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

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.

 

Follow the Training Schedule or Follow Your Intuition?

One of my most enjoyable conversations during the weekend visit by guest coach Terry Laughlin involved a conversation with a dedicated triathlete who had reluctantly missed Terry’s effortless endurance “taster clinic” on Saturday morning.  She had a 4 hour training brick on her schedule that she simply felt she couldn’t miss, yet was disappointed by not being able to attend the clinic.   She made the trip to Terry’s REI lecture later in the day to say hello and express her regrets.

What followed was a thirty minute conversation on following the “schedule” vs. following your intuition.   All of us have chosen triathlon and endurance training because at some level it brings us enjoyment.  Furthermore, many of us are challenged at learning and improving our skills including swimming, running, cycling and transition.

In Sally’s case, she had an opportunity to meet and be coached by someone whose books she’d read, whose blogs she followed and who was in town for a rare pair of clinics!  Let me tell you that getting an internationally in-demand coach into town for organized and marketed clinics wasn’t a piece of cake…these were special opportunities.

Yet her training plan called for a four hour brick on that same morning and she wasn’t sure when she could fit it in otherwise.  She expressed her regret at not being able to attend the clinic and seemed genuinely disappointed.

Although I’m not Sally’s coach, I certainly appreciate her dedication to training.  However, as a coach, I encourage all of my athletes to make their own decisions about training, using my plan as a guide.  We all have other components of our lives that make us healthy and happy…training for a race is just one of them.   From the perspective of training plan design, coaches like to use catchphrases such as “key workouts”….workouts you shouldn’t skip.  But in the larger picture, there’s really no single workout that forms a keystone in your training…it’s the consistent and progressive training over a long period of time that creates your fitness and determines your progress.

This is a two way street when working with someone who helps plan your training. Many athletes don’t realize that they should communicate with their coach far more than most of us do. I remember when I first hired a coach and received my monthly blocks, I was shy or embarrassed to say that I didn’t want to do one thing, or that I preferred to do another thing.  In order to best follow your intuition as an athlete, it’s really important to understand the “why” of your schedule. Sometimes it just requires an awareness that it’s OK to feel like doing something different from your plan…but then discuss it with your coach or experienced training partners if you need feedback.

If Sally were my athlete, and had she asked me for “permission” to move her brick, change the brick, or skip it all-together so she could attend this clinic, I would fully support her desire to do so…that Saturday morning opportunity to attend a (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime clinic by a coach you respect is by far the more appropriate thing for Sally to do than a “key” workout on the schedule.

Will Sally’s training program be impacted by skipping a 4 hour workout?  Maybe a little…but assuming it’s not a repeated pattern of behavior…skipping long workouts, Sally will be every bit as prepared for her half-ironman in 3-4 months.   Are there other ways to structure Sally’s training to accommodate a clinic she’d like to attend?  Of course there are.  Swapping weekends, splitting the brick…the body doesn’t really know that there is a schedule to follow…coaches make up the schedules…they are artificial overlays onto the rest of our life’s constraints.   Either Sally or her coach could have easily accommodated the clinic…which in the long run would have had a much bigger impact on her overall development as an athlete and as person…than a single workout.

I’ll also add that Sally wouldn’t have needed my approval to attend if I were her coach…if she thought it was valuable, I would support her. If she’d asked my opinions about the clinic I would have shared them, positive or negative…and still supported her decision.  If Sally is curious about or interested in learning and being exposed to new perspectives…then who am I to discourage that?

The takeaway here is that as an athlete, trust your intuition.  Pay attention to those things that make you curious. Pay attention to your gut instinct when it comes to your training and progress as an athlete.  No matter how much you paid for a training plan, how much you respect your coach or how proud you are of never skipping a workout, nobody knows your body better than you do, and nobody can make decisions about how you spend your time better than you can.

Trust and respect your intuition. Then follow it.

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