Asthma, climbing, and building VO2/Tolerance

Hi there,
I was diagnosed with asthma as a child and “grew out of it” as a teen. I also didn’t do a huge amount of exercise after being 13-15 and playing rugby.
So (now 23) I have been riding on and off for a few of years and this year have been taking it a lot more seriously, hoping to enter into my first few crits and get some experience. My training hasn’t been as consistent as I want and life has been hectic. During my last FTP test I have reached 277W @ 69Kg which im pretty happy about and am definitely seeing progress, and my anaerobic power is okay too.

All this is to say I SUCK at climbing. I seem to have watts to spare when rolling along at tempo or even when attacking or closing a gap, but I feel there’s a huge chasm in-between slightly over threshold ___________ and an anaerobic burn. I also have to force myself to hyperventilate in order to reach my max HR e.g:
when doing my most recent FTP test I had to force my body to breathe very quickly to allow my HR to keep climbing over about 185 (max is around 193) and to cling on for the last few seconds. I still backed off before my legs went and for the next ten minutes I was dazed and my head was spinning.

Im wondering if my asthma has led me to have a naturally low VO2 max. I feel that as long as im operating comfortably below AC or above MAP my muscles are able to take the brunt of the effort, but as soon as im relying on my cardio vascular system in a 2-10 minute effort my breathing becomes barely controllable and I either back off to just above TH, or I pop, usually long before the legs are done.

I just wanted to know if anyone knows why this phenomenon might be happening, could it be down to a lack of mental fortitude?
Also, what kind of approach you take to training up your VO2 in regard to this, if any particular workouts or focuses helped you overcome it.


Hi, I have a similar path as yourself, childhood asthma whilst subsequently growing out of the condition, I infrequently used ventolin as an adult but fortunately not for the last 15 years or so.

My initial thoughts are “feelings” are subjective which means a more objectively measured approach is required. Have you a local hill you can benchmark your power on? If you have no power meter you can see which of your fellow riders have used a power meter for reference.

Lastly, employ the tactics taught on here, drop your shoulders, relax your grip on the bars( I consciously wiggle my fingers) and take deep breaths, hold for a couple of seconds, expel and repeat. Forcing yourself to breathe quickly is counter productive with your aim here.

You’ve also identified an area of improvement, as cyclists we always seem to have a cardio or muscular imbalance where one system is weaker than the other.

As for moving forward the rolling race module targets your Vo2max.

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I developed mild asthma in my 20s and it has remained with me ever since. Despite this it has been well controlled throughout my racing “career” for the past 20 years. However, 18 months ago I had an unusual asthma attack, not Covid AFAIK, bad enough to need cortico steroids tablets for a short time.

After that my lungs seemed to return to normal and my FTP was quickly back to it’s normal level (295w @ 72kg), but my VO2 max was seriously reduced despite battering myself all summer with XC races and VO2 intervals (courtesy of TrainerRoad). Every hard effort & XC race was the same, start well then seriously blow up after 5 minutes, only to recover and feel fine at FTP. Similarly, long road steep climbs killed me once I exceed FTP threshold.

I came to a similar conclusion, namely that somehow the asthma was limiting my ability to shift O2 making my VO2MAX barely higher than my FTP.

The only encouragement I can offer is that finally, after this summer’s few XC races & 2 months of punishing TR VO2 intervals I’m seeing some improvement and I’m starting stretch my VO2 to a sensible level Vs. FTP.

The TR plan I have been following was the Speciality Phase->Off Road->Short Course Cross Country. Maybe not ideal for this time of year, but could be worth trying something simliar for a month and see if it helps.

Good luck

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I’ve got allergy induced asthma also since I was a kid. Its also intermittantly exercise induced. Are you pre-emptively using an inhaler at all? I generally will always have mine with me, and use it before hard rides and races, even if it isn’t necessary. Won’t hurt and will help you get to the bottom of it

Ramp test can leave me feeling like that, sometimes even longer (2-3 hours). Partly for that reason I stopped doing ramp tests. The ramp test is a actually a replacement for doing 5-6 minute all-out vo2max effort, in order to determine maximum aerobic power (MAP). Sometimes the ramp test gives a good FTP estimate, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Regarding getting better at vo2 efforts, what I found is that doing more zone2 riding has, counterintuitively, made doing hard vo2max efforts much easier and at higher power. And doing more riding outside has reduced my allergy and occasional asthma symptoms, my analogy is that its like getting allergy shots. My nose still runs but breathing feels great when I’m spending 6-8 hours/week outside training.