The Velocity at VO2max (vVO2max)

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The vVO2max is the minimum velocity at which the maximal oxygen uptake or VO2max occurs. The vVO2max would normally be assessed using an incremental exercise test. The test involves measuring oxygen consumption over a number of incremental stages until the point at which oxygen consumption does not increase further. The velocity at which oxygen consumption plateaus is considered to be the vVO2max.

vVO2max and Endurance Exercise Performance

The vVO2max has been shown to be highly predictive of endurance exercise performance and can be used to provide useful information for athletes competing over middle to long distance events (McLaughlin et al., 2010; Billat et al., 2003; Billat and Koralsztein 1996; Noakes et al., 1990; Morgan et al., 1989;). When researchers looked at the physiological characteristics of a group of male and female Kenyan distance runners they found that the velocity at VO2max was the best predictor of 10km performance (McLaughlin et al., 2010). In fact it is considered to be the best predictor of endurance performance since it integrates both aerobic capacity (VO2max) and running efficiency (McLaughlin et al., 2010; Morgan et al., 1989).

The velocity at VO2max can be used to explain the differences in race performance, between two athletes of equal VO2max or running economy. If two athletes have the same VO2max values or have a similar economy of motion then the athlete with the highest vVO2maxwill be running at a greater velocity for any given percentage of their VO2max. As long as there was no decrease in the sustainable %VO2max then any improvement in vVO2max would translate to improved performance over a range of race distances.

Determining the vVO2max

The velocity at VO2max is normally assessed using a laboratory based incremental test in which oxygen consumption is measured whilst increasing the speed in an incremental manner. As the speed is increased oxygen consumption increases linearly until the point at which oxygen consumption is at its maximum. The minimum velocity at which the maximum oxygen uptake occurs is considered to be the vVO2max.

Assessing the vVO2max using field tests

The most popular field test for estimating the velocity at VO2max is to perform a 6 minute time trial in which the average speed sustained over the time trial gives an estimation of vVO2max. The use of a short duration time trial is based on research that has found that the vVO2max can be sustained for approximately 6minutes (Billat et al., 1999; Hill et al., 1997) although some subjects can sustain the vVO2max pace for longer. A 5-minute test has also been proposed (Berthon et al., 1997) although the 6 minute test is generally the preferred test length.

Training to Improve the Velocity at VO2max

Researchers believe that the best method to enhance vVO2max is to perform high intensity interval training at the vVO2max speed. One of the most popular methods is to perform 5 x 3minute intervals at vVO2max, with 3 minute active recoveries. This is based on research that found that the use of these intervals, along with tempo training and easy pace training, led to a 3% increase in vVO2max and 6% improvement in running economy after four weeks of training (Billat et al., 1999). However, research suggests that 3 minute intervals at vVO2max speed may not be sufficient to attain VO2max (Hill et al., 1997; Hill and Rowell, 1997). Further research suggests that the use of repeated shorter 30s intervals (30s) at vVO2max with 30s recoveries at 50%vVO2max may be a more effective means of increasing the overall time spent at VO2max (Billat et al., 2000).

To do the 30-30 workout you would aim to run for 30 seconds at vVO2max speed – you can establish this using the 6 minute time trial test e.g. if you complete 1800m in 6minutes then you would need to complete 150m in 30seconds – you would then run a 30second recovery at ½ the vVO2max speed (e.g. 75m in 30 seconds). You would repeat this until you could no longer complete the vVO2max interval (normally around 20 intervals). If you have access to a running track you may find it easier to control the intervals by distance rather than time (e.g. 200m at vVO2max pace with 100m recoveries at ½ vVO2max pace). For an athlete who could run 1800m in 6minutes you would run the 200m in 40 seconds with 40 second 100m recoveries.

Since the velocity at VO2max is influenced by both running economy and VO2max any training that improves one of these factors should result in improvements in your vVO2max. Therefore, in addition to running intervals at vVO2max you should utilize the methods discussed in the VO2max and exercise economy sections (e.g. adequate training volume, optimizing training intensity, strength/resistance training for endurance).

vVO2max Summary:

  • The vVO2max represents the minimum velocity required to elicit VO2max.
  • It’s considered to be one of the best predictors of endurance performance over a wide range of distances from middle-distance to long-distance races, due to the way it integrates the maximal aerobic capacity and running economy.
  • The vVO2max is determined through an incremental treadmill test in which oxygen consumption is measured whilst increasing the speed incrementally. It can be estimated using a 6-minute field test in which the average speed provides an estimate of vVO2max.
  • The vVO2max can be increased through the use of intervals run at vVO2max speed with equal length recoveries run at half the vVO2max speed. Research suggests that shorter intervals tend to be more effective at increasing the total amount of time spent at VO2max.
  • Since the vVO2max is influenced by both the VO2max and running economy, any training that improves either VO2max or running economy should have a positive effect on vVO2max.
Velocity at VO2max References:

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