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Ventilatory Threshold, Can You Use it to Improve?

The quickest way to precisely separate cardio activity into effective training zones to enhance your performance.

What is Ventilatory Threshold and How Can You Use it to Improve Your Performance?

According to The American Council on Exercise (ACE), Ventilatory Threshold (a.k.a VT1 and VT2) is a marker of training intensity based on your breathing pattern (see below). Ventilatory Threshold is the quickest and easiest way to precisely separate cardiovascular activity into effective training zones to enhance or maximize your performance.

VT1 (breathing starts to increase)

The First Ventilatory Threshold (VT1) is an indicator of training intensity that is heard in your breathing pattern at the point when lactate begins to build-up in your blood. When the intensity of exercise starts to increase, VT1 is identified at the moment the breathing rate changes and begins to rise. When you hit VT1, you can no longer carry on a conversation comfortably without having to catch your breath every few sentences.  A clear indication of VT1 is noticeable when, for example, you try to recite the alphabet, but need to stop to catch your breath half-way through. Exercise can be continued for a reasonable period (i.e. 30-90 minutes) at this intensity. However, this time may vary depending on your current fitness level and/or level of fatigue at the start of your training session.  It is important to note what your heart rate is at VT1.

VT2 (high intensity/out of breath)

The Second Ventilatory Threshold (VT2), is an elevated marker of intensity that can also be heard in your breathing; speaking is no longer possible except for one- or two-word statements such as “yes” or “no”. More than likely, you are not going to be able to exercise much longer than 30-seconds to 2-minutes depending on your fitness level. During VT2, blood lactate levels accumulate quickly and your rate and depth of breathing increases to the point that you can no longer speak. Training intensities just below VT2 signify the uppermost levels a person can endure and should be maintained for only 20 to 30 minutes. An indicator of improved performance is when an athlete can increase his/her workload at VT2.  It is important to note what your heart rate is at VT2.

How Does Ventilatory Threshold Apply to My Training?

First, you need to determine what your heart rate is at both your VT1 and VT2 points.  This can be done by using a heart rate monitor.  Next, you will need to split your training week into three different exercise intensity zones.

Zone 1: HR < VT1: Talking is easy and exercise can be continued for extended periods of time. Exercise in this zone would be “moderate” to “somewhat hard” (RPE = 3–4, 0-to-10 scale) below VT1 (4). You may train 1-3 times per week in this zone.

Zone 2: HR = VT1 to < VT2:  Talking is comfortable and exercise can be continued for a moderate period. However, this would be dependent on a client’s current fitness and level of fatigue at the start of exercise. Exercise in this zone would be labelled “hard” (RPE = 5–6, 0-to-10 scale) between VT1 and VT2 (4). You train once per week in this zone.

Zone 3: HR > VT2:  Talking is limited to single words and exercise can only be continued for short intervals. Exercise in this zone would be “very hard” to “extremely hard” (RPE = 7–10, 0-to-10 scale) above VT2 (4).  You train once or twice per week in this zone.

Enhance Performance and Decrease Injury

These training zones help to establish the phases in which you train yourself and your clients to improve performance while minimizing the risks of injury.

Phase 1: Aerobic-based Training (4)

People who cannot perform 30 minutes of continuous moderate-intensity exercise should begin training in this phase. Phase 1 would include those that are sedentary or have special needs. The goal of this phase is to have a positive exercise experiences that help with consistency. Train in Zone 1 (RPE = 3–4, 0-to-10 scale). You should be able to speak comfortably during exercise. Otherwise, you have gone over the talk-test threshold and exercise intensity needs to be decreased.

Phase 2: Aerobic-efficiency Training (4)

Phase 2 is appropriate for people who can perform more than 30 minutes of continuous moderate-intensity exercise. Phase 2 is the zone most fitness and weight-loss goals can be achieved.

During phase 2, warm-up, cool-down, recovery intervals and steady-state exercise is performed in zone 1 for the continuation of building the aerobic base and for recovery following Zone 2 intervals.

Low-intensity Zone 2 intervals (RPE of 5) are introduced. Begin with intervals of 1:3 (60-second work and 180-second recovery). Progress the intervals to a ratio of 1:2 and then 1:1. Increase the time of the interval, with slow progression of interval length, frequency and recovery (no more than 10 percent per week). Progress the intervals to the upper end of Zone 2 (RPE of 6), using the same formulary until you again reach a 1:1 ratio.

Phase 3: Anaerobic-endurance Training (4)

Phase 3 is appropriate for people who perform seven hours or more of cardiorespiratory exercise per week. People train in Phase 3 to work towards increasing their training volume and intensity for peak performance. The rate of recurrence and focus are based on events, weaknesses, and ability to recover. Training time should be distributed as follows:

  • Zone 1 = 70–80% of training time
  • Zone 2 < 10% of training time
  • Zone 3 = 10–20% of training time

This is the training distribution used by elite athletes in a variety of endurance sports including Nordic skiers, cyclists and runners.

Week 1: Perform a 5-10 min warm-up, then do 3 x 60-second intervals, take a 3-min rest between each interval (1:3 work/rest ratio), rest 10 min, then repeat another set of 3 X 60 second intervals. Cool down for 5-minutes.

Week 2: 3 sets of 3 x 45-second intervals, 1:3 work/rest ratio, 10 min between sets, 70-min workout with extended warm-up and cool-down

Week 3: 3 set of 3 x 60-second intervals, 1:3 work/rest ratio, 10 min between sets, 75-min workout with extended warm-up and cool-down.

Week 4: Recovery week – The same sets, workout ratio and recovery between sets as week 1, however, you are to decrease training time to 45 minutes

Training should always be periodized by doing cycles of hard and easy days during the training week. You should also do 1 week of active recovery for every 3 weeks of hard training. Active recovery means doing fun activities such as hiking or playing golf, but not training.  Cycling your training decreases your chances of injuries while increasing your performance results.

Cardiovascular training must be regulated to achieve maximum results. This is done by training with appropriate training zones and this is achieved by knowing what your VT1 and VT2 levels are and how to cycle them appropriately.

Do you want to learn more about ventilatory threshold  and training correctly? Do you have a passion for exercise and living a healthy lifestyle? Do you want to inspire and educate people about living happier and healthier lives? Become a personal trainer with Infofit and become a part the fast growing health industry. Help people and earn a living doing something you love.

Cathie Glennon – BCRPA –SFL, CSNA