Increase VO2max trough training

After it became clear in previous blog posts that VO2max is one of the three main factors of endurance performance and then it was explained what is meant by this term, this article will show how maximum oxygen intake can be increased through training.

In order to effectively increase this parameter, training volume, training intensity and, at the same time, in particular the distribution of the intensity ranges turned out to be crucial.

Training volume

It can be said that a positive development of VO2max can only be achieved over a longer period of time if the body regularly receives the appropriate stimuli. The basis therefore is a chronic implementation of extensive endurance training. Conversely, it is clear too little oxygen turnover is not sufficient to increase VO2max, let alone maintain it.

The maximum possible training volume is limited somewhere. On the one hand, this is due to physical limitations. Thus, in the long term, too much energy turnover leads to the breakdown of protein structures and can result in so-called over-training. In addition, the passive structures of the musculoskeletal system also reach the limits of their capacity at some point and determine the maximum possible training volume. Overloading damage or injuries are often the resulting unpleasant examples, if the arch was overstretched in this respect. On the other hand, the maximum possible training volume also depends on daily life of the athletes.

Distribution of training intensity

In view of these limitations and in an effort to determine the most efficient training design possible, sports science research also dealt with the distribution of training intensity. The three zone model has become internationally accepted for the determination of training areas.

A three-intensity-zone model based on identification of ventilatory thresholds (Seiler, 2010, p. 278).

These zones can be further differentiated and extended accordingly. In addition, the naming of the intensity zones often varies in different sports. Based on the three-zone model, the main subject of the investigations was the percentage distribution of training time in the respective zones. It was found that a large part of the training was carried out in zone 1. 80-90% of training time was spent as “low intensity training, LIT”. The proportion of training time spent by world-class athletes was negligible in zone 2, to reach 10-20% again in zone 3. The term for training in zone 3 is consequently “high intensity training, HIT”. For the individually correct determination of the training intensity zones, again, professional performance diagnostics should be done as a first step. The importance of training in zone 2 and at what times and with which aims this may be necessary will be discussed in later blog posts.

Conceptual training intensity distributions associated with the polarized training model – emphasizing a large volume of training below the first lactate or ventilatory threshold combined with significant doses of training with loads eliciting 90–100% of VO2max. (Seiler & Kjerland, 2006, p. 50).

Polarized training model

This distribution is called the polarized training model. Research comparing e.g. threshold training with a polarized training approach has also shown a higher increase in VO2max with the latter and thus supports the tendency towards it.

From a physiological point of view, polarized training can probably be explained by the signal cascades of AMPK and CaMK. The activation of AMPK as well as CaMK activates the protein PGC-1α. This in turn is assumed to be the “master switch” in supporting the development of an aerobic muscle phenotype.

In further blog posts, some athletes and coaches present HIT and LIT training sessions popular with them.


Literatur i.a.:

  • Joyner & Coyle, 2008
  • Laursen, 2010
  • Mader & Heck, 1991
  • Seiler, 2006
  • Seiler, 2010
  • Stöggl & Sperlich, 2015
  • Tønnessen et al., 2014