Tips for Pushing Your VO2 Max
Written by Charissa Sutliff

Today we are talking about VO2 max, the sprint system, the high intensity system. VO2 max is all about pushing your edge. This is likened to an all out sprint, it should be INTENSE! Typically in CrossFit we have gotten good at pacing, looking at a workout and determining how we should pace ourselves to be able to survive. However, for VO2 max, we want to go all out, “go to that dark place”.

If you need to brush up on this topic a bit, read: What is VO2 MAX & Why is it Important to a Training Plan?. If you’re good to go…read on for the tips!

How often should you test your VO2 max?

We don’t need to go there all the time, but it is good to go there sometimes. Workouts like this are an opportunity to go there. It is beneficial to train that metabolic pathway, and beneficial to choose to put ourselves in situations that require us to face a stressor and trust our ability to handle it and the tools we have to get out of it, like breathing! 

How often should you go there? It depends!

  • If you are an athlete that has goals to perform well, you want to train all the metabolic pathways so training VO2 max at least once per week. It can also depend on where you are at in your training cycle. VO2 max will require more recovery time than aerobic training. However, it can pair well with a power cycle. 
  • If your goals are to be healthy and enjoy a good quality of life, perhaps once every 2 weeks, once per month.

“Going There”

Another question about VO2 max is, are we willing to go there? Are we afraid of going there? And then having the tools and trusting in those tools, trusting our ability to handle it and get out of it. 

Breathing is one of those tools we can use to help us with stress management and also to recover and bring our heart rate down during or after training. You can also ease your way into VO2 max. If this is not something you’ve done before, you can come to a VO2 max session at Invictus and work hard, give a full effort, and build your way up to “going there” and pushing that edge. 

If you aren’t willing to go there, that is okay. That’s your choice. However, I invite you to contemplate this with yourself…when things get hard do you tend to quit? Do you have a tendency to give up, to freeze or to go into flight? This could be the opportunity for you to face a stressor head on, choose not to quit, choose to fight, choose to be on the hunt, choose to be on the offense. 

For those who are in a constant high anxiety stress state, I recommend not doing more training that is going to put you into more stress like VO2 max would. 

Because VO2 max will need greater recovery time, testing it too often there is a point of diminishing returns, possible injury and burn out. Just because something is good doesn’t mean we need to do it more. Is the old adage, less is more. While this pathway is good to train and can help us with power output, training all the metabolic pathways is important and focusing on just one will result in an unbalanced metabolic profile. 

Sample VO2 Max Workout

VO2 Max usually looks like lower volume, higher intensity and longer rest periods. For example, this workout: 

Four Sets for MAX Calories of:
45 seconds of Assault Bike, Bike Erg, Rowing or Ski Erg
Rest 75 seconds
Rest 2 minutes after the fourth interval, and then repeat for a total of THREE (3) sets.
(30 minutes total for this session)

Using Breathing to Handle Stressors

How often do you practice breathing as a way to handle stressors? Both in workouts and in life?

Maybe breathing is an area you want to work on. You can start by bringing awareness to your breathing. How do you breathe? Do you breathe into your chest? Or into your belly? Are your breaths shallow or deep? Do you hold your breath?

Breathing is an important human movement. And proper breathing is a way we can improve performance and quality of life.

How to Bring Awareness to Your Breathing

Lay down with one hand on your chest, one hand on your belly for a few minutes, and check if you breathe more into your chest or belly. Aim to inhale filling up your belly with big deep breaths, like your belly is a balloon, then nice long exhales for a few minutes. Observe what you find and how you feel after!

Breathing Technique(s) for VO2 Max

Power Breathing Before a workout: Take a few powerful inhales through the nose, and an even more powerful exhale through the mouth. Try to expand your belly and rib cage and then push it all out, this is using our breath to get us ready to hit the workout hard.

Power Breathing During a workout: When you get finished with one of the intervals, during the rest period, take a few let’s say 3, big powerful inhales through the nose and then exhale through the mouth, then after a few of those, take 3 long inhales and exhales, at least one of the breaths coming through the nostrils.

After a workout: Go for a 200m walk, focus on your breathing on the walk, aim to get your breathing back to a rhythmic inhale and exhale, long exhales, and by the end of the 200m to have at least one breath come through the nose, either inhale or exhale. 

Remember, we would recommend hitting this style of workout maybe two, maximum of three times per week for optimal results. More is not better, better is better. So use the tips mentioned to make the sessions count and then make sure you’re recovered in between! 

Invictus Muscle & MOtor Program

Get all the most interesting VO2 Max workouts and more (from all the other Zones too!) with the Invictus Muscle & Motor Program. We take the thinking out of it for you so all you have to do is show up, train, and improve your motor (and/or muscles)!


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