At this point, it’s pretty well known that swimming is amazing for your health. But just how amazing is it?

Beyond improving health outcomes such as blood pressure and mental health, swimming can also increase your VO2 max, which measures how efficiently your body processes oxygen. Let’s take a look at how to measure your VO2 max and how to train effectively to increase it.

What is VO2 Max?

VO2 max is a measure of your maximum oxygen uptake during exercise and is commonly used to measure your aerobic endurance. 

Essentially, VO2 max looks at how well your heart moves blood to your muscles, and how efficiently your muscles utilize oxygen during exercise. It’s a great measure of your overall health and the effectiveness of your training.

A high VO2 max means that your body absorbs more oxygen during exercise, which equals better performance!

Athletes in a variety of sports (especially triathlon, cycling and running) measure their VO2 max, and it can be helpful for swimmers, too – especially if you’re a distance swimmer. As you improve and train harder, your VO2 max will increase.

How to Measure VO2 Max

VO2 max is measured in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. Elite swimmers’ VO2 max can range from 66 to 80 mL O2/kg/minute. 

To calculate VO2 max, use this formula:

mL O2 absorbed in 1 minute / weight in kg

Here’s an example. Say you are a male who weighs 100kg. If you take in 10 liters of oxygen in one minute and exhale six liters, your oxygen uptake is four liters per minute. Plugging that into our formula…

4000mL/100kg = VO2 max of 40

Many athletes head to a healthcare provider’s office to test their VO2 max – they’ll wear a mask over their face while running or biking to measure oxygen uptake. Some smartwatches can also calculate your VO2 max, too, but they may not be as accurate.

How to Increase VO2 Max

In swimming, you can improve your VO2 max in a few ways:

  • Restricting oxygen intake: Swimming does this automatically! When your face is in the water, your breathing is restricted. To challenge yourself further, mix up your breathing pattern with hypoxic training. If you usually breathe every two strokes, try upping it to every four or six for a set.
  • Training tools: Train with a snorkel for additional breath restriction. For extra training outside of the pool, try the Airofit Breathing Trainer. Use code MySwimPro to save 15%!

Swim Workout to Improve VO2 Max

Aerobic swim training can also help boost your VO2 max. Check out this Workout from the MySwimPro app for inspiration! Notice that the main set includes a solid block of swimming, with two sets of 10 100s freestyle. 

The intervals in this Workout are personalized to Fares. Add your times to the MySwimPro app to unlock fully personalized intervals, tailored your speed!

Use code SWIM35 to save $35 on your first year of training >

Distance: 3000 meters

Duration: 60 minutes


  • 1×300 freestyle, easy @ 4:30
  • 6×50 kick, descend 1-6 @ :55

Maximum Distance Per Stroke Set

4×50 freestyle @ :40 negative split stroke count & focus on maximum distance per stroke

Main Set

  • 4×25 Zipper Drill @ :40
  • 10×100 freestyle @ 1:20
  • 10×100 freestyle @ 1:10

Cool Down

1×100 freestyle easy @ 1:40

Improving your VO2 max takes long-term consistency in your training. Put in the work, and you’ll reap the rewards! For personalized Workouts and Training Plans to help you improve your endurance, download the MySwimPro app.

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