Looking over several years of athletic performance, something that catches one’s eye is that continually and steadfastly, athletes have defied all the odds and broken performance barriers which were considered as impossible at some time or the other. It’s safe to say, we have all come away feeling slightly jealous and baffled after watching the swimmer Michael Phelps, or the Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt. While many factors contribute to such successful performances, like genetics, lactate threshold, and sports economy, one key predictor to one’s performance capacity is the VO2 max or the maximal rate of oxygen consumption. It also goes by various other names such as ‘maximal aerobic capacity’, ‘peak oxygen uptake’ or ‘maximal oxygen uptake’. Despite the name you choose to go for, VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can utilize during intense exercise. And the common question that follows VO2 max is that - how to increase VO2 max?
Everyone works hard and puts in a good effort which is all good and makes up for most of the basics anyway, however, understanding the inner workings and mechanics behind the workout, and how it will lead to higher rates of performance, is the extra push you need. Training, as well as nutrition manipulation, play suitable roles in pumping up your VO2 max, and as a subsequent result, increasing your potential to perform.
It never gets easier, just gets stronger
Initially, what was important only to professional athletes and coaches, VO2 max has steadily gained a foothold even in your average daily runner’s life. Taking a VO2 test isn’t a big deal anymore, and to add to it, there are multiple GPS tracking devices and apps available which come fitted out with this facility to aid in your training activities.
Table of Content
- What is VO2 Max
- How the Concept of VO2 Came into Play
- Calculating your VO2 Max
- What VO2 Max Training Stands For
- How to Increase VO2 Max
- Workout to Improve Your VO2 Max For The Marathons
- Time Required for a Good Improvement in One’s VO2 Max
- Benefits of Increased VO2 Max
What is VO2 Max
VO2 max measures the maximum amount of oxygen consumed in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute. It’s a combination of how much oxygen-rich blood your heart can pump, the rate at which you exhale carbon dioxide and the muscles’ efficiency in extracting and utilizing the oxygen.
Remember though, that there is a maximum level of oxygen consumption, beyond which increases in exercise intensity won’t lead to a further increase in oxygen consumption. This level of oxygen consumption is called the VO2 max.
How important is VO2 Max for runners?
The higher this number, the more amount oxygen gets to your muscles, means you can run faster or longer. Since oxygen is so critical to running fast, the single best measure of running fitness can be easily settled upon VO2 max.
Did you know?
Norway resident, Bjorn Daehlie a cross country skier was recorded to have the highest VO2 Max. His VO2 max was around 93-95 ml/kg/min!
How the Concept of VO2 Came into Play
Understanding how this concept came about, is what will impact the way we view and utilize this parameter. The potential and means to measure consumption of oxygen first came about in the early 1920’s.
Let’s go back to the past -
A.V Hill and his partner H Lupton came up with the idea of there being an upper limit to oxygen consumption in 1923. They then proceeded to conduct an experiment which involved Hill running at various speeds around a grass track, while measuring VO2. Via this, it was derived that Hill reached a VO2max of 4.080 L/min at a speed 243m/min. Despite increases in speed, his VO2 did not increase. This lead to the explanation that there is a maximum limit to oxygen consumption.
Calculating your VO2 Max
VO2 max is an external parameter which is affected by factors such as the number of red blood cells, your muscles’ adaptation to distance running, how much blood your heart can pump.
In order to calculate your VO2 max, the Volume (v) of Oxygen (O2) is measured while running on a treadmill.
Technically, you will be asked to wear a breathing mask while undergoing a progressively difficult treadmill test. Your VO2 max transpires when your oxygen consumption red lines, which usually is at a pace a tad faster than the usual 5k run. It is also at this point that your heart rate will be maxed out.
A physiologist will then come up with a number after considering the rate of oxygen consumption in accordance with your body weight to express how much oxygen you consumed while running at your hardest. This will be your VO2 Max.
What VO2 Max Training Stands for
Know that there are two significant elements that point towards a high VO2 max.
Number one is having a strong oxygen transport system, which would include a robust heart, blood with high levels of haemoglobin, high blood volume, high capillary density in the muscles, and high mitochondrial density within the muscle cells.
The second is, speed or rather, the ability to tighten and flex a large number of muscles concurrently. How this effect is that the number of muscle tissues is put into the effort, the more will be the demand for oxygen.
You are going to love this! While genetics is largely responsible for about 50% of the influence of these factors, the good news is that training has proven to be effective to increase your VO2 max.
The most basic fact is that the more efficiently your body is able to transport and use oxygen, the harder you can train without feeling totally out of breath. Should you desire to sprint, or power through land or water, or maybe break records, your body will need to be conditioned with intense training to increase your VO2 max.
A common question that might cross your mind is - How to increase VO2 max?
Not to dishearten you at the very start, but there is a small proportion of the population for whom training has recorded to make little difference to their VO2 max.
Having said that though, what could be an acceptable expectation is an average increase in VO2 max from anywhere between five percent and twenty percent. Heck, there are records of increases up to sixty percent as well. In the case of untrained athletes, there will be room to improve by as much as 20%.
Notwithstanding that fact, it’s important to note that as you grow fitter, your VO2 max increases will become more marginal. In the case of an elite athlete, a VO2 max increase of even 3-5% is acceptable, even impressive. Losing weight will also increase your relative VO2 max, although, weight doesn’t affect your absolute VO2 max. So, don’t let anything deter you, and you move onto gain that increase! Master the techniques to sprint faster.
How To Increase VO2 Max
It is evident that if you want to win the race, you must work on your VO2 Max! But how to increase VO2 max? Let’s find out.
Oxygen capacity can be limited in two ways. One is that your muscle tissue may not have the chemical propensity to actually utilize the oxygen that it is getting from your lungs and heart.
Second is the lack of adeptness of your heart or lungs to transport the necessary amounts of oxygen to your muscle tissues. Knowing what limits your oxygen capacity, makes it pretty logical how to increase your VO2 capacity. Either you improve the ability of your muscles to use oxygen, or improve the ability of your heart or lungs to deliver oxygen… or you could just do both! Learn the techniques on how to increase lung capacity.
Much research has been undertaken to determine how to increase VO2 max as quickly as possible. What has been discovered to be really effective is performing very hard exercise for 3-5 minutes, separated by complete recovery between each hard effort, is the perfect way to increase your VO2 max.
Preferably, if you are earnest in looking on how to increase VO2 max quickly, then you should be performing these hard exercises in sets of three or more within a single workout session. Also, try to do at least of these type of workouts per week.
There is no one Giant Step that does it, it’s a lot of Little Steps
1. Interval Training: 30/30 and 60/60 intervals
Named after its creator, Veronique Billat, an exercise physiologist at the University of Ille in France, with a goal to create workout formats that would allow runners to spend the greatest total amount of time at VO2 max.
- Start with initial warm up exercises or easy jogging of around 10 minutes.
- Set the countdown timer/stopwatch for 30 seconds and reset it immediately at the beginning and end of each interval.
- Run 30 seconds at your fastest pace you could hold for about six minutes in the race.
- Follow this by a jog of 30 seconds.
- Repeat this alternating process to complete a minimum of 12 sets and a maximum of 20.
- Cool down with easy jogging for about 10 minutes.
Do this workout once a week, for around 4-6 weeks. The number of intervals should gradually but consistently increase from session to session. You will also notice a gradual change in your pace as well.
Post this, switch to a 60-60 format for the next 4-6 weeks. Start with completing a minimum of 6 sets and work your way up to completing as many as 10 by the end of it.
2. Hill Intervals
This is one of the amazing workouts to improve your VO2 max.
Hill intervals or hill repeats, with their short bursts of effort, increase muscular endurance by improving neuromuscular responsiveness.
Additionally, enhancements in breathing, efficiency, cadence, and posture, are other positive side effects. The emphasis on horizontal propulsion also helps to improve the economy by dampening vertical bouncing on the run. You should even know the right technique to breathe while running.
A shorter hill interval of says twenty to ninety seconds helps build speed, strength, and power, while longer intervals of two to three minutes are what counts for developing VO2 max.
- Begin with an easy jog for ten minutes.
- Run hard uphill for two to three minutes.
- Jog back down to your starting point and then repeat.
For a moderately fit person, a set of 4 x 2:00 or 3 x 3:00 is apt. Professional runners could even attempt a set of 10 x 2:00 or 7 x 3:00 with much ease. There isn’t a competition on the set you should do, it’s important to pace yourself so that you do not slow down midway of the workout due to an early onset of fatigue.
Faster interval work-outs strongly benefit increase in your VO2 max. By alternating between bouts of high intensity with recovery periods, allows the body to access more oxygen for the working muscles.
Check this out - A bonus point to this is you might even continue to burn calories even after you’ve left the track, a phenomenon called excess post exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC.
Don’t push your limits by overdoing these had running training. Do them once a week or so and increase your pace!
Workout to Improve Your VO2 Max for Marathons
Now that you know how to increase VO2 max training regime, it is time to focus on how to increase VO2 max based on the marathon runs. Let’s find out:
1. VO2 Max for the 5k
A training schedule for a 5k race will mainly focus on building aerobic endurance. However, VO2 Max training isn’t one to be ignored in this training process. Amongst all other races that come into play, it is training for a 5k where a VO2 max is given most importance. A good example for a VO2 max training specific to a 5k would be 12 x 400 meters at 1 mile to 3k race pace w/1:30-2:00 minutes rest. Find out how many miles a week should a 5k runner run.
2. VO2 Max for the 10k and Half Marathon
In the case of a 10k and half marathon, while VO2 max training will not feature as a major component of focus, it’s good to incorporate the intensity of these workouts at least once in two to three weeks. These intensive workouts will keep a check on your aerobic development, threshold training, and energy systems.
3. VO2 Max for the Marathon
VO2 Max training isn’t a big component in marathon training. However, it’s always helpful to incorporate some of these VO2 workout sessions once every three to four weeks, intertwined within you regular training, to bring about a change, modify your form and sustain your efficiency. Don't miss out the running guide on marathon
Time Required for a Good Improvement in One’s VO2 Max
Eager to know how long does it take to increase VO2 max?
Well, the ideal time to increase your VO2 max, would be around 30 days or a month. Isn’t that perfect time for any upcoming marathon?
Similar to weight training, test out your workouts. In case you do not see any difference, then up the ante, change it around a bit, but remember to keep your body guessing, never let yourself settle into a rut. We don’t want you to lose your goal- Faster and Better Runner.
Benefits of Increased VO2 Max
While it’s pretty obvious, about how beneficial VO2 max increase is in an athlete’s world, it’s also helpful to know the many additional benefits that come from this training.
Although, it’s wise to note that these improvements will not crop up in a literal show and tell sense. What you will notice however, changes on the inside, a minor thing like improvements when you go up a flight of stairs. Some of the changes will also occur at a cellular level. Your body, on the whole, will be impacted in several due to this consistent and well-structured work out performed at the minimum of 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. These changes would include:
- Increase in the size of the heart muscle
- Improvement in the stroke volume. Stroke volume is the amount of blood the heart pumps with each beat.
- Improvement in cardiac output.
- Lowered resting heart rate.
- The increase in the amount of haemoglobin in your red blood cells. Haemoglobin is what carries the oxygen to the needed areas.
- Improvement in the ability of the muscles getting oxygen from the blood or oxygen extraction during your workouts.
- Improvement in your blood pressure.
- Improvement in respiratory efficiency.
All of the above benefits will not only make your heart, lungs and blood vessels healthier but will also benefit your life’s quality and quantity.
Making Every Step Count
Due to the very early development of the VO2 max concept, a large amount of early research and study has been dedicated towards it. The very fact that VO2 max was first measured during exercise by one of the pioneers of Exercise Science in the 1920’s goes the distant mile in explaining the level of importance attached to it. Nevertheless, it is also rightfully noted that whenever something is new, it gains an exaggerated amount of overemphasis, before falling into its rightful place of importance over time.
VO2 max or a high endurance allows people to work out at a certain intensity or for longer time periods. To build on this, the gradual adaption principle—that is, slowly and steadily increasing mileage and speed—is a great way to build the foundation.
Whether you are looking to get faster or just feel more comfortable on your next race, VO2 max is the name of the game.
By taking a shot at it, a bit harder than usual on one or two runs each week, you stand to improve your race times, better your overall fitness, and have an easier time keeping up with your running partners. No matter what kind of workout you choose, there are a few rules that apply to all.
Always keep up the gradual pacing of the intensity of your workout.
A sufficient warm-up and a cool down are absolute necessities. Give your body a mile or two at the beginning to slowly ramp up the heart rate. The same stands true in reverse at the end. Also, maintain the total amount of the workout to no more than 10 to 15 percent of your overall volume.
Finally, listen to your speed limits.
Since, each workout is designed with a purpose in mind, running faster than prescribed, defeats the purpose and increases the risk of injury.
So, there you have it. Equipped with all the knowledge, all that’s left to do is to go for it!
No Pain, No Gain.
Just shut up, and Train!