July 13, 2023

How to maximize your vo2 max training

Exercise physiologist and avid runner Brady Holmer has done a series of articles on vo2 max--what it is, why it matters, and how to improve it. The latter is particularly important for runners because an enhanced vo2 max is a universally-accepted prerequisite for better race results.

In his fifth installment in the series, Holmer focused on research into the best ways to boost your vo2 max. All running is good, but some types of training are better than others.

In the short term--and virtually all studies in the field cover just a few weeks or months--there’s no doubting the power of High Intensity Training (HIT, ie, running fast). These HIT repeats can be quite short. 

At least one paper delved into the effectiveness of 15-second pickups, which proved very powerful at increasing vo2 max. Not only that, but subjects generally rate shorter intervals easier and more enjoyable than longer intervals. So you might be more likely to do them on a regular basis.

But if you’re looking for the optimal vo2 max workout, you’ll need to brace yourself for a bigger effort. Several studies point to 4-minute repeats as the ultimate. You’ll want to do these at roughly your 5K race pace, take a short recovery of 2 to 3 minutes, and then do several more. In the classic study (with free full text) noted by Holmer, subjects did 4 repeats of 4-minutes each for a total of 16 minutes of hard running.

It’s worth emphasizing that no matter how important vo2 max is, you shouldn’t devote all your training (or even a significant portion) to boosting vo2 max. That would violate the hard/easy principle, because vo2 max intervals are hard. 

Never forget that all training is good. As Holmer notes: “Again, none of this is to say that lower-intensity training should be neglected. Building a strong aerobic foundation before implementing high-intensity training into your program is prudent: allowing you to maximize the benefits of hard training, in addition to preventing injury and overtraining.” More at Substack/Brady Holmer.

Can orthotics reduce your injuries?

When companies supply the funding for research projects, that is often thought to influence the outcomes of such studies. Even if the researchers swear they were not influenced.

So eyes-wide-open with regard to this orthotics study, which was intended to determine if orthotics would increase running speed, decrease injury risk, and improve shoe comfort. The trial was funded by Aetrex Orthotics.

The project enrolled 94 runners who were divided into two groups: orthotics wearers vs no orthotics. The study lasted 8 weeks, and runner-subjects supplied data regarding their results for the last half of the time period.

Outcome: The runners using orthotics reported that they ran .3 mph faster than those without orthotics, and were 2.2 times less likely to sustain an injury. However, neither of these results were statistically significant. (If someone started at 10:00 minute pace, and increased their speed by .3 mph, this would yield a new pace of 9:31. Starting at 8:00 would yield an improvement to 7:41).

Conclusion: “Findings were only significant for comfort, and not for speed or injury rates.” Shoe comfort is an important factor for runners, and could certainly be enough to make you choose off-the-shelf orthotics. As usual, this is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. More at World J of Orthopedics with free full text.

Some running injuries, including bone stress issues, require more correction than an in shoe orthotic. Often the treatment includes a “walking boot” for several weeks to several months. The boot allows the bone to heal, but also limits ankle motion and leads to local muscle weakening.

Now a team at the University of Memphis have invented a Dynamic Ankle Orthosis DAO that appears to lower 

compression forces even more than a boot, while allowing for more ankle movement to maintain muscle health. 

The authors suggest that this could be a viable alternative for runners and other athletes seeking a safe but quicker return to normal activity. More at Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

New advice for dealing with bad air-quality days

First there was Covid. Now we’ve got regular Air Quality Index (AQI) alerts due to massive forest fires and other pollution. Sad but perhaps necessary: Keep your supply of face masks close at hand. 

The Road Runners Club of America has updated its “Safe Event Guidelines” to help race directors decide what to do when faced with poor air quality. The recommendations range from shortening race distance to outright cancellation. The recommendations note: “Many local governments have adopted guidelines for outdoor activities, which include canceling events/outdoor activities for “Code Red” days or AQI at 151+.”

Also, when the AQI reaches the purple/maroon level, race directors are advised to “100% cancel the event.” The RRCA likes the clear, basic information available at the AirNow.gov website (with quick results for your zip code). You can also use these guidelines to assist decisions about your daily training. More at RRCA.org.

SHORT STUFF you don’t want to miss

>>> Hop, skip, and jump: 9 drills that can boost your running performance

NOTE: If you were a subscriber to the complete, full-text version of RLRH for $4/month, you would also have received new articles on:

# The science of world-class enduring training--present and future

# The surprising superfood that powers Tour de France riders

# How to win the Olympics when you’re 100

# The truth about the best strength-training program

# Pepper-upper: A spice that may boost your workouts

# New swim goggles that measure your pace and distance

# A great quote from Carl Jung about choosing your path

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And remember: “I spend HOURS searching the Internet for the best, most authoritative new running articles, so you can review them in MINUTES.” Stay well. Amby