In the last couple of weeks, I have covered the importance of VO2 max intervals. Even though VO2 max is an essential physiological skill, threshold power is even more crucial. The total power output at your threshold power is often a lot more critical than the absolute number at VO2 max. That also explains why the athletes with the highest VO2 max values, not per definition, are the strongest performing riders in the peloton.
VO2 Max intervals improves your threshold power
Even though VO2 max is not the most critical power output, it still needs lots of training because the physiological adaptations to VO2 max training are the same as you receive from threshold training. The most significant difference is the time required to train to achieve the same progress.
Intervals close to VO2 max is a potent stimulus for your aerobic system. Scientific evidence indicates that well-trained athletes must have intervals close to their VO2 maximum to continue further progress. VO2 max intervals improve your VO2 max power and give a great lift to your threshold power.
Remember that threshold power is only a percentage of your VO2 max. You don’t train specific physiological skills with threshold power intervals that don’t get stimuli at VO2 max. If you decide to ride at a lower intensity than VO2 max, you have decided to train your aerobic system less effective.
VO2 Max Intervals are better than threshold intervals
There are circumstances where intervals at lower intensities are handy, but from a strictly theoretical point of view, VO2 max training is the most effective.
There is a common myth that training strictly at threshold power is the most optimal way to train. So let me make it clear:
There is nothing magical about training exactly at threshold power. Training a little above or below threshold power improves performance in exactly the same ways.
Conclusion: Training strictly at your threshold power is excellent, but slightly below or above threshold power is just as great. Well trained athletes need training close to their VO2 max because it helps them progress both VO2 max AND threshold power. From a strict theoretically point of view, VO2 max training is the most effective way to improve your performance in endurance disciplines like road cycling. Both VO2 max and threshold power training can benefit riders at all levels.