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Maximal Aerobic speed 101: Training your Aerobic Engine

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

The aftermath of attempting a time trial or a beep/yo-yo test during the first session of pre-season is similar to finishing a diet. You feel great after you've completed it, but boy you went through hell to get to the finish line.


I'm probably preaching to the choir in saying that nobody wants to attempt any form of maximal test in pre-season. But as we've discussed previously, it's vital that we test our aerobic capacity in order to implement a plan to improve our performance.


One avenue to improve our aerobic capacity is by utilising our test results and determining our maximal aerobic speed (MAS). The old maximal aerobic speed is a bit of a team-sport buzz word that a love of clubs seem to love throwing around. It's almost as common as hearing your coach tell the umpire "he's been doing it all day, ump!".


To provide a boring definition, maximal aerobic speed represents the slowest speed at which VO2 max occurs. Basically MAS represents the minimum speed required to obtain your maximum oxygen uptake. But for a sport scientist or strength and conditioning coach, MAS is used as a training measure that is programmed to improve your aerobic capacity.


Lets get stuck into it in some greater detail.

 

WHY DO We CARE ABOUT

MAXIMAL AEROBIC SPEED?


The determination of Maximal Aerobic Speed is of great benefit to team sport athletes. An athlete's maximal aerobic speed can be used as a basis for developing your aerobic capacity through appropriate training methods.


But I'll be honest.. The reason why we really care about MAS surrounds the effectiveness of training at or above our maximal aerobic speed. Thanks to some previous research we know that training at 100% MAS and above is highly effective for improving our aerobic capacity (2). Compared to running overly long intervals and the classic Sunday jog, training beyond 100% MAS is believed to be the key to you improving your aerobic tank (2).


At this point you're probably wondering what the hell 100% MAS means? Well when we talk about intensity in terms of MAS, you'll see percentages such as 100% MAS, 110% or 120% MAS. 100% MAS refers to the intensity at our maximal aerobic speed. 120% is 20% above our MAS, so working at a greater intensity.


What you need to know is that the days of running long and slow 5-10km jogs are over. Well for a team sport athlete that is. If you're a marathon runner or middle distance expert then disregard this article.


But let's figure out your MAS first and then we'll go into the specifics on training it!


 

DETERMINING MAXIMAL AEROBIC SPEED


As we touched on in our aerobic testing article, the only way to determine our Maximal Aerobic Speed is by testing our aerobic capacity. Which unfortunately means that you need to put yourself through some pain. If money, time and efficiency were no issue then you could obtain your MAS in an exercise physiology lab. But practically, we need to rip into either a time trial or a yo-yo, beep or 30-15 IFT test.


Results from either a time trial or fitness test will be used to formulate our MAS. If you're an individual athlete, gaining access to the recorded audio for a beep or yo-yo test may be difficult (although I reckon YouTube would be the way to go) so you may prefer to run a time trial. In fact if you want to run a time trial, previous research has indicated that a 2km time trial may provide the best indication of your MAS (1).


PRACTICAL EXAMPLE


Yours truly recently ran a 2km Time Trial for the purpose of this blog and for our weekly podcast.

Here's how we go about calculating our MAS.


As we can see in the picture, I ran a very leisurely 7:52 2Km. Not my personal best but not completely disgraceful either.


Now all we have to do is apply some simple maths, or use a calculator.


I completed the 2km in 7:52 minutes.

2km = 2000m

7 minutes 52 seconds = 472 seconds


MAS = 2000/472


MAS = 4.2 metres per second.


So my MAS is 4.2 metres per second.


If you're running a beep or yo-yo test you can use predictive equations to calculate your MAS:


Beep Test: MAS (km/h) = Final Shuttle Speed (km/h) * 1.34 – 2.86 (Science for Sport equation) Then divide the answer by 3.6 to convert into metres per second!


Yo-Yo Test: MAS (m/s) = Final Shuttle Speed (km/h) / 3.6


 

TRAINING AEROBIC CAPACITY WITH MAS


Now that we've determined our MAS, we can begin to go about improving our aerobic capacity. As previously stated, the most effective way to boost our aerobic capacity is by training at or above our MAS.


But really we want to train above MAS.


In terms of aerobic training, it seems 120% is the sweet spot for eliciting quality improvements in aerobic capacity. There's a range of different training options we can use to begin to improve that tank. Damo has discussed many of the below forms of training in his aerobic training blog where you can read up on them in greater detail. Dan Baker also has a sensational article on the different types of training.


For this section we will provide some practical examples.



Long Intervals


For the purposes of this blog, long Intervals are continuous running efforts that are generally longer than 1-minute in duration but are capped at 5-minutes. Programming longer interval work is beneficial for athletes who are early in their training program and may not be as experienced compared to the seasoned athlete. Long Intervals are beneficial because they aren't quite as intense as short intervals in terms of %MAS, but they still carry a high intensity and are long enough to provide some needed volume in the legs for the intermediate athlete.


The intensity of long intervals for MAS-based training has a direct impact on duration and vice-versa. Generally the longer the interval, the lower the intensity (%MAS).


Duration: 90s-120s

Work to Rest ratio: 1:1

Intensity: 90-100% of MAS

Frequency: 3 x per week for beginner/intermediate athletes - 4 x for seasoned athletes

Phase: Early in training



Short Intervals


As I mentioned earlier, the sweet spot for MAS training tends to occur at ~120% MAS. It's very difficult to consistently attain an intensity that high for long intervals that are greater than a minute. That's why short intervals are ideal for MAS-based training. For the purposes of this blog, we will define short intervals as any effort that is shorter than 60s in duration.


Two prominent short interval techniques are the EuroFit and Tabata methods. Let's have a geez at them now.


EuroFit


EuroFit is a popular short interval method that is very simple to facilitate and works similar to a beep test. The idea is to run to a cone that is a prescribed distance away in time with your work effort. You then rest for a prescribed amount of time and then run back to the original start line. Usually this type of interval works on 15 second intervals. 15s running, 15 s resting.


It is very easy to prescribe the intensity using this method. All you need is your athlete's MAS and you then program the distance that corresponds with the %MAS you wish to obtain. The athlete then needs to run in time with the timer.


Initially you want to aim for repeated repetitions that last for at least 4-minutes in total duration. You can then build up your reps to accumulate 5,6,7,8-minutes of work.


The EuroFit method is best implemented after the long interval programming. After gaining volume with the LI's, the 15:15 Euro will provide a nice boost in intensity.


Duration: 10-15s repetitions

Work to Rest ratio: 1:1

Intensity: >120% of MAS

Frequency: 3 x per week for beginner/intermediate athletes - 4 x for seasoned athletes

Phase: Early-Middle in training phase



Tabata


Tabata is very similar to EuroFit, but is more representative of a Yo-Yo test rather than a Beep test. The nature of Tabata short intervals is to run the shuttles up and back in one continuous effort rather than stopping, resting and returning. The original Tabata method is pretty intense (>170% MAS), but the modified version for team sport athletes seems a bit more realistic.


Again, at around 120% MAS, athletes will run out to their prescribed cone, turn around and run back. 10s out, 10s back, 10s rest. So Tabata is a bit more intense with the use of a turn and with the smaller rest time relative to work. Similar to the EuroFit method, we are looking for at least 4-total minutes of work per set. We can then gradually build from there!


In terms of prescription, Tabata will closely follow what you would do with a EuroFit method but the work : rest ratios are different. Tabata's W:R = 2:1 which make it a bit of a slog.


Duration: 20s repetitions

Work to Rest ratio: 2:1

Intensity: >120% of MAS

Frequency: 3 x per week for beginner/intermediate athletes - 4 x for seasoned athletes

Phase: Early-Middle in training phase


 

The Wash Up


So now you know all about MAS.. How we test MAS, how we obtain your own MAS and how we can begin to improve upon our aerobic capacity using the discussed methods. Our next instalment of this blog series will then look towards programming some of these methods to ensure we can really build your aerobic engine!


 

about the author

Rob Delves

Sports Scientist

B. Ex&SpSc (Hons)

PhD Candidate

Available for Sport Science Consulting

Twitter | Linkedin

 

REFERENCES


1. Bellenger CR, Fuller JT, Nelson MJ, Hartland M, Buckley JD, Debenedictis TA. Predicting maximal aerobic speed through set distance time-trials. European Journal of Applied Physiology [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2020 Nov 12];115(12):2593.


2. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki, M, Hirai Y, Ogita, F, Miyachi M and Yamamoto K. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2 max. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 28:1327–1330. 1996


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