How Garmin calculates VO2 max and its reliability

VO2 max measurement by Garmin watches is a key tool for runners, cyclists and those monitoring their aerobic fitness. But how does Garmin perform these calculations and can we really trust these estimates?

How does Garmin rate VO2 max?

Garmin uses a proprietary algorithm to estimate VO2 max, which means the exact method remains relatively confidential. However, we know that this assessment depends mainly on the heart rate data collected by the watch or an associated heart rate monitor. It is essential that the heart rate reaches at least 70% of its maximum value for a specific period for the measurement to be taken into account.

Data and collection methods

According to Firstbeat Analytics, the analytics arm of Garmin, the formula incorporates personal information and data collected during activity. This includes movement speed and heart rate data. The algorithm examines the relationship between internal (body effort) and external (performance produced) workload to provide an estimate.

Get an estimate of VO2 max for the race

  • The running session should last at least 15 minutes.
  • The activity must take place outdoors and require a GPS signal.
  • Heart rate data must come from the watch or an associated chest strap.
  • The heart rate should reach at least 70% of the maximum value for 15 minutes or more.

Get an estimate of VO2 max for cycling

For cycling, the requirements are slightly different:

  • The cycling activity must last at least 20 minutes without interruption.
  • Heart rate data must be collected either via the watch or via a connected chest strap.
  • Heart rate should also be at least 70% of maximum for at least 20 consecutive minutes.
  • Data from a power meter is also needed during exercise.

Reliability of VO2 max estimation by Garmin

It’s important to note that Garmin’s VO2 max estimate is, as the name suggests, an estimate. However, Garmin, through Firstbeat Analytics, claims that their method can automatically detect your VO2max fitness level with 95% accuracy compared to laboratory measurements. This accuracy improves with the increase and precision of the data provided.

Using a chest strap to measure heart rate can improve the accuracy of these estimates, as can wearing the watch correctly.

While Garmin’s VO2 max estimate is not a substitute for a lab test, it provides a reliable approximation for those looking to monitor and improve their overall fitness. With the right settings and proper use, this tool can be extremely useful for athletes of all levels.

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