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Workout Wednesday: VO2 max running

Outdoor shot of young African woman athlete running on racetrack. Professional sportswoman during running training session.

— By Michael Liberzon

If your run feels like it’s stuck in one gear (your 5K pace and your long run pace are similar) then it pays to do some speed work!

VO2 max is the intensity at which your body maxes out in its ability to uptake oxygen. Training at this intensity raises your cardiovascular system’s ability to perform this task. For the athlete that means one of two things: either you will be able to run faster or your old pace will feel easier, allowing you to hold it for longer durations.

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You can typically find your VO2 max pace by performing a good, all-out one mile time trial. So before attempting this workout, you should know your absolute best one mile time. Run the time trial on a flat surface like a track. With your mile time in hand, divide it by 1.61 to get your minutes/kilometer pace. This is the pace you will use for the following workout.

Low section of runners running on a track

Warm Up

  • 15:00 easy run
  • 5:00 dynamic stretching and muscle activation exercises. Some examples below:
    • Soldier aka Frankenstein walk
    • Walking lunges
    • Heel and toe walks
    • As + Bs + Cs

Main Set

  • Repeat 20x: 30 sec @ VO2 max pace, 30 sec walking recovery
    • The very short recoveries in this workout keep heart rate high, maximizing the total volume at VO2 max.

Active Recovery

  • 10:00 easy run
  • Static stretches

Work your way up from 20 repeats to 30 in three to four weeks.

Perform this workout early in the build phase if you’re training for long course, or later in the build phase – just before racing – if you’re a short course athlete.

Happy training!

Michael is an NCCP trained triathlon coach, certified personal trainer, and kettlebell instructor. His degree in mechanical engineering supports his evidence-based approach to coaching.

Michael is also the owner and head coach of the X3 Training Lab in Toronto.