Whether you’ve been blessed with one of the genes we now know can contribute to a faster race time or easier recovery (more on that in a minute) or haven’t yet explored how your genes could impact your training and ultimate race performance, there are some simple techniques to improve your VO2 max or maximal oxygen uptake. 

Genomics, the study of DNA, has helped provide clues into why some world-class runners are better than others.  Whether their ability to run farther, have fewer injuries, or need less recovery time between training and events, the world’s elite racers likely have DNA that has pre-programmed them on some level for success, or at least influenced their performance on a molecular level we’re just beginning to understand. (You can learn more HERE)

VO2 max can be affected by a number of factors including genetics, age, training, exercise type, and gender and body composition, but is still consistently defined as the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise.  VO2 max can be calculated by measuring milliliters of oxygen used per minute per kilogram of body weight (ml/min/kg).

As a practical exercise, VO2 max can be obtained with either of the formulas below:

  • 3 x Maximum Heart Rate/Resting Heart Rate


  • Rockport Fitness Walking Test (RFWT) using a 1 mile (or 1.6 kilometer) walk,

VO2 max = (0.0769 x weight) – (0.3877 x age) + (6.315 x gender, [1 = males, 0 = females]) – (3.2649 x time to walk one mile in minutes) – (0.1565 x number of heart beats in 10 seconds at the end of the walk). 

As exercise intensity increases, so logically does oxygen uptake.  But there comes a point where the human body simply can’t increase the amount of oxygen it consumes and uses, despite an increase in exercise intensity.  This is where the body hits an aerobic “ceiling” and has to resort to anaerobic (non-oxygen) pathways to generate energy, one of them being the production of lactic acid, what athletes or fitness fanatics commonly refer to as experiencing muscle “burn”.

While genetics is only one part of VO2 max potential, it is important.  From an aerobic perspective, the ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) gene has been consistently identified in elite distance runners.  A variant of the gene, or a specific change in the structure of the gene’s DNA, has also been studied and associated with more quadricep muscle strength and a better VO2 max in response to training.  Another gene, PPARD, can also indicate if a runner will be a better responder to aerobic training, as is the case with the CKM gene.

When considering anaerobic function, the MCT1 gene has been shown to have a specific association with the production of ATP, a molecule fundamental for transferring energy, including energy for muscle contractions.  When muscles lack oxygen and begin to produce lactic acid, the resulting lactate can be used to produce ATP in red muscle cells and extend muscle performance.  Individuals with a variant of MCT1 have been noted as having slower lactate transport capability to cells, and therefore lessened endurance after aerobic exhaustion.


Then what’s the best course for improving VO2 max? 

Consider DNA testing to help understand what your genetic profile might be contributing to your max potential. Companies like MY FIT KEY can provide testing for a number of sports related genes, as well as give insights into genes that can impact diet/weight and drug tolerance and metabolism.

Revise your training to improve aerobic power*

Perform at a higher intensity over a specific distance.

Maintain a high intensity for a longer period of time.

Maintain either the same or a higher intensity over a longer distance.

*Improvement rates of anywhere from 6-20% depending on whether starting from a sedentary state or as an endurance athlete.

Add training to improve your lactate (anaerobic) threshold*

Try tempo runs and cruise intervals. Tempo runs are sustained efforts at or near anaerobic threshold.  Start out at 20 minutes at a challenging but achievable pace and gradually increase to 40 minutes from one session to the next.

Add in cruise intervals. Break up a tempo run into intervals of 6 to 10 minutes and do 4 intervals with moderate aerobic running bouts between them.  The cruise interval should be a little easier than a tempo run but involve an equal amount of threshold pace running without breaks.

*Generally 85% of maximum heart rate or 75% of maximum oxygen intake



DNA is a molecular blueprint for building every aspect of any living thing. DNA Testing for Athletes focuses on those aspects most important to athletes – so you can train with a better understanding of your own “built in” strengths and weaknesses. Some people are built for power – some endurance. Some need more time to recover between training sessions or they have a greater risk of injury… it is all in your DNA, so why not find out now?  use PROMO code: MFKCHICAGO2018




  1. My Garmin fenix 3 has a calculation for VO2 max built in. When you create your profile for the device you give it your age, weight and height. It must use those along with the heart rates it continuously tracks to come up with a number. I would like to do one of the tests to see how accurate it is, however, the lab tests are expensive.

  2. Your article says calculation for VO2max is 3x MHR/RHR. Most of the other articles Ive seen say VO2max is 15.3xMHR/RHR. With a max heart rate of 220 and a Resting heart rate of 50, your formula would yield a VO2max of 13.2. Other formula would yield VO2max of 67.3. This seems much more plausible. Maybe an error somewhere?


  3. I did blood test for determining Lactic Acid and VO2 max. The value is consistent with Running index in my Polar watch as a proxy. The units may be different overseas, because elite value is >55

  4. I did VO2 max from blood lactate test. It correspond well to polar running index. I am not sure about overseas units though. >55 is elite.

  5. That first formula doesn’t make sense. The numbers calculated with it are implausibly low, unless the units are different.


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