Struggling with Vo2max

Hi guys,
Wanted to get some advice on something I seem to be struggling with: Vo2max intervals.
I’ll try to briefly explain the situation:
42 years old, 66kg, been cycling for about a year now. FTP has gone from 180 when I started out to 270 now, verified by a full one hour test, so I’m sure it’s correct. I can do 6x10 min intervals at FTP with 5 min rests in between without issue, and i can do 10x1 min @ 135% with one minute recoveries, which is hard but (just) doable. However, I have a workout consisting of 10 x 3 min @ 110-115%, and I am unable to complete it, even after several attempts. I usually fail in interval 7-9… Now, what do I do:
a) continue building progressively in my other workouts and ignore the fact that I cannot complete this one (replacing it with other Vo2 workouts that are “easier”)
b) As in a, but adjusting the workout downwards to be able to complete it (say, 105-110%, or as is, but at 95% difficulty). I am worried however, that with this approach, I’m taking the easy way out and not adressing my “weakness”.
c) keep doing the damn thing week after week until I CAN complete it. In other words, stubbornly keep plugging away until I nail it.

I’m all ears!

30 minutes at v02max is brutal. Getting to 7 reps is fine.


This is probably one of the hardest type of WO there is…
Ive been a runner/cyclinst for a few years…and those WO still hurt.
I cant say I have complete them all… Hell, i recently failed to complete a over under wo (like last sunday).

What I have found, is that nutrition before the ride helps a lot!
make sure you have food before the ride… sugars! That should help some…
also…ventilation…you are pressing hard…and producing energy… that will make your body create a lot of heat… without proper ventilation…you will suffer!

I suggest that maybe back pedal a bit…and maybe lower the intensity during one of the intervals…

I don’t think there is a definitive answer. All of the options you suggest are viable. Given that you have only been cycling for a year, your VO2Max capability is probably not yet crystalized, so there is a strong possibility these will get easier for you.

First of all congratulations. Very few guys can actually ride their ftp for one hour. I don’t think I can, and I never have! That’s impressive.

We have very similar weight and ftp. However, I find the VO2 max workouts easier (just barely…) than the SS stuff. Just shows how different two cyclists can be.

3 minute intervals are tough. Start out easy and become almost unbearable by the end. BUT, they need to be repeatable because these are the kinds of efforts you need to bridge gaps, attack, and change pace to drop riders off your wheel.

How much rest are you doing, and at what wattage? Outdoors or indoors? Do you stand? And if you stand, do you shift your weight forward so your weight is held by your triceps instead of wasting your precious leg muscles to hold weight instead of make power? Do you use your body weight to help drive the pedals? Do you stand with RPM in the 70 rpm range (that’s what I like…maybe you like to spin even faster standing), dancing on the pedals, or do you grind low cadence, fatiguing your quads? If seated, are you shifting forward on the saddle, and also using the pull of the stroke to make power? Are you having an aggressive attitude on the intervals, then mentally relaxing and letting go of stress during the rest so you will be able to mentally amp it back up during the work?

Another idea:

If you are currently doing 3min at 300-355 watts, try doing 5 min rest at 140-170 watts (instead of 4 min at 0-130 watts). That’s what I do sometimes and the benefit is that extra minute makes a huge difference and I get a bit more TSS. If I’m time crunched, I just do exactly as TR prescribes. They feel hard but doable. I prefer practicing VO2 intervals the way I described because I’m not completely slowing down momentum during the rest, so it is closer to what I’d do in an actual ride (where I’d actually surge only for a minute or so, then drop only to lower threshold to recover and repeat). That will often drop bigger stronger guys on climbs if done enough.

Have fun!

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[quote=“truep, post:5, topic:48957”]
How much rest are you doing, and at what wattage? Outdoors or indoors? Do you stand? [/quote]

3 min, 160W (60% FTP), no standing, cadence 85-95 during intervals, 80-85 during rest.

Usually too busy worrying about the next interval :grin::grin:

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Thanks, makes me feel a little bit better now :grinning:

I struggle with VO2 Max work as well. I did Spencer +2 last night and the prescribed recovery period between 3:00 intervals at 120% FTP was 4:00. Seems to me that your recovery interval wattages are too high, and maybe a minute short. Not sure what workout you were doing, but it would be interesting to know.

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A self-made workout, loosely based on Charybdis+2

Thanks! But you’re not missing out on anything; it’s no fun at all! :fearful::grin:


No wonder you are struggling! 4 min rest is usual and when I have done Spencer the rest is from 0-135 watts (with ftp at 270)

Doing things the hard way man!

I would really try doing some standing. Another weapon in your arsenal, which takes practice to get good at. I try to incorporate standing drills at least twice a week, even during as low as 190 watt endurance intervals where the lower power really lets me work on technique.

Keep up the good work!

Not answering your question here (sorry), but have to ask… are you mentioning this ^ as it was your FTP assessment protocol?

10 x 3 mins does sound pretty tough. If it’s so hard you’re failing, then you’re probably getting some decent VO2 work done. But if maybe stop at 7 or 8 and don’t feel bad if that’s your current limit.

We are all different but seated, I am closer to 100-105 rpm during seated interval on flat terrain, but 85-90 on a hill. If standing, I find 70 rpm to be the sweet spot. During rest interval, I drop down seated to 70-80 rpm to get heartrate down. Might give that a try.

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No, the test was a full 60 minutes, uninterrupted. Fun times! :grin:


My tact would be to do the session as long as possible with ERG on but once I feel my self slipping into the spiral of death toggle to Resistance mode and complete the workout.

It worked on Dunderberg -2 when I toggled ERG off at 1h10m but its not a VO2max session fortunately I don’t have one of them for a while :wink:

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18-24 minutes of VO2 is what most workouts I have as seen in TR and PGC plans. 30 minutes is obviously in excess of that. You can get there, but not with 3 minutes of rest for intervals that are three minutes in duration.

For example, consider the VO2 progression in Sustained Power Build High Volume (simplified since there are some longer rests sprinkled in).

Mills +3: 11 x 2 / 3 (11 intervals, 2 minutes long, with 3 minutes of rest) (22 minutes total)
Dade +5: 9 x 2.5 / 4 (22.5 minutes total)
Mist +2: 9 x 3 / 5 (27 minutes total, but lots of rest)
Monadnock +5: 6 x 4 / 5 (24 minutes total)

Here are some general observations for the most challenging “standard” VO2 workouts. These do not apply to reduced duration billats or some of the other VO2 workouts that show up more in Short Power Build.

  • 1:1 work to rest ratio (30/30, 60/60, 3/3, etc) (Spencer +3)
  • 18-24 minutes total time
  • VO2 intervals longer than 3 minutes done somewhere between 105-118% (Elephants +5)

I also raise my rest intervals to around 65%, but do lower them if struggling (see Tuesday’s Mills +3 for example). Completing the “work” intervals are most important and where the overwhelming majority of the stress is, so don’t feel bad about making recovery intervals easier if / when needed.

Finally, not mentioned above, are you fueling your workouts adequately enough with carbs?


I only have one regular riding buddy that can actually ride his ftp for an hour (which coincidentally is also 270). He qualified 2nd place for the world iron man championships this year in his age group (which unfortunately was canceled) last month. Maybe you’d be good at that sort of racing!

Similar except being fifteen years older and 95kg (athletic build + excess weight). I’ve also struggled with completing vo2max intervals in TrainerRoad workouts.

  1. Your FTP and ability to do work over FTP (vo2max and anaerobic) are not directly related. Therefore my first suggestion is to lower intensity to say 95%. I did that and was able to raise that after a few workouts.

  2. You may also want to reduce the number of intervals, in talking with several different coaches it seems TR workouts are a bit aggressive on the number of intervals. In particular if you are older, haven’t done a lot of vo2max work, or are naturally more of a steady-state rider.

  3. Earlier this year I did a lot more aerobic endurance (zone2) work, and one surprise was that my VO2 (2-5 min) and anaerobic (1-2min) efforts became easier.

Hope that helps!


30 minutes of Vo2 Max is brutal…and you are completing between 7-9 of these, that is insane!!! Kudos to you.

If you are hellbent on finishing the last few sets, I would just gut them out as best as you can. You are still in the Vo2 Max zones even if you are in the 106%-109% range anyways.

Also not sure if you are performing this workout on the trainer vs. outside (and for that matter what your PM situation is), but I find I have a much better repeatability on VO2 max sessions outside (n=1).