Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Improving Your VO2

By Frank Horwill

Perhaps the greatest work physiologist of all time, Olaf Astrand, has stated that the maximum oxygen uptake can be improved by up to 20 per cent, and in order to achieve that, work must be done at above 80 per cent of the maximum uptake

Astrand tends to work by duration of running rather than by distance and time. For example, he discovered that no other middle-distance race produced more lactic acid in the blood than the 800 metres event. To insure the athlete against this, he recommends runs of 75 and 60 seconds at maximum effort. This is deceptive, because it could be construed that these efforts are at the athlete' s best 800m pace but, in fact, they are faster.

Given a 1:52 800m runner, a 75-second effort at that pace would take him to about 540m on the track (14 secs / 100m). However, if the effort is at 13.5 secs / 100m, he would cover about 560m and if he attempted 13 secs / 100m he might reach 580m. Astrand's view is that is the most efficient way to train for the 800m and lesser maximum duration levels do not result in maximum lactate saturation. He also asserts that because of this concentration all runners from 800m to 10km should do this work on a regular basis because they will be able to cope with fast surges during their race more efficiently.

Five, four, three minutes to blast-off

For improving oxygen uptake, Astrand works again by duration. Here are samples of his suggested workouts:

1. The athlete runs at maximum speed for five minutes. He notes the distance covered in that time. Let us assumethat the distance achieved is l900m. He rests five minutes, and then runs the distance (19OOm) 20 per cent slower, in other words in six minutes, with 30 seconds rest, repeated many times. This is equal to the athlete's 10km pace.

2. The athlete runs at maximum speed for four minutes. The distance covered is noted. He rests four minutes. In this case we will assume the athlete runs a distance of 1,500m. He now runs the same distance 15 per cent slower, in other words in four minutes 36 seconds, with 45 seconds rest, repeated several times. This approximates to a time between the athlete's 5km and 10km time.

3. Run at maximum effort for three minutes. The distance covered is, say, 1 100m. Successive runs at that distance are taken 10 per cent slower, or at three minutes 18 seconds, with 60 seconds rest, repeated several times. This approximates to the athlete's 5km time.

4. Run at maximum effort for five minutes. The distance covered is 1,900m. Rest five minutes. The distance is now covered 5 per cent slower with one and a half minutes rest. This is approximately 3km pace for this athlete, ie, five minutes 15 seconds/1,900m.

5. Run at maximum effort for three minutes. The distance covered is 1 100m. When recovered, he runs the same distance 5 per cent slower, ie, three minutes nine seconds/l 100m, with one minute rest, repeated several times. This is at precise 3km pace.

When and how often

We now have to ask what precisely these sessions are achieving. Sesson 1 is at 90 per cent of maximum oxygen uptake and within the range accepted by physiologists as a boost to V02 max. Session 2 is about 93 per cent of V02 max. Session 3 is about 95 per cent and regarded as the ideal boost to improvement. Session 4 is at about 100 per cent V02 max, as is session 5.

It is suggested that in the winter sessions 1 and 2 are done weekly, and in the track season sessions 3 and 5 are done weekly by runners from 800m to the half-marathon. Although it would be convenient to use the original distance marks made by the duration efforts, is doesn't take into account the athlete's condition before each session, so the maximum effort runs must be done on each occasion when they may be either more or less than the previous distance run. The maximum duration efforts are in themselves quality sessions.

If the pulse rate has not recovered to 120 beats per minute in the rest times given, the recovery period should be extended before the repetitions are started. The recovery times between the reps should be strictly adhered to.

These workouts make a refreshing change from stereotyped repetition running. When all four sessions are completed within a month, experience shows substantial improvements in performance.