Running using heart rate and ‘VO2 Max’

Published 23rd February 2021 by mymo

Heart rate training and using VO2 max can get a little confusing. It is sometimes seen by runners as a little too technical, out-dated or reserved for elite athletes but as with most things in running, it’s only as complicated as you make it!

What is VO2 max? 

Your VO2 max is a measure of your aerobic fitness. The higher or ‘better’ your VO2 max, the longer you’re able to sustain higher intensity aerobic exercise. Your VO2 max will change (go up and down) depending on your level of fitness amongst other factors. You can improve your VO2 max using higher intensity training, and often the best way to do this is through interval training, such as repetitions of fast running over set times or distances. 

How do I work it out?

Many GPS watches now have VO2 max calculators in them and can work out a rough guide using your heart rates recorded when you run. This comes with a warning - wrist tracking is not always reliable for a number of reasons and you’re better using a chest strap heart rate monitor to work it out. You can also have laboratory testing done where your heart rate will be measured over a set number of fast repetitions while you wear a mask measuring your rate of oxygen. During any VO2 max test, your highest heart rate recorded is your ‘max’ ie maximum heart rate. From here, your training zones can be worked out. 

There are simple tests you can find online for you to complete on a treadmill that will allow you to work your VO2 max out without the need for a scientist standing by!

Why do I need to know heart rate zones?

Many coaches and training plans teach you to run on ‘feel’, that is your perceived effort for each type of run. Depending on how long you’ve been running, you should roughly know the pace you run your ‘easy’ runs and how they feel, as well as faster workouts and tempo running. They all have a place in your training and can be used differently depending on what you’re training for. Knowing your heart rate zones help you to stay on track during your workouts, for example, if you’re constantly hitting a high heart rate during what should be an easy run, it’s time to slow down. Heart rate can also be a good indicator of your overall health. 

What are the heart rate training zones?

Going from easy running, your heart rate zones are usually between 1-5 of effort from easy, to steady, then tempo to threshold (VO2 max) into very fast. It’s worth noting that your heart rate zones are personal to you, the most personal data you possess in running, and won’t be the same as anyone else’s - although it may be similar! 

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