One-Hour Workout: VO2 Max-Building Intervals

Work on your VO2 max number, which will ultimately make you a better athlete, with this week's workout.

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Every Tuesday we’ll feature a different coach’s workout you can complete in 60 mins (or less!).

This week’s running workout, aimed at improving your VO2 max, comes from Jonathan Cane of New York City-based City Coach Multisport.

“One of the challenges for a coach is to take the geeky, scientific stuff and translate it into practical training methods for athletes,” Cane says. “Over the last several years, VO2 max, once considered the ‘gold standard’ physiological variable for predicting endurance performance, has fallen out of favor among coaches and physiologists. Some (accurately) prefer to take economy into account and therefore look at velocity at VO2 max (vVO2 max), or even better, velocity at lactate threshold as predictors of performance. Plus, one’s VO2 max’s potential is largely determined by genetics, so unless you ‘picked the right parents,’ it’s only going to get so high. While all that’s true, there’s still value in an athlete’s reaching his/her genetic ceiling for VO2 max.

“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. Conversely, 60- to 90-second intervals are ineffective because it takes at least that long for your VO2 to reach its max. The ‘sweet spot’ is to do multiple intervals of 4-5 minutes or so, with recovery jogs of the same duration.”

Ideally you could determine proper pacing by have your VO2 max tested in a lab, but if that’s not possible, your current 3K race pace is a reasonable predictor.

Cane says to keep these things in mind when doing VO2 max-building workouts:

— While they’re rewarding, they’re also very hard. As such, they should be done sparingly, only when recovered from previous sessions, and only after having developed a solid mileage base.

— Going faster than vVO2 is counterproductive because it doesn’t train the system you’re trying to.

— We typically use a 1:1 work-to-recovery ratio; the recovery jogs can be slow and easy, but not static.

— You should always do a thorough warm-up that includes a few fast striders before the intervals, and a thorough cooldown.

RELATED: Form-Focused Run With Strides

VO2 Max Intervals

Warm-up: Easy 1-mile jog, followed by 4×100 meter striders with 100 meter easy recoveries. (On a track, run the straightaways fast and ease up through the turns.) Do the first strider at 10K pace and get down to 3K pace by the end in order to prepare your body for the challenge ahead.

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

Cooldown: Easy 1-mile jog

Keep in mind that speeding up the intervals or compressing the recoveries does not necessarily make for a better VO2 max-building workout. Instead, after completing that workout a few times, try graduating to a 4×5 minute main set (with 5-minute recoveries). Though it will take the exact same total amount of time, you’ll accumulate more time at VO2 max, and therefore provide a greater stimulus.

More one-hour workouts.

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