Relationship Between Heart Rate & VO2 Max

Woman checking her pulse on treadmill at gym

The human heart is a machine that can adapt to make you stronger and faster. The more you work out, the stronger your heart becomes and the more efficient your muscles become at pulling oxygen from your bloodstream. To continue improving, you need to keep stressing these systems in a healthy way. By designing a workout plan that targets specific heart rate zones, you can improve your endurance, heart rate and speed.

Heart Rate Zone Basics

Training within specific heart rate zones can help you reach your fitness goals. The first zone, known as the energy-efficient zone, is 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate and develops basic endurance. The aerobic zone is 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate and improves your body’s ability to transport oxygen to your muscles. The anaerobic zone is 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate and helps your develop your lactic acid system by improving your anaerobic threshold. This is the point when you are working out so hard that your muscles start to burn, eventually forcing you to slow down. Finally there is the red line zone, which is 90 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate. Training in this zone helps you build speed.

VO2 Max Basics

VO2 max refers to the maximum volume of oxygen your body can use during exercise. When you are working out, your muscles are pulling oxygen from your bloodstream. By improving this rate, you can work out at a higher intensity or duration. In a meta-analysis of more than 50 studies, published in "Sports Medicine" in 1986, the authors concluded that workouts performed at 90 to 100 percent of your VO2 max pace bring about the largest improvements in VO2 max performance. This was defined as the slowest pace that you reach your maximum oxygen consumption. For most people, this falls somewhere between your one-mile race pace and two-mile race pace, or how quickly you would run a mile in a race.

Calculating Maximum Heart Rate

To train effectively in heart rate zones, you need to know your maximum heart rate and resting heart rate. A rough estimate to find your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. You have two options for measuring your heart rate while working out: wearing a heart rate monitor or by taking your pulse for 10 seconds and multiplying that number by six. To find your resting heart rate, take your pulse every morning upon waking for one week. After a week, calculate the average.

Calculating VO2 Max

To manually calculate your VO2 max, you need a 400-meter track and a stopwatch. Warm up with a light jog for 10 minutes and then time yourself walking one mile as quickly as possible. Immediately upon finishing, take your heart rate. To calculate your VO2 max, plug your numbers into the formula: 132.853 - (0.0769 × Weight) - (0.3877 × Age) + (6.315 × Gender) - (3.2649 × Time) - (0.1565 × Heart rate). You want to calculate your weight in pounds, age in years, time in minutes through the hundredth second and your heart rate in beats per minute. For gender, men should input a one and women input a zero.

VO2 Workout

According to, sprinting all out for 30 seconds in the red line zone followed by 2 1/2 minutes of easy recovery can improve VO2 max by 3 percent in just four weeks. Do the intervals 12 times per workout, and work out no more than twice a week on nonconsecutive days.