VO2 What?

In the world of endurance, it seems you can’t talk about fitness without talking about VO2 max. Ask any endurance athlete and you’ll hear epic stories from names like Indurain, LeMond and Armstrong. However, many of you may be wondering what exactly is VO2 max. and why it is so important. To better understand this concept, let’s take a little trip back to school, specifically physiology class. According to the textbook Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen in milliliters that can be used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min). In other words, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) is the largest amount of oxygen that can be used at the cellular level for the entire body. It has been found that VO2 max. it correlates well with an individual’s fitness level and has been accepted as an index of total body fitness. Numerous studies show that you can increase your VO2 max by exercising at an intensity that raises your heart rate to 65-85% of your maximum, for at least 20 minutes, three to five times a week. The estimated mean value of VO2 max for male athletes is approximately 3.5 liters/minute and for female athletes it is approximately 2.7 liters/minute.

Now that we know what VO2 is, we can answer the question, “Why is it so important?” For the endurance athlete, VO2 has long been considered the holy grail of fitness. The common reason is that the better the oxygen can be utilized, the higher the level that can be performed in endurance events. However, is this really the case?

Although VO2 max is an important component of any endurance program, I have good news and bad news for those of us who may not have picked the right parents! The bad news is that, according to exercise physiologist Neal Henderson, Sports Science Coordinator at Boulder Sports Medicine Center in Colorado, VO2 is about 80% genetic. Other estimates place this number between 30 and 60%. Whatever the number, one thing is for sure; there is a genetic ceiling for VO2. The good news is that VO2 can be trained. Unfortunately, if Neal Henderson’s 80% estimate is correct and his VO2 is, say, 45 ml/kg-/min (average), his best level may only be 52 ml/kg-/min after a 20% gain (52 mL/kg-/min is considered good or just above average).

To put this in perspective, Lance Armstrong clocked in at around 84 ml/kg-/min, while cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie clocked in at a staggering 96 ml/kg-/min. The highest VO2 max ever recorded in a lab was 300 ml/kg/min! This, of course, did not belong to a human, but to a pronghorn antelope. I’ll never know how they got the antelope to run on the treadmill, but I promise I’m not making this up. Thoroughbred horses have a VO2max of around 180 ml/kg/min, and Siberian dogs participating in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have VO2 values ​​of up to 240 ml/kg/min. To add even more perspective, Olympic marathon winners and elite runners like Jeff Galloway, Alberto Salazar, and Frank Shorter are clocked in their 70s and 70s (see Table 2 for a list of athletes and their respective VO2s).

The good news is that, like the runners mentioned above, while it may be down to your genetic potential, there are many factors other than VO2 max that can also influence your success in endurance performance. Improving efficiency and economy of movement, as well as raising your anaerobic threshold (LT), can lead to performance improvements in the absence of increases in VO2. All three of these components can be addressed through a functional strength training program. Now let’s take a closer look at each of these components.

Moving on, in our physiology lesson, now would be a good time to talk about lactate threshold (LT) and its relationship to VO2. Dr. Stephen Seiler of Masters Athlete Physiology and Performance says, “For the endurance athlete, a high VO2 max is like getting an invitation to the big dance, but getting an invitation to the dance doesn’t guarantee you’ll be dancing with the prettiest girl.” “. If you want to dance with that girl, you’ll have to work on your LT! (And you thought it was the big guns and washboard abs that drew girls) LT, as noted in one of my previous articles (see Lactic Acid; The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly), is the point where the body produces more lactic acid than it can eliminate. LT training will result in a decrease in lactate production at any given exercise intensity. Untrained people typically reach LT at about 60% VO2max. This means that even if my VO2 is 70ml/kg/min, which is an elite level, I can only use 60%, or 42ml/kg/min (average), before my LT shuts me down. However, with training, LT can increase from 60% to over 70% or even higher. Elite endurance athletes typically have an LT equal to or greater than 80% VO2max. Although most endurance athletes typically train LT in the pool, on the bike, or during the run, we have several protocols in the gym specifically designed to improve LT. Additionally, because movement specificity is so important when training LT, these protocols address both the lower and upper body (see Table 1).

Last but not least, we can now address efficiency and economy of motion. The difference between efficiency and economy in an exercise environment is that, for a given energy consumption, economy is measured as speed of movement, while efficiency is measured as mechanical power. What does all that mean? It means that efficiency and economy can be just as important as VO2 or LT. To better understand this concept, just think about the last time you went out for a group ride. Was it easier to shoot forward or sit down? Sit down, of course! Why is that? Because sitting allows for more efficient movement and less effort, which in turn will allow you to be more economical. Think of each joint in a given movement as an opportunity to waste energy. The more joints involved in a movement, the more chance there is to lose energy; the more stable the union, the less power is lost; the less power that leaks, the greater the efficiency in a given activity.

So how do these concepts apply to strength training? I am often asked to watch someone run on the treadmill and look at their gait. Instead, I ask them to do 10 front reaches on one leg. If this is hard, that tells me your hips aren’t as stable as they should be and your gait may not be as good as it should be. The same goes for the shoulder joint. If you can’t handle a set of stabilizing pushups with good form, then your swimming stroke isn’t as efficient and economical as it could be.

Now for all you skeptics, all I ask is that you give it a try. Perhaps before the next time you go to test your VO2 (not fun by any means), you might first try taking a look at your previous reaches or pull-ups in t-stab or the protocol listed in Table 1. These alternatives don’t they are designed to point out your flaws or embarrassments, but to empower you. Instead of complaining about genetics (though trust me, I still do), test your limits in one of the ways mentioned above. I assure you that you will find what my most successful clients have found; that through a comprehensive functional strength training program, economy, efficiency, and lactate threshold can be improved, making VO2 max less important.

Table 1
super legacy
Exercise Essay Notes
Speed ​​Squats 20 20 reps under 20 seconds parallel
Lunges 20 (10 per side) Alternate legs, knee off the ground
Box shuffle/Split jump 20 (10 per side) Use 9″ box
Squat jumps 10 Squats in parallel and without rest between jumps
Complete the entire circuit without resting in less than 1:30

Box 2
VO2 Athlete Sport
92.5 Greg LeMond professional cyclist
92.0 Matt Carpenter Pikes Peak Marathon Race Record Holder
91.0 Harri Kirvesniem Finnish cross-country skier
88.0 Miguel Indurain Professional cyclist
87.4 Marius Bakken Norwegian 5k record holder
85.0 Dave Bedford 10k world record
84.4 Steve Prefontaine American running back
84.0 Lance Armstrong Professional Cyclist
82.0 Kip Keino 1500m Olympic Champion
81.1 Craig Virgin Cross Country World Champion x2
81.0 Jim Ryun US miler starting WR
80.1 Steve Scott US miler 3:47
78.6 Joan Benoit 1984 Olympic marathon champion
78.5 Bill Rodgers 2:09:27 marathon runner
77.4 Don Kardong 2:11:15 marathoner
77.0 Sebastian Coe 1500 miles WR
76.0 Alberto Salazar 2:08:51 marathon runner
74.4 Johnny Halberstadt 2:11:44 marathoner
73.3 Bruce Fordyce Ultramarathoner
73.0 Jeff Galloway Expert Runner
73.0 Buddy Edelen 2:14:28 marathon world record (1963)
72.3 Peter Snell Olympic Champion
71.3 Frank Shorter winner of the US Olympic Marathon
71.2 Ingrid Kristiansen Former marathon world record holder
70.3 Willie Mtolo 2:08:15 marathoner
67.2 Rosa Mota Marathon Runner

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