• Country

Improving VO2 max or the ability to utilise oxygen in the muscles is something virtually every cyclist could benefit from. Whether it’s training for a goal event, or the push to the finish line, a hard section of a climb, or trying to hold off an attack for the lead, these workouts will help. Let’s take a look at an example workout, so you know how to set them up.

One thing you should always keep in mind with sprint workouts is that it’s especially important to stop before exhaustion. When you finish a workout before you hit fatigue, you get the desired training adaptations without the need for prolonged recovery and perhaps even missing other workouts as a result of overdoing it. Of course, there’s a mental benefit of being motivated and able to push yourself and train hard, but you should save that only for a few key structured training sessions and competition, followed by a plan for adequate recovery time.

Julian Alaphilippe wearing the yellow jersey during a stage of the Tour de France
Whether it’s the push to the finish line, a hard section of a climb, or trying to hold off an attack for the lead, these workouts will help. © Profimedia

What is VO2 Max?

If you are unfamiliar with the term VO2 Max, it’s a scientific way to measure just how aerobically fit you are, meaning how well your body’s red blood cells are able to carry oxygen to working muscles. The more efficiently your body is able to perform this task, the more it is able to sustain endurance sports. It is a very practical metric for endurance athletes to assess their current level of cardiovascular fitness to compare it to future results that represent an improvement in aerobic gains from following a structured cycling training schedule.

You may have heard about VO2 testing in conjunction with structured cycling training plans. It is often used as a viable indicator of athletic capacity and general health. It has been proven that VO2 max, a score determined during a VO2 test, can be improved through interval and high-intensity training.

How do you measure VO2 Max?

An array of fitness trackers and wearable devices designed to measure your VO2 Max are available in today’s market. Be aware that they may provide an estimation of your current aerobic power, but more in-depth research has proven that they are not an accurate means of quantifying true exercise efficiency.

The most valid tests are performed under strict monitoring conditions on a stationary bicycle, treadmill or rowing machine. Exercise starts at low intensity and builds in magnitude over time at fixed intervals until failure is reached. Athletes are required to wear a mask over their nose and mouth during exercise that measures the quantity of oxygen inhaled and the carbon dioxide exhaled during the exercise stress test. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen a body consumes regardless of an increase in aerobic intensity.

The following factors can influence a person’s VO2 Max score:

– Age (VO2 Max decreases with age)

– Sex (Men normally have a higher VO2 than women)

– Lung function (asthmatic, active or reformed smoker)

– Heart function

– Muscle mass

– Body Mass Index (BMI) and weight

The goal for a VO2 max workout

The goal of this VO2 max workout is to improve the body’s oxygen uptake and the delivery of that oxygen to muscles via the bloodstream. This helps a lot with recovery between hard efforts, so it comes in handy in races when you need to re-accelerate multiple times over a short period.

Description

Our first VO2 max example ride will be 1 hour and 45 minutes long with a TSS of 105. The intensity will again be expressed in maximum heart rate (Max HR), threshold heart rate (Threshold HR), and functional threshold power (FTP) so that you can choose which numbers you are most comfortable with. This session could be called “1h. 45 min. ride with 4×9 min. blocks of 30 sec. on 15 sec. off”.

Warm-up – 20 min. at 65-75% Max HR / 65-83% Threshold HR / 60-70% FTP

Intervals – 4×9 min. blocks (each block comprised of 12×30 sec. hard effort or at 118-125% FTP, and 12×15 sec. easy spinning or at 30-40% FTP), 4 min. easy spinning between blocks

Cooldown – 32 min. at 60-75% Max HR / 65-83% Threshold HR / 55-65% FTP

Pro-rider Roman Bardet of the AG2R La Mondial Team looking exhausted at the top of a climb in the Tour de France.
You can go back to earlier articles in the series to recap how to put these workouts into smart blocks and periodise to reach your seasonal goals. © Profimedia

The goal for an anaerobic workout

The second structured training plan doesn’t only focus on VO2 max, it goes beyond. It trains your body to produce power above the VO2 max, and promotes utilisation of fast-twitch muscle fibres. This conditioning will pay dividends during intense short climbs or when attacking during races.

Description

Our second example ride should be 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours long with a TSS of 98. This session could be called “1.5-hour ride with two blocks of 5×1 min. high-power repeats”.

Warm-up – 20 min. building up to 60-70% Max HR / 68-83% Threshold HR / 60-70% FTP

Intervals – 5x (1 min. hard effort or 135% FTP, 2 min. 15 sec. easy spinning or 50% FTP)

Recovery spin – 10 min. at 50-60% Max HR / 60-70% Threshold HR / 55-65% FTP

Intervals – 5x (1 min. hard effort or 135% FTP, 2 min. 15 sec. easy spinning or 50% FTP)

Cooldown – 27 min. at 60-70% Max HR / 68-83% Threshold HR / 60-70% FTP

With these workouts, you should have a good idea of how to build a training session of any intensity starting from recovery all the way to sprints. You can go back to earlier articles in the series to recap how to put these workouts into your own plan of smart blocks and periodise to reach your seasonal goals. Implementing a solid cycling training plan will give you a huge edge in racing if you stick to it. So, if you’re in it for the long haul, the best time to start is now!

Next up in Build Your Own Cycling Training Plan series

All articles from Build Your Own Cycling Training Plan series