Garmin Smart watches

How Does Garmin Calculate VO2 Max? (Garmin Vs Lab Vs Apple)

  • November 22, 2023
  • Kian

VO2 max, or the maximum volume of oxygen an individual can consume per minute per kilogram of body weight at peak performance, is a crucial metric in assessing cardiovascular fitness. Garmin, a leading provider of wearable fitness technology, offers users the ability to estimate their VO2 max through various devices equipped with advanced analytics. While VO2 max is typically measured in a lab setting, companies like Garmin employ sophisticated algorithms to estimate it in real-world scenarios. In this blog post, we will delve into the mechanics of How Does Garmin Calculate VO2 Max? and explore its accuracy in monitoring performance over time.

Importance of VO2 Max:

VO2 max serves as a key indicator of cardiorespiratory fitness, representing the maximum rate at which oxygen is transported to muscles and efficiently used for aerobic energy production. Higher VO2 max scores signify better fitness levels, while lower scores may indicate a need for improvement. Understanding and managing your VO2 max can provide valuable insights into your overall health and fitness.

Garmin Forerunner 55, GPS, KOR/SEA, Aqua
Garmin Forerunner 55, GPS, KOR/SEA, Aqua
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Factors Influencing VO2 Max:

While genetics play a role in determining the efficiency with which your body uses oxygen, VO2 max is a dynamic metric that responds to lifestyle and training choices. Regular physical activity, especially with the right intensity and duration, can positively impact VO2 max. Garmin devices offer users the ability to track and monitor their VO2 max over time, allowing for a personalized approach to fitness management.

Garmin Devices and VO2 Max Estimate:

Garmin devices equipped with VO2 max estimation capabilities use sophisticated analytics to assess the relationship between movement speed and the effort required to maintain that pace. The Firstbeat Analytics engine, integrated into Garmin devices, analyzes performance data during activities such as running, brisk walking, cycling, and multisport endeavors.

How Garmin Predicts VO2 Max

  1. VO2max Indicator:
  • Garmin’s VO2 max estimation is prominently displayed at the end of each run or bike session, or it may appear in the achievement section. This indicator is a key component in understanding your aerobic capacity.
  1. Linear Progression of Option Consumption and Heart Rate:
  • The estimation is based on a linear progression of oxygen consumption and heart rate. By plotting your heart rate against your pace or power in a graph, Garmin collects data from various sessions, including low-intensity, mid-type, threshold, and top VO2 max work.
  1. Factors Influencing Estimation:
  • Garmin considers factors like body weight, age, and the type of sessions you engage in. Athletes should be mindful of updating their body weight in Garmin Connect, as it directly affects the relative measure per kilogram of mass.
  1. Impact of Session Types on Estimation:
  • The types of sessions you perform can influence the accuracy of the VO2 max estimation. Long, slow sessions may lead to underestimation, while solely engaging in high-intensity workouts may result in overestimation.
  1. Importance of Session Mix and Data Quality:
  • To enhance accuracy, it’s crucial to have a mix of intensities, along with good-quality GPS and heart rate data. A well-rounded set of data, combined with accurate body weight information, contributes to a more reliable VO2 max estimation.

Comparing Garmin Estimates to Lab Testing:

In comparing Garmin’s estimates to lab testing, the results are remarkably close, with a small variance of usually 1 to 5 milliliters per kilogram per minute. This suggests that Garmin’s algorithm provides a reasonably accurate measure for tracking VO2 max over time. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that the type of training one undertakes can influence the estimate. For instance, long, slow endurance training may result in a lower estimate, while high-intensity training could yield a higher one.

After enduring the test, I received data output that allowed me to compare Garmin’s estimate with the lab results. Garmin had initially indicated a VO2 max of 60, a respectable figure depending on the sport. Elite athletes often surpass 65, while the average active person falls between 40 and 50.

Upon analyzing the lab data, my true VO2 max was revealed to be 58. This result was closer to reality than I had anticipated, considering Garmin’s tendency to overestimate. While Garmin’s estimate was not spot-on, it provided a reasonable guesstimate of my true VO2 max.

How Does Garmin Calculate VO2 Max?
How Does Garmin Calculate VO2 Max?

Comparison of VO2 Max Calculations: Garmin vs. Apple Watch

In a comparative study between the Apple Watch 6 and Garmin 945, both devices were worn simultaneously during 14 runs over a five to six-week period. Garmin’s VO2 Max calculation requires a 10-minute outdoor run with GPS, maintaining a 70% heart rate. Apple’s approach involves outdoor activities on flat terrain with a 30% heart rate increase from resting levels, with no specified time requirement but suggesting at least five minutes. 

The results showed a negligible 2.3 difference in average VO2 Max between the devices (Apple Watch 41.3, Garmin 43.7), indicating a close alignment. Individual data points revealed Apple Watch’s more granular insights with decimal points, while both devices exhibited a consistent increase in VO2 Max, highlighting reliable algorithm performance. The minor differences suggest similar accuracy, but user experience may vary, with Apple Watch’s decimal increments potentially offering a more detailed and motivating view of changes.

Activity-Specific Requirements for VO2 Max Estimation:

Garmin devices have specific criteria for estimating VO2 max based on the type of activity recorded. For running, outdoor activities must last at least 10 to 15 minutes, with heart rate elevated to at least 70% of the maximum for a continuous duration. Similar criteria apply to cycling, walking, trail running, ultra running, and multisport activities, each tailored to the unique demands of the exercise.

VO2 Max Estimates Without GPS:

Some Garmin watches without an internal GPS receiver can estimate VO2 max using accelerometer data and heart rate information. Users are required to engage in brisk walks or runs lasting at least 15 minutes, maintaining a speed above 4 km per hour, with elevated heart rate conditions.

VO2 Max Estimates from All-Day Heart Rate:

Garmin devices announced after April 2017, featuring optical heart rate sensors, can generate VO2 max estimates from all-day heart rate data. This provides users with a continuous assessment of their cardiorespiratory fitness, offering a comprehensive view of their health over an extended period.

Improving VO2 Max and Physiological Adaptations:

Regular workout schedules, tailored to individual fitness levels, are instrumental in improving VO2 max over time. Garmin’s technology allows users to track their progress and adapt their training regimens to optimize aerobic capacity. Physiological adaptations occur as the body becomes more efficient at utilizing oxygen, leading to improved overall cardiovascular health.


Now hopping that you got everything about how does garmin calculate VO2 Max? Garmin’s innovative approach to VO2 max estimation provides users with a valuable tool for assessing and managing their cardiovascular fitness. By understanding the criteria, requirements, and nuances of how Garmin calculates VO2 max, individuals can make informed decisions to enhance their overall health and well-being. Regular use of Garmin devices, coupled with a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, empowers users to take control of their fitness journey and strive towards achieving optimal cardiorespiratory health.


Which Garmin Watches Have VO2 Max?

Here is a list of Garmin watches that typically have VO2 max estimation capabilities:

Running and Outdoor Watches:

  • fēnix 7 series
  • fēnix 6 series
  • fēnix 5 series
  • Forerunner 955
  • Forerunner 945
  • Forerunner 745
  • Forerunner 245 Music
  • Forerunner 245
  • Forerunner 255 Music
  • Forerunner 255

Multisport and Specialty Watches:

  • MARQ Athlete
  • tactix 7 series
  • D2 Mach 1
  • Instinct 2 series
  • Lily watches
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Cycling Watches:

  • Venu 2 series

Specialty Series:

  • Enduro

Dive Watches:

  • Descent Mk2

How to Measure VO2 Max On a Garmin Watch?

To measure VO2 max on a Garmin watch, you can follow these general guidelines based on the provided information:

  1. Select Compatible Activity:
  • Ensure that you choose a compatible activity profile on your Garmin watch, such as running or cycling, as VO2 max estimation is often specific to certain activities.
  1. Use the Right Watch Model:
  • Different Garmin watches have specific requirements for calculating VO2 max. Refer to your watch’s owner’s manual to confirm that your device supports VO2 max estimation.
  1. Record Outdoor Activities:
  • For most running and outdoor watches, the activity must be recorded outdoors with a GPS signal. Ensure that your watch is acquiring a GPS signal before starting your activity.
  1. Maintain Duration and Intensity:
  • Running activities should generally be 10 minutes or longer, with heart rate data from either the built-in optical heart rate sensor or an external chest strap.
  • Cycling activities should typically be 20 minutes or longer without stopping, and power data is often required in addition to heart rate data.
  1. Elevate Heart Rate:
  • Ensure that your heart rate is elevated to at least 70% of your maximum heart rate for the specified duration continuously during the activity.
  1. Check Device Requirements:
  • Familiarize yourself with the specific requirements for VO2 max calculation on your Garmin device, including the need for GPS, heart rate, and other data depending on the activity.
  1. Sync with Garmin Connect:
  • Sync your recorded activity with the Garmin Connect app, ensuring that the app is linked to your Garmin Connect account.
  1. Wait for Processing:
  • Allow some time for the device and Garmin Connect to process the activity data. The VO2 max estimate is generated based on the analysis of your performance during the recorded activity.
  1. Verify Software Updates:
  • Ensure that your device’s software is up to date, as certain features, including VO2 max estimates for specific activities, may depend on the latest firmware.
  1. Check Compatibility:
  • If you’re using third-party apps like Tacx Training™, Zwift, or TrainerRoad, make sure they are linked to your Garmin Connect account and meet the specified requirements for syncing and post-processing.

Remember that the specific steps and requirements can vary based on the Garmin watch model and the type of activity you’re engaging in. Always refer to your watch’s owner’s manual for detailed instructions and to confirm the compatibility of your device with VO2 max estimation.

How Does Garmin Calculate VO2 Max?

Garmin calculates VO2 max estimates by analyzing physiological data collected during activities using its Firstbeat Analytics engine. This includes heart rate data, GPS or accelerometer data for movement tracking, and, for cycling, power data. The engine assesses the relationship between movement speed and effort, identifying sustained effort periods. The dynamic calculation adapts to individual performance patterns, and post-processing occurs when syncing with Garmin Connect. Continuous learning over time improves the reliability of the VO2 max estimate. Specific criteria for different activities and software updates may influence the accuracy of calculations, and maintaining up-to-date software ensures access to the latest improvements.

Is Garmin VO2 Max Accurate?

Garmin’s VO2 max estimates are generally accurate for a consumer fitness tracker, providing a practical way to gauge cardiorespiratory fitness. The indirect measurement relies on algorithms analyzing data during activities, with accuracy influenced by factors like activity type and individual variability. Continuous software updates aim to enhance precision, and while not a substitute for lab testing, these estimates offer valuable trend indicators for monitoring fitness changes over time. For precise assessments or specific health concerns, professional testing is recommended.

Is Apple or Garmin VO2 max more accurate?

Determining which device, either Apple or Garmin, provides more accurate VO2 Max measurements is a nuanced task. The accuracy of VO2 Max readings can be influenced by various factors, including the algorithms used by each company, the quality of sensors, and individual physiological differences among users.

In the comparison outlined in the blog post, the average VO2 Max values between the Apple Watch 6 and Garmin 945 showed a minimal difference of 2.3. This suggests that, on average, both devices provide relatively similar readings. The consistency in the trend patterns over multiple runs also indicates that both devices are reliable in tracking changes in VO2 Max over time.

It’s crucial to note that the slight variation observed may not significantly impact the user’s overall fitness tracking experience, especially for individuals engaging in casual or recreational activities. Both Apple and Garmin seem to use effective algorithms for VO2 Max calculation, leading to comparable results.

Ultimately, the choice between Apple and Garmin should not hinge solely on VO2 Max accuracy. User preferences, additional features, ecosystem compatibility, and design may be equally or more important factors in deciding which fitness wearable is the better fit for an individual.

Individual experiences and preferences can vary, so it’s advisable for users to consider their specific needs and try out both devices if possible to determine which aligns better with their overall fitness goals and lifestyle.

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