Semi-non-technical vVO2max explanation and determination

I’ll first clarify that I am not a physiologist. I try to distill information from lots of technical reading and numerous seminars and workshops with a leading exercise physiologist (Owen Anderson Ph. D.) into practical applications. Anyone who is a physiologist may differ with some of my more basic explanations of highly technical data. I pride myself on making this information as useable as possible for the end user – coaches and runners. If you want all the cited references, go to a more scientific resource.

vVO2max is the minimal velocity or pace at which you reach your peak oxygen usage. It is not your maximum running speed. It isn’t the pace at which you “breathe” heaviest. It isn’t the pace you barf at (though it may be close to it for some people).

vVO2max is a more important data point than VO2max because it includes elements of running efficiency along with that oxygen usage. VO2max is a poor indicator of running performance whereas vVO2max is very good. Therefore, we want to know this number. From your vVO2max we can project all kinds of other race as well as the most appropriate workout paces.

The “perfect” way to determine your vVO2max is to test in a regulated laboratory environment. This is not practical for most of us. The good news is that it isn’t even necessary! It appears that physiologist have determined that an evenly paced all out 6 minute run is an ideal way to determine one’s vVO2max. I have read it can be up to 7 or even as much as 9 minutes. The differences lie in the condition of the athlete – novice or elite. The preferred method of physiologists is to do a 6:00 time trial; measure the distance run; calculate the pace per lap (400 meters) or mile. This method comes within plus or minus 18 meters of your laboratory distance for 6:00; or depending on your pace maybe plus or minus 4-5 seconds. [So, if you run 1600 meters in 6:00 it would mean your vVO2max pace is between 5:55-6:05.]

Now for my practical application. The experts seem to agree that somewhere around that 6:00 figure works for most of the people most of the time. But, 6:00 is not an absolute figure. I have found excellent results running 1200, 1600, 2000 meter time trials. Why 1200, 1600 or 2000 meters? It is practical – 3, 4 or 5 laps of a traditional track. What easier way to calculate paces? It reduces the math to what is second nature to most runners – pace per laps.

And so how do I know what distance to use? Simple. I determine one’s basic ability with straight forward questions. What pace do you run various workouts? What pace was a recent race? How fast do you think you could run a mile? Based on the answers I simply tell the person to run the closest number of full laps.

If I determine that they will run a single all out mile in 8:00 or slower, I have them run a 1200. Three laps at 2:00 (8:00 mile pace) is 6:00. If I think they will run 5:30-8:00 I have them run a 1600, knowing their run will take within the timeframe to determine their vVO2max. If the runner is faster than 5:30 for a mile, I move to 2000.

Ideally, I prefer to do a couple time trials over a few weeks (as do researchers). This does a few things.

  1. The pace for this distance is alien to most runners. It gives them a chance to improve on pacing and therefore yielding more accurate results.
  2. It provides a wonderful incentive to “break” the next barrier, especially if you are using the 1600. 
  3. This forms the basis for an excellent workout day. After a complete recovery from the time trial, I add 4-6 x 400 @ mile pace with full recoveries to wrap up the session.
  4. And finally, it trains your body and mind to give a race effort. In a club atmosphere it is a fun “test” or challenge with everyone.  

I’m often asked when do you know to move workout paces faster. This happens when one of two things happens. Either you run a  time trial faster or you successfully race faster. This means a time trial is an integral part to training and is performed once every 4 to 8 weeks.

Next, I’ll explore how you use the vVO2max determination to figure out your ideal workout paces. That means you will become more efficient with your training!


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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2 Responses to Semi-non-technical vVO2max explanation and determination

  1. moustafa says:

    i want to know something
    how vVo2max measure in swimming
    thank you for reading my comment

  2. Dean Hebert says:

    Great question that unfortunately I do not have a good answer. However, One source that I respect and rely on for just such information is here:
    (Sorry there isn’t a hot link, just copy and past this link into your browser for more information.

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