How to Become a Better Sprinter

The Ultimate VO2 Max Training Session

THIS is the story behind developing an effective, motivating, and personalized interval session, the perfect booster for VO2 max. If you want to skip the theory, you can go directly to the VO2 max session here.

I have analyzed many heart rate and power files from cycling races during the last few years. I have spent time focusing on the most decisive moments during cycling races, for example, the moment when you try to shake off your nearest challengers. This method is designed specifically for race cyclists; however, endurance athletes, in general, will boost their VO2 max with this training method.

Based on my analysis and research, I’ve developed a unique training method that will dramatically boost your VO2 max. And I’ve been using this new interval training session in training plans during the last year with great success.

It is the first time I have shared this exclusive information, so you could say this is a world premiere.

My analysis of heart rate monitor and power meter files

At the crucial moments during a race, elite athletes will perform at their five-minute maximum power (VO2 max) for about two to three minutes. Since they are already warm (on 80-85% of max heart rate) because they have been racing, it only takes a short burst of power before they hit VO2 max peak.

Riders who launch an attack typically establish a gap of between 50 to 100 meters during these initial minutes of aggressive cycling. All cyclists, breakaway riders, and people left in the peloton will feel the burn in their legs at these moments so everybody will be suffering.

Since the breakaway riders have already expended a lot of energy to establish their lead, they will have to keep struggling in the hope that the peloton will allow them to get away.

If they establish a small breakaway group, they will keep the intensity slightly below or around functional threshold power. But as the initial two to three minutes were at their VO2 max, they would have already used a significant part of their anaerobic reserve.

This means they have to maintain the highest possible intensity without accumulating additional lactic acid to avoid blowing up.

During this continued attack, they have to ride at an intensity close to their functional threshold power. So the following five to eight minutes are crucial in deciding if this will turn out to be a winning break or not.

If the peloton fails to reel in this group of leaders within five minutes, it is more than likely that they will not see them again during the race. But if the pack does manage to chase down the breakaway riders, then the race becomes wide open again, and there is a golden opportunity to launch a counter-attack.

Remember that we are talking about breakaways established at the ‘business end of a race’ – not tactical moves during the early stages.

High intensity interval training is a key to to optimize your maximal aerobic capacity. Here is a Tour de France rider with a high VO2 max

Five Reasons Why This Training Method Works

VO2 Max. You get extended stimuli of your aerobic system at an intensity close to or at your maximal oxygen consumption. The initial two minutes activate your aerobic system, which performs close to maximum. When you reduce your intensity to threshold power, you’ll be able to continue at maximal oxygen consumption without accumulating too much lactic acid.

Therefore, you get an extended period with maximum impact on your aerobic system without too much suffering (don’t forget, though, it’s still a challenging workout).

You’ll reach a heart rate >92% of maximum heart rate.

Motivating interval design. The initial 30-40 seconds is a piece of cake, but it gets more complicated. When you’ve completed the first minute, you will be halfway through the most challenging part.

By pushing the highest power outputs at the beginning of the interval, you’ll have a good feeling that you can complete this interval as scheduled.

High specificity. An old rule of thumb is to train with your goal in mind and do the training as relevant as possible. This interval simulates a cycling race, and it certainly feels like one.

When you struggle during the last four minutes of this interval, it feels you are enduring the pain of a tough cycling race.

Those riders who have been testing pilots on this interval session will readily confirm the same mental and physical experience.

Personalized VO2 max intervals. This workout is based on your performance in two different physical tests to create a customized interval session to suit YOU. It will offer you the massive advantage of securing optimal training of your VO2 max.

Great results are guaranteed. Your aerobic engine will thank you for it, and after just a few of these training sessions, your overall aerobic performance will improve significantly. It is not only your VO2 max that will improve. Your lactate threshold and endurance will improve increase as well.

They are the five main reasons I believe this training method should be an integral part of your training plan, at least during the last six to eight weeks before important races. Your heart will be able to pump more red blood cells to your muscles during maximal effort.

What you also need to know before your improve your maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max):

This VO2 max session is based on your performance in two separate physical tests.

This knowledge gives you an advantage when you plan your training session. Instead of calculating your VO2 max as a percentage of your functional threshold power (or the opposite), you will base your decisions on your actual aerobic fitness at those intensities representing different physiological skills. So you end up with a bespoke training session that is perfect for you.

VO2 max power (five-minute maximum watts)

Functional threshold power (30-minute maximum watts)

If you haven’t performed these tests recently (<2 months), it makes sense to tackle them again. If you’ve never tried these five and 30-minute performance tests before, you can read more about them here.

The Best VO2 Max Workout for Cyclists – Here is the deal:

Here is the outline for the training session. You can easily integrate this VO2 max workout in your training plan.

(Here is a quick warm-up routine you can perform before the VO2 max workout)

No power meter? Here is what you should do to improve VO2 max :

If you don’t have access to a power meter or ergometer bike, it gets a little more challenging to control pacing, but you can still have a decent workout. Ride the first two minutes as if it was a 4km pursuit and ride the following eight minutes as a 40km time trial. It’s not optimal, but it works. Your cardiovascular system will improve as you get a couple of these intervals under your belt.

What to do after the VO2 max session

After two rounds of 2+8min, you’ve had a decent workout. Some riders may want to ride more after finishing the VO2 max interval session, which is no problem. On the other hand, you may prefer to ride for an hour or two with low intensity, and you can add as much distance as you like. There is no maximum amount, however, if you are able to finish more than three rounds, it is very likely you need to adjust power outputs to your current fitness level.

Remember to refuel immediately after finishing the second VO2 max interval. This workout has a significant impact on your recovery periods, so give yourself the best odds to recover so you reap the full benefits from your effort. Make sure to have access to water, carbohydrates and proteins.

Aerobic power is also built with endurance training (and a lot of it). Intense exercise will improve your VO2 max, but your aerobic capabilities will also benefit from long endurance rides.

Take action now…

Here is one thing you MUST do:

– Try the VO2 max training session and comment about your experience. Make it a part of your training plan. As an endurance athlete, taking action is crucial.

and two things that will make me VERY happy:

– Write about this new VO2 max session on your blog or website.

– Share this link on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus:

35 thoughts on “The Ultimate VO2 Max Training Session”

  1. Nice! Will try it! Does it also increase your treshold power significantly?
    It boosts VO2max AND treshold power in the most time -effective way?

  2. Great article! I would love to give your training system a try. Have had great success with the VO2 Booster program, so this interval seems like more of the good stuff.

  3. Hi Jesper.. I value your ideas and training methods, and have been implemnting them myslef. Please advise what gears you suggest doing the above VO2 efforts.I’m guessing race gears, since one will be simulating race conditions. Also when should one attempt this effort? After 6 weeks of training and is it wise to do this early in season, say 2 months away from first race?
    Thanks Wayne

  4. Jesper,

    Why do you prefer a 30 min threshold test rather than the 2 x 20 min with a 2 min break? Particularly given your comment elsewhere that “30min test might at least, in theory, overestimate ”˜functional threshold power”™ … “

  5. Hi Jesper,

    So true… this workout was probably the best single workout you’ve prescribed in my training program in 2012.

    Few things I’ve noticed by doing this workout :

    – after the first 2 sessions I was able to hold the wattage for the 2 min Vo2max part significantly higher than V02Max. Same goes for the 8min segment too.

    – Threshold power increased, way quicker than the SST route or 2×20 FTP.

    – I did one of my best TTs (2nd at the provincials) after a month that included a weekly session 2+8.

    I keep reusing your programs and advices 😉

    Thanks a lot!


  6. Ok, I think this will become my new ultimate training. Did a lot of subtreshold interval training this winter, now increase treshold power just that more and also VO2max; for the races.

  7. Tøff, men morsom. Har jo ofte kjørt 8 og 10-minuttere der de siste minuttene kjøres nesten all out, men å snu draget ved å starte nærmest med en spurt var en ny erfaring. Skjønner godt at denne økten kan ha effekt. Tyngste del av økten? De 4 siste minuttene av andre drag. Da var pulsen oppe igjen der den var på slutten av 2-minutteren i drag 2. Fikk totalt 8 minutter på over 90% med max på 92%. Kanskje jeg burde kjørt hardere?

  8. Saw the training program this AM, did the intervals as prescribed. First set was very hard second set seemed much easier. I am 64, do not have power meter but follow via heart rate. VOX maximum is 171 bpm and my threshold is 146 bpm.
    Doing calculation on a known hill I can generate about 360 watts at threshold. My goal this year is to ride the death ride here in Nevada. Last year before I started serious training I would go beyond my threshold heart rate on a 2.4 mile 11% grade even in a 34-28 gear. I have not rode this section yet due to snow but feel because of your training programs I am on my way.

  9. Hi Jesper.
    I train intervals 3 times 1½ – 2 hours a week on my home trainer.
    If I try this program 2 of the days (mon-wed), what do you recommend for the 3 day (sat) ?
    You wrote “refuel direct after finishing the second VO2 max interval”, is that between the 2 min: VO2 max intensity and the 8 min: threshold intensity ?
    What do you recommend there ?
    Regards Søren

  10. Thanks for this. I like reading your posts and always try to introduce new suggested routines to keep things fresh and interesting.

    I’ve been doing all sorts of intervals over the past 3 years and have pretty much learned what works for my body and mind. However, I’m looking at you suggestion and it just doesn’t seem like a full workout. That’s a total of 4min VO2Max and 16mins Z4! I just wouldn’t get any improvement from so little time at V02Max, and 16mins threshold, well I do more than that at a mid week local club 10.

    I understand your trying to include Z4 directly after a bout of Z5 and the accumulative effect should force adaptation, but in my books it still seems to lack enough VO2max.

    For example for me a 4mins @ Z5 followed by 4mins rest ( X 4) is far deeper and would give you a solid 16mins of VO2max. I’m sure you appreciate that any attempted VO2Max sessions must be full and complete because recovery always takes so long effecting other sessions later in the week. I feel that recovery from this session and yours would be about the same whilst having a better chance of strengthening VO2Max .

    To be honest what you’ve suggested is a shortened version of what most athletes do anyhow during a 10mile TT. They unknowingly spend the first 3-5mins at VO2Max, then settle into 15-17min of mid-threshold.

    Sorry but it just doesn’t seem to warrant the title ‘Ultimate VO2Max Session’.

  11. @Chris – 2x20min may also – in theory – overestimate FTP. 1x30min is easier to communicate and implement to a broad audience.

    @Wayne – Gear ratios like you would choose in race situations. VO2 sessions should be an integral part of your training 6 to 8 weeks before important races.

    @Emil – Great to hear that you’ve experienced great gains for your threshold power as well. It is no secret that this workout IS NOT a clear cut VO2 max session. Instead it is a race-specific high intensity training that boost both VO2 and threshold power. When your aerobic engine works better, in most situations both VO2 and threshold power outputs are better.

    @Thomas – Good luck with your pre-season training.

    @Erik – You’ve had a great workout. If you are able to push a little harder just go ahead. Even though this workout is better fitted than most (if not all) other intervals, it might need a little fine tuning (also worth remembering that performance tests should be updated).

    @Ronnie – Go ahead and share your experience.

    @Bill – It’s much easier to perform this workout with a power meter, but when you’ve tried this session a few times, you’ll get a feeling of the right pace.

    @Søren – Refuel after the entire training session or during cool down. A third interval training could be sub-threshold intervals.

    Thanks for all comments so far!


  12. @Andy – It seems like you’ve misunderstood my concept. This VO2 max session is based on your performance in two separate physical tests. This knowledge gives you an advantage when you plan your training session. Instead of calculating your VO2 max as a percentage of your threshold power (or the opposite), you will base your decisions on your actual fitness at those intensities representing different physiological skills. So you end up with a bespoke training session that is perfect for you.

    VO2 max power (five-minute maximum watts)

    Threshold power (30-minute maximum watts)

    If you haven”™t performed these tests recently (<2 months), then it makes sense to tackle them again.

    I suppose you haven’t actually tried this workout, so I would appreciate if you TRY it as described above. If this doesn’t change your view, I’d love to see your heart rate and power files from 5 and 30-minute test as well as the interval session.

  13. Thanks for trying to clarify,I must of misunderstood, and please correct me if I’ve got this all wrong but what your suggesting is 2mins at a previously tested 5min max output (classified as VO2Max), and then dropping intensity to 8mins at a previously tested 30min max output (classified as Threshold). X2, is that correct??

    Sorry but If that’s correct then I can’t see how this will induce anymore physical adaptation over any other previously prescribed VO2Max / Threshold combi-workout. All it appears to do is mix two workouts together for which some may have done separate. The tone of the post seems to suggest that this method is ground breaking or revolutionary for which its not, and something a lot of athletes already do in one form or another.

  14. Tried this session last night, but added a third set to it. To early to tell if its working yet, but my legs certainly felt wrecked after it!

    I can see the logic for the session, attacking/bridging etc would you consider the idea of doing a 20/30min sweetspot before starting the sets a good idea to further replicate a race scenerio?

  15. This workout is based on my analysis of what happens in cycling races at the most striking moments. So this interval is very race-specific. It’s not just another combined VO2/threshold workout. The cornerstone in this interval is that the first two minutes increases your oxygen uptake to values close to maximum. When you reduce the intensity to threshold power, you also reduce the need for anaerobic metabolism, but the intensity is still so high that your oxygen uptake will remain at values very close to or at VO2 max throughout the interval. So you get a great stimuli for your aerobic engine – in a very race-specific and motivating way.

  16. This session really works! I have completed this training about once a week in the last half of the 2012 season and it has really moved my limits and I’ve hit basically all breakaways. Try it, unless you are a Danish cyclist 🙂

  17. hi jesper
    We are proud to have you.
    i do this method vo2 max train and i think that this is low.
    Can I do it this way to visit moreØŸ

  18. This is great workout and reminds me off “VO2max Race Winning intervals” by Alan Hunter.
    Did you “forgot” to include in your race winning effort a 15s burst at the beggining of interval and all out sprint at the end?

  19. Hi Jesper
    did read and watched video, awhich gears are used to do the threshold part, and is the threshold part very intensive?
    carolin janik

  20. Hi jesper,

    i tried many of your VO2max programs on this site and in your ebook. This helps me a lot to increase my Vo2max and FTP Power. But i think my real limiter is my endurance pace. On this winter session i increased my FTP Power from 250 to 280W and Vo2max Power from 450 to 495W in 12 Weeks but my endurance Power is steady on 200W. I think when i increased the endurance power from 200W to lets say 230W my FTP would increased much more. But how can i do this?

  21. Hi Jesper that’s a great article, tried the session and yes it’s hard my FTP is 335W so the VO2 zone is high, hope for good TT times for season, best to cut out the jumk miles and replace with quality miles it’s the way forward, I should have been doing this years ago!!
    Keep Up The Good Work
    Kind Regards

  22. I’m into week 8 of your 12 week winter program and have been real happy with the progression. I’m skimping on the time (I do about 45m to an hour twice a week indoors plus the weekends) but have been religious with the actual intervals. It’s the first winter where I haven’t gotten totally burned out mentally doing intervals. I’m also doing two fairly brutal, CrossFit-style work-outs each week(haven’t joined a for-real crossfit gym yet). At age 56 I’.ve developed an interst in more all-around fitness. I really like your approach. Our Saturday morning club “rides” are all-out race-pace 52 weeks a year. Most-times I’m just looking to hang on and not get dropped while the Cat 2’s and hot-shot 3’s go at it (I’m an aging Cat 3). We get some criticism for our hard-core all year approach. However, last season we won our states Cat 3 cup, 35+ Cup, Cat 3 individual, and the 35+ RR title. I think a lot of that is due to the fact that we have no adjustment period….our best guys are always ready to go. I also agree 100 percent with your thoughts on burning out when none of us really has the time to approach a high training volume. Can you really burn-out on 6 – 10 hours a week? Anyway, thanks for the programs.

  23. Could somebody please explain in a descriptive way what does the “threshold intensity” mean? How do I know that I pedal at such intensity? I tried to find it on google but I haven’t found anything cycle training related and this term is problematic to me as English is not my mother tongue. Thanks in advance!

  24. @Dave – Adding a sub-threshold interval before the VO2 max interval is an option, it could be a part of your warm-up. Though, I have to emphasize the importancy of performing the VO2 interval when you are mentally and physically fresh.

    @Anders – You are one of the few people who are able to push 500+W in a 5min test. That is a HUGE advantage. 😉

    @Reza – ???

    @Marko – This is a different interval based on my analysis of power meter files. I don’t think adding 15s sprints wouldn’t help in the beginning and end of this interval would not help you to achieve your goal (increase VO2 max), but if you have energy left at the second interval I would rather increase the intensity during the final 8 minutes.

    @Carolin – Use your preferred cadence at race situations. That’s probably in the 90+ rpm to 105rpm range. This is an extremely challenging workout.

    @Pete – When your VO2 max and Threshold power has increased so significantly, it is impossible to explain why your ‘endurance’ power remains unchanged. I suppose you haven’t tested your ‘endurance’ power.

    @Alistair – This workout will boost your TT performance as well.

    @Ed – congratulations with your great results with my high intensity training principles. It’s clear that constantly performing high intensity intervals can be a risky way to structure your training. It’s mentally hard to perform strictly focused intervals again and again. So yes, it is possible to ‘burn out’ if you don’t enjoy what you do. Also, it’s important to remember to get enough recovery between training sessions. Remember that you need more recovery after VO2 and anaerobic sessions.

    Great to read that you’ve been able to reduce the overall training load while riding the intervals as scheduled and achieved great results.

    @Tomek – Here is an introduction to training principles and intensities:

  25. I have been following the 12 week program and am coming to the end of it. I did this session last Wednesday night, it was brutally hard! The closest I have come to getting sick on the bike in a long long time. I rode my first race of the season on Sunday. It was an 80k handicap event for Categories 1 to 4. I currently ride cat 3, we caught cat 4 with about 15k to go. Category 1 & 2 combined never caught us. I finished 6th overall, not bad for a 45 year old racing against 20 year olds! This training method really works, my aim now is to get upgraded to Category 2 before the season ends. Keep the sessions coming Jesper!

  26. I tried it this morning indoor on trainer, and it’s a decent workout :)… It worked really well – but I had some problems in the second interval. Maybe because, I did it in a 2x(2-8 + 5) fashion, with only 5 min. of rest between sets. But the idea of starting right at 100% Vo2-max for 2 min. followed by 8 min. straight on FTP seems to really open up 🙂

  27. Have tried similar workouts before, but in my experience, I would complete both focused Z4 and Z5 sessions for some weeks before doing the combined workout. If you’re not fit to do the hard Z5 work, you will die during the first part of the Z4 work. At least I did 🙂

  28. @Bent – Please note that this VO2 max session is based on your performance in relatively fresh 5 and 30 minute tests. Thus it should not be possible to die in the early part of the threshold part. If you really mean that is the case, I would love to see your power meter and heart rate files.

  29. Hi Jesper,
    I tried your session this morning with my two wattages noticed on my PPR at 5 and 30 minutes. But I did 3 blocs of (2+8) to spot 30 minutes of work, insuring also by my deep and wellknown sensations to be stady stated at the metabolic lactate threshold. I separated each of the 3 blocs with the minimum of long active recovery of 3min to optimize the fact to return into the following bloc to max O2 intake as soon as possible . I’m a since very long time high intensity trained sportman. I’m 61 years old.
    I terminated this session fully sweated but… with greater sensations than ever, convinced by this protocole you propose to try… because … I simply felt the training effect during the meedle of the third and last bloc.
    My used numbers: MAP=280W @TTE=4’10” : CP5=263W : CP30=235W // HRmax=169bpm : HRthreshold=163bpm : HRrest=45bpm
    My question is, Jesper, what do you think frankly about this evolution of your initial proposed exercise protocol.
    Thanks for reading me and bravo for your work and Bonjour to all de France!

  30. I haven’t tried this plan yet.
    My FTP tested 14 days ago was 222 with 5% removed.
    Max HR 180 yet I can hold 175 for 2 hours
    Age 50
    If I try and go over this number I hit a wall, any small efforts my HR goes yet I can hold 200 watts for 2 hours.

  31. Hi

    I follow already quiet a few years this training program. For the first time I did it with a powermeter and the result is quite impressive: before the program I had a VO2 max power of 282watt. After the program and one week supercompensation I finished the 5’ test with 305watt, or a progress of 8%!!

  32. If I wanted to do this once a week for a 3-4 week block what sort of progressive overload would you recommend?

    I’m thinking of either extending the 5min power block into the 30 mins, i.e 2.5mins + 7.5mins.
    or adding a few watts onto the 8mins

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