Is it really a VO2max workout if you don't get anywhere near HRmax?

This is where you have to recognise that VO2 max is sport (and in the case of cycling can be machine) specific. It will depend upon the amount of working muscle recruited.

There is no single VO2 max for an individual across multiple sports.

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Usually it’s my pleasure. I had a rough day earlier this week, apparently!

If I’m doing the VO2max stuff, I usually do block periodization with it. One concentrated dose. With MAP, I usually do it as part of a mixed block of periodization. I’ve seen my older masters guys make gains with that style of block much moreso than the single block of VO2 work for reasons I have ideas about, but don’t have the physiological background to say for sure.

So I’ll do MAP work with maybe a sweet spot or threshold workout later in the week. This is how TR structures some of their blocks too. I’ve never given someone a block of just “Go smash 5 minute intervals at max power.”

As you can see, I’m just one dude who makes that distinction. I’m sure many other do not, and obviously there are some who disagree with me in this thread. I’m OK with that.

I simply blew them off because I’m not here to defend and explain my training methodology to every single person under the sun. I’ve explained it. Some disagree with it. That’s fine. I’m not going to spend my time trying to change their minds about it. I’ve spent too much time already in some discussions here with people who want to ask every, “But XXX says this”, and I can find someone who disagrees or agrees with every point someone wants to make. I’ve not seen anything presented in this thread that is something I don’t prescribe at certain times nor anything that I just summarily disagree with.

I have zero interest in debating 3K vs 5K vs VO2max stuff any further. I’ve already explained that above: VO2max training is physiological, and that prescription is different than training for your fastest 3K, 5K, 100K whatever, in my opinion.

The only thing I’ve taken exception to is someone seemingly putting words in my mouth, which we cleared up.

I’m really not sure what Seiler and Olbrecht’s thoughts have to do with anything I’ve written here. It seems like maybe you think what I prescribe for VO2max work is higher power than typical MAP/VO2 work would be, and the opposite is true. Most VO2max intervals end up averaging between 105-120% of FTP, but that power level is not the prescription… it’s just where they end up working because it’s what they can repeatedly sustain while meeting the intent of the interval set. I do not prescribe these intervals as “5x4 min at 115% of FTP.” There is no strict power prescription.


Thanks for your thoughts on this topic, can you help me understand the quote above? I believe I understand your point that you train VO2max most efficiently by focusing on cadence and not power. But I can’t understand how running at max aerobic power wouldn’t put you at VO2max (outputting max aerobic power would require max O2 uptake over intervals of this duration, right?).

Are you saying that exercising at MAP doesn’t improve VO2max, or that its just not efficient way due to a high recovery cost?

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To your first question, it could, but not necessarily and that isn’t the goal.

To the second, it probably does, but that’s not strictly the focus. And yes, the VO2max intervals I use are repeatable in very high doses. It isn’t pleasant, but part of the design is concentrated stimulus being possible because it does help to preserve your legs for additional sets. If you were focusing on MAP, odds are good you wouldn’t/couldn’t repeat that as frequently because the load on your legs is quite a bit higher.

A lot of the MAP type work I use is 30/15s, 40/20s, etc., where you’re working at a higher power than you could sustain for 6-8 min. The focus is on maximizing power output. Yes, necessarily you will be close to or approaching VO2max when you do that, but you’re not training in such a way where focusing on things like venous return and stroke volume take priority over power output.

But if a 5 min effort is race specific for someone, yeah I do prescribe 5 min repeats at max power. I just don’t do that for everyone.

Hope that makes sense.


Semantics are important since most of us generally seem to agree on the basics. I still say that when i think of a fish out of water, that person has lost control and about to have a horrible day. I don’t really understand how the physiological response to different efforts at various lengths can be different than being in the “vo2max state” you are, or you aren’t.

I brought up those other coaching advice since you had a few instances that seemed to indicate some overreaching(slow hr response late in block) Overreaching doesn’t necessarily have to come from a higher power or target pace than necessary, but that the dose could still be too high.

There is no question we walk right up to the edge in these blocks, but always in communication with the athlete and keeping a close eye on things. Is there overreaching? Yep. Is it non-functional? No.

I have several different block designs for VO2max I use based on fitness, experience, age, ability, etc. I’m not just cut and pasting workout blocks between athletes here, and there is always flexibility baked in. I communicate daily with my athletes, and adjust the blocks on the fly, often only programming a few days in advance as we monitor things.


VO2 Max is sport-specific for the reasons you mention.
However, I am trying clumsily to discuss whether you can use cross-training to achieve the specific central adaptations. By achieving very high breathing, HR and venous return. As many have mentioned above, this is not the only adaptation that improves VO2 Max. But it’s perhaps the final marginal gain once the others are achieved. So I was speculating that utilising additional muscles to achieve higher demand for oxygen would enable you to train at a high level of O2 for longer. Before the muscles fatigue. Therefore super-charging this particular adaptation. Others adaptations are better achieved sport-specific, I understand.

There are a handful of vo2 pods from empirical cycling. Do you have any recommended favorites? They’re all pretty dense for me so I definitely need to be in the mood haha.

All of them lol?! I’m ok with the slow vo2max gains from my endurance first work. Someday I’ll listen again, probably will understand it better the second time around.

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I seem to recall that the VO2max series culminates with the Ronnestad podcast. If you listen to #s 23 and 24 you’ll probably get the gist of his vo2max prescription. And that is basically hard start, high rpm intervals.

I was googling around and came across some old Dean Golich periodization schedules for USA cycling and the VO2 prescription is very similar. Friel gives Golich credit in this article:

It’s basically 110-130rpm. It seems like Kolie added the hard start which will get your heart up to speed faster.

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Coach Steve Neal has mentioned in podcasts doing this with athletes. They jump off their trainer and on to the Assault bike for an interval and then back to trainer. Rinse/repeat.

As you said, this would probably be a marginal gain and we’ll never see a study on it.

As @WindWarrior says, 23 & 24 for key practical takeaways.
22 for the central heart adaptations
21 shows why not lungs
20 shows why not peripheral
19 is VO2 slow component (found this really interesting).
18 is VO2 Max vs MAP (very relevant to this discussion)

I would recommend listening/skimming through all of them (shame there isn’t a transcript), and if you want to understand the gist of the reasoning behind the arguments put down above, 18 & 22 explain the physiology.


Thanks for the breakdown of the episodes! I’ll have some listening for my endurance rides this week

Thanks, this seems pretty much in line with training that I’ve been doing this winter. Previously I’ve always gone with the basic recipe of 1 MAP + 1 threshold session per week but I always found myself in a hole after couple of weeks. Too much muscle damage I suppose.

This year I’ve really been focusing on getting as much aerobic stimulus as possible with least amount of work: sweetspot instead of threshold, lower z2 power allround and high cadence-hard start VO2 workouts instead of really hard MAP workouts. The results have been great. Less overall fatigue with better compliance.

And a quick word about those high cadence VO2 workouts: they really do seem to work. Legs don’t feel completely trashed after a workout but I’m still getting large portion of my workout done at or over 90% HRmax. Yesterday’s workout was total of 20 minutes @VO2max of which my hr was above 90% for over 16 minutes. And this was even though I had a fair bit of fatigue under my belt. Of course, race specifity is important but that’s not my biggest priority in March.


Dosed properly, they work for a lot of people. I have had one athlete I’ve run through a block of these (or consulted with about them) who I would say didn’t respond as well the others, or at least not as quickly. As you might guess, he’s an older Masters athlete (60+) but he has national-level goals and can handle quite a bit of volume. He didn’t respond immediately like I have seen in my other clients in their 20s-40s, but he has made a 15W-20W gain in the FTP work subsequent to his block. Not sure I can credit that strictly to the VO2 block itself, probably the combination of the aerobic work.

He’s the only one I can’t point to and go “immediate XX% gain in FTP”. But he won the omnium at his early season 3-day “A” event, won a stage, and said he felt stronger every day so there’s that. :slight_smile:

There are a lot of caveats here guys. The timing needs to be right. The foundation needs to be in place. How big is the dose each day? Each week? For the entire block? How do you structure it? All of these are very individual in terms of answers. But the workout style absolutely works.

As I mentioned elsewhere, these aren’t workouts I personally made up, nor even Kolie who is known for using them and discussing them on his podcast. They’ve been around a while in the elite USA cycling program under Dean Golich, but how the blocks are structured will vary coach-to-coach and athlete-to-athlete for sure. At this point guys, no coach has some secret sauce (IMO). Most of us are putting our spin on some really old-school ideas using new technology to help implement them!


“not as quickly” - sounds familiar LOL.

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Just did my first VO2max workout in this style. 7×3’ with 3-4 minute rest in between. Really tried to keep my cadence above 110 and averaged around 105-110 rpm for the intervals.

I was really struggling to keep the power high though, I know it isn’t the primary concern, but it went from 120% FTP in the first interval to 106% FTP in the last interval. Heart rate was above 90% of maxHR for about 16min out of 21min of intervals.

Also I did this on a kickr bike and had the ‘virtual’ cassette to wide (10-30) so that made holding the right gear/cadence difficult. I will change that to a much narrower cassette for tomorrow.

Tomorrow I have 8×2.5’ planned. Then the rest of the week is one shorter endurance ride, a short recovery ride and two medium endurance rides in the weekend 3-4hrs.

Next week I will continue this block with two back-to-back sessions (5×4’ and 7×3’) and the same filler low endurance rides. Week 3 will be only one 7×3’ session a recovery ride and then some longer volume (4-5hr) low endurance to complete this block.

So in total ‘just’ 5 VO2max sessions, but I didn’t want to overextend myself with my first attempt at a block like this.

Then a recovery week followed by an FTP block.
My main goal is a very long (~8hr) granfondo (Marmotte) at the end of June. So my main physiological goal is to raise as much as possible my LT1/VT1/‘fatmax’/all-day-pace for riding long climbs at 80% or something.


Kurt, do you ever have athletes get totally wrecked by the VO2max intervals? I tried them last year and I was able to muster up 3x4min twice in a week and I needed two days between the sessions. After I was totally wrecked with quasi-flu like symptoms (which KM also mentioned in the podcast). Needless to say, it was quite unpleasant!

Is that kind of response expected? Do the younger guys bounce back faster. (I’m 56.)

I haven’t yet. No one loves these anymore than any other style of VO2max work… they’re definitely not easy or easier than some other way. If Kolie’s had people experience that, you might just ask him. He has definitely coached a LOT more people through various blocks of these.

The one Masters athlete I put through it (besides myself (mid40s) I’ve done four blocks, three of one style and then one crazy stack this year) managed it fine. I used MWF VO2 with endurance TThSa with Sunday rest for all of my blocks prior to this year and his.

A key for me and him was reducing intensity of the endurance riding around it in order to maintain volume without burning out. Like 50-55%.

All that to say it would have to be a special circumstance before I go giving a 56-year old back to back days of this, let alone double days. Like high, high level aspirations. I would have at least a day between sets for masters, be very flexible with timing, and keep a close eye on subjectives as well as HR response to stop the block before they fall apart completely.

As I think I mentioned above, I think mixed block periodization works better for most older Masters. So like 1 VO2 workout early in the week and a threshold ride later in the week as an example. Before I go throwing a block of VO2 at a 50-60yo I would want to be plenty sure they can handle a massive dose of training stress. I coach 4 60+ guys right now, and only one of them I would give this to… even then we might not do it again if he responds well to mixed blocks in his next mesocycle.


Can I ask what is the purpose of doing essential two of the same workout back to back? Is this for a physiological reason or just how it needs to fit in your life schedule?