How to Boost VO2 Max for All-Rounded Fitness

You look good. You're strong. But if you can't sustain intensity, your aerobic fitness needs (a lot of) work. Here's how to boost VO2 max.

How to Boost VO2 Max for All-Rounded Fitness

You look good. When people meet you for the first time, they often go, “WoOAAh, how many times a week do you go to the gym?” And you’re strong, too. You can squat and bench press ~1.5x your body weight and deadlift ~2x your body weight.

But if you get all huffy, puffy, and red-faced the moment you need to:

  • Push past 8 reps in a single set (e.g., 15 reps on dumbbell lateral raises) or
  • Keep a consistent, moderate pace for >15 minutes on the treadmill/stair climber/ [insert your choice of cardio machine]

… it’s clear you’ve neglected your aerobic fitness, which is measured by your VO2 max.

“Does it really matter?” Um, yes, it does.

In this article, find out why you need to care about your aerobic fitness, what VO2 max has got to do with it all, and, most importantly, how to boost your VO2 max so you no longer gasp for air like a fish out of water during supposedly “easy” cardio activities.

What is the VO2 max?

Some helpful background information: during prolonged exercise, your muscles need a constant supply of oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) or, more simply, energy.

Your VO2 max represents the maximum capacity of your pulmonary (lungs), cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), and muscular systems (this is self-explanatory) to uptake, transport, and use oxygen during exercise, respectively.

The higher your VO2 max, the better your body can handle aerobic fitness activities.

FYI, having a “good” VO2 max — we’ll talk about what this means later — isn’t just beneficial for athletic performance. It’s also a sign of overall health.

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According to this massive 2024 systematic review of all previously published studies investigating the relationship between VO2 max and an array of health outcomes, having a higher VO2 max is associated with a lower risk of *deep breath*:

  • Premature mortality
  • Hypertension
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Dementia
  • Kidney disease
  • Depression
  • Type 2 diabetes

Benchmark for a “good” VO2 max

So, what’s a “good” VO2 max?

TBH, there’s no one standard “good” VO2 max you should aim for; instead, it can vary according to your age and gender. Here are some averages that you can use for reference.

Typical VO2 max for men, measured in mL/kg/min:

Typical VO2 max for women, measured in mL/kg/min:

How to estimate your VO2 max

Of course, all those numbers don’t mean a thing if you don’t know what your VO2 max is.

The gold standard (i.e., most accurate) way of measuring your VO2 max is done on a treadmill or stationary bike, where you’ll exercise at increasingly higher intensities for about 10 minutes. It involves specialized equipment like:

  • A face mask — to measure the volume and gas concentrations of inspired and expired air
  • Electrodes — to measure your heart rate


Unfortunately, the “gold standard” is neither practical nor accessible for most people. Thankfully, there’s an easier (also free) way to estimate your VO2 max. The Rockport walking test.

Here’s how to perform it:

Time yourself while you walk as fast as you can without jogging (note: you must maintain an even pace) for 1 mile (~1.6 km) on a level surface
Take your heart rate immediately after you finish (it’s best if you have a smartwatch, but if you don’t, you could count the number of beats you feel for 15 seconds, then multiply by 4)
Plug those numbers into this equation to calculate your VO2 max:

VO2 max (mL/kg/min) = 132.853 – (0.0769*weight) – (0.3877*age) + (6.315*gender) - (3.2649*mile walk time) – (0.1565*ending heart rate)

What to note for the equation:

  • Gender = 1 for male, 0 for female
  • Weight = pounds
  • Mile walk time = minutes and fractions of minutes (e.g., 14 minutes, 30 seconds = 14.5 minutes)

Don’t want to do the math yourself? Here’s an online calculator you can use. (You’re welcome.)

How to boost VO2 max

Since your VO2 max is a measure of your body’s maximal capacity to use oxygen during exercise, when it comes to how to boost your VO2 max, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) will be your best bet.

Strive to HIIT (heh heh, get it?) 90% to 95% of your maximum heart rate.

For the uninitiated, HIIT workouts alternate between short periods of intense work and rest or active recovery. It’s up to you to structure your HIIT workouts, but if you need inspiration, here are 2 samples:

Bodyweight HIIT workout (4 rounds, 30 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest; 1 minute of rest between rounds)

Jump squat
Mountain climber
High knees
Alternating plyo lunge
Treadmill HIIT: Jog or sprint for 1 minute (this should be near your maximal pace), walk for 2 minutes x 5 rounds

To learn more about HIIT workouts:

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Will it take very long to see improvements?

It depends on how aerobically fit you are currently.

If you’re out of shape to moderately fit, you may see improvement in as little as 4 to 6 weeks, and if you’re very fit, it could take as long as 4 to 6 months.

Regardless of how long it takes you, though, it’s important that you stick to the course. Stay consistent, and the results will come. You’ll feel it. And, of course, in the meantime, don’t forget to keep up with your strength training.

If you’d like to hit refresh on your training plan, why not check out GymStreak?

This smart, AI-powered workout planner will create a tailored program that accounts for your lifting experience, fitness goal, and schedule just like *snaps fingers* that.

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Lang, Justin J., et al. “Cardiorespiratory Fitness Is a Strong and Consistent Predictor of Morbidity and Mortality among Adults: An Overview of Meta-Analyses Representing over 20.9 Million Observations from 199 Unique Cohort Studies.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 58, no. 10, May 2024, pp. 556–66.,

Psarras, Ilias Iason, and Gregory C. Bogdanis. “Physiological Responses and Performance during an Integrated High-Intensity Interval Aerobic and Power Training Protocol.” Sports, vol. 12, no. 3, Mar. 2024, p. 76. PubMed Central,

Tamayo Acosta, Jean, et al. “Effects of Aerobic Exercise Versus High-Intensity Interval Training on V̇O2max and Blood Pressure.” Cureus, vol. 14, no. 10, p. e30322. PubMed Central,