By Owen Walker
Published 28th August 2016
Maximal aerobic speed (MAS) is simply the lowest running speed at which maximum oxygen uptake (V02 max) occurs, and is typically referred to as the velocity at V02 max (vV02 max). MAS was developed for the purpose of increasing the specificity of training, and to enable coaches to monitor training loads more accurately. There are many tests which can be used to measure an athlete’s MAS, but for many, “corrective” equations must be used to accurately determine their MAS. Coaches need to understand the differences between these common aerobic tests and the corrective equations if they are to accurately measure MAS and prescribe training based on this information.
Keywords: velocity, V02 max, aerobic power, corrective equations.
What is Maximal Aerobic Speed?
Maximal aerobic speed (MAS) is quite simply the minimal running velocity at which V02 max occurs – otherwise known as the velocity at V02 max (vV02 max) (1). In other words, it is the lowest speed at which maximum oxygen uptake (V02 max) occurrs (2, 3). For example, as an athlete can continue running, and even run faster even though they have already achieved their V02 max, MAS is then simply the ‘slowest’ speed an athlete will achieve their V02 max (4). Figure 1 displays an athlete achieving MAS during an incremental V02 max test. As a result, MAS is directly related to V02 max but not running economy (4).
As it was understood that V02 max is not a useful measure for setting running paces and durations for training, MAS was developed to help coaches understand the physical demand of their training prescription (1). It also allows coaches to be more specific training prescription and volume-load monitoring as they can prescribed specific speeds (4.4 m/s).
Also displayed in Figure 1, is the anaerobic velocity reserve, or what is otherwise referred to as the anaerobic speed reserve. The anaerobic velocity reserve is measured in metres per second (m/s) and is simply the speed difference between maximal aerobic speed and maximal sprint speed (5).
Athlete A has the following:
- Maximal Aerobic Speed = 5.0 m/s
- Maximal Sprint Speed = 10.0 m/s
- Anaerobic Velocity Reserve = 5.0 m/s
Athlete B has the following:
- Maximal Aerobic Speed = 4.6 m/s
- Maximal Sprint Speed = 9.8 m/s
- Anaerobic Velocity Reserve = 5.2 m/s
Why is Maximal Aerobic Speed useful for sports?
As many field sports are very aerobic in nature and require the athletes to perform at high intensities throughout the duration of the game, it would appear almost obvious that a high aerobic power are important aspects of their performance. A recent review has shown that higher-level endurance athletes possess a larger aerobic power than lower-level athletes, but it is important to understand that this did not necessarily mean they were able to perform better (6). To add to this, it appears that the greater the running demands of the sport, the greater the MAS required for athletes in that sport to compete, especially at the highest level (7).
For example, female soccer players have been shown to maintain an average heart rate of 84-86% of their maximum, and travel 9.1-11.9 km during a 90-minute match (8). These athletes have demonstrated a good level of aerobic power (V02 max: 46–57.6 mL·kg–1·min–1) (9, 10, 11), and those with a larger aerobic power have also been shown to perform better during a game (9, 10, 12).
Something to consider however, is these “improved” performances were measured by increased distance covered, enhanced work intensity, and a higher the number of sprints and involvements with the ball during a match (9) – but do all of these actually mean a better performance? Nevertheless, these are all important qualities and the strength and conditioning coach/sports scientist must decide for themselves whether it is worthwhile improving their athlete’s aerobic ability better than it currently is. Therefore, they need to decide whether improving it will give them the “edge” they need to perform better, or not.
How to test Maximal Aerobic Speed
Whilst many different tests have been used to measure an athlete’s MAS, it is important to understand that not all tests will produce the same result; meaning accurately measuring MAS can be difficult. Recall the definition of MAS: it is the lowest speed at which V02 max occurs. As some athletes can continue to run, and even run faster, despite already achieving their V02 max, many tests may cloud the athlete’s true MAS. As a result, we will help to provide a degree of clarity to this issue by discussion some of the common problems.
First and foremost, for running-based field sport athletes, it is highly-recommended that MAS is assessed during running-based tests. Over the years many running-based MAS tests have been developed, so picking the right one can be a difficult decision when the practitioner is uninformed of the strengths and weaknesses of each test. Table 1 provides a breakdown of some of the common tests and their structure.
As can be seen in Table 1, there are many different tests used to measure MAS, and each of these tests are different in nature. Some involve linear running, others involve shuttle-based running, some are continuous, others are incremental, and some are steady-paced, whilst others are timed. It is absolutely vital that the sports scientist or strength and conditioning coach understands the difference between these tests in terms of their nature.
As shuttle-based tests include constant deceleration, change of direction and acceleration, these “high-intensity” actions add an anaerobic element to the test which is typically not present during continuous, linear running tests. This results in the aerobic system working harder to replenish the anaerobic stores used for these “high-intensity” actions. For example, it is well-known that change of direction performance is an important factor concerning an athlete’s performance during the 30-15 intermittent fitness test (23, 24, 5). It is therefore understood that shuttle-based tests result in lower and inaccurate MAS scores, if not corrected for (1, 7).
How to Calculate Maximal Aerobic Speed
To account for the abovementioned issues when using shuttle-based tests to calculate MAS, “corrective” equations have been developed for certain tests. Tests without their own specific corrective equation can use a simple generic formula.
Multistage Fitness Test – Corrective Equation (1)
- MAS (km/h) = Final Shuttle Speed (km/h) * 1.34 – 2.86
1200m Shuttle Test
Equation for athletes with a heavy body mass (approx. 100 kg) (18)
- MAS (m/s) = 1200 / (time in seconds – 29)
Equation for athletes with a light body mass (18)
- MAS (m/s) = 1200 / (time in seconds – 20.3)
Generic “corrective” Equation
For other tests, a generic “corrective” calculation is typically used (25):
- MAS (m/s) = Estimated V02 max / 3.5
Examples of Maximal Aerobic Speed Scores
Table 2 provides some clear examples of the MAS scores of elite-level athletes from a variety of different sports.
Maximal aerobic speed, otherwise known as MAS, is a useful tool for measuring performance, training prescription, and monitoring training loads. Finding the most effective and time-orientated methods for developing an athlete’s aerobic power is of great importance, and training prescription based on MAS may facilitate these types of improvements. However, it is important that the practitioner fully understands the complications with measuring MAS when using various tests.
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