Unlocking the mystery of VO2max

There are different ways to find out one's VO2max ranging from estimates calculated without testing to lab tests. Roughly, the more you sweat, the more accurate your VO2max result. However, sweating is not always necessary. The most appropriate way for you to measure your VO2max depends on your goals and training habits. If you're a pro athlete, knowing your VO2max as precisely as possible is important. If you enjoy leisurely bike rides on Sunday mornings occasionally and go to the gym every now and then, there's probably no point in taking a lab test or an all-out field test.

Even if you never took a test, we estimate your VO2max value automatically based on your age, height, weight and sex. You can find this value in the physical settings of your Polar account. You can change it manually.

Between the rough estimate and a lab test, we have a bunch of valid ways to estimate your VO2max. Keep reading to learn more about your options.

Fitness Test - as convenient as it gets

Fitness Test is a quick, safe and comfortable way to estimate your VO2max. It doesn't require any physical effort – you can take it lying down in five minutes. It calculates your VO2max based on resting heart rate, heart rate variability, age, height, weight, sex and training background. Fitness Test should be your choice especially if your life involves little or no physical activity, you can't run for some reason or you're about to start a training program.

Running Index - automatic and submaximal

Your Running Index is an estimate of your VO2max in running. As the name implies, it involves running, which is why it's not suitable for everyone. Running Index is not a test, but a result that you get automatically after every running session. We measure your heart rate and speed when running, and then calculate your VO2max based on this information. We also take your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate into account. If you're a runner, this is easy and convenient for you. No need to arrange time for testing.  No need to go through a grueling all-out performance.

Running Index is ideal for fitness runners who want to follow their performance, but don't want to go through the trouble of testing. It's also handy for performance-oriented athletes and pros who want to follow their performance in between the actual tests they take. For reliability, choose similar sessions as points of comparison. A session of trail running can give you a very different result from a session of road running.

Running Index works best for runners, which means that the VO2max estimate you get from a running session may not be directly applicable to other sports. Different sports activate different muscle groups, which may influence the result. It's been shown that Running Index correlates well with your actual aerobic fitness when you run at a moderate or vigorous speed. Like Fitness Test, Running Index offers you the possibility to compare your aerobic fitness level to other people of the same age and sex. 

Walking Test - safe and simple

Walking test is suitable for most adults interested in tracking their fitness level. It's a perfomance test alright, but not grueling and tough in the sense that we often associate with performance tests. Not involving maximal exertion, it's safe and easy to repeat. All you need is a Polar watch that has the walking test feature.

In a nutshell, the higher your walking speed and the lower your heart rate, the better your aerobic fitness. We use your age, sex, height and weight in calculating the result (your VO2max), which is why you should make sure the physical settings of your Polar account are up to date. To track your progress, we recommend repeating the test every three months. However, there's no reason why you shouldn't take it more often if you wish.

Walking test works for beginners as well as occasional and regular trainers who are not into running. If you're highly fit, this test is not the best option for you. That's because you probably can't strain yourself hard enough by walking briskly.

Running and Cycling Tests - when the going gets tough

You get VO2max results from Running performance test and Cycling performance test as well. These tests are physically demanding. They work best for performance-oriented athletes or fitness enthusiasts who want to find out their individual training zones and are willing to go through some trouble for increased accuracy. However, these results may not be directly applicable to other sports.

If you're up for a performance test, you should prepare as if it was a competition. You should be in your best possible physical and mental state and ready to give it your best shot. If you're ill or suffering from an injury, you should postpone the test.

Don't forget to fuel with carbs within 24 hours before the test. These tests will eat up your energy reserve!

Running performance test

This test is definitely the choice of a dedicated runner. All you need is your Polar watch with GPS or speed sensor to track speed, and loads of grit. Running performance test calculates your VO2max based on maximal aerobic speed (MAS) that it measures during the test.

The beauty of Running performance test lies in the fact that you can use it in two ways: you can go all-out or you can take it easy. In other words, you can take the maximal or submaximal test. The maximal test is very tough and very accurate. The submaximal test is less accurate, but it's also less exhausting. It's safe and easy to repeat. In case of the submaximal test, it's especially important that your maximum heart rate value in the physical settings of your Polar account is up to date. The maximal test measures your maximum heart rate, whereas the submaximal test uses the setting in calculating your results.

If you want to use Running performance test to track your progress and help you choose the right training intensities, you should repeat the maximal test every three months to ensure that your training zones are always up to date. If you want to follow your progress more closely, you can repeat the submaximal test as often as you wish in between the maximal tests.

Cycling performance test

This test is a good option for you, if you're not only into cycling, but also healthy and fit. Besides your Polar watch, you need a bike with a compatible power sensor. Cycling performance test measures the maximum power that you can maintain for 60 minutes (functional threshold power, FTP), and calculates your VO2max based on this value. It's also possible to estimate FTP from shorter test sessions (20, 30 or 40 minutes). To track your performance reliably and keep your cycling power zones up to date, you should repeat the test every 2-3 months.

Practical tips

For reliable results, you should prepare for any of the above tests by avoiding heavy training for 48 hours before the test and following your usual sleep schedule. And of course, you should avoid heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, etc. for a few hours before the test. Make sure the physical settings in your Polar account are up to date since they are used in our calculations. Don't take the test if you're not healthy.

All tests are not available on all watches.

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