A blog by runners. For runners.

VO2 max training

What are VO2 Max training runs?

Definition of VO2 max training
VO2 max is the maximum rate at which your body can use oxygen when performing a specific sport, like running. The higher your VO2 max, the longer or faster you can run.

Unfortunately, we can only influence about 50 percent of our VO2 max through lifestyle modifications – the other half is controlled by genetics. Still, experts say moderately fit runners can increase their VO2 max by up to 25 percent (check out more about the science of VO2 max in this article.)

All aerobic workouts – even easy runs – help to improve VO2 max. However, interval training workouts run at a pace close to your VO2 max work best. For example, some experts say intervals of 800m run at 10-30 seconds faster than 5k pace are best for VO2 max training.

When to do VO2 max runs
Most training plans call for speedwork regularly throughout training. Some coaches say to do VO2 max training runs each week except for race weeks.

Note that some training plans may not specifically include VO2 max training, but they will call for speedy 400m, 800m, or 1-mile repeats regularly – which is essentially the same thing as VO2 max training because it’s improving your VO2 max.

Pace goals of VO2 max runs
Different coaches have different VO2 max suggested paces which vary anywhere from faster than 5K race pace to a minute slower than 10K race pace.

Training method Recommendations
Hal Higdon Higdon’s intermediate half marathon training program doesn’t specifically mention VO2 max training, but the plan calls for 400m repeats each week at 5k or 10k pace.
Jeff Galloway Galloway’s plan does not include VO2 max training or any speedwork.
FIRST The FIRST marathon training plan calls for 400m, 800m, 1200m, or 1600m repeats every week at a pace that’s 35-60 seconds slower per mile than 10k pace.
Hanson method The Hanson method calls for workouts done at 5K and 10K race pace which is about 80-95% of your VO2 max. The Hanson method advises against running at 100% of your VO2 max because it can overstress your anaerobic system.
Pete Pfitzinger Pfitzinger suggests doing interval workouts throughout training that “accumulate as much time at 95 to 100 percent of current VO2 max as possible.” He says that pace translates to slightly faster than 3k or 5k race pace.
Jack Daniels Plug in a recent race time into Daniels’ running calculator and it will tell you you’re approximate VO2 max or “VDOT Ranking”. It will also detail specific paces for all types of runs to improve your VO2 max.
Greg McMillan McMillan recommends “sprint training” at your VO2 max regularly throughout training. McMillan’s running calculator can tell you what pace to run at for optimal VO2 max training.


VO2 max training in a nutshell
Whether you’re a 5K runner or a marathoner, training close to your VO2 max regularly can make you a faster runner. Try not to worry about your specific pace too much, though. As long as your heart rate is up and you feel like you’re getting a quality speed workout, you’re helping your VO2 max.

RELATED: Check out our full series on the different types of runs

DOWNLOAD the new WalkJogRun app with Pace Coach to make sure you stay on track during your runs!

Written by Jen Matz.