You may have heard coaches and athletes talk about their VO2 MAX. Everything you need to know about this unique measurement is down below. Read on for more information.
What is VO2 MAX?
This is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use and is dependent on three basic variables:
1) The total amount of oxygen that is delivered to the working muscles.
2) The total amount of oxygen extracted and utilized by the working muscles.
3) The efficacy of the muscles cells and circulatory system to expel carbon dioxide and lactate.
Why measure VO2 MAX?
VO2 Max is quantified in milliliters/kilogram/minute, ml/kg/min. For runners without a personal exercise physiologist and human performance lab readily available, this number is not very helpful. Knowing one’s running pace when working at VO2 Max, however, can help structure a running program to more efficiently progress in speed and endurance. This pace is known as vVO2, the velocity sustained at VO2 Max.
How do you measure vVO2?
VO2 Max is most accurately measured in a lab where actual levels of oxygen are quantified. vVO2, the more important number for us, can be attained in a more convenient manner, a 2 mile best effort run. If the run is truly at best effort, and with minimal to no inhibiting weather/course conditions (wind, heat, hills, etc.) this pace, measure in minutes per mile, has you working at VO2 Max within a 5% margin of error. Some examples:
vVO2 = min/mile at your 2 mile Best Effort pace
2 mile Best Effort = 16 minutes
vVO2 = 16:00/2 = 8:00 min/mile
2 mile Best Effort = 12:50
vVO2 = 12:50/2 = 6:25 min/mile
When do I consider my vVO2 for designing workouts?
Improving your vVO2, and subsequently your VO2 Max, is an important element in the development of a runner as it often equates to an increased running economy (the ability to run at race paces with less effort). Running intervals 3-5 minutes in length and 95-100% of vVO2 is a standard approach, though exact lengths and percentages do vary in consideration of personal factors (running programs, genetics, general fitness levels, goals, etc). Focusing on this sort of training should be done once per week for 12-14 weeks.
Sample VO2 workout: 6 sets of 1/2 mile efforts @ vVO2 with 3 min rest in between.
For Runner #1 whose vVO2 is 8:00 min/mile these 1/2 mile bouts should be at or slightly slower than 4 minutes.
For Runner #2 whose vVO2 is 6:25 min/mile these 1/2 mile bouts should be at or slightly slower than 3:12 minutes.
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Joseph McConkey, MS, is a running coach and exercise physiologist, specializing in injury-prevention. He has coached at the club, college, and pro levels and has been the director of the Boston Running Center’s Gait Analysis Lab for more than a decade. Joseph holds the highest accreditation by the USA Track and Field Association and the IAAF, as well as a Masters in Exercises Science with a focus on Injury Prevention and Sports Performance. He is the author of Pliability for Runners.