How to train with a genetically low VO2Max

Not sure what VO2Max is, or why DNAfit tests for it in our genetic fitness report? Never fear, our experts are here to teach you everything you need to know. We’re unpacking VO2Max potential and how it affects your training and fitness levels. 

What is VO2Max?

VO2Max is the threshold of your body’s ability to transport and use oxygen during physical activity. 

That may sound confusing, but don't worry - by the end of this article, you'll have a thorough understanding of VO2Max potential–and what it means for your training.

If you’re sitting (or standing) and reading this, your body is transporting the oxygen you breathe in, and using it in a variety of ways. But, that’s not a measure of VO2Max–because you’re not currently physically active. If you’re reading this while running on the treadmill (pat on the back for multitasking), on the other hand, then you’re activating something that can be measured in regard to your VO2Max threshold. 

Why do we use VO2Max?

For a long time, VO2Max was also considered to be the primary indicator to determine how good you will be at aerobic exercise, fitness and sports performance. But, other factors also play a role. Yes, VO2Max is an important component but it is not the be all and end all. This is further highlighted by our understanding of genetics.

Schnauzer running on the treadmill

VO2Max and genetics

VO2Max–a measure of aerobic fitness– is thought to be approximately 50% genetic

At DNAfit, when you get a genetic test done, your DNA report tells us how quickly (and to what magnitude) a person can improve their VO2Max, which is a factor in aerobic fitness. 

A person with a low trainability would likely see smaller improvements, or have these improvements take longer to occur; as such, training that is VO2Max-based in nature would have a smaller effect than with someone with a high potential, for example. We can then use this information to inform training programme design.

If you don’t know your VO2Max potential, and would like to find out whether you have a high or low trainability with regard to VO2Max, a genetic test can bring you those insights! 

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Once you get your test done, you're assisted with a simple, personalised and easy to follow advice on how to improve your fitness and nutrition.

VO2Max? It’s all about potential!

  • Those with a low or very low potential should focus on movement efficiency or lactate threshold training if they want to improve their aerobic endurance performance. 
  • Those with high or very high potential should focus on VO2Max based training, which is typically intense interval training. 
  • Those who are medium potential should likely have a mix of both.

We can use this information to inform how we design our training programmes, but it doesn’t tell us how good we can be. So, if you have a genetically-low VO2Max, there are still ways for you to optimise your training for better results.

Training with a low VO2MAx

How to train with a genetically low VO2Max

Maybe you've been wondering why you find it difficult to keep up with your friend who seems to excel in aerobic training so easily. Why has it always been a little harder for you? Perhaps it's your VO2Max potential!

Your VO2Max potential may be a low compared to their medium or high potential. But, don’t worry! Having low, medium, or high potential, doesn’t translate into bad, good, and best accordingly. 

All it means, is you will now be able to use this genetic information to structure your training plan in a different way, to start seeing results.

Breaking down the answers to training with a low VO2Max trainability

You may be asking yourself: if my VO2max genetic trainability is low does this mean thatI shouldn't do cardiovascular exercises? Well, the answer is complex. If you already participate in, say, long distance running then no, there is no reason why you should stop because your VO2Max genetic trainability is low.

VO2Max is only one piece of the puzzle, and you can use your score as a guideline to adjust your training so that you see greater improvement. 

Some of the ways to do this are to increase the intensity and volume of your training, as well as focus on anaerobic training and improving your biomechanics such as stride length rate.

Implementing the relevant training adaptations, will go a long way to improving your overall performance.

One study has proven that high-intensity aerobic interval training (HIIT) resulted in significantly increased VO2max compared with long slow distance and lactate-threshold training intensities.

What does this mean you ask? Well, if your VO2max genetic trainability is low then doing HIIT will go a long way to conditioning your body to use oxygen more efficiently. High intensity interval training (HIIT) has gained huge popularity. 

A low VO2max genetic trainability isn’t something that is meant to discourage you from undertaking aerobic exercise but to make you aware of training better for better results. 

Another way to improve your VO2max, and get results is by doing anaerobic training

Woman weight lifting

What is anaerobic training?

Anaerobic exercise is defined as short duration, high intensity exercise lasting anywhere from merely seconds up to around two minutes. After two minutes, the body’s aerobic system kicks in.

Whether you focus on cardio or strength training, you can do both anaerobically. Anaerobic exercise can be very difficult because you are required to push yourself beyond your limits for a short period of time. 

Examples of anaerobic training

Basically, any exercise that consists of short exertion, high-intensity movement is an anaerobic exercise. This includes heavy weight training, sprinting (running or cycling) and jumping. 

You will find that you will build muscle more efficiently by doing anaerobic exercise, as opposed to aerobic exercise but it must be noted that you should be careful doing anaerobic workouts because of the intensity they are done at.

Other things to remember about VO2Max

Don’t forget, there are also other environmental factors that come into play with VO2Max such as age, geography, lifestyle and gender.

People over 40, for example, will find that their VO2Max genetic trainability has already started to decrease but as long as you are continuing to train you can effectively manage your score by eating healthy, losing weight, and doing cardio regularly.   

Knowing your inherent genetic response to VO2Max is an important guide. It can give you deep insight into how you can use that information to live a healthier life. The saying: start from where you are and what you have, applies now more than ever!

Keep in mind, even though your VO2max genetic trainability may be low, by implementing cardio into your workout and focusing on improving it you’ll be able to boost your overall VO2max score, and raise your fitness level.

Download our guide, Fitness Hacks for Beginners, to help you reach your peak performance.

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