Hack your way to a 5% bump in VO2 Max

PJS_VO2_Testing.jpgSprinting for the finish line, driving up over a hill and resuming a torrid pace, or bouncing back from a hard dyno at 14,000 feet all require a great maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 Max). Knowing a killer workout that can have a quick and lasting impact on how much air you suck in and devour is a godsend. I’ve got one for you.

First – the amount of difference between the right workout and wrong workout was shocking to me.

When I was training for the 1996 Olympics my coach was adamant that if you didn’t like something you must need it, but it wasn’t exactly scientific adaptation. I did hours and hours on the water every day with varying goals (technique, power, rhythm, explosiveness, sustained speed, etc.) each one a focus to create the perfect recipe to get faster. The key is balancing how you maximize workout time against recovery time and leave enough time to recover?

I finally got to the USOC and had some scientific testing done to refine my training. Rowers are known for two things – having huge VO2 maxes and having an extremely high pain threshold. I was the conductor on the pain train – testing in the top three guys of all sports in the Olympic training center for lactate threshold (how long you can ignore the screaming of your muscles at the end of a race). However, my VO2 max was mediocre. So my coach wanted to obliterate that weakness. 

In addition to the regular stream of workouts I’d been doing under his guidance for for the previous two years; he added a key once-a-week painfest. I learned to love/hate these workouts and just a couple years ago saw some pretty impressive scientific data from a Scandinavian Side-by-Side research study showing doing short intervals (vs. long intervals like 4 or 5 minutes) creates a 6% greater increase in VO2 max, or a difference of 200% in favor of the shorties. I guess Coach knew his stuff (God rest his soul).

The workout is the following:

30 minute warm-up with a focus on skills and drills the first 15 mins then eventually winding up to higher effort pick ups.

Main Work Out: 

2 x 10 minutes of 30-15 (30 seconds Max Effort, 15 seconds Rest). Take five minutes between the two sets of rest.

One hour steady cool down.

That’s the secret killer workout. The study I referenced above compared 30 intervals/15 sec rest to 5 minute intervals with 2.5 min rest. The long interval group saw a 2.6% increase in VO2 max after 10 weeks, the short interval group 8.7% increase in the same time. So 400% more effective! Crazy there can be such a difference, but there you have it! Go get fast.


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