Best method/plan to increase VO2max

For purely health benefits. I am looking for help to achieve my goal of getting my VO2max up to or greater than 52.5 mL/(kgmin). Currently I am around 40 mL/(kgmin) according to my Garmin watch estimate, this is at a weight of ~230 lbs.

I have been consistently cycling for about 1 year with a 3month break July-Sep 2023, where I focused on running. I do 95% of my riding indoors on a trainer, however hope to get outside more this summer for just unstructured fun rides.

I can dedicated ~1 hr/day to cycling, 2 weekday per week and ~1.5hrs/day on weekends. So ~5hr/week max. I also spend 3-4 days/week strength training.

Currently I am doing a steady 45min z2 workout 4x per week with 30min -45min TrainerRoad VO2max workouts directly after two of the z2 sessions. I am also working on losing weight through dietary changes.

It is just a matter of continuing my z2 and VO2max workouts and letting time + consistency do it’s thing? Or would I be better served doing something different? It just seems like my progression has been very slow.

Assuming no change in your fitness, dropping weight from 230 to 200 lbs will take your relative vo2max from 40 to 46. Drop another 20lbs down to 180, you bump it to 51.

I’ve slowly pushed my absolute vo2max (independent of weight) over 3 years doing mostly endurance and some intervals. Peaked at an average of just under 7 hours/week in 2022. Slowly pushed up hours year over year. Versus more aggressive training it was stress/strain on the bike. Saw a drop in resting heart rate and improvement in HRV metrics.

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Probably, yes. Doing the same thing is a recipe for plateauing sooner or later. I would simply use Plan Builder to put you through a Base, Build, Specialty plan. Maybe pick something like Short Track Cross Country as your goal event as it’s pretty VO2 max heavy. You’ll benefit from doing a wider variety of training including things like Sweetspot and Threshold which will give you more bang for your buck than just endurance rides on a fairly low volume of 5 hours/week.

My experience is that using VO2 training to increase VO2 is effective for a couple of blocks but the gains tend to plateau after that and you need to go focus on other parts of the power curve and then come back to make the next breakthrough. And as @WindWarrior correctly says, losing weight will certainly help enormously with your relative VO2.


As others have said, follow a plan to build your fitness more generally and help stave off boredom/plateaus …

… but …

… if you’re over 40 you may want to sprinkle in some VO2 Max work once a fortnight to fight against the natural decline. Not much, necessarily. Just enough let your body know you still need it to work.

curious why you picked 52.5?

Like I said earlier, assuming no change in cardio and metabolic fitness, you hit that number instantly (magic weight loss) by dropping weight from 230lbs to 175lbs (formula = 230 * (40/52.5)).

So if health benefits in your mind is dropping excess weight, and 175lbs is a healthy weight, your goal could be reframed as “drop 55 pounds” no matter how you get there.

Losing weight should be a slow process. And depending on how you do it, increasing cardio and metabolic fitness can also be a slow process.

While losing weight, increases in cardio fitness are easy to follow via estimates of Absolute vo2max - in ml (or liters) per minute. For example your Garmin estimate in Absolute VO2max is 4181 ml/min (40 * 230/2.2). I put a little more faith in WKO5 and estimates of vo2max, when determined by a long enough hard effort (say 20+ minutes) along with some shorter efforts.

Increases in metabolic fitness are easy to follow via estimates of FTP, and again I put more faith into long efforts versus a ramp test or AI FTP.

Hope that helps.


Good question. I figure it would be better to have a goal then to just say “increase VO2max” so that it gives me something to shoot for. Specifically >52.5 is listed by Garmin/FirstBeat as their “Superior” category for men age 40-49. Also other data on the association of cardiorespiratory fitness with long-term mortality reference a similar number. So I kind of just went with it.

I completely agree. Hence my goal of increasing VO2max and decreasing weight so the relative VO2max number increases. I have already lost ~50 lbs and plan on losing more, just not sure how much. I would like to get some type of bodyfat analysis done (DEXA, BodyPod, Calipers, etc) to see where I am at and help me try to determine a healthy goal weight where I retain as much muscle mass as possible. has my VO2max at 39.5 and eFTP at 230 which in my limited experience seems reasonably accurate.

Do you think just stick with 4x/week z2/endurance rides of 45-60min + 1-2 vo2max workouts per week is best. Or as others have suggested try adding some variety and doing a TR base-build-specialty plan?

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Long-term reduction in mortality? Don’t forget that grip strength!

Personally I don’t look at relative vo2max, I look for increases in absolute vo2max. Keep in mind that improving metabolic (leg muscle) fitness can drive increases in vo2max, and that is largely driven by volume. If volume is fixed, you can drive increases in metabolic fitness thru intensity but generally speaking high-intensity takes a toll especially if you have a stressful job and/or family life.

For starters all I can tell you is about myself. 7 years ago, on 6.5 hours/week for 8 months I was able to push up Absolute vo2max (NOT normalized by weight) and FTP to highest level in my mid-50s by training harder than TR plans (self-coached). And a year ago hit roughly the same absolute vo2max and FTP with a coach by training easier than TR plans and averaging 7.5 hours/week.

For various reasons, on TR plans I did not find success however a big reason is that at the time I bought into TR messaging of “inside on trainer is up to 50% more than outside.” However it’s flat here, and we don’t coast much outside, and we are fighting the wind for 40-60 minutes in group rides (or solo). So dropping average hours to 4.8/week was negative, and it impacted my ability to do high-intensity work. Double whammy. That said, vs TR my ftp was roughly the same as 2015 when I was averaging 3 hours a week with 2 days HIIT spin class + an outside ride on the weekend. So intensity kinda works for me, but just bumping hours up to 6+ / week and doing some all-out intensity (30-90 seconds, 4-6 minutes, 30-60 minutes) with loose structure worked far far far better. For me.

If you have some basic tools and a knack for analyzing things, you can do your own experimenting.

Ultimately I believe it’s more important to consistently train, whatever that takes. For myself that takes going outside and getting away from screens. Two years with a lot of time on the trainer made me start to hate the sight of my bike. Thats me.

I highly recommend getting a DEXA scan done. I’ve had several over the years and they are really eye opening. If you have a DEXAFit near you, they also do VO2Max testing and have a pretty slick app that lets you look at your results over time.

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Mortality science is really, really, really sketchy when you try to apply it to an individual lifestyle prescription (i.e. do this not that, eat this not that). It’s the ultimate “let’s boil down an impossibly complex phenomena into a single number.” Attempt at your own risk.


There’s pretty much no downside to having a high vo2max other than the time and effort spent getting it but I am also heavily into longevity and I know many people in the longevity scene also train grip strength as @WindWarrior joked but of course grip strength is probably just a surrogate marker for general strength and fitness and there is no point in training grip strength for longevity


Training grip strength is a great example of the hilarity ensuing when longevity is the goal. Having a high VO2 max is associated with longevity, so train VO2 max up right? Seems to makes sense, but “studies” looking at this stuff are incredibly broad with almost zero individual specificity. I looked at this stuff when a friend got into it, but realized quickly that the “data” is nowhere near strong enough to guide individuals in their daily choices. Other than:

  1. Cardiovascular exertion is good. Not too much, not too little
  2. Body weight is important. Not too much, not too little
  3. Strength is important. No too much, not too little
  4. Sleep is important. Not too much, not too little
  5. Stress is important. Not too much, not too little

Anything more specific than this becomes immediately problematic. Most of it is salesmanship and industry. Petter Attia is practically a sociopath with very little insight into his own motivations IMHO.


“You have high blood pressure and that’s not healthy. Here, take this blood pressure medicine. Now you have low blood pressure, problem solved.”


“Your blood sugars are too high. Here take this, now your blood sugars are lower. Problem solved.” :sweat_smile:

Modern medicine is literally miraculous at times and a wonder to behold. But it helps people stay un-sick and does very little for the semi-healthy looking to be healthy. I also don’t see this as a problem personally. Trying to maximize anything related to health is a problem in and of itself.

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Not to mention, if health is the main goal, dropping weight is going to be a big health gain as well.