VO2 Max Is Crucial In Road Cycling

The basic rule of training is to train what you aim for. Interval training with an intensity close to your maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) is the most secure way to improve your VO2 max.

Elite riders must do VO2max intervals

The closer the intensity is to 100% of VO2max, the better training you get. This means you have to train less time to improve your performance.

If all your intervals are done at an intensity around e.g. 80% VO2 max, you still get stimuli to increase your VO2max but it takes a lot more work (time) to make significant improvements.

Elite and pro riders need training at (or very close to) VO2max to keep further progress. Thus, VO2 intervals are always included in the training programs I design for top athletes and I will also strongly recommend them to any ambitious athlete who wants to continue their progress.

How to train for a better VO2 max

Unfortunately training at this intensity is very, very tough, so we split it up in shorter intervals. I have already shown you some examples of how to do VO2 max intervals, but there are also other ways to train this physical skill.

Participating in road races or criteriums is not as specific as interval training, but still it gives you a great training. Often it is more motivating to ride a criterium instead of doing strictly paced intervals using a power meter as your training partner.

Do I really need to improve my VO2max?

Yes, you can’t increase your VO2 max enough. Having a large aerobic engine is crucial in road cycling. In road cycling you spend most of the time on a lower percentage of your VO2 max, but in the decisive moments it is guaranteed that you perform close to your VO2max.

It is also important to remember that your performance at lower intensities always is close related to what your maximum is. Thus, when you get a larger VO2 max, you will feel more comfortable at lower intensities and it’s easier for you to accelerate at the final moments of the race.

I like to use the term aerobic engine, because you can think of VO2 max as the size of a car’s engine. If the engine gets bigger, it’s clear you can drive faster, but it the car also feels better and more comfortable at lower speeds.

Question to the readers:

Are VO2 Max intervals a part of your current training program?

11 comments… add one
  • Yury Kovshov Link

    Yes. Now I do 2 interval training per week.
    I’ve started in March. And we have a first race at the end of April.

    By the way. I have a question about vo2max.
    How to measure it for cyclist? =)

  • You can do a 5min allout test and notice how many watts you can perform. Repeat the test 8weeks later to keep track of improvements.

  • Yury Kovshov Link

    But how to measure it only with polar? Is it possible?
    I have no powermeter.

  • If you don’t have power sensor it is not possible to do the test as I recommend it. The second best option could be a hill climb test where you see how far you can ride in 5minutes.

  • Lee Taylor Link

    So how many of these sessions are done a week? i imagine they can be very taxing! and is it best done in late build/peak periods?

  • Thanks for the article Jesper! Very insightful.
    A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a Vo2 max and Lactate Threshold test by a small group of undergraduate student researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU). It sounded like a great opportunity for me further my investigation, and because it was free, I couldn’t say no… Here’s what I learned..


    Richard La China


  • Doc Link

    I’m so confused. I thought V02 Max was not trainable. You’re born with what you’re born with. My understanding is that you lactate threshold (the percentage of your V02 Max you can sustain) is very trainable.

  • Your maximum heart rate can’t be trained. Your VO2 max can easily be trained. Untrained people will discover 30% VO2 max increments within the first couple of months.

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