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Measuring your aerobic capabilities with VO2Max testing

If you have been somewhere in the fitness world, you have most likely heard of a VO2Max test. But what is it exactly, how is it tested and what can it do for me and my paddling?

Demystifying VO2 Max

VO2Max, in a nutshell, is the max amount of oxygen your body is able to utilize per minute during max performance. It is a measure of your aerobic capacity and it’s a great baseline measurement when trying to improve upon your aerobic fitness.

The more efficient your body is at getting oxygen to your working muscle, the more efficient your body will be at using that oxygen to perform and in turn, the better your aerobic performance. 

VO2 Max and your Paddling

One way to paddle faster and further at your higher speeds, and have it feel easier than prior times paddling, is to increase your VO2Max. When you paddle often and consistently, your body will improve its aerobic exercise, and with this comes improving your VO2Max. 

When we are exercising at a harder intensity than just a casual stroll, more oxygen is being delivered throughout your body to your working muscles (via red blood cells).  Therefore, the more oxygen we can actually consume and use, the easier the exercise will feel to our bodies (muscles, organs).

Variations in the Numbers

Your VO2Max number can vary on several different things. For example, men typically have higher VO2max scores than women and there are some genetic differences as well. So while VO2Max is a great measure of a distance/aerobic ability, it really is just one of several factors.  Another factor is your paddling efficiency. So, if you had two paddlers with identical VO2mx scores, the one with the greater paddling efficiency/economy, will be faster. This is because they are able to use their bodies ability to carry oxygen throughout the body better. As your paddle speed increases, you will eventually hit your VO2Max (which is when on tests you will see it plateau), and then past that speed, your body will not be able to uptake oxygen any further, and will have to switch over to the anaerobic metabolism.  Thus, someone might hit their VO2Max at a slower speed than another person, although their body is working just as hard. So ultimately, with proper training, you can increase your speed prior to hitting your VO2Max.

How to Measure VO2 Max Accurately

One of the most accurate ways to measure OV2Max is in a lab setting and either on a treadmill, or recently testing out some protocol with our portable VO2Max reader for future on water testing.  The idea behind these tests is to go all out, and really get the heart rate up to measure how much oxygen your body is using when you are pushing yourself to your limits.   During the test, the equipment is able to look at how much carbon dioxide is being expelled from your body and how much oxygen is actually being used by the body. It then is put into a calculation to determine your VO2Max. 

What about my Garmin?

Some watches even show VO2Max, taking HR into account, and give you a VO2Max number, however it is important to note that this is not the most proven accurate or reliable method. However, its nice to have a base number to work off of.

Being able to improve your paddling VO2Max, being consistent and volume are key.  Interval training has been shown to help increase VO2Max scores (with the proper warm up and cool down).  For example, a workout that helps VO2Max could be something like 4x2 minute intervals, and continually building it that training piece until about up to 10x2 min intervals. 

When performing these sessions, you want to aim within a few BPM close to your HR max and at your 1 mile race pace.  Recovery time should be around the same length as the length of the rep. 

VO2Max is a great baseline measure for your training sessions. Having your aerobic system tested and then later in the season, checking to see how you have improved by performing another test, will show if your training has been adding to your cardiorespiratory performance. 

Currently, Coach Victoria and the International Society of Sports Nutrition are testing out on water protocols to see what would work best to measure paddlers VO2Max. Once this is finalized, some of the first structured testing and studies will be held on-water with standup paddlers and their VO2Max. 

Below is a chart of the normative data for Vo2Max testing based on age. So if you do get tested in the future, you can see where you fall by looking at this chart.


  • Neal Norton
    Posted August 1, 2022 at 6:28 pm

    Very interesting read. So if two paddlers can do a 11 minute mile the only measure of efficiency would be there VO two max reading?

  • Neal Norton
    Posted August 1, 2022 at 6:28 pm

    Very interesting read. So if two paddlers can do a 11 minute mile the only measure of efficiency would be there VO two max reading?

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