VO2MAX is a strange component of running. It does not only correlate to heart rate and breathing, but to muscle-groups used, quality of those muscles, quality of nervous system, lung health, thoracic expandability (how the ribcage can expand), the surrounding matter, the way we move and so much more.
For example: if your lungs can uptake 5220L of oxygen per minute (like Killian Jornet 58kg, 90ml/(kg x min)) to supply your entire body, but your muscles are not able to use this because you don't have enough mitochondria in them, your tired or/and untrained nervous system is not able to transfer the demand for contractions, your blood volume/quality is too low or your circulation is inefficient, well, you won't intake that much of oxygen, regardless that you were totally capable, if those factors were aligning properly. If you ate a medium size meal, your VO2MAX would drop like 10points: you would be heavier, but also your blood-volume to the muscles would be lower, because of the process of digestion. Sensitive subject ! Of course the genetic but also trainable gift of high pain threshold counts too ! Some athletes are able to override all bodily functions, so when they arrive to the finish-line, they collapse, throw up, urinate and crap themselves ! You decide that this attribute is okay with you, but the central governor theory is also a super interesting subject. So yes, mental toughness, will power and motivation can also effect VO2MAX, definitely. This can also be the reason, why some people just cannot adapt to altitude properly. Their lungs and blood adapts, but not their muscles. Including muscles around the digestive system and all muscles involved in the cardiovascular system too. Probably because they don't use them properly while acclimating. When demand gets tough, like climbing, running, cycling, their muscles still cannot cope with the lack of O2. Training for altitude involved expeditions should definitely include lung-busting muscle burning workouts and strength and conditioning !
Vo2MAX In Sports
I find it very fascinating, that reaching VO2MAX in separate sports, feels completely different. For instance doing ‘5 x 5minVO2 ≈ 5min recovery’ on the bike will result in different recovery rates, sensations and type of fatigue, that if we did the exact same set while running or rowing. I did not find however any actual studies or answers on these questions:
- How regular VO2MAX workouts of a different sport would effect the general performance in Running ? (Short term / long term)
Would additional rowing VO2MAX workouts benefit a runner ?
- How VO2MAX workouts of one sport would effect an athlete’s VO2MAX in Running ?
For instance, would additional regular cycling VO2MAX workouts raise athletes’ running VO2MAX more efficiently, than running workouts all alone, if the athlete was a runner ?
- Would VO2MAX workouts from multiple sports have more benefit, than from one ‘single sport like Running’ ?
Let’s say, during a 7 week period of VO2MAX development, with 2 to 3 HIIT-VO2 workouts a week, we would use a totally different sport as one dedicated training session each week. Cycling, rowing, airdyne, skyerg, kettlebell VO2 protocol, weighted uphill nordic walking, swimming.
- Would different sport’s VO2MAX workouts effect running performance and running VO2MAX differently ?
Would we benefit more from cycling, swimming or rowing … if we benefited at all?
- How multi-activity VO2MAX workouts would have a different effect on ‘Running’ , than a single sport VO2MAX session ?
Would 5 x 5minutes of Rowing/Cycling/Rowing/Skierg/Cycling be better/different then rowing all alone to effect running ?
These questions are important for experienced runners. Most coaches would say to these questions of course, that to be a good runner, you must run. Run more, more often and faster. In my opinion, that approach has it's serious limitations in case of constant performance gains, longevity and health ! We are in 2017 ! Of course, these questions also suggest, that our imagined runner knows how to move correctly in different sports, in order to avoid injury and to become a greek style stronger athlete. I have these questions, because of multiple years of self-experimentation and because I really feel that in case of healthy, strong and experienced athletes, volume can be added to HIIT training periods with increased benefits and with still quiet low risk of injury. For instance doing double VO2MAX days by using different sports at the morning and at the afternoon. A bike/run-brick-VO2MAX session is also possible: (3 x 5min running + 5 x 5min uphill cycling).
In my opinion, we can create a very effective stimulus on the body using other types of movements, than our primary sport, to max out on stimuli. This will add bodily education, resistance, movement ownership (skill), resistance, confidence and much more. Well, we talk about this later, but this is how you can triple your high intensity weekly training sessions, without breaking down your body and mind.
Regardless that we were runners and specificity is key, we can tap into our body a lot deeper and a lot more often, if we completely changed stimulus. However, this is like over reaching and backing off vs. overtraining. Do it often enough to create a fantastic muscle confusion, but not so regularly, to not to trigger nervous system breakdown. Do not try doing VO2MAX training sessions every single day, using a different sport.
(I mean, possibly it is doable, if you slept like 18hours every day and had a perfect lifestyle. You might even increase your VO2MAX by 15 points. However never seen this happen ! YET ?!)
VO2MAX is your body’s ability to uptake oxygen. Milli-litres of oxygen used by kilograms of bodyweight, per minute. Example 73 ml / (kg x min).
VO2MAX is related to body weight. If you were 5kg lighter, your VO2MAX would be higher, if health kept. I must add this, as mitochondrial density and mitochondrial health, blood volume, lung health and metabolic health must be proper.
We know that fat contains a lot less mitochondria than muscle. Brown fat with it’s protective functions has a lot of them, but as we age, this “functional fat-burning fat” decreases. White fat (WAT) has very little mitochondria and vascularisation. Getting lean and loosing belly-fat will increase your VO2MAX significantly. Getting rid of non-functional tissue is the best way to loose weight.
Loosing muscle weight (volume), by increasing muscle density, is also possible. You must be careful with muscle loss however ! Achieve your goal weight by exercise and a healthy diet! Loosing muscle weight and muscle function in the same time, because of an anorexic behaviour, often shows some initial hopes in race times, but will have sure setbacks on the long haul !!! Be careful with it !!! Men can go down to as little as 5 to 6% body-fat and maintain that long while staying healthy.
However, women have to be very cautious with radical weight and fat loss. Adaptations are necessary ! Diet, lifestyle, training intensity, periodisation, sleep and much more. Some women have superb hormonal levels, regular periods, eat well, sleep well and stay well forever at 8% body-fat, being ripped as ! Others experience an immediate negative change, going from 12% to 11.8% ! Yo-yo ing for ‘in and out of competitive season’ is also detrimental to your health. Reproductive functions can be permanently damaged!
Check a competitive “4 year cycle” female athlete ! Gradually year by year, she decreases her body-fat levels from 15% to 8%, getting used to staying that low, by controlling all aspects of health. Year after year, incrementally. We cannot see sudden fat-loss and long-term performance in the same time ! Female athletes come and go !
Loosing the period, getting anaemic, breaking bones, just for the sake of one single race, is never a good idea. Think big, think long term !
Loosing weight is great, but you have to keep it down and train at that lower weight by gradually increasing speed. You might tap out on your "genetic max oxygen uptake non-related to bodyweight", but by loosing weight you will get faster. You have to adapt your connective tissues, joints and muscles to this new speed ! Stronger and more resistant body will be needed !
Burning weight off and keeping that weight down was our first option and of course loosing body fat, the white adipose tissue !
Some athletes run fast, because of a bad bulimic behaviour and abnormally lean body. In this case, gaining 2 to 5kg of functional muscle and a little protective adipose tissue, eating and training properly will increase VO2MAX and health. In addition, longevity and training volume will be kept, so he/she can practice that beloved sport more often and longer !
Gaining weight with extra clothing, weighted vest or a backpack
You load your body with that extra mass often enough, and once you run free, you’ll be flying. Things to consider is technique, full range of motion and specificity.
Actually if you understood the goal of this article, it is all about questioning the efficacy of specificity and non-specificity.
Running with 3 to 5kg of extra charge when doing intervals is great, unless you change stride and technique. This is unacceptable. Shortening/lengthening your natural stride, and running with inappropriately low cadence, arms all over the place, hunched over, heel-striking ! No !
Example: I like to overdress. I can still run in shorts and t-shirt today, but I wear leggings, 2 layers of pullovers and a warm down/synthetic vest with hat on. Depending on the steepness of the hill I chose, I often wear a pair of 2kg hiking boots. I also add a 3kg pack !
I get my nordic walking poles and do very steep uphill walking intervals of 5 x 6minutes. Actually Emil Zatopek did this: doing monstrous intervals in the snow with army boots on ! The oxygen demand becomes so high so early, because of heat elimination and weight-bearing, that I can achieve and stay on VO2MAX heart rate a lot longer, without the brutal muscular demand of running 1600s on the track.
Of course, you can just do your track sessions slightly overdressed, but in my opinion, track is not created for theories. It is there for speed and not for guesswork ! When I am on the track, I focus on specificity and dress 100% appropriately for the present conditions and run as fast as I can ! In this case splits show the results and motivate me for further calculations !
I must say, start out slowly with this. The overheating component is already very stressful, but adding load and the uphill to the equation can and will break you ! Self observation and self-control is key !
Increase heat and carried-weight in your VO2MAX training for additional adaptations !
Laying new muscle fibres. Hmm, interesting. One muscle fibre is basically one cell. Loads to this muscle-cell can make it split and let it become 2. Two times more mitochondria, 2 times more capillaries, more oxygen demand, more blood, more propulsion, more stability, more explosiveness. Well, in cats and rats. The bloody scientist made cats lift weight.
In animal studies, loading a ‘single’ muscle resulted in muscle fibre number increases in that particular muscle in just a couple of weeks. Madness. In body builders the researchers also found more muscle fibres, than in sedentary individuals, but not always on the same body-parts. For instance 3 guys would have the exact same size and shaped biceps, but with 3 different number of muscle fibres, regardless of the same body-composition, height and bodyweight.
Yes it is genetics. Some people have short tibia and growing giant calves, others have squared shoulders and bow legs being monstrously stable and some of the guys like Usain Bolt have perfect genetics for sprinting, having way higher number of fibres in the calves, gluts and quadriceps.
What did you learn from this ? Well it is not sure that you will get hyperplasia, it is not sure the if you got it, it will be in the muscles, you need for running. However, if you don’t lift weight, what is great for your running endeavours anyways, you can be sure that you will never see any increases in muscle fibre numbers !!!
Go to the gym and get stronger to be able to support the demands of VO2MAX training !!!
Too much of it will kill your health and longevity, not enough of it will hinder your race performance. I will talk about this in another post, but you must understand that you cannot train all systems at once. Doing 12 hour weekend mountain outings, weekly VO2MAX and sprint sessions, heavy lifting and HIIT in the gym and racing to work on your bicycle will not work. You must choose, periodize and understand, that if certain little aspects of training are maintained, your gains from a specific microcycle will not be lost ! You don’t and cannot do all at once ! We have to put our fear and ego on the side !
While racing we stimulate all the facets of fitness anyways !
We often say, that training at VO2MAX will make us more resistant at VO2MAX and can hold longer VO2MAX and ... actually what often happens is, that we push our lactate threshold closer to VO2MAX and as a result we can be as efficient between certain limits as somebody with a 20count higher VO2MAX.
I find that in case of high intensity training, it is technique what kills. We are often very capable of doing more, that we actually do. However as technique diminishes, the actual physical impact of a certain activity causes injuries to happen.
Why not choose some low risk sports and add them to our list of possibilities, periodize them and gain from them ! I find that cycling and nordic walking are the two best to do this, but others might find, roller skating, cross-country skiing, ski-erg, elliptical training also beneficial. Swimming is epic, but skill must be learnt to push yourself that hard in the water. There is a new sport called Longe-Cote what is also epic: running fast in waist deep water, while using a modified paddle. Looks funny, but it is a lung buster.
Double VO2MAX days:
- AM Cycling: 4 x 5min uphill max effort
- PM Track running: 4 x 1600m max effort
- Why would you ride first thing in the morning instead of training ? To further avoid injury ! You can see this from many coaches or the kenyans, that no high-impact high-intensity training should be introduced early in the day !!!
- The effort is your max speed, that you can use to effectively complete the number of repetitions in equal times. If you can run faster each splits, it means that your first 3 efforts were incorrect. Remember, that the goal is to be huffing and puffing and to have whistling lungs with high heart rates the longest possible. Yeah it is freakishly hard and most people don’t do enough of this, or don’t do it at all.
- Fuel properly in-between the sessions and make sure you slept well the night before. I use ELITE HRV to make sure I am ready for this!
Extra VO2MAX Ride (2/4 X (2min+6to8min)) : This is a classic beast !
- Warming up
- 2 minutes of out of the saddle climbing with relatively high cadence a big power output hitting VO2MAX as fast as possible
- 6 to 8minutes at threshold in the saddle, spinning with a fast, advisedly over 100rpm
- 8 to 10min recovery
- The goal is to stay at VO2MAX the longest possible, but when you continue, regardless of a slightly lower heart rate and lower lactate levels, your oxygen uptake will stay brutally high. It is basically priming the body, like when you do deadlifts followed with box-jumps, or skipping roping before mile-repeats on the track. If you reached the fitness level of 4 reps of this – what suggests at least 5 years of training age – you are welcome to fuel with some okay sugary drinks. This is a glycolytic monster and if anytime your form breaks down – like actually in any HIIT session – you should quit immediately ! Taking in some carbs and/or amino acids (EAA/BCAA) might prolong your central nervous system freshness and you can remain longer in control.
Double VO2MAX workouts:
- Warming up
- 3 x 6min uphill run intervals ≈ 5 min recovery
- Followed by 6 x 4min of uphill cycling intervals ≈ 4min recovery
- This is the most advanced out of the three and demands a lot of experience in both sports.
Multisport VO2MAX workout:
- Warming up (at least 30min)
- 5min spin bike ≈ 4min recovery
- 5min rowing ≈ 4min recovery
- 5min ski erg ≈ 4 min recovery
- 5min recumbent bike ≈ 4 min recovery
- 5min airdyne
- Perfect form and sense of movement is necessary in all sports !
The benefits of DOMS
I learnt this from interviews with Alberto Salazar. Delayed onset muscle soreness. Some explain this as a survival mechanism, that once you were chased by a lion or an enemy tribe, you should be able to find a place in one or two days to hide and build a defensive shelter, before you get pain signals in your muscles, that indeed you were red-lining while escaping.
We can use this to our advantage. You must be a very experienced athlete however !
Post race, no matter what you do, you’ll need a couple of days, maybe even a week or more to a complete recovery ! However the real recovery process and real pain signals come just the day after the race ! Sleep what triggers it.
We talk only about shorter competitions, maximum 30minutes ! Why not profit and do more training after a couple of hours of rest ? You’ll be tired anyways ! The advantage is, that after a 5k or 10k race the nervous system is so primed for speed, that very impressive benefits can be gained from post race workouts !
So the Salazar athletes often borrow track-times at the afternoon, for a post-morning-competition interval session. As an example after a 35 to 45minute warmup, a 2 x 1600m will be executed with perfect form. Even a 5 x 400 with bigger breaks, could be a winner. Don't forget: they have been running 100mile plus weeks for 1 and a half decade. Experience is key !
I am a runner, sometimes a I run very high mileage, but I try keeping injury risk low. This is why we talked about cycling. I had an 11km road race a couple of weeks ago. 5hours and a small nap afterwards, when rehydrated and refuelled, I went out, chose a 6% hill and did 3 x 4minute uphill bike intervals on 96rpm cadence. I had 1beat under my max heart rate at the last interval. What an epic benefit I gained and confidence I built just from this one single day of training and racing ! Of course, I appropriately followed this up with 5 days of MAF-10 and MAF-5 training days, with stretching, breathing practices and some light sprinting .
This is advanced, but most people with a good sense of body-knowledge can slowly incorporate easy acceleration sessions after their Sunday cross races. Running or on the bike. A build up of a couple of years might be necessary to really reap the benefits and to totally avoid injury. Starting out with easy 4 x 10 seconds accelerations and augmenting the timeframe gradually to 20 seconds, 1minute, 2 minutes ….
No matter what we do after any race, we will be tired. This post race short interval session is a much better idea, than jumping into hard track workouts the Tuesday and the Thursday the following week.
How can we possibly increase our VO2MAX towards our genetic limit , if we had a genetic limit ?
- Loose weight: be ripped, loose fat and have a sensible body-size. Keep training correctly and eat a near perfect diet.
- Gain weight: have no muscles and the only speed you’ve got is from your bones and tendons ? Build muscles, by incorporating power intervals, heavy lifting, cross training and quality anabolic, well periodised nutrition !
Use extra load in the form of run-parachute, weighted vest, backpack or clothing to change the type of stimulus on your body while reaching to VO2MAX !
- Lay down new muscle fibres: random researches show that strength training has the potential in some individuals to increase muscle fibre numbers. More muscles, more stability, more propulsion, spared work, more possibility for oxygen absorption. This is not sure-science, but if you did not strength train, it will surely not happen !
- Use non-specific movements in coordination with your running. Do double VO2MAX days or even multisport VO2 workouts of 2 or more sports. Add extra weekly sessions of low impact exercises like cycling, elliptigo, cc skiing, swimming. Crossfit, kettlebell drills, ocr are fantastic, however if you were a runner, injury risk is quiet high when intensity shoots up ! Be careful !
Warming up: In “non-revolutionary follow the crowd” running books, a 15 to 20min warming up is advised before running sessions. Well, If I arrived to the track after a 30minute bike ride, this might be the case.
No ! 20minutes is not enough ! You do your mobility, you run, you do your athletic drills, you assess your body if more mobility is needed, you do your accelerations and maybe a 4minute MAF run and just then, you commence those VO2 intervals. 35 to 60minutes of warming up !
Trail Running/OCR: I think all runners should benefit from some form of cross training, extra knowledge of other movements and other possibilities. However, surely when split-seconds matter, in case you want to break a 4minute mile, precise track training is needed and all extra activities and substituted efforts should be greatly monitored !
In our case, I am approaching this subject from the view-point of an adventure racer, a trail runner or an obstacle racer. A complete athlete is a must for these sports as the demands of the challenging terrain necessitates that. VO2MAX sessions from extra curricular activities will give you the support, but also decreases impact-load and risk of injury !!!
MAF: Maffetone method
Exemples of cross training athletes: Emil Zatopek for instance was riding a bike with ankle weights, running in a bath-tube on top of wet clothes and doing snow intervals in army boots. Meb Keflezighi is always on his elliptigo. Killian Jornet is practicing all mountain sports at high intensities. Nino Shurter mountain biker is a beast in the GYM ! John Lenihan was doing nature cross fit sessions already like 30 years ago Andy Simonds got into mountain biking Chris Vargo is road cycling Ben Greenfield is doing everything I don't say that these athletes purposefully cross-train to raise their VO2MAX, but curiously all of them practice other than their own sports at high intensities.
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