What are some good VO2 Max Workouts?

Triathlete Cornering on Bike Course at Pittsburgh Triathlon

VO2 max is typically achieved in an all-out effort of 3-8 minutes depending on your genetics and fitness. Outstanding athletes may be able to hold their true VO2 max for a full 8 minutes, but most people cannot.

The whole idea of interval work (at any intensity) is to use shorter sets with rests to add up to a total of more work that you would otherwise, be able to do as a continuous effort. You can reach your VO2 max after about 30 seconds of starting an interval at the appropriate intensity, but after you stop or slow down, our oxygen needs diminish and your heart rate slows, and you are no longer at your VO2 max. When you start your next interval, your “bucket” has only partially emptied depending on the intensity of your rest interval (how low your HR or Power or Vo2 drops during the rest)…which determines how far you need to fill the bucket up again to be back at your Vo2 Max.

So if the goal is to get as much work in as possible at VO2 max
efforts, you can see how shorter, more intense rest intervals would
let you reach your VO2 max effort more quickly once you re-start a
given interval.

So if the goal is to get as much work in as possible at VO2 max
efforts, you can see how shorter, more intense rest intervals would
let you reach your VO2 max effort more quickly once you re-start a
given interval.

So the next question is how long should the intervals be?

Tabata intervals (10 sec max, 20 sec rest) will hit a component of VO2
eventually, but they are really best for anaerobic conditioning.
Billat’s intervals (30 at vo2 max-30 at “rest”) are great for an
introduction to VO2 max efforts for either newbies, or early in the
season, with little worry for injury. In addition, her work has shown
that after a 4-6 week block of VO2 interval work, only 2-3 minutes of
VO2 work per week are required to sustain your gains before they drop
off to far. So you can cycle your VO2 work early in the season and
see some benefits, taper them off in the spring time and resume them
prior to or during race season. Of course, if you can tolerate the
longer intervals (2, 3, 5 minutes or more) at your VO2 max power, you
will pack in the most time at VO2 max.

Finally, about what power to do your intervals at…since by
definition, your 5 minute power is going to be close to your VO2 max
effort (and could only be confirmed with expired gas testing in a
lab), you might as well use that 5 minute power as your target power
for your VO2 intervals.

There’s no right or wrong as long as you are applying physiology
appropriately. The most important part is to have a plan to follow
and be able to measure your progress. Ways of measuring your progress
could be to do a block of VO2 intervals for 4-6 weeks as part of your
regular training with a progression that makes sense, and then measure
either your all out 5 min power again, OR hold your 465W and see how
long you can hold it after the training block.

So if the goal is to get as much work in as possible at VO2 max
efforts, you can see how shorter, more intense rest intervals would
let you reach your VO2 max effort more quickly once you re-start a
given interval.

So the next question is how long should the intervals be?

Tabata intervals (10-sec max, 20-sec rest) will hit a component of VO2
eventually, but they are really best for anaerobic conditioning.
Billat’s intervals (30 at vo2 max-30 at “rest”) are great for an
introduction to VO2 max efforts for either newbies, or early in the
season, with little worry for injury. In addition, her work has shown
that after a 4-6 week block of VO2 interval work, only 2-3 minutes of
VO2 work per week are required to sustain your gains before they drop
off to far. So you can cycle your VO2 work early in the season and
see some benefits, taper them off in the springtime and resume them
prior to or during race season. Of course, if you can tolerate the
longer intervals (2, 3, 5 minutes or more) at your VO2 max power, you
will pack in the most time at VO2 max.

Finally, about what power to do your intervals at…since by
definition, your 5-minute power is going to be close to your VO2 max
effort (and could only be confirmed with expired gas testing in a
lab), you might as well use that 5-minute power as your target power
for your VO2 intervals.

There’s no right or wrong as long as you are applying physiology
appropriately. The most important part is to have a plan to follow
and be able to measure your progress. Ways of measuring your progress
could be to do a block of VO2 intervals for 4-6 weeks as part of your
regular training with a progression that makes sense, and then measure
either your all-out 5 min power again OR hold your 465W and see how
long you can hold it after the training block.

I hope that gives you some more ideas on how to design integrate VO2 max sets into your training.

This article originally appeared on my retired blog, exercisephysiologyMD.com in January of 2009

Stop Working Out in order to Build Confidence in Racing

Stop Working Out and Practice Instead

4 male triathletes running and diving into the ocean

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

 

Is Training by Heart Rate Better than Training by Effort?

Do you use a power meter or heart rate monitor for every cycling workouts? Do you know your training zones by heart? Do you regularly execute a threshold test set every 4-6 weeks throughout the year as your fitness improves? If so congratulations are in order…or are they?

Executing a workout well often means hitting prescribed training levels such as a target heart rate or power zone.  But an even more powerful training skill to master is nailing the effort level without out prescriptive guidelines.   Instead of having a pre-determined target to hit, you ride (run/swim) by effort following the guidelines of the workout and tuning in to your body’s response and signals.

  • How long can I sustain this effort?
  • Can I work at this level of dis-comfort for another 4 minutes without fading?
  • Can I repeat this focus level for another three sets of the same activity?
  • Is this recovery level easy enough that I can do another hard effort for the next eight minutes?

Nailing the workout intention when using effort alone means you’re in tune with how your body is responding to effort that day.   But it takes practice!

 

Failing is a Step Closer to the End Result

Henry Ford Quote - Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently

The first time you execute a workout like this, you may, in fact, you will fail miserably.   You’ll start too hard and won’t complete all the efforts.  You’ll finish too easily and not hit the desired intensity. You’ll look at your heart rate tracing after the fact and see a line that looks like the profile of the Hilly Billy Roubeaux instead of even like the Sahara desert.  In other words, your efforts were all over the place, rather than steady, even and repeatable.

You’re thinking,  “But coach, just give me a power target and I’ll hit it”.

Success in triathlon is not always about hard work. It’s more often about being in tune with your body on a consistent basis and relying on that instinct you’ve developed on race day.  Power training is fantastic, but there’s no substitute for your intuition about your own body’s performance.

There’s a recipe for developing this instinct.   Given any specific task, complete the workout in a “practice” mode.  You’re not trying to build fitness, nail a heart rate zone, get anaerobic, VO2 max-ish, or wherever the effort falls on a physiologic scale.

You’re trying to tune your instincts to hit the intention of the workout. ie  “go hard for an hour”, “run easy for exactly 30 minutes”, “execute three evenly paced efforts with 2 minute rest at the maximum of your ability”.

Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Training

It may be hard to see how it’s different to hit a power range for three eight-minute efforts, versus doing the same effort without targets and going just by feel.

The first is “prescriptive”…your efforts are given by your coach or your spreadsheet of training zones. But your spreadsheet doesn’t know your body’s ability on that specific day, and your coach won’t know unless you are in a daily training environment or communicate intensively on a daily basis.

In the second example, the power is “descriptive”.  You or your coach look at your power levels, effort or heart rate zones AFTER you complete the workout instead of before or during.

You improve your ability to understand your body while executing  a practice session, rather than a workout. While practicing, you’re also developing the specific fitness needed to improve your fitness and master the pace, master the effort and tune into your body.

On race day, it matters less what your power or heart rate targets are…it matters more if you’re operating within your body’s ability to cross the finish line having used your energy wisely and finishing in the fastest time you’re capable of.

 

Fitness Follows Mastery

Once you master the workout you can learn to push your abilities while still maintaining the practice intentions.  Maybe it takes you three ‘practice sessions’ to do an evenly paced 3 x 8 minute effort with 2 minutes rest.   “But Coach,” you protest again loudly…”If you’d just give me a target, I can do it right the first time!”   Right…but that’s not the point.

Building fitness is easy. Anyone can prescribe hard workouts.   Online training simulators like Trainer Road, Zwift and Sufferfest can help you do testing sets, tell you how to crunch the numbers (or do it for you) and give you back more training sets to do.  That’s algorithmic.

But coaching is an art and racing well requires practice…not just fitness.

Practice executing specific workouts by listening to your body.  Repeat these efforts to do it “better”…more evenly paced within the workout guidelines.  See what your heart rate and power were AFTER the effort is done. Are your efforts even or ‘hilly billy’?  Is each effort similar to the previous or do they get less intense as you get more fatigued?  Or is the first effort even and the second and third efforts ragged?

 

Practice Perfect the Push Performance

Chris McCormack - Triathlete running up stadium steps

Photo: Nils Nilsen, Triathlete.com

Reread the workout guidelines and see if you executed it well.   If you did, congratulations! You now have a baseline. Next time you try it, see if you can push just a little bit more.  If the workouts are well designed, you’ll be building the fitness you need, but more importantly, building your reservoir of body sensing, pacing and confidence in racing.

Chris McKormack, two time Ironman World Championship winner, explains this concept well in a blog post called, “Keep it simple“…

“Training is about teaching yourself to understand your boundaries and then slowly pushing those boundaries up. You need to know how to feel those and where they are!

I say go out and try to get in touch with your perceived exertion and your body rhythm at least a few times a week in all the disciplines of our sport. Most of the time in training, especially when I go to a new town, I often test myself by doing the following. I leave the hotel room for a run and check the clock before I leave. 

I then say to myself, ok I am going to go and run for 1 hour. When I come back I try and see how close to that hour I actually was. I take no watch with me nor do I set any preconceived pace. I run freely and try and feel my way to understanding just how long I have been running by my surroundings and my pace and effort. Funnily enough, the fitter I get the better I am at getting very close to the hour.

 

Ride “Blind” and Benefit

During your next training session, try putting black electrical tape over your power meter or heart rate monitor.  Turn off Zwift and Trainer Road and go old school while listening to tunes, or watching a scenic youtube video.   Learn to “practice” rather than “workout”.  You’ll tap into a new set of skills needed for triathlon speed, success and enjoyment.

Finding your Blind Spots – Improving your Triathlon in the Offseason

Finding your Blind Spots – Improving your Triathlon in the Offseason

IMG_6786Last week I rented a small SUV while I was at the Long Course World Championships in Oklahoma City, OK.   Normally I rent compact or economy cars because they’re less expensive and I don’t have a need for a lot of cargo room.  But invariably, by the end of my trip my back and neck are tired and sore from the low, molded seats that these cars usually come with.  So on the spur of the moment I upgraded to an SUV.  My back was really really happy with that decision!   But I had two close calls while driving on the highway, trying to switch lanes and noticing that there was a car in my blind spot.

I’m used to the blind spots on my own vehicle, and therefore know where and when to look and for how long before I switch lanes.  I was a bit surprised to have this happen twice…once on my right and once on my left in this rental SUV.  It didn’t take more than one occurrence though, because as soon as I knew there was a blind spot and where, I knew to look for it before switching lanes.

Improvement Requires some Type of Feedback

Normally in order to locate your blind spots you need some type of external feedback.  Hopefully it’s not a car accident that becomes your first warning a car was too close to you. Typically I look in my mirrors, rear view, then side view, then finally I turn my head to check for anyone there…in that blind spot that I’m used to.  IN this new car, I had to look further back and for a second longer.  But once I knew it was there, it became routine to check and I had no further close calls over the weekend.

Applying “Blind Spot Reduction” to Triathlon Training

How does this story apply to triathlon training?  WE all have blind spots in our own preparation for the sport.  Whether it’s a fitness blind spot (Doing only long slow distance and no intervals?), possibly a sport balance blind spot (you like running the most, so you skip all your bike rides?), or often a technique or skill blind spot (not sure when to shift gears, or how to smooth out your swim stroke?)

A blind spot means we can’t see it.  We need some type of external feedback to identify it.  So chances are, unless you train often with a variety of friends, hire a skills or technique coach, or sit down with someone to review your training and preparation you may not know where your blind spots are.

I can guarantee one thing, though…if you can locate them, they will almost automatically improve!  Just like my rental SUV story.    Once I knew they were there, they became a non-issue.

How to Find your Own Blind Spots (Hint: If you already know about them, it’s not a blind spot!)

If you become aware that you preferentially skip bike rides to go for a trail run, then maybe you’ll be more inclined to get in an extra trainer ride this winter or sign up for a spinning class.  Pay for it ahead of time or buy a punch card, and you’ll be more likely to go.

Even if you enjoy swimming and feel skilled, seek out a qualified swim coach in your area, or someone who can do video analysis from good quality submissions…and get some outside feedback on your stroke.

How to Specifically Ask for Outside Help

Take a swim or run clinic.  Ride with a different group of people.  Join a local tri club’s weekly fitness session.  All of these are ways to get objective feedback especially if you ask for it!   How do you ask for feedback?  Just pick out someone who seems confident and comfortable, or perhaps there is a coach attending and let them know your concerns.  Ask questions like:

  • Can you watch me shift during these rolling hills and let me know if I’m using my gears appropriately?
  • My right shoulder gets sore when I swim longer than 1/2 mile, especially when I am forced to breath left.  Can you take a look at what could be contributing?
  • I can’t seem to increase my pace when I try to run intervals. Can you let me know if you see anything that could be causing an issue?

You don’t have to know the answers, and you also don’t need to Know what your blind spots are.  You only need to be aware that all of us have them.   Blind spots are even easier than weak spots to address, because the simple act of becoming aware of them opens up all sorts of avenues to create lasting improvements.

 

I’d love to hear from you.  What kind of blind spots have you discovered in the past? How did you address them?

Monitoring Your Injury During Recovery–Tips from Halle Frederiksen

Coach Suzanne leading a skills clinic while wearing a walking boot!

Coach Suzanne leading a skills clinic while wearing a walking boot!

It is important to monitor your progress through an injury so as to know where you stand. This is made much easier once you start monitoring yourself while healthy so that you have something to compare it to. When you are injured, monitor how you feel every day. In general, how do you feel doing different tasks, at different times of the day. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to monitor how you’re feeling and set goals for yourself.

  • Recovering from an injury requires dedication and hard work for a triathlete in order to get back on track
  • When one is injured,monitoring what aggravates the injury, how it is recovering, and what hurts or doesn’t hurt is important to track and look back on progress.
  • The best way to improve when one is healthy is by monitoring ones progress,  which may be done through software like Trainingpeaks.com (not an affiliate link, although I do use them).

As I write this, I am edging my closer to a start line. My body is close to full health and as my fitness builds, soon it will be race time again. Nothing excites me more than the thought of battling with the best in the world. But how did I get here? How did I, and so many others, get through such a long period of injury?

Helle Frederiksen

Professional triathlete and current holder of the fastest half-distance time by a female 3:55:50

Your Burning Triathlon Training Questions – Wednesday Weekly

Triathlon  / Freestyle Swimming - Total ImmersionWe have athletes of all experience levels training with our coaches, and sometimes we take for granted how much knowledge triathletes have. There’s no such thing as a question too simple, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that a question that seems basic was once a question we didn’t ahve answers to.

It’s only through familiarity, repetition and surrounding ourselves with training resources daily that common sense triathlon answers become common sense! (more…)

Life in Balance: Triathlon Training Volume and Race Performances – Part 1

Today I was chatting with one of my athletes getting his post-race recap of the Rev 3 Cedar Point Half distance triathlon.   He was thrilled with his performance, his ability to overcome many hardships and mishaps during the race (who hasn’t taken a wrong turn in the heat of a race? ) and was most pleased at how his training consistency has led to a 45 minute improvement in his Half distance since last year.

Yet his training volume is still less than that of his training partner (who remains uncoached).  His partner and he used to ride at the same pace and now my athlete (I’ll refer to him as Paul) is so much faster than his friend, that often he “pulls him along” on training rides.   His friend (I’ll call him Peter) has been a bit baffled by Paul’s reduced training volume until the results of yesterday’s race in which Paul took 2nd place in his age group.

PMC - Performance Management Chart

Why bring this up? It’s not for me to sit here and write that less training time is better for you. It may be , but without knowing what you are currently doing, your recent improvements (or declines or plateaus) and what your goals are, you could need more training, less training or just different training.

Contrast this with another athlete of mine who did the exact same race who is doing not quite twice as much training volume as Paul.

Let’s put some numbers and figures to all of this…

His 4 key Endurance races this year are

  • Pittsburgh Marathon 5/4/2014 – DONE
  • Eagleman 6/8/2014 – DONE
  • Rev 3 Cedar Point Half 9/8/14 – DONE
  • IM Arizona 11/16/14  – 8 Weeks to go

That’s a long season and a lot of long racing.  He’s got a family and it’s vital that he remain in good health and balanced thorughotu the year.  That means that when we can afford to trainig wise, we back way off, allow him to recovery, let fatigue go away and let him spend time with family & work related priorities.   Nearing these final 2 races (Rev 3 Cedar Point and IM Arizona) it is becoming more important to get in adequate volume for muscle endurance, while maximizing his speed potential for those distances.

The question is how much is enough? Where’s the threshold of too much training?

There are two (ok, maybe 3) key elements to look at and still keep the formula simple.

  1. What’s his prior training volume/ training stress been like? 
  2. How much time can he currently commit to training
  3. How is he feeling physically, emotionally & in relation to his other commitments? 

I’ll make this a 2 part writeup and continue the discussion in Part 2. There is a lot ot consider and digest here, and it’s important as a coach and an athlete to keep a holistic approach to training volume and not simply fill all available time with training.

Let me know in the comments what questions have come up so far in reading part 1.

 

//google analytics