VO2 Max: Assisting Coaches in Optimizing Workouts (Training & Conditioning)

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At the professional and Division I levels, VO2 Max testing is an important piece of the puzzle, used to optimize workouts that will then raise the aerobic threshold for each unique athlete. It’s a measurement that helps coaches understand how effective personalized workouts are and how to improve upon them, allowing the strength and conditioning team to best support student-athletic development and progression. It also measures the rate at which oxygen is consumed as exercise increases in intensity. 

Ruben Cisneros, MS, CSCS, NSCA, USAW, assistant strength and conditioning coach at Rutgers University, works with soccer athletes and uses VO2 Max several times a year to optimize their workouts. Cisneros first learned about the testing during his undergraduate studies in exercise and sport science at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He completed internships with DePaul and the Chicago Fire Football Club. After completing his M.S. in Sports Management and working as a graduate assistant, he worked at Loyola (MD) University before taking his current position at Rutgers. 

With experience as a strength and conditioning coach at nearly every level of soccer from youth to professional, Cisneros banks on VO2 Max to provide actionable data that helps him enhance the workouts he is giving to each student-athlete. 

VO2 Max is especially important for sports where aerobic capacity plays a large role, such as soccer, tennis and track, and research at all levels points to the benefits that athletic programs can get from the testing of athletes in this category. “(VO2 Max is) a reliable and valid method of testing aerobic capacity that allows me to measure progress and compare to current research out there of the same population I am working with,” Cisneros said. 

Athlete undergoing testing with KORR VO2 Max

Cisneros uses the results from VO2 Max to quickly and easily assess his athletes and adjust training protocols as needed as well as to compare them to athletes previously successful in their programs. Without this type of testing, strength and conditioning coaches are losing out on an important set of data they need to help student-athletes get the most they can out of their workouts and to take their athleticism to the next level. It’s especially important to those who are preparing for the next level of their sport, whether that’s collegiate, professional or even Olympic training. 

How VO2 Max works 

VO2 Max works by assessing precise target heart rates for individuals, allowing coaches to optimize workouts, which in turn allows athletes to have fewer injuries and less fatigue. In studies, VO2 Max was shown to bring sedentary people up to speed aerobically faster, by allowing them to train at 75% of their aerobic power for half an hour three days a week for six months, which brought about an increased VO2 Max of 15-20%. 

In addition to VO2 Max testing, Rutgers also utilizes heart rate monitoring, tracking aerobic and anaerobic thresholds and maximum heart rate, all of which can be tracked with the CardioCoach equipment he uses for VO2 Max. 

For those already in strict training regimens, VO2 Max testing can allow them to improve past any plateau and increase the anaerobic threshold and maintain it for a longer period of time, in turn enhancing cardiovascular performance and improving endurance. It also determines the number of calories burned, which helps the team’s nutritionist ensure that the athlete is consuming enough calories to keep up their performance. 

If a program isn’t currently using VO2 Max testing, Cisneros says they’re missing out on reliable and valid methods of assessing progress in student-athletes “I see the VO2 Max testing as the golden standard for Aerobic Capacity Testing. Also, an opportunity to further individualize their conditioning needs through all the valuable information that can be taken from performing this test,” Cisneros said. 

For schools and facilities thinking about investing in VO2 Max, the investment isn’t one that will show up as a budgetary line item every year or even every other year; it’s also something many programs can use to their benefit, enhancing the workouts of most athletes on campus. 

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