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Trail Running & Increasing your VO2 max

What is VO2 max, and how do you improve it?

VO2 max, is determined as an athlete’s capacity to perform sustained exercise and is linked to aerobic endurance. VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. In other words, maximum oxygen uptake is the most basic measure of aerobic fitness, and they’ve shown that it increases as you train more and harder.


Anyway, Trail running, is a good way to increase your VO2 max. Research shows that although VO2 max has a genetic component, it can also be increased through training. So, if you have reached a plateau in running long distance, consider adding trail running, to increase your speed and VO2 max.


In running the trail, of course, the muscles that work hard are in your legs. But as you train, two things happen to improve your muscles’ ability to use oxygen. First, your heart gets stronger and delivers more oxygen; and second, your leg muscles get better at using the oxygen.


As your aerobic capacity increases, you can run farther and faster. All training improves your aerobic capacity, even slow, relaxed jogging. But some workouts improve it more than others. These workouts are more taxing, because the exertion is harder. You can literally feel the blood throbbing in your ears, if you run up the trails. It’s pretty intense!

And how should you run on a trail? Well, observe the good runners and you will see that they keep a slight forward tilt while running. Their shoulders are down and back, core engaged and they are light and quick on their feet. To find this position, stand tall with core engaged. Then simply start to fall forward until you need to step out. Practice this while running. Think of letting your heart lead you and watch gravity work for you instead of against. If it is your first time doing trail running, take smaller steps and on the uphill, also check your footing and opt for smaller steps up, rather than taking the deepest furthers stride up and forward. This will help you build your VO2 max slowly without tiring you too quickly.


Aside from genetic factors, three other components have a large influence on VO2 max:

Age – Although it varies greatly by individual and training programs, in general VO2 max is the highest at age 20 and decreases nearly 30 percent by age 65.

Gender – Many elite female athletes have higher VO2 max values than most men. But because of differences in body size and composition, blood volume and hemoglobin content, a woman’s VO2 max is in general about 20 percent lower than a man’s VO2 max.
Altitude – Because there is less oxygen at higher altitude an athlete will generally have 5 percent decrease in VO2 max results with a 5,000 feet gain in altitude.

V02 Max Highs and Lows

VO2 max results vary greatly. The average for a sedentary individual is close to 35 ml/kg/min. Elite endurance athletes often average 70 ml/kg/min. One of the highest recorded VO2 max results (90 ml/kg/min) was that of a cross-country skier. Cyclist Lance Armstrong’s VO2 max was reported at 85 ml/kg/min.

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