Posted by Steve Magness
Practical Implications of VO2max paper:
Following my paper on the “Fallacy of VO2max” I’d like to point out some of the practical implications of some of the topics discussed in the paper and address some criticisms. I’ll separate the implications into what it means for training and what it means for research.
From a research standpoint, Vo2max as a parameter is deeply ingrained in the discipline of Exercise Science. Almost all training studies use VO2max as a basis of separating out training intensities. In addition, basically every study that looks at a particular training method uses VO2max as a way to see if it’s effective or not. Some studies just measure changes in VO2max or other parameters instead of seeing if it effects the one thing that people are interested in, performance.
There needs to be a shift in focus on how training methods affect actual performance and once this is established figuring out how this training improved performance. Performance is king. An athlete does not care if his or her VO2max increases/decreases as long as performance is increased.
The model also needs to be changed. The model to explain most performance in endurance sport consists of 3 variables, VO2max, Running Economy, and Lactate Threshold. In my opinion, this is a far too simplistic model that is flawed. I’ve already discussed the flaws in VO2max. Running Economy is a measurement that doesn’t really measure efficiency like we think it does either; it simply reflects oxygen utilization efficiency. Which is great, but there are a whole lot of other things going on in terms of efficiency. Efficiency should be separated into mechanical, metabolic, and neural efficiency, in my opinion. Using Running economy overemphasizes the aerobic metabolic part of the equation.
There also needs to be a shift in how we classify exercise intensities. This could be the biggest thing. As mentioned in the paper, there is wide variation in the individualized response to training at fixed % of VO2max. %VO2max is the most used way of classifying training intensities for endurance athletes in research. The initital premise in some of these studies is that all the subjects are training at the same work load. Well, this is probably not the case if using %VO2max. That means the subsequent conclusions based on the research could be flawed.
Lastly, there needs to be a bridge between the research and the real world. Currently, there is very little communication or mixture between the groups. Read the research and you’ll see a world of researchers convinced that high intensity training is the cure for everything. Look in the real world and you’ll see that elite endurance coaches are heavy on aerobic development and a mixture of intensities with relatively high mileage. Yet, there is this attitude expressed in many research articles that the real world coaches have it wrong because the research points otherwise. The problem is that if they looked at the history of distance running training, they’d see that almost every type of training paradigm has been tried and what we are now using and tweaking is a result of that. The very low mileage/high intensity route failed to produce the results that we currently are producing… This gap between the research and what coaches do is enormous in distance running.
And one last note. Can we please move away from this infatuation with time spent at VO2max during interval training. There's a ton of studies trying to figure out the intervals that allow for most time spent at VO2max. WHY?! Nothing has ever shown that it matters.
I’m not saying I have all of or any solutions to the above. I think recognizing the shortcomings are the first step. Solving them is something else entirely.
Some have criticized that I lumped %VO2max and %vVO2 (velocity at VO2max) together. That may be valid but I did that for a reason. The point of the paper was partly to show that training based on certain zones is not sound because of the individual response of the athlete. Even if we use %vVO2 as a training basis, its still making the assumption that if you can run 5min pace for vVO2, and the zone calculated for training at some certain zone(Tempo/LT zone for example) is at 90%vVO2 plus or minus a few percent, then EVERYONE who runs 5min pace for vVO2 should train at 5:30 pace to elicit a certain training response, LT for example. The point is that you will get a wide variation of training response even if everyone trains at 90%vVO2.
The second implication is that we shouldn’t train to improve a parameter that rarely changes from year to year. In Daniels Running Formula, he states that training in his VO2max zone is done to improve VO2max and vVO2max, and that what matters is accumulating time spent at VO2max during the workout. My contention is that none of this matters. You’re not going to change VO2max much at all and time at VO2max doesn’t matter for the adaptation.
A lot of people get caught up in change the vVO2max. Why not just concern yourself with how fast you can race a 3k or how long you can last at goal 3k pace instead, if you are training for a 3k? Is there something special about the vVO2max? No. I always get a kick out of the research that says that vVO2max is the best predictor for how fast you can run a 3k/5k. Really? We needed a test to tell us that. That’s like using a test that on how far can you run in 10 minutes and then saying that that velocity corresponds highly to a 3k race (that lasts 8-10minutes…).
That brings me to my conclusion that we need a paradigm shift away from focusing on certain variables to classify and train for and shift to one based on performance. The main reason we train at VO2max or LT or any other variable is because it is an easily measured point. Because it is an easily measured point, that means a ton of research has focused on training at those intensities. Does that mean it is necessarily better or worse than an intensity that is 15sec/mile faster or slower? No. You see this in the literature. For a while, all the rage was training at a point halfway between VO2max and LT. What’s special about this point? Well, researchers came to the conclusion that some training needs to be done between these two intensity zones, but there wasn’t a nice physiological mechanism that went on in that “zone”. So what do you do, you say it’s halfway between VO2max and LT. Is that any better than 1/3 of the way or ¾ of the way or how about 5/8? No. If we had two athletes doing the exact same interval session, who have the exact same 5k best, they will have a different reaction to the training based on their individual characteristics (ranging from muscle fiber type, stride type, degree of reactivity, mentality, etc.). I’ve talked numerous times of how training differs for a fast twitch vs. a slow twitch type athlete and that’s what I’m talking about right now.
The point is that there is going to be an individual response at all of the different intensities from a pure sprint to a slow jog. Science is never going to be able to explain what exactly is best because science works in the world of averages. It is thus the coaches job to figure out what intensity each athlete needs, when, and how much. And if you don't get anything else out of this, understand this, there are NO magic training zones or magical interval workouts. You need a wide range of workouts.
I like Renato Canova’s method of seeing a blend of training paces where everything impacts each other. In a thread on letsrun, he put down all of the different intensities his athletes train at, saying that each one is connected (http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?thread=3344054).
A simple way to think of this is, if we have an athlete whose goal is to run 4min for a mile then he needs plenty of work under and over that pace and we blend it together.
Faster: Pure sprint work, working slower to specific speed
60m full sprints
6x100m in 11.5-12.0
4x200 in 24.0-25.5
4x300m in 37-39
4x400m in 54-56
4x600m at 56-58 pace
3x800m at 60sec pace
Slower: Longer repeats at slower paces working towards specific pace
6-8mi at 75-78 pace
4mi tempos at 72-74 pace
3x1.5mi at 70-72 pace
4x1600m at 68-70 pace
5x1200m at 66-68 pace
5x1000m at 64-65 pace
4x800 at 62-64sec pace
3x800 at 60sec pace
Specific pace: Increase specific endurance by lengthening repeats/ shortening rest while keeping speed the same.
3 sets of 16x100m in 15 w/ 15sec rest, 3min b/t sets
2 sets of 8x200 in 30 w/ 45sec rest, 3 b/t sets
2 sets of 5x300 in 45 w/ 45sec rest
2 sets of 4x400 in 60 w/ 45sec rest
2 sets of 4x400 w/ 25sec rest
600,600,400 w/ 30sec rest
Surround all of this with support from both faster and slower paces and you are good to go. Remembering that we add to training, not take things away. Support can range from specific support (paces are close to the specific pace) to general support (paces far away from specific pace) and all paces in between, on both the aerobic and anaerobic side of the equation. For this mile example, you’d support it with various intensities from 3k pace to high end aerobic for aerobic support. For anaerobic support, from 58pace down to a pure sprint.