Recommended structure for VO2max workouts?

I like to use the SAME workout as much as possible, and progress by modifying that workout. That’s why I built the More Sweet Spot! series… same warmup, same cooldown, same-duration rest intervals, same power. All that changes is the duration and number of intervals.

For sweet-spot, I use 90% and three-minute rest intervals. For threshold, I use 97% and five-minute rest intervals. Now I’m finally going to do a VO2max block to “raise the roof”, so is there an easy way to create a “series” of VO2max workouts with progression that will work well?

I see TR’s library mostly has 1-minute intervals @ 115-125% or longer intervals at 106-108%. Is one or the other better, or should we do both kinds?

Any recommendations welcome. Thanks in advance!

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6x3min 7x3min 5x4min 4x5min 6x4min 5x5min are pretty much all the vo2 workouts you need.

Don’t do erg just do max effort with each, I use recent 3 and 5min max power as pacing guidelines for initial efforts but power will fall

Other benefit of not doing erg is you can add more recovery time between intervals. Taking more time to recovery between intervals will help and there’s nothing better about taking short rests.

Hope this helps

I should also note vo2 doesn’t need the same type of progression as sweet spot or threshold. You can do any of these anytime but I do like to start shorter but I think some coaches work in reverse or even use only a few of the workouts above.

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The coach I used to work with suggested working at 110-115%, using a 2:1 work-rest ratio, and starting with 15m in zone and building both intervals and TiZ from there until you hit 30m TiZ, when it’s time to increase the power

So you might start at 5x3 @110-115%, with 90s rests, then progress something like:

5x4 @110-115%, with 2m rest
6x4 @110-115%, with 2m rest
5x5 @110-115%, with 2m 30s rest
7x4 @110-115%, with 2m rest
6x5 @110-115%, with 2m 30s rest

If you were really focusing on VO2, you could do 2 sessions a week, so that’s a 3 week progression there. Then maybe deload, add 10-15w to the target numbers, and repeat.

FWIW I was told that you’d likely maxed out most VO2 gains after 6-8 solid weeks of work and the you needed to focus elsewhere for another block.

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One thing to consider when designing your VO2progression… Recovery. It doesn’t get the hype as much as exotic workouts, but it is just and important and should correlate with intensity and duration.

Some general guidelines (not rules):

  • 1:1 work to recovery is the standard. However, the faster you go, longer the recovery. And the flip side of that is true as well… as intensity is easier in the early season, recovery may be shorter than 1:1.
  • Length & number of repetitions should be something you can complete. Start with shorter reps and add reps and intensity as you build. Don’t add needless rest.

One observation from training with elite runners: in peak form, recovery was brisk and short. For example doing 6 x mile @ goal 10k pace recovery would be a lap jog in about 3 min.

This was around 2000-ish but I saw Kim McDonald’s group working out at Stanford. They did 6 x 800, each rep in around 2 min flat with I kid you not maybe 30-45 seconds rest. They jogged about 25 meters past the finish line, turned out to lane 8, circling back about 25 meters behind the start and rolled into the next rep. It was insane.

But back to the VO2 progression… when I start kids we keep it in the 60-90 second range because that is the distance that is repeatable while maintaining pace. For those more experienced you can start off with 5 min repeats but you better of had a big volume coming in and be realistic with you pace (and that you are going to be hurting). Because of that I like cut down ladders, but that’s me.

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This seems counterintuitive, but 30/30s are very effective, and some research says they are more effective than the “long” vo2 intervals. Worth a listen.

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counterpoint Watts Doc #23: Training Your VO2max, and Why Not Rønnestad 30/15 Intervals - Empirical Cycling

i’ve been asked to reference the following episode as well

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Just my two cents.

Aim for anything between 12 and 20minutes of time in zone. Don’t use ERG mode and go as fast as you can, while still being able to compleet all intervals at the same intensity. Rest in between sets is up to you, doesn’t matter that much.

As to 30/30 or 30/15s vs 4/5mins. For me i feel they serve a different purpose. The longer efforts seem to really get me to that hard breathing, high heartrate that your after. I typically end up doing them around 120% of FTP. Ronnestad intervals seems to work for me more in pure power numbers. But i also do them at a way higher intensity. Usually around 135 to 150 of FTP.

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so regarding “short-shorts” vs longer vo2, this is my perspective. In 2021 I did adaptive training exclusively and did a lot of on-offs and shorter vo2 efforts, for example:

For me, this type of stuff seemed to do little for me as far as improving my power curve or increasing ftp. I remained stagnant. After a bit of a transition year in 2022, I switched to just doing my own thing in 2023, and I did focus on longer vo2 intervals rather than on-offs. My ftp over the past year has gone up 15w and I have a lot of improvements in my power curve this year vs 2021

image

the on-offs have a place, for sure, with race prep type workouts, but if you’re doing a vo2 block to promote threshold gains, i’m under the belief that efforts in the 3-5min range are going to be more helpful to achieve that aim

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I much prefer the longer intervals to the short/shorts for several reasons. So my first draft, from looking at a bunch of TR workouts and what’s been said here and on other threads, looks like this:

3 sets of intervals @ 115%, 8 x 90sec intervals total (12min TiZ). 2min rest between intervals within a set, 5 min rest between sets. And based on this template, I can then modify the number and duration of intervals easily to increase the challenge and TiZ. TrainerRoad scores this as a 3.6 PL… seems like a reasonable place to start?

Anything you’d suggest I change here?

90sec too short to be a good vo2 interval, min needs to be 2min

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Sure, and I prefer longer intervals as well… but this is the template for the FIRST workout in the block. It’s supposed to be a little less demanding, especially since I’m definitely a less-experienced rider.

I note that a lot of TR’s lower-PL workouts have intervals in the 50-60 second range, and I have done all of zero VO2max work in the last year or so.

I’d rather start a little conservative and then increase the duration of the intervals more quickly, instead of biting off more than I can chew and getting into trouble (as I’ve done several times before).

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i hear that but what I’m trying to get at is you don’t need to start less demanding, if you have a good idea of your 3min power, for example, start off with that for your first interval, try and match it in subsequent intervals and realize power will drop off but as long as you keep your effort up you’ll achieve the intended purpose. a 90sec interval isn’t going to get you to a vo2 state. I kind of blame TR here with creating the idea that every level of workout needs to be “progressed”

just to add on to myself: i did this one recently, I tend to use my previous best power for the duration dictate how I’ll handle the first effort, and in this case I set an all-time best for 3min on my first, but my power also drops by the end, the effort is still high though as far as breathing/HR/RPE, so this is a big reason why I’ve gotten on board with the idea of abandoning percentages to base vo2 efforts on. I also think this leads to less “failure” in that you feel like a workout isnt a success because one isn’t hitting a percentage each time

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Thanks - have that in my podcast feed to listen to.
I guess the short intervals are more focused on raising the ceiling than the longer intervals which are also biased towards threshold/endurance capacity.

I listened to a podcast sometime ago which said that Tabata style workouts increase neuromuscular and aerobic capacity.

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which ceiling are you talking about? again, anecdotally, i know two guys in another online group who share the same coach and both did vo2 blocks similar to what i laid out above. both have improved their ftp by at least 20w following the block.

Prefer or find them more effective?

I do longer intervals because they seem to be much more effective for me, but I also hate then, I “Prefer” short/shorts cause I find them more tolerable but don’t seem to gain much from them.

I wonder if the ones (type) people like the least are more effective for them?

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This is strictly observational, but working with high school athletes I have found 30-30s work really well, especially in the early season. For example, after a few weeks of strictly building up volume (June & July), a week of training might include 30-30’s, tempo, and a longer endurance ride. After 3-4 weeks of progression (adding reps, not intensity) they are ready to get into the “real work” of the season.

I still use them as a seasoned master as well… for everything from rust busters to maintenance. I wouldn’t use them exclusively to increase VO2 max or threshold (as many have said above I think longer reps in the 3-5 min range are best for that) but they do have their place. Every workout doesn’t need to drive you into the ground. Sometimes the purpose is to build you up!

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Can you elaborate on this? 400 repeats are a staple in the running world (around a minute for top runners). I can see this being true with extended recoveries but with 1:1 or less they are quite difficult to repeat (e.g. 10x @ mile pace or 24 @ 10k).

Do you feel they are less effective on a bike for some reason?

the general consensus, as i understand it, is it takes at least 2 minutes for the body to achieve vo2max

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I seem to have a high anaerobic capacity (PB’s of 1130W for 15sec and and 760W for 30sec, for example, which IICU says are 98th-percentile plus), but low training history and low overall FTP (209W). Very short intervals seem pretty easy to me, and they don’t seem to help me grow the aerobic engine.

I don’t think this is the case. If you do repeated super intense efforts then the recovery induces adaptation.

This is referred to in this podcast:

https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkLnBvZGJlYW4uY29tL2hhbW1vbmRjeWNsaW5nL2ZlZWQueG1s/episode/aGFtbW9uZGN5Y2xpbmcucG9kYmVhbi5jb20vZmVjOGY0NWEtZDU2Ny0zZDg2LWI0M2MtZTEwODkzYThlOGYx?ep=14