V02 Max is an emerging standard for measuring overall fitness. Broken down into manageable chunks, it stands for:
- V = Volume
- 02 = Oxygen
- Max = maximum
There’s a long explanation for how V02 is measured and why it’s important, but simply put: V02 Max is the amount of oxygen your body can consume during cardio exercise. Through vigorous cardiovascular exercise you can increase your oxygen capacity and also the ability your body has to take advantage of and use the new oxygen volume. V02 Max is still a work in progress, but there are factors that can limit your full V02 aptitude, such as lung size and capacity, oxygen-blood saturation ability, age, weight, health factors, genetics, etc., etc.
The Microsoft Band attempts to estimate your overall V02 Max using its built in sensors. Specifically, Microsoft says:
To estimate your V02 max without measuring the actual exchange of air inhaled and exhaled during exercise, the key inputs necessary include your biometric information (height, weight, age, gender), running speed, and heart rate, which are evaluated when you use the Run Tile. Your band uses its built-in GPS to capture speed if it has been activated while running outdoors. If GPS is turned off, or if you’re running indoors, speed is evaluated using the accelerometer, measuring your stride length and rate, specific to your height. Your band’s continuous optical heart rate monitor keeps track of your heart rate.
There is a direct relationship between speed, heart rate, and oxygen consumption during your runs. As your speed increases, so too does your heart rate, and your rate of breathing increases to provide needed oxygen to your working muscles. A database of thousands of V02 max performances with matching biometric data is then used to estimate your oxygen consumption.
Based on this method of estimation, the Microsoft Health Dashboard then fits you into one of several categories:
- elite > 43
- very high 35 - 43
- high 30 - 34
- moderate 25 - 29
- low < 25
The important thing to remember here is that this is an estimate (i.e., probably not fully accurate). In my experience the Band is extremely close, though. Microsoft has done wonders with the Band’s embedded sensors and Band v2 rivals even some of the top wearables in the fitness category. But, as with any fitness tracker, assume that the reported measurements are simply for setting a baseline for improvement.
Understanding this, it’s becomes important to take the numbers you’ve been given and seek to improve on them. Here’s some tried-and-true suggestions to increase your V02 Max, and in turn improve your overall cardiovascular fitness:
- Intersperse sprints and faster paces in your normal runs. Running faster increases lung capacity. See: Using Microsoft Band to Create Circuit and Interval Training Workouts
- Make at least one run a week a fast pace day. Push yourself. Run lower mileage but at greater speed. The human body can be pretty amazing, able to adapt quickly to new demands. You don’t have to run at your maximum (sprint), just make sure your pace is strong.
- Run hills. This may slow down the pace and V02 Max reported by the Microsoft Band, but in the long run will improve your overall endurance. It’s also a sneaky way to increase lung capacity. It also builds resolve needed to increase overall mileage.
- Run continuous. Despite pushing yourself try not to take rests. Even though the Microsoft Band activity can be paused to stop recording distance and speed, a rest ultimately alters the overall calculation because your heartrate changes dramatically during a breather.
- Learn to relax. Did you know by forcing yourself to relax during vigorous running, you can bring your heartrate into a manageable state? It truly is mind over matter. Runners can sometimes stress themselves by focusing on how hard the effort is, tensing muscles and taking necessary energy away. Focus on making your limbs and breathing working together. Untense your shoulders. Let them hang from your neck. Unwrap your fists and run with hands loose and open. Focus on the rhythm of running.
- Grab some altitude. If at all possible, take runs at higher altitude. Like running hills, this has the effect of steadily improving your oxygen capacity.
If you start with a low V02 Max score, remember, take it slow and easy on trying improve. V02 Max is something that can improve over time, not something you should try to
Incidentally, the Microsoft Health Dashboard requires that you record at least 5 runs before an accurate V02 Max measurement is achieved, and sometimes before V02 Max actually shows up in your dashboard account. You can check your V02 Max in the Dashboard in the “About Me” area.
For more details on V02 Max, check out Wilmore JH and Costill DL. (2007) Physiology of Sport and Exercise: 4th Edition.