VO2 max is widely regarded as the best indicator of cardio-respiratory performance and plays a pivotal role in the success of every endurance athlete.
Runners, triathletes, rowers, swimmers and, of course, cyclists should all spend time optimizing their VO2 max (also known as their maximal oxygen consumption), especially if they want to end up standing on the podium.
Athletes who perform at the crucial moments in their sports produce oxygen consumption that is extremely close to their VO2 max and those with the highest VO2 max tend to end up winning much more than others.
It is impossible to increase your VO2 max by too much and possessing a large aerobic capacity is vital in all endurance sports. In cycling you spend most of the time using a lower percentage of your VO2 max.
But in those explosive moments – the sprints, the breakaways and the punishing climbs – you will have to perform close to your VO2 max. Imagine if you could push 20 watts more at the decisive moments?
VO2 Max Intervals Deliver Fast Progress
I strongly believe that interval training with a high intensity will boost your VO2 max.
The nearer the intensity is to 100% of VO2 max, the more your body and performance will benefit. The beauty of high intensity training is that you can train less while still improving your performance.
Elite riders should train at, or very close to, their VO2 max to achieve the level of progress they are seeking. This is why I always include VO2 intervals in training programs for professional riders. I also strongly recommend them to up-and-coming cyclists who are ambitious to further their progress.
The difficulty is that training at this intensity is extremely tough. Another issue is that riders should not expect to develop perfect pacing immediately during the first few VO2 intervals. It is a fairly steep learning curve and you should always assess and evaluate the effectiveness of intervals after the sessions, so you can make small adjustments in your next training day.
I always recommend that before you start VO2 intervals, it is advisable to perform a five-minute all-out test to gauge your average power output (in watts) at maximum oxygen consumption. This is the most reliable test and it can be done on a stationary bike or on the road if you own a power meter. The crucial thing is you get a number for your average power output in the five-minute test.
VO2 Max Is So Time Effective
In my view, there is a common myth that training at threshold power is the optimum way to train. In fact, there is nothing magical about training exactly at threshold power. This is because training a little above or below threshold power boosts performance in almost the same way.
I think athletes should train close to their VO2 max because it helps them improve BOTH their VO2 max and threshold power. A combination of VO2 max and threshold power training can benefit ALL riders and, done correctly, they will achieve fantastic results using either threshold or VO2 intervals – or possibly a perfect combination of both.
When performed at the right intensity, VO2 intervals can have a positive impact on your performance and they are also are extremely time effective. I believe that riders of all levels should include them in their sessions and that they should definitely become an integral part of training programs for elite and professional cyclists.