VO2 Max, or the utmost quantity of oxygen that your physique can inhale and convert into vitality throughout an intense exercise, is the primary metric most smartwatches use to evaluate your athleticism. Manufacturers like Samsung, Apple, and Fitbit determine how profitable a exercise is predicated in your VO2 Max rating. Within the case of Garmin watches, your predicted race occasions and advisable every day exercise tempo stem immediately from this stat.
Technically, you’ll be able to solely get a correct VO2 Max studying in a lab, sprinting on a treadmill whereas carrying a face masks that measures your air consumption and exhalation. However in lieu of that, Garmin’s Firstbeat Analytics algorithm might be the most effective simulated various for shoppers.
In his weekly column, Android Central Health Editor Michael Hicks talks in regards to the world of wearables, apps, and health tech associated to working and well being, in his quest to get quicker and fitter.
Totally different research fluctuate on what makes a VO2 Max rating “good” or “glorious.” I selected to evaluate by Garmin’s VO2 requirements, which recommend you will have a wonderful VO2 Max (measured in milliliters of oxygen) for those who’re within the high 20% on your age group and gender. For me — a person in his early 30s — that is 48.3, which Firstbeat Analytics individually claims is barely “Good.”
However let’s not get caught up in labels. The purpose is I’ve had a gentle VO2 Max rating of 46 or decrease since I first began monitoring the stat in 2021. As I raised my mileage, ran half marathons, jogged and walked to complete marathons, overcame a foot harm, and did my utmost greatest to enhance as a runner, it remained largely static regardless of the ups and downs.
Then, in simply the previous couple of months, I’ve jumped from 46 to 48.6 into that “glorious” VO2 Max zone. I discovered what I must do to enhance, and I am assured my rating will hold climbing within the ensuing weeks.
I am no working coach by any means, and nothing I clarify under can be groundbreaking to long-time runners. However for fellow “informal” runners who need to step up their health, this is the place it is best to begin.
Take note of your coaching load focus
Most fashionable working watches have a coaching load function that tells you ways onerous your run was when it comes to each cardio and anaerobic effort. Placing the suitable stability between them is one thing that appears apparent however is tough to tug off in apply.
Cardio efforts run the gamut from simple jogs to tempo or threshold runs and are judged primarily based in your whole oxygen consumption. You get a coaching impact (TE) rating from 0 to five after your run ends; whereas increased is clearly higher, focusing solely on quick cardio actions does not go away a lot room for enchancment.
Anaerobic positive factors come while you run onerous sufficient to wish extra vitality than your inhaled oxygen can ship; in different phrases, you push previous your VO2 Max capability. It is a key strategy to power your physique previous its present limits as a substitute of working inside them, with a 5.0 TE as your goal. But, discovering an applicable time and place to hit your limits could be difficult while you’re not a part of a working membership or a professional athlete.
There’s additionally a 3rd metric that the majority non-Garmin watches ignore: Low Cardio. To hit this, you particularly want to finish actions that fall inside Zone 1 or Zone 2 of your coronary heart price zones, or about 50–70% of your most coronary heart price. Excessive cardio load comes from Zone 3 and up, which is the place your coronary heart price naturally climbs the longer and more durable you run.
I spent most of my working life unwittingly targeted on excessive cardio, working at no matter tempo felt decently difficult however hardly ever pushing past my limits or slowing down under them. Shifting to give attention to anaerobic and low cardio was a significant adjustment, and it does not all the time really feel pure. However that is precisely what I wanted to enhance my VO2 Max rating.
So, to that finish, my first advice is solely to purchase and depend on a watch that offers you coaching load focus knowledge. With Garmin watches, take a look at latest Forerunners just like the Forerunner 265, Intuition fashions just like the 2X Photo voltaic, or any of the top-tier fashions like Fenix 7 or Epix Gen 2.
What’s low cardio, and why does it matter?
You may see Garmin’s coaching load focus display above, with a message that loads of Garmin watch house owners see: “low cardio scarcity.” Till you hit the stability coaching load that Garmin calls for, your watch will hold recommending runs at a boringly sluggish tempo.
Why does low cardio matter? Garmin does not clarify it effectively, merely saying it builds your “basis” and asking you to belief its algorithm. However from what I perceive, runners hit a plateau when all they do is run at or round their lactate threshold (the purpose the place lactic acid builds up in your blood as a result of excessive exertion). Shifting under your lactate threshold coronary heart price (LTHR) is the one strategy to improve how briskly you’ll be able to run earlier than hitting LTHR.
For instance, for those who hit Zone 3 at a 10-minute tempo, all of the quick working on the planet will not change that; you may simply get extra endurance at working with extra lactate build-up. However for those who proceed to run at a ten:00 tempo, your physique will ultimately turn into accustomed to that tempo as a low-aerobic exercise, and then you definitely’ll discover you’ll be able to deal with 9:50-pace runs earlier than crossing into high-aerobic ranges. Then, 9:40, and so forth.
Here is why so many Garmin watch house owners battle with this: working at a sluggish tempo whereas consistently glancing at your watch to verify your coronary heart price hasn’t climbed too excessive is irritating! It retains your mind targeted on trivialities as a substitute of letting you fall right into a relaxed zone. And the very fact is, even for runners with an “glorious” VO2 Max rating, staying in Zone 2 throughout a run is a problem, particularly after a few miles.
You may strive strolling, after all, however a match athlete will barely hit Zone 1 with a quick stroll, and it does not generate very a lot load until you stroll for hours.
So, in essence, for the sake of your VO2 Max enchancment, it’s a must to settle for that you will have to begin and cease incessantly to remain within the goal zone as a substitute of simply having fun with your runs. In the meantime, your pals will see your post-run summaries on Strava or your favourite working app of alternative and assume you are slacking or backsliding.
But when you may get previous your delight and eat your metaphorical greens, it will repay with a stronger tempo basis in the long term.
Anaerobic: turn into the ‘native legend’ at your native monitor
It is onerous to maintain an anaerobic run when it’s a must to reduce your sprints brief at intersections or really feel self-conscious as you sprint down public paths and startle your neighbors.
Equally necessary, you should know your precise tempo and interval so you are not simply sprinting aimlessly and unsustainably — with out consistently glancing at your wrist.
The plain resolution is to seek out your nearest monitor that is open to the general public. Usually, as long as it is not throughout faculty hours, you’ll be able to run freely on tracks at close by public excessive colleges and faculties. This website, RunTrack, enables you to seek for tracks which can be “open to the general public” in your space for those who’re not sure.
In my case, Strava tells me that I am the “native legend” on the faculty monitor close to my home, that means I’ve run that loop greater than anybody else on the app in the previous few months. And that is what I like to recommend you attempt for for those who’re attempting to lift your VO2 Max rating.
As soon as you’ve got discovered a monitor, you should decide a velocity exercise that is best for you. One choice is to run at a tempo tempo — barely slower than your typical 5K race tempo — for a set interval however slowly improve your tempo from one mile to the following till you are effectively previous your lactate threshold.
Interval runs are most likely one of the simplest ways to benefit from a monitor. You merely alternate between a tough tempo and a restoration interval for a sure variety of units, relying in your health stage. Technically, you’ll be able to arrange exercises in your Garmin watch to maintain you inside a sure tempo threshold and time how lengthy you will have till the following interval.
Personally, I take an easier and extra versatile strategy: I run both 400m or 800m at a tough tempo — both my Zone 4 or Zone 5 coronary heart price — utilizing the lap button on my Forerunner 965 so I can look again on every phase. As soon as my brief interval is completed, I pause my exercise, give myself a breather, after which run one other onerous lap or two. After which one other, and so forth, till I do know I’ve hit the restrict of what my muscle groups can deal with that day.
Both that or I jog across the monitor curves after which dash at most tempo for each straightaways, taking a break after a set distance (like a mile).
The rationale why I like this informal strategy is that I can push myself to my restrict with out getting hung up on hitting a selected distance or variety of intervals. As a substitute, if I ran 4 onerous laps throughout my final exercise, I attempt to run an additional 400 or merge two laps into one onerous 800. Or, if I am feeling too worn down for a protracted exercise, I give attention to my lap PR and attempt to decrease it by just a few seconds.
With this methodology, I’ve already upped what number of laps I can comfortably run, and my high lap tempo has fallen by about 15 seconds. Garmin additionally appears to love this methodology. If I begin with a two-mile jog to the monitor, then run a tough couple of miles at the monitor, I sometimes find yourself hitting about 4 out of 5 for each cardio and anaerobic TE.
Then, if I begin a strolling exercise instantly after I end my sprints, my coronary heart price sometimes stays pretty elevated on the journey dwelling, giving me a low cardio load on high of the remaining!
Working a monitor loop again and again can really feel boring for those who’re not cautious. However for those who discover some good music to take heed to over your exercise earbuds and deal with it like a race or problem, it may be enjoyable. I wish to suppose again to my highschool days once I might run a sub-60 second lap, take a look at my present occasions, and attempt to slowly progress again towards that quantity. It retains me motivated.
Skip ‘meaningless’ miles, for now
Elevating my VO2 Max rating by following my Garmin coaching load ideas feels very mechanical, and it is shifted how I prepare.
I used to stay up for lengthy, meandering weekend runs. The issue with these is that my excessive cardio coaching impact rating cannot climb any increased than 5 out of 5; at a sure level, all that coaching load at a gentle tempo is not going to do you a lot good. It provides to my restoration time, which subtracts time I can spend pushing more durable on the monitor.
Prior to now, I escalated my mileage to attempt to put together for a marathon I wasn’t match sufficient for, and ended up injuring my foot, setting again my health objectives by months. I ended up working far much less within the ensuing months till my foot had the power to run greater than a few miles earlier than going numb.
Earlier than I attempt to get again into lengthy race kind and up my mileage, I am focusing fully on brief (3- to 6-mile) focused exercises at the next frequency. Ultimately, the hope can be that I can do correct lengthy runs that begin at low cardio ranges for just a few miles earlier than progressing towards increased HR zones. And my anaerobic efforts also can transfer towards extra structured, longer intervals.
For those who’re the place I used to be, within the “common” or “good” VO2 Max vary, lengthy runs have their place as a lot as brief runs. However ultimately, you may plateau on what mileage alone can ship. When you hit that ceiling, that is when it is best to hone in in your coaching load ratio.
Throughout runs, do not stroll. Cease!
Whenever you’re first doing couch-to-5K coaching, you are suggested to alternate between working and strolling, which is sensible for somebody simply beginning out. It stands to cause that for those who’re working more durable and longer however nonetheless haven’t got fairly the health stage for a sustained effort, it is best to give your self moments to stroll. So, I am positive my recommendation might sound counterintuitive.
I used to stroll throughout my lengthy runs, and I discovered that it was usually troublesome to cease strolling. I might discover myself tempted to simply cease my tracked run fully, even when I used to be miles away from dwelling on my deliberate loop, as a result of I could not discover the motivation to begin working once more.
As a substitute, throughout my latest shift towards each anaerobic and low cardio coaching, I discovered that strolling is only a counter-productive bandaid. In each instances, to begin my subsequent onerous lap or get my coronary heart price again all the way down to Zone 1/2 ranges, I do not want to maintain stepping alongside; I must swallow my delight, stand or sit in place, and simply let my coronary heart totally get better.
It means a few minutes of “wasted time” once I’m not getting steps or burning energy, however it helps me bounce again much more ably than I might if I saved dragging my drained physique ahead. In the long term, for a runner who’s slowly however certainly bettering, give your self these moments of reprieve and do not feel unhealthy about it.
Exterior of runs, stroll rather a lot!
Final week, I wrote about how I walked 10,000 steps a day for a month. This helped me lose a number of kilos and enhance in different areas, like resting coronary heart price. Additionally, purely by coincidence, this was the month when my VO2 Max climbed from 47 on its strategy to 49.
Okay, so it wasn’t a coincidence in any respect. As I wrote in that article, strolling on daily basis helped me stretch and get better extra shortly from runs and made it simpler to know if I had the vitality for a brief run the day after a tough exercise. I might exit for a stroll and understand, hey, I would quite simply jog for 45 minutes than stroll for 90!
Getting these steps is a simple, low-impact strategy to keep your health and keep energized after actually powerful anaerobic runs.
In fact, when you’ve got one other cross-training methodology in addition to strolling, resembling some gentle biking or precise mountain climbing in hills, that may most likely work simply as effectively, if not higher — I’ve heard from some Reddit runners that it is simpler to hit and keep Zone 2 ranges on a motorbike. I am merely going off of my very own expertise till I can take a look at that for myself.
I grew up with fairly unhealthy bronchial asthma and used an inhaler for years. It was becoming a member of my faculty’s cross-country staff in highschool that put these respiratory issues within the rearview mirror. So once I first discovered what VO2 Max was, I instantly felt the should be “glorious” to assist my lungs transcend my physique’s limitations.
Not everybody ought to take the identical strategy I’ve outlined above, targeted so closely on metrics that it interferes with simply taking a simple run within the zone. The NYC working membership I joined years in the past even instructed me to tape over my working watch throughout coaching. Although, after all, I had precise coaches guiding me via assorted exercises then.
In the long run, my advisable path ahead for bettering your VO2 Max is easy:
- Discover a dependable working watch that highlights your coaching load focus.
- Attempt to discover as a lot pleasure in fast-paced sprints on the monitor as you do in lengthy, quiet runs on the path.
- Suck it up and run these annoyingly sluggish start-and-stop low cardio runs till you are match sufficient for a sustained low-effort run. Or discover cross-training that hits that very same lengthy, sluggish exercise area of interest.
I’ve nailed the primary two factors; the third one remains to be a problem for me.
By way of selecting a working watch, my first advice is a dependable Garmin watch like a brand new Forerunner, since that is led me personally to success.
In any other case, if you need one thing extra reasonably priced, you possibly can take a look at the COROS PACE 3, which does not have advised exercises however does have EvoLab to evaluate your working load in numerous zones. Or, you possibly can take a look at the Amazfit Cheetah Professional, which does not make your working knowledge that accessible however does supply exercise suggestions with particular cardio or anaerobic focuses by way of Zepp Coach.