What is VO2 Max?

Simply stated, it’s the maximum amount of oxygen you’re able to deliver (or process) to your muscles when you’re working your body at its hardest. The more you can process, the faster you can go, or the harder you can work.

This is why, regardless of how hard I train, how young I am, or how much I pay the best coaches and trainers in the world, I’ll never be as fast as, saaaay?, Lance Armstrong. Without going into much detail about Armstrong’s genetic giftings toward athletic performance, I’ll say that he’s right at the top of the human food chain of oxygen delivery to the muscles.

Some athletes have their VO2 max tested and use the results to optimize their training for improvement. Numerous studies show that you can increase your VO2max by working out at an intensity that raises your heart rate between 65 and 85% of its maximum for at least 20 minutes three to five times a week.

However, VO2 Max is only part of the endurance equation.

To complete the big picture, you may get better information from working on your lactate threshold.

What is Lactate Threshold?

Lactate threshold (LT)is the pace at which the slow accumulation of lactate in your blood begins to accelerate – a feature that is highly sensitive to training and crucial to race performance. This rapid increase of lactate becomes a problem when the muscles can’t remove it as fast as it’s entering. This threshold is a major factor in training intensity and endurance. It is metabolized by oxygen. The more lactate you have, the more oxygen you must breath in to eliminate it. Keep in mind that lactate is not a bad thing. It’s present in the muscles all the time as a by-product of burning glucose, which is how we produce energy.

Get this visual:

  1. You’re training hard and intense, running or lifting.
  2. You begin to run faster or lift harder (more intense) for continued periods of time.
  3. Heart rate increases – requiring you to breath in more oxygen.
  4. As this continues, the lactate production exceeds the oxygen intake and the muscle(s) begin to fatigue / fail.

Can lactate threshold be improved? ABSOLUTELY!!!

The LT is thought to be somewhere between 80 – 95% of your maximum heart rate. That being the case, research has shown the the best combination of training programs to follow are high volume and interval and fartlek training.

High Volume:

Begin your LT improvement training with high volume. This is simply to increase your training volume. If you’ve been training for approx. 90 minutes / week, begin working towards a goal of 180 minutes / week. This is done properly by increasing your training time by 10 – 20% / week until you reach your goal of 180 minutes. The major benefit of high volume training is increased capacity for oxygen utilization.

Interval and compound sets:

These are typically categorized as tempo runs and require the knowledge of your 5K & 10K pace. The Furman First program has been used with much success (it’s free). The basic idea is to run a short, specified distance at a particular pace based off of your 5K & 10K paces. The distance, time, and rest intervals vary greatly.

Fartlek Training:

Fartlek (Sweedish for “speed play”) is described as random bursts of speed for random length / distance / time. the object is to continue movement. For example you set out to run a 5K, along the way you run at a casual speed and periodically breakout into a faster and more intense pace briefly, then slow back down to your original pace.

All three of these methods are not only the best way to improve your lactate threshold, but to also change up your exercise routines and keep your training fresh and something to look foreward to.