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Increase VO2 Max Without Cardio Training

VO2 max is a measure of your oxygen uptake during exercise. A higher VO2 max positively impacts your cardiovascular health. It's well documented that good cardivascular health (among other things):

  • improves mood and sleep
  • reduces risk of stroke
  • reduces risk of heart attack, diabetes, and cancer
  • increases your lifespan

As 2020 started, even before the pandemic hit, my workouts were irregular and not very intense. Then, due to physical distancing and working from home, even my daily walks were reduced to almost zero. It wasn’t until the end of April 2020 that I restarted regular workouts using my Apple Watch to track and measure my VO2 max.

VO2 Max average at the begining of 2020: 39.4

Impact of Workouts on VO2 Max

You can see the impact of non-existing workouts on my VO2 max in this screen shot. My average between February 3rd and March 4th was 39.4.

I'm in my 40's and for my age group this is considered average. It's not a bad number, but for someone who likes to be active it's also not that great.

Working from home hasn’t necessarily meant having more time to work out, so my workouts still needed to be short—30 min max. In addition, I wanted to go start doing more weightlifting instead of running. This was a challenge, as to increase VO2 max it’s often recommended to do cardio training in addition to weightlifting. I didn't have enough time to do both.

Back to High-Density Workouts

I returned to high-density workouts (where you work as hard as possible for a specified amount of time) that never include more than 4 exercises and are rarely over 30 minutes (including warmup).

I used the Split Workouts app I built back in 2015 to help me track everything. The renewed use of this app, inspired me to update, re-build and re-release it in December of 2020.

I did high-density workouts 4-6 days a week. Since Apple Watch tracks VO2 max on 20 min (or longer) "Outdoor Walks" and "Outdoor Runs" only, I made sure that I complete at least one walk a month. Most of those walks were slow, because it was summer and they were all about me spending time with my pre-schooler (great times!).

Split Workouts: 6 days/week plan
December VO2 max: 43.9

It Worked!

I didn't know what kind of impact high-density workouts would have on it. I assumed they'd be good, and they were. By December my VO2 max levels have increased by about 4 points which promoted me from "average" to "good" in my age group. My peak in December was 44.1.

I wonder what that level would be if Apple tracked VO2 max on other workout types. The "Outdoor Walks" I did to track my VO2 max didn't raise my heart rate by much.

As I continue to focus on exclusively doing high-density workouts, I'll try a monthly 20 min jog instead of walk to track VO2 max levels to see what difference that would make.

If you like to lift weights and want to increase your VO2 max without cardio specific workouts, give high-density workouts a try and use Split Workouts app to track them. I think you’ll find it just as helpful as I did.

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