What is VO2 Max on your fitness tracker?

So, you’ve gone ahead and spent all that cash on a top-notch fitness tracker and are determined to shed the love handles or squeeze your giggling arms. Then you came across that cryptic term: VO2 max. Now, you’re wondering if this is a secret SpaceX rocket, or maybe even the name of Elon Musk’s next son.

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Should you be concerned if your VO2 max is low? Should you start moonwalking if it’s tall? What’s a good VO2 max number anyway? We are about to decipher this mystery.

Fitness tracker with VO2 Max functionality

There are a seemingly endless number of fitness tracking devices on the market, from those favored by marathon champions to those favored by tech enthusiasts who just can’t resist a fancy gadget. Let’s look at some of the more popular brands that offer VO2 max measurements.

Garmin devices that measure VO2 max

Garmin devices, like the Forerunner line of watches, are a favorite of expert runners and triathletes. Equipped with heart rate monitors and GPS, these devices can estimate your VO2 max whenever you go for a brisk walk or run.

This analysis is powered by Garmin’s proprietary Firstbeat Analytics technology, which explores the link between the speed of your movements and the amount of effort your body is putting in to maintain that pace.

Apple devices that measure VO2 max

The tech giant’s foray into fitness tracking has been a game changer for many people. While the Apple Watch doesn’t explicitly display your VO2 max, the device (series 3 or later) provides you with a «cardio fitness level» using VO2 max as the underlying measurement, according to Apple Support.

Apple’s VO2 max estimate takes into account your age, gender, weight, height, and any medications that affect your heart rate. Like many devices, it can take 24 hours of use, plus several outdoor workouts and passive measurements to get the first estimate.

Fitbit devices that measure VO2 max

Fitbit has a variety of devices that offer VO2 max, which they call «Cardio Fitness Score.» You can track trends in your score over time to see if your fitness levels are improving.

Like Apple, Fitbit devices use things like resting heart rate, age, gender, weight, and other personal information to calculate your score. Fitbit also recommends wearing the device to bed to provide a more accurate estimate of your resting heart rate.

Polar devices that measure VO2 max

If you use a Polar fitness tracker like Polar Vantage V2, you can get an estimate of your VO2 max with a quick five-minute fitness test.

The test combines your current heart rate data with a variety of other details to create an estimate of your VO2 max. The device considers your resting heart rate, heart rate variability, gender, age, height, weight, and training background.

How to improve your VO2 max

Want to increase your VO2 max? Any of these strategies can help you drive those numbers north.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT training involves alternating between short, intense exercises and slower recovery phases. Think about running for one minute, then walking for two. A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine shows that HIIT can significantly improve VO2 max.

Devices like Fitbit can come in handy by tracking your heart rate during high-intensity intervals and recovery periods.

Screenshot of Apple Fitness+ HIIT workout with Bakari

Steady-state endurance training

Have you ever heard the phrase «slow and steady wins the race?» This is the essence of steady state resistance training. This training focuses on maintaining a consistent, moderate level of intensity for extended periods. Long-distance running, cycling, or swimming sessions fall into this category.

Steady-state resistance training can improve your body’s ability to transport and use oxygen, thereby helping to improve your VO2 max. Your iPhone’s Health app can track your cardio fitness levels during those activities. You can always read more about how to see your cardio fitness levels on an iPhone.

Strength training and functional fitness

These workouts, which include activities such as weight lifting, squats or lunges, aim to build muscle and improve mobility. As you strengthen your muscles, your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen, which can indirectly increase your VO2 max.

A Garmin device is a great tool here. Not only can it track your heart rate and calories burned during workouts, some models also offer strength training activity profiles.

Proper nutrition and hydration

Have you ever tried to drive a car without fuel? Yes, it doesn’t work. The same goes for your body. Eating balanced meals and maintaining hydration are essential for optimal performance. The right nutrients can improve energy levels and overall endurance, while hydration aids in nearly every metabolic process in the body, including oxygen transport.

Many fitness trackers can help you track your nutritional intake and water consumption. Check out these key health data you should actually be paying attention to on your fitness tracker to learn more.

Adequate rest and recovery

Training hard is vital, but so is giving your body time to rest and recover. After all, your muscles need downtime to repair themselves and get stronger. In addition, good quality sleep improves the body’s ability to transport and use oxygen, a key factor in VO2 max.

Tools like Fitbit’s sleep tracking feature or Garmin Forerunner’s recovery alert can help give your body the rest it needs. Plus, there are apps, like VO2 Adaptive Trainer, that can help you prepare for your next marathon.

Limitations and accuracy of VO2 max estimation in fitness trackers

While it’s nice to have a technical device on your wrist that can estimate your VO2 max, it’s important to remember that these are estimates only.

Comparison of VO2 max estimated by fitness trackers to lab tests

Remember when we mentioned Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket earlier? Well, VO2 max measurements from your fitness tracker are less like a SpaceX rocket and more like a hobbyist’s model rocket than the real deal from lab tests.

Lab tests involving high-tech equipment and controlled conditions can provide a more accurate, direct measurement of VO2 max. Fitness trackers, on the other hand, use indirect measurements that, while reasonably accurate, don’t match the accuracy of lab tests.

Factors Affecting Accuracy of VO2 Max Estimation

Several things can affect the accuracy of your VO2 max estimate. These include inaccurate user profile information (age, gender, weight, etc.) and even environmental factors such as altitude and temperature.

Using fitness trackers to increase your VO2 max

Understanding your VO2 max can open up a new perspective on your fitness journey, and thanks to technology, it’s never been easier.

Ultimately, these nifty gadgets are less about hitting exact figures and more about tracking your progress over time. Whether you’re new to the fitness scene or an experienced marathon runner, there’s always room for improvement. So, strap on your fitness tracker, lace up those sneakers, and get ready to explore your VO2 max potential – one step, sprint, or squat at a time!

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