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Which VO2 INTERVALS work for you

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Key Points:

  • Maximising VO2max: Training to improve VO2max focuses on optimizing oxygen utilisation in muscles for energy generation.

  • Respiratory Efficiency: An efficient respiratory system is crucial for getting oxygen from the air to muscle cells.

  • Cardiovascular Efficiency: The cardiovascular system efficiently transports oxygen to working muscles, with the heart's role being vital.

  • Muscle Oxygen Utilisation: Oxygen must diffuse into muscle cells and enter mitochondria for energy production.

  • Comprehensive Approach: Enhancing VO2max requires a comprehensive approach, including aerobic exercises and engaging large muscle groups.

  • Diet and Hydration: A balanced diet and hydration support oxygen-carrying capacity and overall cardiovascular health.

  • Consistent Training: Consistent training with gradual intensity increments leads to noticeable VO2max improvements.

  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT alternates high-intensity exercises and recovery, improving endurance effectively.

  • Differentiating HIIT: Understand the difference between HIIT, SIT, and intermittent training.

  • Interval Length: Consider whether longer or shorter intervals align better with your goals and metabolic profile.

  • Physiological Demands: Understand your goal's physiological demands and your current metabolic profile.

  • Tailored Training: Tailor your training program based on your goal and metabolic profile.

  • Performance Tests: Regular performance tests, like INSCYD, help track progress and optimise HIIT workouts.

  • Iconic HIIT Workouts: Explore five iconic HIIT workouts, each with unique benefits for VO2max improvement.

man riding an indoor bike

Training to Improve VO2max, involves maximising the utilisation of oxygen in the muscles to generate energy, requires addressing several key factors. Let's break down the fundamentals. Firstly, an efficient respiratory system is essential for getting oxygen from the air to the muscle cells. The lungs play a crucial role in extracting oxygen from the air and delivering it to the bloodstream. In healthy individuals, the lungs typically do not pose a limiting factor.

Once oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream, the cardiovascular system comes into play. Its task is to efficiently transport oxygen to the working muscles. This is achieved through the action of red blood cells carrying oxygen with the help of hemoglobin. The heart plays a vital role in this process, strong stroke volume and maximum heart rate to ensure effective oxygen delivery.


Finally, upon reaching the muscle, oxygen must diffuse into the muscle cells and enter the mitochondria, where it will be used to produce energy through aerobic metabolism.

To enhance VO2max, a comprehensive approach is required. Aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, or swimming can strengthen the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, improving their efficiency in transporting and absorbing oxygen. Additionally, activities that engage large muscle groups and promote endurance, like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), can further enhance VO2max by encouraging the muscles to adapt to higher oxygen demands.

Furthermore, a well-balanced diet with adequate nutrition and hydration supports the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and overall cardiovascular health. Consistent training, along with gradual and progressive intensity increments, can lead to noticeable improvements in VO2max over time. By addressing each aspect of the oxygen delivery process, individuals can optimise their VO2max and enhance their overall athletic performance and endurance.

Racing bikes round a track

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a versatile training method that alternates between high-intensity exercises and recovery periods. By incorporating brief breaks between intense efforts, HIIT allows individuals to spend more time at elevated intensities, making it an effective strategy for improving endurance.

If you follow a polorised training model, HIIT serves as a counterpart to continuous endurance training, and it typically lasts less than an hour, often even shorter. The definition of high-intensity in HIIT is not rigidly defined and can encompass all intensities above max lactate steady-state, which are not sustainable for extended periods.

While some differentiate between HIIT and SIT (sprint intensity training) based on near maximal or submaximal efforts versus maximal or all-out intervals, for this post, we won't distinguish between the two.

It's worth noting the subtle difference between high-intensity interval training and high-intensity intermittent training (both HIIT):

- Interval training uses lower intensities during recovery periods between high-intensity efforts.

- Intermittent training involves complete stops (full rest) during recovery from high-intensity efforts.

how to increase VO2max

Let's consider whether longer or shorter intervals are better for HIIT, a recent study suggests that shorter intervals are more effective, at least for elite cyclists. However, as a coach or athlete, it's crucial you determine what strategy would work best for you and understand the physical demands of your goal against your current INSCYD metabolic profile.

To decide whether longer or shorter intervals will work best for you, consider the following steps:

1. Understand the physiological demands of your goal.

2. Get to know your current metabolic profile.

3. Compare your goal with your current profile to identify areas for improvement.

4. Decide whether longer or shorter intervals align better with your goals.

5. Implement the chosen intervals in your training program.

6. Track your progress through regular performance tests.

lactate testing an athlete

For performance tests, you can opt for lab tests or field tests with lactate samples, remote tests based on power (cycling) or GPS (running) data only, or even create your own tests. INSCYD is a platform that offers a comprehensive suite of tools to design effective and individualised HIIT workouts tailored to an athlete's unique metabolic profile and goals.

Now, let's explore five iconic HIIT workouts, starting with short intervals and gradually progressing towards longer intervals:

1. Tabata Intervals: Created by Dr. Izumi Tabata, this HIIT workout lasts less than 4 minutes and involves 7-8 near all-out intervals of 20 seconds, with 10 seconds of rest between each interval. Tabata intervals are highly effective for boosting VO2max and anaerobic power.

2. 40-20's: Named after their work-to-rest ratio of 40 seconds ON and 20 seconds OFF, these short HIIT intervals have been shown to induce superior training adaptations in elite cyclists compared to longer intervals.

3. VO2max Intervals: Focused on increasing aerobic power, VO2max intervals typically last around 5 minutes and are essential for improving overall endurance.

4. Over-Under Intervals: An alternative to steady (threshold) intervals, over-under intervals alternate between efforts above and below anaerobic threshold without complete recovery. This method helps with lactate tolerance and clearance.

5. Peak and Fade (Pre-Loaded) Intervals: Elite cyclists consider these HIIT intervals their secret training. They start at high intensity and gradually become more manageable, varying in duration for different training adaptations.

By understanding an athlete's unique physiological profile, coaches can tailor effective training programs that maximise the benefits of HIIT workouts. Utilising platforms like INSCYD for comprehensive performance analysis can be a game-changer in achieving optimal results.

Effectiveness of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT)and Continuous Endurance Training for VO2max Improvements: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials

Zoran Milanovic, Goran Sporis, Matthew Weston [LINK}

Interval training increases VO2max more effectively than endurance training. Helgerud, J., Høydal, K., Wang, E., Karlsen, T., Berg, P., Bjerkaas, M., Simonsen, T., Helgesen, C., Hjorth, N., Bach, R., & Hoff, J. (2007). Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(4), 665–671. [LINK]

Elite athletes improve VO2max with short intervals Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Nygaard, H., & Lundby, C. (2020). Superior performance improvements in elite cyclists following short-interval vs effort-matched long-interval training. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 30(5), 849–857. [LINK]

Beetroot does not increase VO2max Perez, J. M., Dobson, J. L., Ryan, G. A., & Riggs, A. J. (2019). The Effects of Beetroot Juice on VO2max and Blood Pressure during Submaximal Exercise. International journal of exercise science, 12(2), 332–342. [LINK]

Caffeine increases VO2max test results Stadheim, H. K., Stensrud, T., Brage, S., & Jensen, J. (2021). Caffeine Increases Exercise Performance, Maximal Oxygen Uptake, and Oxygen Deficit in Elite Male Endurance Athletes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 53(11), 2264–2273. [LINK]

Detraining alters VO2max faster than retraining Godfrey, R.J. & Ingham, Steve & Pedlar, Charles & Whyte, Greg. (2005). The detraining and retraining of an elite rower: A case study. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia. 8. 314-20. 10.1016/S1440-2440(05)80042-8. [LINK]

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