Why Isn’t My VO2max Increasing? 4+1 Things You Should Know

Herman Bonner

Herman BonnerCommunications Specialist, Firstbeat

Exercise and Fitness Wearable Devices

5 reasons why your VO2max is not increasing

It’s easier than ever before to keep tabs on your cardiorespiratory fitness level and track changes over time. Thinking about fitness in terms of VO2max offers many benefits, including a basis for assessing the results of lifestyle choices and a clear path towards improved performance. It can also reveal when your progress stalls, a frustrating experience that may leave you searching for answers.

This article explores four common reasons why your VO2max might not be increasing as quickly as you hoped and what you can do about it. It also takes a quick look at the role genetics play in your fitness and ability to improve.

Lack of High-intensity Efforts #1

Different kinds of efforts trigger different kinds of physiological adaptation. Low- and moderate-intensity workouts are important for overall health, building your endurance base, and strengthening your muscles – but it is primarily the high-intensity portions of your workouts that signal to your physiological systems to adapt in ways that boost your ability to produce energy aerobically.

High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts are a popular and efficient method of incorporating high-intensity efforts into your training program. Interval training is a cornerstone of training programs at practically any level, but these kinds of variable intensity workouts can be particularly helpful for people with lower fitness levels, provided you are healthy enough to perform them. This is because including lighter, recovery work in between high-intensity efforts makes it possible to perform more of these efforts than would be otherwise possible.

Tempo runs are another common type of workout that endurance athletes use to trigger the development of additional aerobic performance capacity. These workouts typically involve running with an intensity of roughly 90% of VO2max for between 45-60 minutes.

Can your sport watch calculate your VO2max? Find out

You can always check the Aerobic Training Effect of any workout to discover how that specific session stimulated your development. This insight allows you to dial in your efforts to an appropriate level for you personally. A good rule-of-thumb method for improving VO2max is to challenge yourself 2-3 times per week with workouts that have an Aerobic Training Effect of 3.0-4.0.

Inadequate Recovery #2

Another common problem for those struggling to improve their VO2max is a lack of adequate recovery. Goal oriented athletes are often eager to progress and achieve their goal as quickly as possible. This frequently leads to training longer and harder than you should, which can be ultimately counterproductive.

The physiological adaptations that enhance your future performance capacity can only take place during the recovery periods between challenging activities. Tackling the next hard challenge before your body has time to bounce back from the last one means missing out on the full developmental benefit stimulated by your earlier workout.

If you suspect that a lack of progress is the result of poor recovery, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your recovery time feedback to learn more about how long it takes you to bounce back from various types of workouts.

Lack of Variety in Your Efforts #3

Sometimes jumpstarting your progress is as simple as changing up your training routines. As mentioned earlier, high-intensity efforts are key to improving your VO2max, but over focusing on these tough workouts can mean neglecting other complementary aspects of your development neglected. It’s important to build a strong foundation with different kinds of efforts. This is where tools like Training Load Balance (Load Focus) come in handy, revealing how your high- and low-intensity aerobic efforts and dynamic anaerobic efforts contributed to your overall training load. It’s also important to include enough strength and flexibility training in your program.

Beyond the big picture, it’s good to change up the details of specific workouts from time to time. Keep your workouts fresh by altering the lengths of your longer runs, the durations and peak intensities of your intervals, along with things like cadence and tempo.

Highly Trained Athletes #4

As in most aspects of life, the law of diminishing returns applies to training and the development of increased performance capacity. Simply put, the fitter you are, the harder you must work to improve. Experienced endurance athletes, those who have been training regularly and effectively for many years, are likely to be already at, or near, the peak of their personal maximum aerobic performance capacity.

A plateau in VO2max is relatively familiar and common for those who have been training and competing in marathons for 5-6 years. And, although for some of these well-trained individuals, it may be possible to improve… the amount of additional time and effort required to squeeze that last drop extra potential performance out of themselves is beyond that level of commitment that most amateurs are able to make.

It isn’t realistic for anyone to maintain peak performance year-round, and VO2max offers a key reference that will your efforts towards being at your best when it matters most. With that in mind, keeping track of your VO2max and related insights like Training Status still provide valuable insight into how things are going from one week or month to the next.

Genetic Potential +1

As human beings, our genetics play an undeniable role in how our bodies grow and in how our physiology adapts in response the challenges of life and environment. In the same way that some people are naturally taller, and others are naturally stronger, some individuals have advantages in their ability to import oxygen, transport it to their muscles, and utilize it in the transformation of stored energy into performance.

These advantages can take the form of total capacity, but also appear in the form of better trainability, meaning responsiveness to training activities. Not everyone improves at the same rate in response to similar training stimuli. It may just be a matter of time before you see the results you are working towards, provided that you are challenging yourself regularly, recovering well, and getting enough sleep.

While not everyone has the same maximum potential, practically everyone and anyone can improve their VO2max to some degree and to the point of achieving health benefits and improved quality of life.

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Herman Bonner

Herman Bonner Communications Specialist, Firstbeat

Herman is a former U.S. World Cup fencer, coach and high-performance manager. Keen to explore how people make sense of the world around them, Herman currently thrives at the bustling intersection of technology and everyday life. His educational interests include mechanical engineering, economics, ethnomethodology, and sports management with a focus on marketing and communications.

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