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Your First Speed Workouts – vVO2 max Training for Beginning Runners
By Rick Morris
As a new runner you’re either in the process of making or have already made huge strides towards improving your fitness and strength. Running improves the strength of your muscles, makes your bones and joints stronger and more injury resistant, increases your cardiovascular conditioning and raises your endurance level. One of the ways your body improves its fitness level is by improving your VO2 max. Your VO2 max is a measure of your body’s maximal ability to deliver oxygen to your working muscles and the ability of your muscle cells to use that oxygen to produce energy. Your VO2 max is one of the primary indicators of your overall fitness level.
As a beginning runner, nearly all of your workouts are easy to moderate paced endurance runs or moderate paced tempo training. Those types of workouts do a great job of improving your endurance, stamina and muscle strength. They also improve your VO2 max by increasing the blood flow to your muscles, improving your cardiac output and making your muscles more efficient at using the oxygen to make ATP – the substance your body uses to make your muscles work.
Easy to moderate paced or “submaximal” running does a good initial job of improving your VO2 max, but after a certain point, submaximal training will no longer improve your VO2 max. At that point it becomes necessary to begin high intensity training (HIT) if you are going to make further improvements in your VO2 max.
When you should you start to add HIT to your training program? There isn’t a hard and fast rule on that one. You shouldn’t do any HIT until you have built up a substantial base of fitness that will support the harder training runs. I would not suggest doing any HIT until you have been running consistently for at least 8 weeks and are able to run 3 miles without difficulty. Once you reach that level your fitness has improved enough that you should be able to safely complete HIT. Your VO2 max improvements are also beginning to taper off at that level – so you need the HIT to continue to improve your overall fitness.
The concept of VO2 max has been around for a long time, but a more recent concept revolutionized training methods used to improve VO2 max. That concept is the minimum running speed that elicits VO2 max. This concept was named velocity @ VO2 max (vVO2 max). Before the concept of vVO2 max came along, pure VO2 max was used as the primary indicator of fitness. But pure VO2 max was missing an important ingredient – running economy. If you are able to run with less effort you will be running faster when you reach your VO2 max. vVO2 max incorporates your running economy into the equation.
The concept of vVO2 max opened up a whole new world of possible running workouts. It became obvious that the best way to improve your VO2 max is to run at vVO2 max. Running at that velocity forces your body to improve its ability to run at VO2 max and makes further increases in your fitness level and VO2 max.
The next question that needed to be answered was what specific workout would make the greatest improvements in VO2 max. There are many different training runs that can be designed around vVO2 max. The best workout depends upon your fitness level, experience level and your specific goal. The big daddy of all vVO2 max workouts is one first suggested by LV Billat at the University of Paris. Billat studied the effect various workouts on highly trained runners and found that running 5 x 3 minute repeats at vVO2 max pace was the most efficient way for a highly trained runner to improve their VO2 max.
The 5 x 3 minute workout has since become a classic workout performed by many top level runners. The problem is that the workout is very difficult – too difficult for beginning runners. So what is the best way for a beginning or recreational runner to incorporate vVO2 max workouts? Billat et.al. answered that question with a study in 2001. While beginning runners cannot complete 3 minute repeats at vVO2 max pace, they can do shorter repeats at that blistering speed. So, Billat investigated the effectiveness of several different workout sequences at stimulating VO2 max. The participants in the study, all of whom were middle aged runners who had only done easy paced endurance running in the past, completed one of three different interval training workouts. Group A ran a sequence of 90% of vVO2 max as hard repeats followed by 80% of vVO2 max as recovery intervals. Group B completed a sequence of 100% of vVO2 max as the hard repeats and 70% of vVO2 max as recovery intervals. Group C ran 110% of vVO2 max as the hard repeats and 60% of vVO2 max as recovery intervals. Using the results of this study, Billat et.al. concluded that the workouts completed by Groups A and B were the most efficient at stimulating VO2 max to its highest level in recreational runners that are used to doing only easy to moderate paced training.
Scientific research is a valuable resource for any running coach or athlete, but it also needs to pass the common sense test, and this one passes with flying colors. Every training program is built on the concept of progressive improvement. You needed to walk before you ran and you needed to progressively improve your ability to run further distances. Speed training is no different. You need to start slowly with short repeats and gradually work up to the big kahuna of 5 x 3 minute repeats at vVO2 max pace. Here are some beginning vVO2 max workouts to get you started.
One problem for new runners is how to monitor their pace. An experienced runner will have a good idea of their vVO2 max pace, which is right around 3000 meter race pace. Since you may not know your 3K pace, the best way to determine your proper pace is by the rating of perceived exertion (RPE), which is a scale from 1 to 20 that rates how hard your workout feels. There are some time trials you could do, but they are very difficult and not especially accurate for inexperienced runners. On the RPE scale a 1 means very little effort and 20 means all out effort. At 70% of vVO2 max your rating should be about a 14; at 80% about 16; at 90% around 18 and 100% at around 19. You should do a vVO2 max workout no more that one time per week.
Warm up with 5 minutes of easy running. Then run for 15 minutes alternating between 15 seconds at 90% of vVO2 max and 15 seconds at 80% of vVO2 max. Cool down with 5 minutes of easy running.
Warm up with 5 minutes of easy running. Then run for 20 minutes alternating between 15 seconds at 90% of vVO2 max and 15 seconds at 80% of vVO2 max. Cool down with 5 minutes of easy running.
Warm up with 5 minutes of easy running. Then run for 15 minutes alternating between 15 seconds at 100% of vVO2 max and 15 seconds at 70% of vVO2 max. Cool down with 5 minutes of easy running.
Warm up with 5 minutes of easy running. Then run for 20 minutes alternating between 15 seconds at 100% of vVO2 max and 15 seconds at 70% of vVO2 max. Cool down with 5 minutes of easy running.
Warm up with 5 minutes of easy running. Then run for 20 minutes alternating between 30 seconds at 100% of vVO2 max and 30 seconds at 70% of vVO2 max. Cool down with 5 minutes of easy running.
Warm up with 5 minutes of easy running. Then run for 20 minutes alternating between 1 minute at 100% of vVO2 max and 1 minute at 70% of vVO2 max. Cool down with 5 minutes of easy running.
After these six sessions your VO2 max should have make some significant improvements. You should be faster, stronger, fitter and ready to move forward with more advanced training methods.
Very short interval training around the critical velocity allows middle aged runners to maintain VO2 max for 14 minutes., Billat VL, Slawinksi J. Bocquet V., Chassaing P., Demarie A. Koralsztein JP. Int J Sports Med. 2001 Apr;22(3):201-8
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