VO2 Max Training
VO2 Max training is all about increasing your performance through more thorough and more efficient oxygenation. You can do this by focusing on your lung capacity through breathing exercises and through HIIT-type training.
What is it?
Your VO2 Max is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. Generally speaking, the more oxygen your body can use, the more fit you are.
The V in “VO2” refers to the volume of oxygen your body uses over a period of time. That is to say, it measures the rate of oxygen use. Your VO2 at rest is, therefore, lower than your VO2 during exercise.
As you begin to exercise, your muscles require more oxygen. This is why you start to breathe faster and deeper.
Your VO2 depends on two main factors. One is simply the efficiency of your breathing. How much oxygen are your lungs taking in and how quickly can it deliver it to the bloodstream? Secondly, how quickly are your muscles able to use the oxygen to provide energy?
Of course, the faster your body can bring oxygen to your body, the more oxygen (in volume) in can bring in a period of time. Part of this process is genetic. Some people are simply born to be better processors of oxygen, whether it’s their lung capacity or their muscle function. However, you can still work to improve your maximum VO2 rate.
Measuring your VO2 Max
You can estimate your maximum V02 rate with a “One Mile Walk” test.
Walk one mile as fast as you can without breaking into a jog or run. Record how long it takes you to complete this mile. This isn’t a race! Do not run. Just walk as fast as you can. As soon as you finish, take your pulse for 10 seconds to find your heart rate.
Then insert your results in an online calculator, like this one from Shape Sense.
Your result should look something like this: 38ml/kg/min. This means your body is moving and utilizing 38 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. The higher the number, the more fit you are.
In practice, your VO2 will peak and level off. For instance, at rest, you may be at 10ml/kg/min. During the beginning of the one mile test, this number will rise. At some point around the 6 minute mark, your body’s VO2 rate will begin to peak and stabilize.
The goal of VO2 Max training is to increase this peak to allow more oxygen to the muscles and, ideally, to ensure better performance.
Raising Your Maximum VO2 rate
A well-planned fitness program can increase your VO2 Max by as much as 40 percent. Even just a 10 percent increase can reduce a 5k run time by a whole minute.
So how do we increase this number?
If you’re looking to fit the training into a crammed schedule, you can perform a moderately effective workout with a simple 6 minute sprint.
- Warm up for 10 minutes
- Run at fastest pace you can sustain for 6 minutes
- Cool down for 10 minutes
The problem with this approach is you’re left completely exhausted. Since most athletes are trying to fit in a varied workout, it’s important to take the time to train efficiently.
Here’s another, more effective approach developed by French exercise physiologist Veronique Billat. This plan is essentially a well-regulated HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) program designed especially for increasing your VO2 Max.
- Warm up for 10 minutes
- Run at a fast pace for 30 seconds (Make sure this is a pace you could sustain for 6 minutes.)
- Slow to a fast walk for 30 seconds
- Repeat this run/walk cycle for 12 to 20 sets
After mastering this workout, increase the run/walk length to 60 seconds each. Again, remember this is not a race! Do not run at full speed. Run at the fastest pace that you could maintain for 6 minutes.
If after mastering the 60/60 intervals you’re still looking for a challenge, try using a treadmill or hill to increase the incline of your run. Then expand the intervals to 2 to 3 minutes of running with 60 seconds of brisk walking or light jogging.
Working on Your VO2 Max without Working Out
Half the battle of your VO2 rate is the capacity of your lungs. You can work on increasing this capacity through a series of yoga-like breathing exercises. These exercises work on relaxing your diaphragm to allow your lungs more room for expansion. As an additional benefit, deep breathing is great for stress and anxiety relief.
Here are some tips from traditional yoga breathing which you can practice at any time, followed by some tips geared toward athletic breathing purposes.
- Sit still in a chair or on the floor.
- Move your stomach when you breathe. Try to keep your breath from resting in your upper chest and shoulders. Let your whole body move with each breath.
- Relax all of your muscles, especially in the face and upper body.
- Focus on the depth of breaths rather than the speed. Try to breathe in as much air as you can with each inhale.
- Pause for a few seconds after each inhale and after each exhale. This forces your body to maximize its oxygen circulation.
These tips are from YogaJournal.
Breathing for Athletes
Breathing while exercising is quite different from yoga breathing. There is a lot more going on with the body’s movements. To start coordinating your breath with your body, start with simple exercise like leg raises.
- Lie on the floor, making sure your lower back maintains contact with the ground during the entire exercise.
- While inhaling as deeply as you can, raise your right leg as high as you can, with the goal being to make a right angle with your upper body. Hold your leg and your breath for three seconds.
- Exhale completely as you slowly lower your right leg.
- Repeat this for the left leg for a total of 3 to 5 reps on each side.
For a more strenuous breathing exercise plan, check out the triathlon blog EveryMantri.
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