Improving VO2 Max and Quality Workouts (part I)

We received the following question from a reader over on MySpace. The question didn’t provide a lot of detail, but I’ll tackle it in a two-part post.

First the question:
I’m currently a HS student that specializes in running the 800 and mile. I was wondering if you know any workouts that I can do to improve my Vo2Max. My current Pr’s are: 51.2-400M, 1.58-800M, 4.30-mile, 15.50-3mile, 16.20-5k.

You have very respectable PRs: Nice job!

Your question brings up two separate issues so I’m going to give you two answers: First, how do you improve VO2max, and second, how best do you improve at the distances listed?

First let’s discuss VO2max. VO2max is the measurement of your ability to process oxygen.

There are three primary ways to improve VO2max:
1) Since VO2max is based on weight, you could just simply lose weight. Your VO2max will instantly go up. Of course, this isn’t advised as a method of improving VO2 max for most runners since losing weight for the sake of losing weight could compromise your health. From your times, I can only assume your body weight is appropriate for your height.

2) Second, you can improve VO2max through running more miles. Depending on the research going from being sedentary to running 25 miles per week can improve VO2max by up to 16%. Moving from 25 to the 50 miles per week range can jump it up to another 16%. And moving from 50ish to 70ish improves it up to 3% more. Beyond 70 miles per week there is minimal to no effect at all on VO2max. Keep in mind, with each increase in miles there is a huge increase in the incidence of injuries.

3) Finally, you can use quality workouts (i.e. lactate threshold, speed work) to improve not only VO2max but your lactate threshold, racing pace and your top end speed. Quality work means running faster, but running fewer miles. You’ll get the benefits of increasing your speed on fewer miles per week instead of more. These high quality workouts will be the focus on the next post on this topic.

The downside to this whole VO2max discussion is that as far as measurements go, it is not a very good predictor of performance. In other words, the runner with the higher VO2max does not predict him/her as the winner. Lactate threshold and vVO2max (the minimum speed at which you reach VO2max) as well as some sprint times (300 meters for instance) have been shown to have far better predictive ability than VO2max. If we lined up runners according to their lactate thresholds (high to low) it would also be representative of the finishing line up in most distance races — the same is not true of VO2 Max.

Perhaps this analogy will help. Liken VO2max to how big the gas tank is in your car. You could have a 15 gallon tank and I could have a 12 gallon tank. But if you get 10 miles to the gallon, and I get 30 miles per gallon; you will only go 150 miles on your tank and I will go 360 miles on mine. The issue is efficiency. As a measurement VO2max does not incorporate any efficiency measures, whereas vVO2max does. An efficient runner will race faster than an inefficient runner given similar VO2maxes (or even less as you see in my example).

Finally, VO2max also is not pace specific, whereas lactate threshold is.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll go into more detail about quality workouts — what they are and how to do them.

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA


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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One Response to Improving VO2 Max and Quality Workouts (part I)

  1. Pingback: Improving running economy at short distances (part II) « The Running World According to Dean

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