In the athletic world, you constantly hear a term known as VO2max. But DanceSport athletes rarely talk about this, and many don’t even know what it means. Let me enlighten you.

Simply put, VO2max refers to your body’s ability to consume oxygen. It’s a measurement of the Maximum (max) Velocity (V) at which your body can take in Oxygen (O2) during strenuous exercise. For the average non-athlete between 30 to 79 years old, VO2 max ranges from 28 to 48 ml/min/kg for men and 20 to 38 ml/min/kg for women. The range relates to age and fitness level. As you get older, the numbers drop. Full-out dancing at the championship level can require up to 25 ml/min/kg of oxygen. For an unfit male with a VO2 max of 28, this can represent 95% of maximum capacity! See more detailed info here.

Elite athletes are fanatical about measuring and optimizing VO2max, because they know that it’s a key part of competitive excellence. If you still have room to breathe harder and take in more oxygen, while your opponents are maxed out and hyperventilating, you’ll win the race. Cycling legend Lance Armstrong famously slept in an oxygen deprivation tent to prepare his lungs for the reduced oxygen levels of the high alps, so that he would be more prepared for the Tour de France than his opponents.

DanceSport is a rigorous, high-energy activity. Over several rounds of five dances each, athletes need all the oxygen they can take in. Those with better VO2max capability will still look and feel fresh at the end of their rounds, as opposed to those who are dying from the exertion.

As Canadian DanceSport competitors prepare to compete in the Canadian Closed Championships in the higher altitude of Calgary, Alberta, they should think about how to increase VO2max. Technically, there is an 8-11% decrease in VO2 max per 1000m in elevation change above 1600m. Although Calgary sits at just 1000 meters altitude, athletes still feel the impact of the higher elevation. The decrease might be just 5%, but if your VO2max drops from, say, 40 to 35%, you’ll be going from 60% of your capacity to 70% of capacity, and that could leave you exhausted and out of breath, making the next round that much harder to complete with any measure of quality.

As we begin to move into the spring season, think about activities you can do to increase your VO2max. These can include cycling, running, trail running and the Grouse Grind.