How to Increase Your VO2 Max So Running Faster Feels Easier

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max is the measurement of the
maximum
oxygen delivery and utilization for cardiovascular exercises,” says Jamey Plunk, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. “It’s trainable and de-trainable, and to some extent, it’s governed by genetics—any individual will only be able to reach their genetic maximum potential VO
2
max through training.” So while just about everyone can improve their VO
2
max, not everyone has the genetic potential to be Eliud Kipchoge.
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Plunk also points out that very few people ever reach their maximum genetic potential for VO
2
max due either to a lack of motivation or a lack of training knowledge. This is important to understand, because a high level of motivation to get better at running will only take you so far. You have to know how to effectively train for the sport if you want to see the greatest improvements over time.
Benefits of Increasing Your VO
2
The most obvious benefit of increasing your VO
2
max is the potential improvements you’ll see in your running performance. For instance, if you’re looking to shave off seconds from your half marathon times, an increased VO
2
max is one element that can help you get there. Part of this is due to the potential you have to increase your anaerobic threshold as you train for VO
2
max.
If you’re unfamiliar with the anaerobic threshold, it’s essentially the breakpoint where your intensity level is too high to keep up with the energy demands required for exercise that are provided through oxygen consumption alone (aerobic means “with oxygen”).

Even as you breathe harder and harder, you start feeling your working muscles burn, indicating that you’re not getting enough oxygen to create the energy necessary to sustain the level of effort you’re exerting. Your body has started to use anaerobic systems (anaerobic means “without oxygen”) to help you continue to move. Eventually, you have to slow down or stop, returning to an aerobic level of intensity.
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“A higher VO
2
max is also indicative of a higher anaerobic threshold, which, by definition, means a higher level of lactic acid tolerance. Functionally, this means that a level of exertion that used to be anaerobic and short-term for you—producing lactic acid—can now become aerobic with longer duration potential,” Plunk explains. In other words, if sustaining a pace of 8:30/mile for more than five miles used to make your quads burn, the better your VO
2
max, the greater chance that you’ll be able to sustain that pace for more than five miles, or improve your pace for the same length of time.
Even if you don’t have any major performance improvement goals, an improved VO
2
max can also be a boon for general health. “An increase in VO
2
max is essentially an improvement in cardiovascular capacity for any kind of work. This type of improvement reduces the daily workload on the heart,” Plunk says. And given that cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States, most Americans hearts could benefit from being a little less taxed during day-to-day activities.
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