With technology advancing, there are many ways that health and fitness biomarkers are being transferred completely into watches and apps. Does that mean VO2 Max will be next? Most devices are plugging information like age and gender into a standardized formula to estimate VO2 Max, but there are a few who are starting to incorporate active data into the equation. But how accurate are they next to a gold-standard VO2 Max test? 

Runner’s World Magazine released an article reviewing different studies presented at ACSM by Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville; Eastern Michigan and Lipscomb University. These studies reviewed the accuracy of different wearable devices like Garmin 230 (chest strap), Garmin 235 (wrist sensor) and Polar’s resting HRV system – devices that combine data like pace and heart rate with your age and sex in order to get an estimate closer to your actual results. 

When we combine these studies, we find a wide range of inaccuracy among these devices. For example, one study showed Polar constantly overestimating by as much as 10%, while another showed Garmin products consistently underestimating by 2-4 ml/kg/min. Though chest straps prove to be slightly more accurate than wrist sensors, none of these devices came much closer to the lab results than a formula would. 

The article closes with the assumption that “an estimate of VO2 Max is interesting for curiosity’s sake…” but why not take the time for measurements that can actually affect how you see your workouts? Not just the fitness vital sign of VO2 Max, but also anaerobic threshold – which can determine the duration and intensity of your most effective workouts – and Respiratory Exchange Ratio – which can determine how many carb vs fat calories you burn during each phase of your workout. If your tester/trainer is using a CardioCoach device, they may be able to point you to the CardioCoach App, which will guide you through the implementation of your results. 

With all this in mind, we would conclude that you will gain more from a VO2 Max on a machine than you will from an estimate on your watch or chest strap. Take the time to learn what your body needs to maximize your workouts.

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To read the full article from Runner’s World, click here.

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