Elements of Training – V02 Max

You will have heard us use the term V02 max with reference to training and probably seen it in other contexts too. But what is it all about and why do we make such a fuss about it?

What is it?

VO2 Max is your maximal oxygen uptake, or to put it another way the greatest amount of oxygen that can be pumped to and then used by your whole body. It’s often referred to as maximal aerobic capacity. It is measured in millilitres of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per min (ml/kg/min).

Why is it important?

It is the maximal rate that you can produce energy aerobically (aerobic endurance level) and as such is a primary indicator of cardiovascular fitness. As you might guess, this is an essential component of endurance performance!! What this will mean is that you can maintain a faster pace using your aerobic energy system – you’ll go faster for longer!

What can affect it?

Some things you can’t do anything about. Your V02 max will lower with age (largely to do with maximal heart rate decreasing) and your gender also plays a part – women will have a lower V02 max than men of the same age and fitness (this is due to body composition and lower haemoglobin levels).

But training will affect it positively! Studies have shown that maximal heart rate declines with age more slowly in people who maintain cardiovascular fitness, but more important is that training will improve your heart’s strength (it is, after all, made of cardiac muscle) allowing it to pump more blood with each contraction (known as stroke volume). On top of that, training adapts your muscles to extract more oxygen from blood to produce energy.

So, training appropriately will improve V02 max within the range possible for your age and gender.

How do we train it?

It’s your classic interval session! High intensity efforts at 5k pace or quicker of about 2-6 minutes in duration. At this pace and duration, you are getting in the zone working at 95-100% of your V02 max and this is where the best stimulus to improve it happens. In terms of heart rate, we are looking at working at around 90-100% of maximum.

You are getting that heart pumping and making your muscles work hard to get their oxygen and this is where progress is made! Each rep should feel 8-9/10 effort and by the end of each rep you should be pretty out of breath, but able to recover in the given recovery time to go again at the required intensity and pace and that maintain that across the session (naturally, you’re out of breath-ness will increase as the session goes on!!). If you are bent double gasping for breath after you first rep, you have gone to hard – equally if you have barely got out of breath, you’ve gone too slow!

How often should I train it?

One session in most weeks is a good rule of thumb (certainly not more than one for runners doing our typical race distances of 5k upwards and definitely only once a week if you are only managing 3 or 4 runs a week). Luckily, 3 out of 4 of our Tuesdays in the current are V02 max sessions -so come to GVH and get your dose of this brilliant fitness training!