How To Hack Your V02 Max

How To Hack Your V02 Max

Let’s assume you’re a passionate runner that really enjoys hitting your distance targets every week. You’ve been in the game for a while, and you’ve settled into a fairly comfortable training routine that ticks all the boxes in terms of cardiovascular fitness, total mileage and weight management.
But there’s a problem. Your performance gains have stagnated, your V02 max hasn’t changed in years, and you’re thinking about abandoning this particular challenge altogether. If this sounds like you, you’re in luck, cause we’re about to outline 5 fairly simple ways for you to significantly improve your V02 max. 

First off, a quick recap on what V02 max actually is

V02 max represents how much oxygen a person can utilize during intense cardiovascular exercise like running. It is also called ‘maximal oxygen uptake’. To measure it, you need to assess how many milliliters of oxygen are used in one minute, per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min). 
So in really simple terms, V02 Max is a measurement of how much oxygen your body is able to use during exercise
Now that we’ve covered what V02 Max is, let’s dive into the hacks that can help you increase your maximum oxygen uptake. 

Hack 1 - Lose Some Weight

This is first on the list because it is arguably the easiest way to increase your V02 max. You don’t even need to change your training all that much if you opt for this approach. The reason it works so well is actually pretty simple. 
V02 Max is calculated relative to your body weight. The relationship is inversely proportional, which means the heavier you are, the lower your V02 max will be. 
To illustrate this point, let’s pretend we have two athletes who use the same amount of oxygen during exercise, but weigh different amounts. 
Athlete A V02 Max: 4860 ml of oxgyen/ 80 kg /1 minute = 60.76 V02 Max
Athlete B V02 Max: 4860 ml of oxygen/ 90 kg /1 minute = 54 V02 Max
In the example above it’s plain to see that Athlete A has the higher V02 Max, and this is precisely because Athlete A is lighter than athlete B, even though they are able to use the same amount of oxygen. 

Hack 2 - Speed Training

Skipping speed sessions is the number one reason most amateur long distance runners don’t improve their V02 stats over time. 
They get addicted to distance, running further and further rather than faster and faster. The cause of the addiction is easy to understand. People prefer distance sessions because they are a lot less painful than speed sessions, and you get to enjoy the runner’s high for a longer period of time. If this sounds like you, consider this your wake up call. 
With that out of the way, let’s identify 2 simple speed based workouts that can help you increase your V02 Max. 

Speed Session 1 – The 3k Blitz 

The goal here is simple. You need to run 3 kilometers as fast as you can. Treat this session like a super important race. At the end of the session you should be totally gassed and gasping for air. 
Think about those people that collapse at the end of a marathon. Your goal is to reach a similar level of exhaustion, but you only have 3 km’s to play with. That should give you a good understanding of how hard and how fast you need to run during the session. 

Speed Session 2 – The 5k Split 

For this workout, you want to run 5 super fast 1km splits. You should be dipping below your 5km race pace for each kilometer that you cover. 
You can take anywhere from 1-5 minutes to recover between each km.
Take note – It’s perfectly acceptable if you don’t quite make it to the end of this session or your last few splits aren’t quite as fast as you would like them to be. This is a simple, yet extremely demanding workout that will push most runners to the very edge of their capabilities. 
Powerful Fact: Brittany Smith from Men’s Journal points out that “runners who completed a workout similar to this one boosted their VO2 max by 10 percent. Their time to exhaustion, vein and artery function, blood volume, and calculated stroke volume levels (the amount of blood pumped out of the heart) were measured before and after the training period all improved positively.”
In other words, speed training really does work. Don’t get sucked into the endless distance trap. Your athletic potential depends on it. 


Hack 3 - Hill training

This is another form of training that a lot of runners tend to skip… until they learn that at it’s an excellent way to improve your V02 Max. 

Matt Fitzgerald, author of Brain Training For Runners, points out that while 20 to 90 second hill training intervals are great for developing strength and speed, hill training intervals of 2-3 minutes are better for V02 max development. 
A simple Hill Training Workout to Improve V02 Max:
  • Find a long and moderately steep hill (you should be able to run at a good speed up the hill)
  • Run up the hill at a solid speed for 2 minutes
  • Walk back down to where you started
  • Repeat this process 4 times
You might be more familiar with longer sessions, but I guarantee this style of workout will push you to the very edge. This where the magic happens, when you push your body over and above your self-imposed limitations. 

Hack 4 - Super Consistent Training

It amazes me that no one even mentions this. Training consistently over long periods of time is one of the best ways to improve your V02 Max. It’s ultimately what separates professional runners from their amateur counterparts (of course genetics also plays a role, but there is nothing you can do to change your genetics, so much better to focus on what you can control). 
Unless you are running more than 100 miles per week, this tip can help you increase your maximal oxygen uptake, if you have the patience and dedication needed to truly reap the rewards. 
To put this tip into action, you simply need to come up with a plan to gently increase your weekly mileage. The key is to avoid adding too much mileage too quickly. 
  • If you run 30 miles or less per week, it should be safe to increase your mileage by about 10%. 
  • If you run 50 miles or more per week, it should be safe to increase your mileage by about 5%. 
Remember, one of the key differences between average runners and professional runners is total mileage. To truly unlock your aerobic potential, you need to cover more miles than you ever have before.


Hack 5 - Use A Curved Treadmill

Assault AirRunner Curved TreadmillCurved treadmills are quickly becoming a staple requirement for successful gyms and crossfit boxes across America for good reason. Curved treadmills have been shown to burn as much as 30% more calories as a standard treadmill. They allow you to do sprint training, interval training and distance training indoors, while promoting good running form. Perhaps more importantly, studies have shown that running on a curved treadmill can help you achieve:


  • Significantly higher relative oxygen uptake across all velocities (32.5% increase)
  • Significantly higher heart rates during training (16.8% increase)
  • Faster running cadence (2.6% increase)
  • Higher rate of perceived exertion (27.2%)
  • Less efficient running economy (38.4% variance)

All the findings above suggest that training on a curved treadmill is an excellent way to increase your V02 max, without putting excess pressure on your muscles and joints (curved treadmills are much gentler on the body).

Here is a super simple curved treadmill workout that can help you improve your V02 max.

3 x 3 minute endurance sprinting sessions (the fastest speed you can sustain for 3 minutes), with 2 minutes of rest between sets.

Controversial V02 Max Methods

The following methods have been included, even though they are a bit controversial and further research is needed before any concrete conclusions can be made. 

Elevation Training MaskThere is a lot of debate about whether or not the elevation training mask can actually simulate altitude training. The research that I’ve done indicates that the manufacturer’s claims are both inflated and unreliable. However, if you take a quick glance at all the reviews on Amazon, it’s clear that a lot of people swear by the training mask. 
Giuliano Altobelli (verified Amazon purchaser): “I highly recommend this mask if you are training or want to see an improvement if your overall stamina. However if you just do a casual workout or just exercise to stay in shape then I don’t recommend you get it because the point of the mask is to challenge yourself so you may perform better.
Corey (verified Amazon purchaser):I’ve used the masks for quite a few runs now and I can definitely feel the resistance in breathing by having it on versus days when I don’t use it. I think the issue that many are running into is in thinking the device will actually simulate being in a higher altitude environment, which it will not.
The composition of the air is different and the mask will not change that. What the mask does do is increase breathing resistance which helps strengthen your diaphragm, the muscle responsible for controlling your breathing pattern and cardiovascular endurance.
The mask has helped strengthen my diaphragm by causing me to take deeper breaths that engage more muscle groups versus shallower breaths that are only chest deep. When wearing the mask my breathing is more controlled but my running distance is shortened as fatigue onset is much quicker. I’m able to push myself for more distance and get better results on days when I choose not to wear the mask.
Even if the science on this product is debatable, there are a lot of people that are using the elevation training mask to enhance their training. 
 So the real benefits of the elevation training mask are:
A) It strengthens your intercostal muscles, which basically means that it makes you better at breathing. This could increase how much oxygen you take in with each breath.
B) Because it is so intense to train with the elevation mask, your normal sessions can feel like a breeze afterward. You can potentially use this contrast principle to unlock performance gains.  

Weighted vests have been gaining in popularity over the years, mainly because they can turn one of your normal workouts into a super challenging beastly workout. 

A study by the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, researchers found that endurance athletes who trained wearing weighted vests had a lower 2 mol lactate threshold, superior running time to exhaustion, greater vertical velocity and improved VO2 max for sub maximal running, post load sessions. 

In other words, there is a method to the the madness. However, there are a few things worth mentioning. 

  • You must be in very good shape before you even consider using a weighted vest
  • They are great for enhancing incline walks, hiking and strength training
  • The can increase the load on your joints and impede your natural running form
  • They aren’t actually that useful for runners 😞
So if you are looking to add a fresh new challenge to your workouts or increase how many calories you burn during your incline walking sessions, a weighted vest can be super helpful. The benefits for runners are somewhat limited though. 

Altitude Training

Training at altitude is one of the best ways to increase your V02 max… but it’s totally impractical for most runners. It isn’t feasible to relocate for weeks at a time in order to reap the benefits of altitude training. The elevation training mask has attempted to solve this problem, but with limited success. 

So even though the benefits of altitude training are pretty clear, it’s basically impossible for most people to take advantage of these benefits. This is why I haven’t actually included it as a tip. 

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it to this point, it means you’re pretty serious about improving your V02 max. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to do this and you don’t need to buy any extra gear or equipment to make it happen. 

When all is said and done, the thing that matters most is your willingness to engage in the types of training that most runners avoid at all costs. Hardcore speed training and hairy hill training. If you have the guts necessary to make these sessions an integral component of your training, your V02 max will skyrocket!


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