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V̇O₂ Max — gains come from consistent training and quality workouts

Updated: May 25, 2022


What is O₂ Max?

V̇O₂ max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercise of increasing intensity. The name is derived from three abbreviations: "V̇" for volume, "O₂" for oxygen, and "max" for maximum.


The oxygen breaks down nutrients, including carbohydrates and utilises them for energy. The higher your VO2 Max, the faster you are on a bike.


In wattage terms, V̇O₂ Max is the maximum power output an athlete can sustain for about five minutes. Depending on the athlete, this usually works out to 110-120 percent of their anaerobic threshold (AT) which is the athlete’s theoretical maximum one-hour power.


Increasing your O₂ Max power

V̇O₂ Max workouts typically fall into two categories: long (LI) and short-duration (SI) intervals. SI’s are comprised of short work intervals lasting less than a minute, while LI are longer — two to six-minute — work intervals. For example a classic LI session is 4 x 5 min at 110-120 percent FTP with 2.5 minutes recovery at 45-55 percent FTP. Whilst being effective, LI workouts are very extremely demanding, both physically and mentally. However, recent research suggests that very short work intervals may be even more effective at improving your V̇O₂ Max power than longer intervals.


A popular SI session: 3 x 13 x 30s:15s. Translated: three sets of 13 repeats of 30-second intervals at 110-120 percent FTP, followed by 15 seconds at 45-55 percent FTP, with three minutes rest in between sets.


Popularised by a study of 18 elite cyclists by Bent Rønnestad and his colleagues at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, this SI workout was shown to significantly improve peak aerobic power output, fractional utilisation of V̇O₂ Max at 4 mmol (LT-2) (blood lactate levels), and a relative increase in power output when compared to LI. In addition the SI group saw greater improvements in cycling economy and physiological efficiency than the LI group.


In summary, do the SI workout. And when you’re bored of that, try the LI workout.

The key to the Rønnestad SI workout is that it allows the athlete to accumulate more time at 90-100 percent V̇O₂ Max power (~115 percent FTP) compared to more traditional LI workouts.


It is important to note that SI intervals are best done when using a heart-rate (HR) monitor to put a cap on the physiological workload. During each of the three sets (which last 9.5 minutes), the athlete’s HR should plateau at ~90 percent HRmax. If the athlete’s HR exceeds 93-95 percent HR Max, they’ve gone too deep and won’t be able to complete another set of quality intervals.


Summary

Focus on quality over quantity. Consistent training and quality workouts are key to improved fitness and a greater V̇O₂ Max. Overtraining one day and you’ll carry fatigue into the next session. Have a manageable training plan and complete your workouts, you’ll avoid burnout and see bigger fitness gains than ever before.


Sources Rønnestad BR, Hansen J, Nygaard H, Lundby C. Superior performance improvements in elite cyclists following short-interval vs effort-matched long-interval training. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2020;30(5):849‐857. doi:10.1111/sms.13627


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