What does 3x(3+3) minutes VO2 max mean?

I have often been asked: What does 3 x (3+3) minutes VO2 max mean? So I thought it would be a good idea to spend a short post on it. 3x(3+3)min VO2 max means 3 times 3 minutes maximal effort with recovery periods of 3 minutes between each interval. (3min hard work, 3min recovery, 3min hard work, etc.)

VO2 max refers to the intensity you shall try to maintain through the intervals.

It’s clear that you don’t know what your actual VO2 is, but when you have tried these intervals a couple of times, you will learn how to pace yourself.

The critical thing to remember is that you are supposed to ride as fast as possible for 3 minutes (but not faster than you can repeat it a couple of times).

It is not possible to use a heart rate monitor for pacing because of the delay of the heart rate, but it can be a good indicator of your performance afterwards.

A power meter like SRM or PowerTap is handy for such pacing. Yeah, they are expensive but strongly recommended if you are a serious cyclist.

It is an excellent idea to do some light pedalling to remove metabolites in the recovery periods. That will make it easier for you to make the following interval at the right intensity.

14 thoughts on “What does 3x(3+3) minutes VO2 max mean?”

  1. suitcaseofcourage

    Very helpful! Thanks for posting this. I actually knew the answer, but your explanation of VO2 max is the best short description I’ve seen. But what if I did as hard as I could all three times, but the avg. speed and/or cadence went down each time? I don’t have a power meter, but I expect that would mean that I was putting out the same effort, but not the same power. Would that be sufficient? or is it better to go (relatively) easy for the first interval, moderate for the 2nd interval, and hard for the 3rd interval so the avg speed/cadence is the same for each interval?

  2. You shall try to maintain the same power output in all intervals so you train with the same VO2 in all intervals. If you go too hard in the first interval, you will not be able to achieve your VO2 max for a sufficient amount of time in the remaining intervals. Thus, you get less time at your VO2max.

    When you don’t have a power meter, using your bike computer for pacing might be a good idea. Try to keep the same speed at all intervals. If you discover that your speed goes down in the final interval, then you will have to slow down next time you go for an interval session.

  3. Hiya,

    i got a question about that insensity of that training. I was told by a sports medic, that its not healthy to ride and train in these regions, cause the lactat (Vo2 Max means about 10 lactat) is like a poison to the muscle…and it destroys it. I always thought the trick in cycling is to stay as long as possible aerob, well at least be able to burn still fat in high intensity regions to not produce high values of lactat. I thought this is trainable with massive long distance rides…


  4. Steven,

    It is very well documented that training at VO2 max is one of the best ways to stimulate further VO2max. I guess there are very few coaches that believe in pure long slow ditance training now.

    It is clear that in races you will have no interest in hitting VO2max because that will weaken your chances of winning, but in a training situation it is strongly recommended to work with high intensity regularly.

    Long slow distance training has a very low stimulus to the VO2max – especially in very well trained athletes.

  5. Jesper,

    You have an excellent web site, and your training information is totally accurate!

    I have been doing the 3 x 3 VO2 max intervals for approximately 6 weeks. I have achieved the greatest fitness increase I can ever recall. I can leave my riding companions with ease on steep climbs now. Last year I had great difficulty just staying with them.

    They now believe I must be on performance enhancing substances:)

    Thank you for your efforts!

  6. Scott,

    Thanks. These intervals are tough, but makes you (a lot!) better. VO2 max is essential for performance in most cycling events so every serious cyclist ought to do these intervals once in a while.


  7. I understand the principle behind these intervals and i love to do them, but if i do a workout at home on my bike with my powertap, are these intervals the only thing i have to do to make it a good workout? Or do i have to peddle for like an hour and a half on moderate rate too?

  8. @Jelmer – If you only have limited time available then af set of VO2 max intervals are really time effective. You get a great workout and spend a minimum of time. When you analyze your training in the mirror of time effectiveness, high intensity workouts are going to be the core training sessions that should never be reduced in volume. In fact, you might be able to increase your high intensity training because your overall training volume is significantly lower.

  9. Hi Jesper,

    Great site and great stuff, i like it a lot. I do have one question though. I have limited time so i use your two indoor training programs for VO2 max, using a spinning bike. I switch between the program each day (one day the 5x(4min+2min) and next day the 5x5x(40sec+20sec)). During the interval should I just pedal faster with higher load or keep same pedal rate with higher load. my question is where should i put the emphasis: on keeping higher cadence or higher resistance/load? my heart rate goes up in both cases but I”™m not sure which way really pushes the VO2 max up so the interval is effective.


  10. @IIan – Both types of intervals will increase your vo2 max as long as your heart rate reaches sufficient levels. Though, my recommendation is to keep your pedaling frequency in the range of 90 to 110rpm during most intervals.

  11. Excellent website ! Great information here…quick question, How long or how many hours do you recommend resting in between each 3×3 session? Also do you know what the top level Master riders watt measurements are for something like this? I don’t know if that is a relevant question but I thought I’d ask anyways…thanks a lot!

  12. alexander logan

    I’m just doing some research at school on cycling training. After reading your website I felt the need to ask you some questions as you clearly have a great understanding of the sport.
    Interval and continuous training obviously dominate the traning of an athlete but why do these best suit the sport?
    How are the physiological training adaptations measured and monitored?
    Are there any safe or potentially harmful training procedures? apart from the obvious overtraining.
    I sure any feedback you could give me would be helpful. thanks heaps!

  13. Hej jesper
    What is the difference really to ride 3 + 3 or 40 + 20?
    what is the most effective?
    and again what is the difference to ride 40 + 20 30 + 30? Are we so into something tolerance?

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