Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Girl's Guide to VO2 Max

Since I've been running around all weekend bragging that I just got my VO2 max tested, the people I've been bragging to have (naturally) asked me to explain what the hell I'm talking about.

Err..."It's a test where you find out how well your body uses oxygen and then you get heart rate targets for different kinds of runs."

So, let's let Ken Mierke at Fitness Concepts, give it a shot:
Maximal aerobic capacity or VO2 Max, the amount of oxygen consumed in one minute of maximal aerobic exercise, is widely considered the standard test for aerobic conditioning. Improving VO2 Max is a crucial step in maximizing endurance performance in any event lasting four minutes or longer. The higher an athlete’s VO2 Max, the greater the contribution of the aerobic system to energy production. This translates into greater endurance at any intensity

There. Got it??

The test involves a 15 minute warm-up on the treadmill (or the bike trainer, depending which activity you want to get training rates for) followed by the donning of a strange, claustrophobia-inducing mask, followed by Ken fiddling with controls and every few minutes leaning over and upping the treadmill speed for about 15 minutes until you want to throw up and keel over.

And then you go for 3 more minutes after that.

Eh, it wasn't so bad. The worst part was that my pals (hi Casey!) kept chatting to Ken, and he would look away from ME ME ME, and I was terrified that he would miss some critical piece of info and I would have to start ALL. OVER.

But never fear: The man is a professional.

A group of us went: Three got tested while running and two while on the bike.

Afterwards, we sat around (posing) while Ken tabulated the results.

The funniest thing was that we all wanted to know how we compared to each other, and how we compared to ... I don't know, the world, I guess. So my actual VO2 max is 36.5.

What do it mean??

Ken kept emphasizing that these results are a snapshot of our bodies, and they are only useful as a training tool. But we are all so conditioned to needing to know if we are fast or slow, or fat or thin, taller or shorter, stronger or weaker than the next guy, that we kept asking Ken everywhichway what these results said about us, individually.

Were they good?

So Ken finally parted with the tidbit that the average VO2 max for women is 28. So yay, I'm better than average. Other than that, I really don't know what good or bad is, although my rational brain tells me if YOUR zone 2 heart rate is lower than mine, yet your pace is faster, then obviously your heart and oxygen systems must be in better shape. But that way lies madness.

Better to just do what the man tells me:

We all got nice fat books explaining what everything means, but Ken broke it down for us. He said we really only need to worry about zones 2, 4 and 5b.

Zone 2 is basic endurance, where you are burning more fat than sugar. (That was pretty much all I need to know.) If you run faster than your (your) zone 2 heart rate, say during long runs, you are not burning fat, and you will not be able to eat french toast afterwards without paying the price.

Zone 4 is your lactate threshold and I don't really know what it means but I like slinging the words around. It makes me feel very runner-y. This is the heart rate at which you do tempo runs.

Zone 5b: Well, I don't like the sound of this, for good reason. It's called the Aerobic Capacity Training zone. This sounds suspiciously like speedwork to me. Ken warns that Zone 5 training carries a high cost and a high benefit, and that a little goes a long way.

Ken says the most common mistake people make is running too fast for the type of run they are doing, thereby expending too much energy, tapping into the wrong fuel source, and not reaping the benefits.

(Please feel free to correct my gross misinformation and oversimplification in the comments. But don't take away my french toast.)

All in all, it was a most pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning, not including the phone call I got in the middle of all this from Number One Daughter, telling me that she had spun out getting on the Beltway and a not-very-nice cop gave her a ticket! My little girl! (She was fine, the car was fine. Thank God.)

But I digress.

I haven't started heart rate training yet, but I'm buying a used Garmin 305 this week ($100, in original package). Somehow I think this will make me magically faster and thinner. I'll be sure to let you know how that works out.

Meantime, enjoy some more pix from our photo shoot:

I'm pretty sure I heard Casey ask for a cigarette.

Becky: "If I close my eyes really tight, I will see unicorns."

Bronwen is just fast. Like insanely fast.

Shelly about to descend.

Et moi, keeping it real.


Runner Susan said...

this brings back memories. you look so good in a mask!

21stCenturyMom said...

I'd like to have my V02 max number. I had zone goals for my IM training but I didn't really know what my zone was. As long as Tammy said, "good job!" I was happy.

According to Dr. Philip Maffetone if you train in the aerobic zone and NEVER stray from it for 3 or 4 months the pace at which you will hold that HR will improve.

Happy HR training!

David said...

Be very careful. I hear Kramer lives in 5C, right next to 5B. He tends to drop in and raise your heart rate beyond believing.

A Deal Or No Deal said...

Your understanding is correct, no worries. Benefits for a marathoner are highest in zones 2 and 4.

LBTEPA said...


Calyx Meredith said...

So cool! What a fun thing to do in a group. I know I've become runner-y when getting a VO2 Max text is on my Christmas wish list.

gmgizmo9 said...

Congrats, Jeanne! Have fun with the new Garminand working in your zones!

Lesser is More said...

Pretty cool! I've always wanted to get the "official" test done. Instead, I just end up using a 10k race as a time trial to estimate my zones.

You'll learn to love HR training, but it takes time to get used to it. I found myself running easier than I felt I should be running for those easy runs, but the combination with the harder stuff (Z4 and up) will yield results over time. Good luck and stick with it!

Maryland Girl aka Michelle said...

Cool stuff!

MJ said...

That's a scary mask! But I may have to try this test - I imagine I'd be on the low end of good. :( I've avoided HR training b/c my resting hr is so high 80 and my hr when I've worked very hard or run long has hit 240....but it comes down quite quickly afterward. (it's usually closer to 200) I go by the "if I'm going to hurl, it's maybe too hard" maxim. But I could always learn I've had it all wrong up till now!

jeanne said...

MJ: This is exactly why you need to train by using your heart rate! There is no good, there only is what's right for YOU. Try as we might, we could not get Coach Ken to tell us we whether our results were "good" or "bad." The point is to use your body's info to get into the correct zones for you.

It's awesome! (well, i'm sure it will be as soon as I start!)

Jack said...

An excellent guide, great for boys too!

Judi said...

wow, looks like fun!

Rainmaker said...

Very cool on both fronts - the VO2 testing (I did it there as well), as well as joining the Garmin club.

peter said...

And I thought VO2 was a shampoo!

Good explanation of why you got to run slow to run fast. And for years I been telling people that to run fast you gotta run fast. Then I took a pesky coaching course.

It's hard to keep it straight.

Kenley said...

Very Cool article; Thanks for sharing, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Unknown said...

Seriously? Now, please tell me you were paid handsomely for this.

Dori said...

When I lived in Mpls. I never wanted to pay for the test but now I wish I had. I don't know any place on the Central Coast that offers it. I'm afraid if I run in my zones, I'll be alone because the group wouldn't want to go so slow!

Neese said...

interesting information! perhaps after my current goal, watching my HR will be next :)

Anonymous said...

thats pretty cool! i've always wanted to test my Vo2. I like the blog! Keep on running! It has set me on my current path!