VO2 Fitness Testing in the UK Armed Forces

This blog explores the significance of VO2 testing, how it is conducted, and its role in the UK Armed Forces.

What is VO2 Max?

VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, is the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilise during intense exercise. It is expressed in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). VO2 max is widely considered one of the best indicators of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance. The higher the VO2 max, the more efficient the body is at using oxygen, which translates to better endurance and performance in physical tasks.

Here Are Some Key Points About VO2 Max

  • Measure of Aerobic Capacity Reflects the efficiency of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems in delivering oxygen to working muscles.
  • Indicator of Physical Fitness Higher VO2 max values are associated with greater physical fitness and endurance.

  • Predictor of Performance - Used to predict performance in endurance activities such as running, cycling, and swimming.

Why Does VO2 Max Testing Matter in the Armed Forces?

Physical fitness is a fundamental requirement for military personnel, who must be prepared to face demanding physical challenges in various environments. VO2 fitness testing is particularly important in the armed forces, here we take a look at why:

VO2 max provides an objective measure of an individual's aerobic capacity and endurance, which are crucial for military tasks that require sustained physical effort, such as long-distance marches, load carrying, and combat operations. High levels of aerobic fitness are essential for maintaining performance under physically demanding conditions.

VO2 fitness testing helps establish benchmarks for physical performance. It allows the military to set standards and assess whether personnel meet the necessary fitness levels for their roles. This is particularly important for roles that require exceptional physical capabilities, such as special forces or combat infantry.

Regular VO2 testing helps monitor the effectiveness of training programs. By measuring changes in VO2 max over time, military trainers can assess whether training regimens are improving the aerobic fitness of personnel and adjust programs as needed to optimise performance.

Higher levels of aerobic fitness are associated with lower risks of cardiovascular diseases and other health issues. By ensuring that military personnel maintain good aerobic fitness, the armed forces can reduce the risk of health problems that could impair operational readiness and increase medical costs.

In military operations, physical endurance can be a critical factor in mission success. Personnel with higher VO2 max levels are better equipped to endure prolonged physical exertion and recover more quickly from intense activities, contributing to overall mission effectiveness and safety.

The VO2 Test Itself

VO2 fitness testing can be conducted using various protocols, with the most common methods being treadmill or cycle ergometer tests. The test typically involves gradually increasing the intensity of exercise while measuring oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production through a mask connected to a metabolic cart.

  • Participants wear a mask that captures respiratory gases.
  • They will be fitted with a heart rate monitor to track cardiovascular responses.
  • A brief warm-up is performed to prepare the body for the test.
  • The participant begins exercising on a treadmill or cycle ergometer at a low intensity.
  • The intensity is gradually increased in stages until the participant reaches their maximum effort.
  • Throughout the test the metabolic cart measures the volume of oxygen consumed and carbon dioxide produced.
  • The point at which oxygen consumption plateaus despite an increase in exercise intensity is identified as VO2 max.
  • After reaching maximum effort, the participant undergoes a cool-down period to safely lower heart rate and respiratory rate.

VO2 Max Standards in the UK Armed Forces

The UK Armed Forces use VO2 max standards to assess and maintain the fitness of personnel. These standards vary depending on the branch of service and the specific requirements of different roles. For example, roles in the special forces or elite units typically have higher VO2 max requirements compared to non-combat roles.

Typical VO2 Max Requirements:

Combat Roles: VO2 max levels of 45-50 ml/kg/min or higher.

Special Forces: VO2 max levels often exceeding 55-60 ml/kg/min.

General Fitness: VO2 max levels of around 40-45 ml/kg/min for maintaining good health and fitness.

Improving VO2 Max in the Armed Forces

Improving VO2 max is a key goal in the military training programs. Some of the effective strategies include:

Aerobic Training

Endurance Running: Long-distance running helps improve cardiovascular efficiency and oxygen uptake.

Interval Training: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) boosts VO2 max by challenging the cardiovascular system to operate at peak capacity.

Strength Training

Functional Strength Exercises: Building muscle strength supports overall endurance and performance in physical tasks.

Core Strength: Core exercises enhance stability and efficiency in movement, aiding in aerobic performance.

Nutrition & Hydration

Balanced Diet: A diet rich in complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats supports energy levels and recovery.

Hydration: Adequate hydration is crucial for maintaining cardiovascular function and performance.


VO2 testing is a vital tool in the UK Armed Forces for assessing and enhancing the physical fitness of military personnel. By providing a clear measure of aerobic capacity, it helps ensure that service members ate physically prepared for the challenges they face in training and operations. Regular VO2 max testing, combined with targeted training and a balanced diet, can help maintain high levels of physical fitness and support mission success.

Understanding the importance of VO2 max and incorporating strategies to improve it can not only enhance individual performance but also contribute to the overall effectiveness and readiness of the UK Armed Forces. As the demands on military personnel continue to evolve, maintaining superior physical fitness through VO2 max testing and training remains a top priority.

You can book a VO2 max test here - www.bodyview.co.uk/our-services/vo2-max

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