How many weeks of VO2 max work to attempt to shake up long-term FTP plateau?

Interested in some feedback to something that hits a couple themes that come up a lot on here -

TLDR: How many weeks of higher intensity VO2 max work is needed to test the idea of “pulling a FTP plateau from above” before saying "OK, now time to go consolidate base around that work?"

After suffering some cramp issues in 80+ mile fondo/races last year, took advice to just focus heavily on base structure for a while. Goals are maximizing 60-100 mile power for fondos + dabbling in TT work on road bike w/aerobars - but I still enjoy group rides and occasionally attacking segments, usually stuff > 5 mins - not short hills/sprints. I routinely stall around upper 260s in FTP each spring and no major breakthroughs in less than one hour power - while longer power and my ability to grind out longer repeats has improved meaningfully over past 2-3 years. Have also worked on getting more aero through step-wise fit adjustments while working thru plans, so I’m still getting faster.

Current CTL ~65, usually hit around 80 in summer; this past winter dropped to 50 - less of a dropoff than prior years.

My plan progression has been, since last fall:

  • SSB MV2 (mostly outdoors)

  • SSB MV1 (mix in/out)

  • SSB MV2 (mostly indoors) - all of above nearly 100% success/compliance

  • 5 days in Mallorca - 1300 TSS “vacation”- long rest week pre/post… hit a lot of power PRs

  • Sustained power build MV (mix in/out) - Came up short on some of the 3 min interval workouts at ~120% but otherwise got through. Landed at my usual FTP plateau despite lowering position. Best ever 2-3 hr power outputs in recent weeks, much improved repeatability on efforts.

  • First half of climbing RR MV specialty (only some VO2max work inside) - failed Huxley, but got through the others at target settings. Surprised I could do most of them. Gould was almost easy. What I notice is that more of the VO2max work in this plan is in the 110% range, but often longer and/or more rapid-fire succession than stuff like Shortoff +4 and the other 3 min repeats at 120%. Suggest a fairly specific weakness ceiling.

I tried climbing RR idea following some other discussion here as it steps up VO2max while keeping sustained power in view, with idea that I may need to start pulling from above and focus on weaknesses after a lot of base/sustained focus. I also thought it was fun to try something different. I had never done any VO2 max structured work outside SSB2 - only frequent strava segment attempts back when I commuted ~1 hr regularly (prior to TR outside workouts) + some group rides. Interestingly, my best 20 min power is from when I was mixing in more of those random efforts.

So from here - after mid-plan rest week - continuing this specialty as it starts to taper seems like not the best choice with no event.

Plan builder says if I consider myself fairly experienced in structured training (I’d say I am at this point) - I could cycle back to another build to keep going. I don’t feel at all burned out yet doing MV + some extra outdoor riding. Meanwhile the 2nd most common opinion seems to be go back to SSB2 MV to consolidate and keep a little VO2 edge - but I’ve done that plan so much already. Gets me to the plateau fast but not beyond.

I’ve also thought about making something custom, pulling back in all my “worst hits” VO2 max workouts that I couldn’t complete, fit in 2 of them per week, and see if I can work up to getting through them. This would be the most targeted “focus on weaknesses” approach - with the caveat that as debated endlessly on here, 120% is arbitrary, I have never had a lab test, who knows that that zone really is, etc…

My question is - with my goal being trying to break through some new highs in the, say, 20-60 min range and shake up FTP stagnation, should I keep hammering in a heavier 2x/weekly VO2max workout for another 3-6 weeks? I am skeptical that the handful of VO2 max workouts in climbing RR MV part 1 is enough to lead to major adaptation, and there was even less in the sustained build/base work. I’m debating something like doing half, (or all) of general build MV next - and then after that maybe go back to SSB2?

While I’m sure I’ll do better on next ramp test, I also know that it will have limited correlation to 20-60 min power since I’ve recently done new efforts that will specifically help the ramp test. I doubt I could go hit a new 20 min power PR right now.

I think the core question behind all of this is what is enough VO2 max work to meaningfully test this “pull FTP from above” theory before saying “OK, now time to go consolidate base around that work?” Then after that, I’ll have to assess did it all work with a real 20-60 min effort.

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This article was posted a few weeks ago and address the issue:

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Interesting and not something I’ve explicitly looked at doing yet!

The second study on the block periodization sounds like it’s suggesting something pretty radical - stacking up to 5 VO2max workouts in week 1?!? Then doing three weeks of Z1/Z2 with just a day of VO2max each week - and I guess assumes raising VO2max is the end goal. Can’t say I’ve seen that before, but interesting…

Whereas the article goes on to show another example that is perhaps even more specific to my interests - but it’s not quite as detailed in exactly what was done:

"I started him on two weeks of vo2max work before switching to a high-density threshold training plan. "

So I could guess that could be interpreted as a couple weeks with 2-3 hard VO2max workouts, then they went (directly or with rest?) into the high density threshold blocks?

Aside from feeling that I need a little rest after three fairly hard weeks following that recent VO2max work, this sounds like an interesting disruptive idea to consider. As local weather allows more and more time outside, the timing is good.

In any case, my take away from those studies would be that doing 6 more weeks of a VO2-max heavy build plan is probably overkill for my interests… at most, maybe 1-2 more weeks if I wanted to hit it once more after rest and then on to SS/threshold work with goal of compressing higher loads of it. It avoids the trap of going to SSB2 MV again and not getting enough of an overload to exploit the VO2max work done so far.

Maybe something like -

  • This week (W0) - Z2 easy rides; maybe a ramp test at end of week
  • W1 - do a couple failed VO2 max re-attempts (e.g. Huxley +1, Shortoff +4) as final VO2 max shot, mix with a couple SS rides and some Z2
  • W2-W4 - Use SSB HV2 progression, pulling in 2-3 days straight - then 2-3 days easy/off. I know I would have to do this mostly outside - no way I can do such boring long stuff on trainer. For bad weather, I could use a -x version on trainer in a pinch; if window is tight on great weather, I’d go extra long outside - just focus on getting big volume packed in 3-4 days clusters.
  • W5 rest and re-assess

In such a context it’s always worth to revisit this classic:

grafik

I’d say pushing from below is always more important than pulling from above. Pulling works only for a very short period.

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Isn’t that training more like ‘broken’ threshold work than VO2max intervals? Were the 5 minute efforts even above the cyclists’ 40 km TT speed?

Maybe instead of continuing to try to push things up from below, they simply needed to pull even harder from above?

I completely agree … But after months (years?) of pushing, some pull is a pretty common prescription. The duration (and perhaps density/intensity) of that before returning to the push is sort of the core of my question. It sounds like the VO2 intervention does not need to last more than a couple to few weeks if sufficiently intense.

I also thought it was important to add ample context for the work I have done to this point as I know it would be a different answer if I had just done SSB LV, for example.

Just as an association without data, You could put in 2-3 weeks of dedicated VO2max as detailed in chads progression elsewhere on this forum. This gets you pretty fit in that realm. Then continue again with 1x/week VO2.

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i scanned this so apologies if I missed something, but I wrote this article that may help.

I feel that The WKO guys would say a 4 week block of vo2 would do it for you.

I’d hit 2 really hard vo2 workouts a week and REALLLLLY rest and endurance the remaining hours of your week, only totaling hours that you normally average (and be honest with yourself)

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The answer for me was 6 - after 6 weeks of adding 1xVO2 session last August I was flying in my last few tt in September. But it is a pretty short term boost - you have to go back to all the other training protocols after a while!