VO2 max and max training: setting the record straight

OK, as part of my New Years resolution I have avoided criticism over proactive advice, but I also cannot sit idly by as yet another article purports to discuss VO2 max and related training and GET IT WRONG. As usual the culprit is the enigmatic Competitor Group, who, like Runner’s World and affiliate pubs, continue to pump out often contradictory information from authors who at times seem devoid of any physiological understanding whatsoever. Not to mention the fact that they continually just recycle most of their material. Case in point was the article I read this morning.

Here the author discusses VO2 max and why its not really viewed as important; genetics, pick your parents, economy, etc…all the usual cited reasons. It then goes on to say:

The best way to improve your VO2 max is to run at (or just below) your current VO2 max. A long sustained effort isn’t a practical way to do this since it’s impossible to run for very long at that pace…The ‘sweet spot’ is to do multiple intervals of 4-5 minutes or so, with recovery jogs of the same duration.”

Really? That’s the sweet spot? Nope. Actually, there have been a number of studies and reviews of research suggesting otherwise. As many listeners may recall, I have long recommended using 2 1/2 min (~TMax, see below) intervals with 4-5 min recovery, along with sprint intervals. Why? Because that is the sweet spot. Actually, its somewhere between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 min, but 2 1/2 works best in practice. I’ve attached a good Review by Paul Laursen that has stood the test of time and has been discussed on previous podcasts. IN the paper, Laursen discusses vMax – velocity at VO2 max, and TMax – time one can run at VMax) and cites research by Dr. Veronique Billat (01), who has also shown performing intervals of 30 sec on and 30 sec off. The funny thing is, this workout was just recommended in another article posted by Matt Fitzgerald a few hours earlier (which was a repost from last April) where Matt writes:

“The best way to do this would be to alternate short intervals run at vVO2 max with short “floats” (jogging recoveries) at perhaps half of vVO2 max.”

Really? That’s the best way? Well, ok, it has at least been shown to be effective, as has Laursen’s approach. So what does the article I opened with recommend?

5×4 minutes at 3k pace with 4 minute recovery jogs

Lord have mercy! How did they come up with the best workout (that is as old as the hills, really) by running well below VMax? I have no idea. Moreover, the author indicates that you really can’t increase VO2 Max (they did get that one right, you can’t), but there is a best way. Well, in the interest of brevity and moving to the proactive, here is my two cents.

If you have been training for more than a year and run a number of races, it is doubtful you will make any meaningful improvement in VO2 max (Lausen says this in his review, and any exercise physiologist would agree). However, you CAN IMPROVE VMax. In other words, you can run faster at VO2 max, and you will improve you threshold by using interval training; Billat and Laursen offer two good options. Having said that, 4-5 min intervals are a good interval option, but it is not likely the best option. If you would like to calculate your VMax or pace at VMax, use this easy VMax calculator.

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