Workouts to Improve Your vVO2 max and tlim@vVO2 max


By Rick Morris


If a race car driver wants to win more races they would probably love to have a bigger, more powerful engine. It just makes sense that a larger, more robust power plant would supply more speed. That same theory holds true for you as a runner. If you can improve the power of your running engine you'll increase your speed and running performance. What is your running engine? It's your cardiovascular system. It's the ability of your lungs, heart and blood vessels to deliver energy producing oxygen to your muscles and your muscles ability to extract and use that oxygen to produce energy. The power of your car's engine is measured in horsepower. The power of your running engine is measured in terms of VO2 max. Your VO2 max is a measure of how much oxygen your body is able to use to produce energy.


You can't "open the hood" of your body and drop in a bigger VO2 max but you can improve your VO2 max through proper training. The most efficient way to improve your VO2 max is through high intensity running at 95% to 100% of your VO2 max level. That has been proven by many recent studies. A group of researchers at the Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the University of Hull in England reviewed the most current findings, opinions and research on the subject of improving VO2 max in distance runners. After reviewing the available data the researchers concluded that "...high intensity training may be effective or even necessary for well trained distance runners to enhance VO2 max."




























As far as current scientific knowledge can tell us, there is no question that high intensity training at 95% or more of VO2 max is the best way to build a bigger running engine. Performing short repeats of between 200 and 1600 meters at 5K pace or faster will accomplish that. Runners have been doing just that type standard track workout for many years, but is that the only or even the best  way to improve your running speed and performance? Maybe not!


At one time your VO2 max level was considered the best indicator of running potential. It was thought that runners with the highest VO2 max would always perform at the highest level. But statistics didn't back up that hypothesis. Researchers found many examples of runners with lower VO2 max levels consistently performing better that those with a more lofty VO2 max. So what was going on? A bigger more powerful running engine should equal higher running speed and better performance - right? Not really - there were two things that were missing in the running equation, the first of which is efficiency.  A runner that has a more economical and efficient stride will run more easily, using less energy. That means that a more economical runner with a lower VO2 max can actually perform better than a less economical runner with a higher VO2 max. The more economical runner has  a higher vVO2 max or running velocity (speed) at VO2 max.


The second missing part of the equation is how long the runner can continue running at vVO2 max. If two runners with equal vVO2 max levels were to compete, the one that can run the longest at vVO2 max pace ( tlim@vVO2 max or time limit at velocity at VO2 max) will perform better.

So now we have two measures of running potential that have become even more critical than VO2 max - vVO2 max and tlim@vVO2 max. The question now becomes how do you train to improve those two important measures of running fitness?


Training to improve your vVO2 max and tlim@vVO2 max is very similar to what's required to build your pure VO2 max with some minor but important tweaks.  It makes a lot of sense that to improve your performance in any skill you should practice specifically for that skill. So, to improve your vVO2 max you should practice running at 100% of your vVO2 max pace.  You can estimate your vVO2 max through a laboratory test or more simply with a time trial. But I can save you even more time. I have worked with and tested many runners to determine their vVO2 max and in nearly every case their vVO2 max is right at or very close to their 3K race pace or about 10 to 12 seconds per mile faster than 5K pace.


Now - what about the specific workouts?  One of the most prolific researchers on vVO2 max is Veronique Billat. Through many studies, Billat concluded that performing five 3 minute repeats at vVO2 max pace with 2 minutes of recovery is one of the most efficient workouts for improving vVO2 max. The 5 x 3 workout has since become a classic track workout performed by runners around the world. Billat's 5 x 3 minute session is highly effective but is also very difficult and one that many runners will need to ease into. A good starting point would be 15 x 1 minute repeats eventually graduating to 8 x 2 minutes and finally reaching the ultimate 5 x 3 minute sessions.

What about tlim@vVO2 max? How can you improve that important measure? Your lactate turn point (LT) is a large part of your tlim@vVO2 max. Improving your LT through lactate turn point or lactate threshold training will help improve your tlim@vVO2 max. You can also improve your tlim@vVO2 max by performing longer repeats of between 4 and 6 minutes at your vVO2 max pace.


There are a nearly unlimited number of ways to design an effective vVO2 max and tlim@vVO2 max workout. Here are some workouts that I have been using both personally and in my coaching duties that have proven to be challenging but highly effective workouts.


5 x 3 Minute Repeat Progression


No vVO2 max workout schedule would be complete without this classic. If you are already at a high level of running fitness you can probably jump right in with the full 5 x 3 workout. Otherwise you may want to follow this progression. Once you are comfortable with one phase move on to the next.


15 x 1 minute repeats - Run for 1 minute at vVO2 max pace and then recover with one minute of rest. Repeat this 15 times.


8 x 2 minute repeats - Run for 2 minutes at vVO2 max pace and recover with 2 minutes of rest. Repeat 8 times.


5 x 3 minute repeats - Run for 3 minutes at vVO2 max pace and recover with 2 minutes of rest. Repeat 5 times.


5 x 3 minute repeats - Run for 3 minutes at vVO2 max pace and recover with 1 minute of rest. Repeat 5 times.


5 x 3 minute repeats - Run for 3 minutes at vVO2 max pace and recover with 30 seconds of rest. Repeat 5 times.


Corner Burners


On a 400 meter track alternate between running the straights at about 10K pace and the corners at vVO2 max pace. Keep going until you can no longer hold your pace.


6 -5 -4 Repeats


Run for 6 minutes at vVO2 max pace and recover with 3 minute of rest. Then run for 5 minutes at vVO2 max pace and recover for 2 minutes. Then run for 4 minutes at vVO2 max pace. Cool down with 2 minutes at an easy pace.


3 x 800/1200 vVO2 max Compound Sets


Run for 800 meters at vVO2 max pace and then slow down to 10K pace for 1200 meters. Repeat 2 more times for a total of 3 compound sets. Take no recovery between the 800 meter and 1200 meter components of each compound set. Recover with 3 minutes of rest between each compound set.



Is there an optimal training intensity for enhancing the maximal oxygen uptake of distance runners?: empirical research findings, current opinions, physiological rationale and practical recommendations., Midgley AW, McNaughton LR, Wilkinson M, Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science, University of Hull, Hull England.




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