this zone, usually via high-intensity interval training (HIIT), pushes your body to its limits and can significantly improve your VO2 Max. However, workouts in this zone should be short and followed by adequate recovery periods. We keep a Zone 5 workout below 4 minutes but most will not make it that far. The difficulty is basically the same as sprinting for 4 minutes straight!
By understanding these zones and incorporating them into your training regimen, you can make targeted strides towards improving your VO2 Max.
From September 2023 we will be offering V02 max testing alongside metabolic testing so that you also know exactly what heart rate you need to be at for each training zone.