If Longevity is Your Priority, You Need To Care About VO2 Max. Here’s Why

Insights You'll Actually Use

Real health and wellness wins
and how to achieve them yourself

If Longevity is Your Priority, You Need To Care About VO2 Max. Here’s Why...

Enhance your lung health & V02 max with exercise. Learn how exercise boosts respiratory fitness & discover practical tips. Improve your lung health now!
A healthy, happy woman

Cardiovascular fitness is a desired benefit of any proper exercise regimen. People commonly spend hours per week jogging, biking, swimming, or on a machine at the gym in pursuit of heart health, lung health, and improved fitness.

However, it turns out that strength is the best activity to perform for global metabolic conditioning and improve your VO2 Max, a potent predictor of longevity.

What is VO2 Max?

Simply stated, VO2 Max is a measurement that represents how much oxygen your body can absorb and use during exercise. It measures your aerobic fitness levels.

It is now well-understood in the scientific literature that VO2 Max levels have a direct causative relationship with longevity.

So how do we increase our VO2 Max and maximize the amount of oxygen we’re able to use? How can we use exercise to improve our fitness and longevity?

It turns out that safe, high-intensity strength training is the answer we’ve been looking for.

What Causes Improved VO2 Max?

Many people will point to breathing exercises, diaphragmatic breathing, and other methods for increasing the body’s uptake of oxygen. And while it’s important to breathe properly during the day and during exercise, these methods are actually downstream of a far more important priority.

The cardiovascular system’s purpose is to serve your working muscles, and high-intensity strength training places demands on those muscles most efficiently and most safely as compared to all other types of exercise.

A great example of this is a 2012 meta-analysis in the Journal of Exercise Physiology that found that the types of adaptations one would expect from traditional endurance-type aerobic exercise can be acquired just as completely through strength training.

These adaptations include (but are not limited to):

  • an up-regulation of mitochondrial enzymes
  • increased time-to-exhaustion
  • enhanced mitochondrial proliferation
  • phenotypic conversion from type IIx towards type IIa muscle fibers
  • vascular remodeling (including capillarization)

To understand why strength training can have all the same cardiovascular benefits as traditional “cardio,” it is necessary to understand that the cardiovascular adaptations we’re after are produced by the body in proportion to the intensity with which the muscles are made to contract.

For example, all things being equal, higher intensities of exercise (high-intensity strength training rather than jogging, for instance) are more effective for improving VO2 Max, a primary determinant of cardiovascular fitness.

It was also found that, at a sufficient intensity, six minutes of exercise can be just as effective for cardiovascular fitness and condition as an hour of daily moderate activity.

Time and time again the literature suggests that less-intense, longer-duration exercise carries no benefit when compared to more intense — yet brief — exercise.

Enhanced VO2 Max is a Muscle Improvement

The most important point to understand is that when an improvement is observed in someone’s “cardiovascular fitness,” regardless of the activity being performed, what’s actually being observed is an improvement inside the working muscles.

The muscles are where the VO2 Max improvement occurs, not the cardiopulmonary system.

When you fatigue during exercise and are forced to reduce your effort or terminate the exercise entirely, it’s not that your heart and lungs are failing to deliver sufficient oxygenated blood to the muscles. It’s that the byproducts of fuel use inside the muscles have accumulated to the point that the muscles can no longer continue at their current rate.

An elegant study was performed in 1976 in which the experimenters recruited thirteen subjects and trained them on a stationary bike. But crucially, each participant only trained one leg for the entire study.

The trained leg employed a sprint and/or a low-intensity steady-state protocol. The subjects performed four or five of these workouts per week for four weeks.

After the study, when the researchers tested the subjects’ VO2 Max by having them repeat the exercise with the trained limb, they noted an increase in VO2 Max of twenty-three percent.

Now, the one-legged exercise used during the study was supposed to produce a full-body heart-and-lung improvement, but when the experimenters tested the subjects’ untrained legs, they discovered that there was no improvement in VO2 Max at all.

But wait a minute. If “cardio” improves the heart and the lungs, shouldn’t the full body receive this VO2 Max benefit? Why didn’t the heart and lungs show the same twenty-three percent improvement during the tests of both legs?

The answer is the same point made above, which is that when an improvement is observed in someone’s “cardiovascular fitness” or VO2 Max, what’s actually being observed is an improvement inside the muscles, not the heart or lungs.

This is why jogging will give you a better result than walking, running will give you a better result than jogging, and sprinting will give you a better result than running.

A greater demand is being placed on the muscles as you move faster, and as a result, the cardiovascular adaptations become more robust.

The tradeoff here is that you must reduce your total volume of exercise as you increase the intensity, in order to avoid overtraining and injury.

And while this may seem like a bug — “I want to work out for longer, but I can’t!” — it’s actually a huge feature. It means that by briefly placing an intense demand on your muscles and hustling between exercises, you can provoke every desirable cardiovascular adaptation of which your body is capable.

And what’s the best way to place a brief but very intense demand on the muscles?

Answer: strength training.

And what’s the safest and most efficient method for performing strength training?

Answer: The Perfect Workout.

The Best Way to Improve Your VO2 Max

We now know that the muscles are where the action is. In fact, it appears impossible to access or stimulate the heart and lungs for the purpose of administering an exercise stimulus without the involvement of the muscles.

The harder the muscles are made to work, the greater the VO2 Max enhancement. And this is where The Perfect Workout shines, since each set of exercise involves a moment when the target muscles are working at their maximum levels of effort in complete safety.

The conclusion, then, is unavoidable.

If your goal is to maximally stimulate the cardiovascular system to build your VO2 Max and maximize your longevity, you need to maximally stimulate the muscles that our cardiovascular system serves and supports.

And since The Perfect Workout is the best method available for this purpose, it also means that high-intensity strength training as performed at The Perfect Workout is the best tool to condition the cardiovascular system and optimize your VO2 Max.


New to The Perfect Workout? Experience a FREE intro session.
  • Kirsten A. Burgomaster, Scott C. Hughes, George J. F. Heigenhauser, Suzanne N. Bradwell, and Martin J. Gibala (2005), Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology 98:6, 1985-1990
  • Saltin, B., Nazar, K., Costill, D.L., Stein, E., Jansson, E., Essén, B. and Gollnick, P.D. (1976), The Nature of the Training Response; Peripheral and Central Adaptations to One-Legged Exercise. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 96: 289-305.
  • Steele, James and Fischer, James and Bruce-Low, Steward. (2012). Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, June 2012, 15 (3), pp. 53-80
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/vo2-max

More Articles

Want Flat Abs? Stop Doing Crunches! What You Really Need To Know About Achieving a Defined Core

Insights You'll Actually Use

Real health and wellness wins
and how to achieve them yourself

Want Flat Abs? Stop Doing Crunches! What You Really Need To Know About Achieving a Defined Core.

An Introduction to Spot Reduction & Targeted Fat Loss

For a very long time, an idea has persisted that has turned out to be very counterproductive for the global population–and their waistlines. It is so intuitive, and seems so obvious, that it is easily believed by credulous folks looking for a bit of help with their body composition.

This idea is known as “spot reduction,” and if you were to survey a large group of professional trainers you would find a not-so-surprising majority of them believe in it wholeheartedly.

A billion-dollar industry has emerged around this one idea.

8-Minute Abs. The Thigh-Master. Ab Rollers. Electric abdominal stimulators.

However, despite its popularity, spot reduction is a myth that won't help you lose weight. Let’s take a look at the facts.

What Is Spot Reduction?

The phenomenon of spot reduction can be defined as the belief that fat in a certain area of the body can be reduced through the contraction of specific muscles in the target area. E.g. exercising the abdominal muscles in an effort to lose fat in or around your midsection.

Makes sense, right? To lose fat in your stomach, do situps and crunches. To lose fat in your upper arms, do triceps pressdowns. To lose fat in your hips, perform squats. Simple.

Simple and wrong, that is!

The way it’s supposed to work never pans out, and much like Einstein’s definition of insanity we keep repeating the very same strategies that have been failing, but expect a different result each time. It’s a case of the blind (mis)leading the blind.

And it’s not just time-wasting exercises that fail to produce the targeted fat loss. There is no shortage of “innovative” products that claim to be able to provide this holy grail. A quick perusal of Amazon’s online marketplace reveals myriad lotions, creams, heating pads, cooling pads, rolling tools, and even electrical stimulation devices all marketed using the principle of spot reduction.

But let’s examine the principle: can you actually target specific areas for fat loss?

Vintage exercise machine

Why Spot Reduction is a Myth

The truth is that the regulation of your fat tissue is out of your direct, instantaneous control. There are middle-men called “hormones” that are responsible for regulating the amount and quality of fat tissue you carry. Your only access to this system is to indirectly affect your fat tissue by manipulating these hormones. And no amount of ‘spot reduction’ work will have a meaningful impact on your hormonal system.

Some examples of hormones involved in the regulation of fat tissue include:

  • Insulin–released by the pancreas, helps regulate blood sugar and glucose storage.
  • Leptin–released from your fat tissue, provides the signal to your brain that you are full.
  • Ghrelin–the “hunger hormone,” tells your brain that you need more food.
  • Cortisol–commonly associated with high levels of stress, released from the adrenals, can cause excessive fat storage.
  • Estrogen–a sex hormone responsible for regulating the female reproductive system, as well as the immune, skeletal, and vascular systems. Can alter the pattern of fat deposition.
  • Neuropeptide Y (NPY)–increases hunger and decreases energy expenditure, leading to increased fat deposition.
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1) – a gut hormone that helps tell your brain that you are full.

Whew. Who knew there was so much going on beyond “eat less and move more?” In light of the intricate workings of your hormonal system, what are the odds that you can preferentially burn fat from a certain place on your body just by contracting the nearby muscles?

The truth is, when fat tissue is reduced, it is reduced a little bit from everywhere in a hormonally-determined pattern. So if you want to lose fat from anywhere, you have to lose fat from everywhere.

So how do we do it?

A person workouts using the adduction machine

Resistance Training Hits The Spot

There are several reasons that full-body, high-intensity strength training is the most effective method for improving your body composition and reducing your body fat percentage. But the main thing is the hormonal enhancement that resistance training–especially when combined with diet, sleep, and other lifestyle factors–produces.

For example, we know that resistance training of this type:

Do you see the huge health benefits that are possible when you have a more holistic view? When you’re only focused on fitness myths like spot reduction, you miss out on all the things you could be doing if you just paid more attention to the important things.

When you eat in a way that balances your hormones, consistently get ample sleep, and engage in full-body, high-intensity strength training workouts, you’ll find that those pesky “spots” of fat begin to disappear along with the balance of fat elsewhere in the body. No lotions, creams, or electric shocks needed!

Bringing It Home

Even though we’ve advanced our understanding of fat tissue regulation in recent decades, very old ideas like spot reduction persist. It’s the fat loss version of the get-rich-quick shortcuts that are increasingly prevalent today.

Spot reduction strategies’ potential benefits and relatively low cost might seem superior to the more holistic options discussed above. But half of a sure thing is better than twice of nothing, and our recommendation is that you learn this lesson sooner than later.

The consistent practice of the habits and strategies that improve body composition incrementally over time will do more to rid you of undesirable fat tissue than dozens of gimmicks, tricks, and other counterproductive canards.

Eat, sleep, and train in a way that is compatible with your long-term goals and can be sustainably incorporated into your lifestyle. That’s the best “spot reduction” there is.

And we can help!

We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.

More Articles

Best Exercises for Shoulder Mobility

The Best Exercises for Shoulder Mobility

Learn about the shoulder joint, how shoulder mobility works, and the best exercises to keep your shoulders healthy and strong with The Perfect Workout!

Updated 03/24/23
Lat Pullowdown exercise at The Perfect Workout

Did you know that your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your whole body?

It can move up and down and twist around in all different directions.

But because it moves so much, it is also less stable, which makes it more susceptible to injury-induced pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of the shoulder joint, how shoulder mobility works, and the best exercises to keep your shoulders healthy and strong.

Jump to Topic:
Why Are Shoulders Important?
How Shoulder Mobility Works
The Best Exercises for Shoulders
The Weight of the World on Your Shoulders

Why Are Shoulders Important?

If you’ve ever put something into the overhead bin, tossed a frisbee, or had to reach something in the back seat, you’ve taken advantage of one of the most useful abilities your body possesses: shoulder flexibility!

During your formative years you don’t even think about it. But as the years go by, your shoulder joints let you know that it is more and more important to build strength in this critical area.

New Solutions to Build On Foundational Ideas

We’ve talked about joint health before. And while the shoulders have certain unique attributes compared with other body parts, many of the same principles apply.

A Full Range of Motion

As we’ve written previously, one of the main principles of joint health and stability is to move the joint in question through its full range of motion.

The shoulders are no different, and whichever strategy you use to enhance your shoulder movement, it should involve the full range of motion of which your shoulders are currently capable. Otherwise, you could limit your strength gains or even restore your shoulders’ capacity but only in a small part of the full range. Not good!

Not So Different from Other Joints

The same general things that are good for the knees, the hips, or any other joints in the body are also good for the shoulders. We actually wrote up a good rundown of why hip strength and flexibility are so important, for example.

Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are also contributors to shoulder pain and limited movement, and it’s important to know what to do to solve both problems. Often you can ‘hit two birds with one stone.’

Speaking of which…

How Shoulder Mobility Works

Many well-meaning but misinformed people—when first attempting to address their shoulder pain or lack of shoulder function—engage in a program of stretching that is designed to increase the flexibility of the shoulder joint.

But this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between a joint, the limbs it connects, and the muscles that control its movement.

“Increasing” Your Flexibility vs. “Enhancing” Your Flexibility

Joints are permissive, not motive. That is, they permit movement. They do not produce it. The muscles produce the movement.

A muscle contracts, and the attached limbs move only as far through the range of motion as the involved joints will permit.

So if you want to restore full flexibility, which side of the cause/effect relationship should you adjust?

Many in the fitness industry focus on the effect and ignore the cause. They will attempt to improve shoulder movement by performing held stretches, foam rolling, or other strategies to loosen up the connective tissue and force the arm into previously-unobtainable positions.

But now they’ve created a situation where the shoulder has the flexibility to move into all parts of the range of motion, but the involved musculature is not strong enough to control the arm through that range.

So all they’ve really created is joint instability: an arm that can move into positions beyond the control of the muscles.

They’ve “increased” their shoulder flexibility. But they have not “enhanced” their shoulder’s ability to move.

Focus on the Cause and the Effect Will Follow

Think back to our fundamentals: the muscles contract, and the involved joints allow movement. The point at which the muscular force is insufficient to move the limbs any further is the end of the range of motion.

So if you have tight shoulders, or just want to increase your shoulder flexibility, all you have to do is increase the strength of the involved muscles! Simple.

In other words, there is nothing that can be done for your shoulder ability and health through stretching or physical manipulation that cannot be matched and surpassed by increasing the strength of your muscles. And with a far smaller time commitment, too.

The Best Exercises for Shoulder Mobility

So now the task is simple: what are the best movements for enhancing the strength of the muscles that surround the shoulder? The good news is that these shoulder exercises work for seniors, twenty-somethings, and working professionals alike.

Lateral Raise

The lateral raise involves flexion of the shoulder out to the side of the body, primarily involving the side deltoid. This muscle is the “cap” of the shoulder, and has primary control of the majority of the range of shoulder flexion. Very important for movement.

Image of a lateral raise exercise

Overhead Press

The overhead press is performed by pressing the arms overhead. This involves coordination of the front deltoid, side deltoid, triceps, and trapezius muscles, all very important for shoulder health.
A member of The Perfect Workout performs the Overhead Press exercise

Compound Row

The compound row is performed by pulling the resistance in towards the body on a horizontal plane. It involves the use of the rear deltoid, side deltoid, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, arm flexors, and grip. This is another example of a movement involving all the muscles that surround the shoulder joint, enhancing its health and integrity in the process.

A member of The Perfect Workout performs the Compound Row exercise

Face Pulls

Face pulls are a very targeted exercise for the rear deltoid, rhomboids, trapezius, and other muscles that connect the shoulder blades and the shoulder joint itself. It is very popular in physical therapy clinics around the globe.

Image of a man doing a face pull exercise

The Weight of The World on Your Shoulders Just Got Lighter

Always remember that shoulder mobility begins and ends with the strength of the surrounding muscles.

Here at The Perfect Workout, we don’t just wrench your joints through extreme parts of the range of motion in a misguided attempt to increase your flexibility.

Instead, the focus of your time is where you can get the biggest return: getting you stronger. There’s nothing that can be accomplished for your shoulder health that cannot be achieved as a result of our targeted, efficient strength methodology.

We know strength training is important, but nutrition is also a huge piece of your wellbeing. If you'd like help learning how to implement these new habits alongside your workouts, schedule a Nutrition Intro session today! Email [email protected] to get started.