VO2 Workouts Triathlon Plans

I’m after a bit of advice on behalf of my wife. She is currently working her way through the Olympic Distance LV plan and is really struggling with the VO2 workouts, so much so , she is demoralised now when she sees she has one scheduled.

For a very brief bit of background for context, she used to have a very full on stressful job/career, and as a result wasn’t physically active for many years. A career/lifestyle change saw her surprise everyone (especially me!) by entering a sprint triathlon. She loved it and has been doing sprints since. She decided to move up to olympic this year but was persuaded to also enter a half ironman by friends in her club. A few of them signed up to a coaching service but (like so many) it turned out to be a negative experience, one example when asking a question was to be told ‘man up Princess’. Whilst she is still going to attempt the half ironman she is doing it only for the experience now and whatever will be, will be.

After discussing it we decided she should focus on her original goal of the Olympic distance event and as time was tight she went into the build plan. The swimming is easy for her, the runs (or shuffles as she calls them) are getting done, but the bike VO2 sessions are beyond her. One thought I have had is to replace them with sweetspot workouts instead, as she has no desire to be competitive, just to complete the distance. My thinking is that building up the amount of time/duration in this zone will at least give her a solid aerobic fitness for her event.

I’d really welcome any other ideas or indeed experiences of how others have tweeked the plans to get them through their events. Many Thanks.

Has she tried the usual trick of lowering the intensity but still keeping it high enough to count as VO2? Looking at the plans, most of the rides seem to be at 120% so 110-115% might be more manageable? It is definitely a process to find out where is sustainable. Also, workouts like Baird-1 where it’s a 2:1 rest to work ratio might be a better introduction.

As for replacing them, I took a peek at the mid volume plan and they have threshold workouts like the Red Lake & Elephants variations. Those could be productive and could also serve as a bridge between sweetspot/tempo efforts that she can handle and the challenge of VO2max. If that’s a no go as well, then yes, I agree that sweet spot won’t hurt.


Remember that as per various Trainer Road podcasts, vo2 max isn’t a power, it’s a physiological state - your maximum oxygen uptake.

So it isn’t the be-all and end-all if she can’t do 6x3mins @ 120% or whatever. The important thing is that she increases fitness by getting as much time as possible at a high % of that maximal oxygen uptake.

First step sounds like it might be to bring down the intensity a little as @Scheherazade suggests. Then monitor what’s happening during the workouts - generally you’re looking to hit over 90% maxHr for as long as possible, without going too far into the red. I often use 94% maxHR as an indication that my effort isn’t sustainable. If that happens, take a 5sec backpedal break then carry on. And maybe decrease the intensity a little more for the next interval. Basically keep adjusting and/or taking (very short) breaks to keep the HR high-but-not-too-high.

Doing that should do wonders for her aerobic fitness. Probably more than going back to sweetspot would.


The option of reducing the intensity is always there and may well still get the desired physiological adaptions as @Scheherazade says.

If she isn’t worried about being competitive the most important thing is that she enjoys the process otherwise it becomes pointless. Pick the workouts that are largely in line with her planned races that she can complete and the psychological benefits from that will far outweigh that of a VO2 Max session or two.


Thanks. Food for thought, she seems to get through the on/off workouts but it is the longer 2-3 min intervals that have her struggling. I’ll have a look at the VO2 workouts available and see if we can find alternatives.

I’d say both intensity reduction and move to sweet spot workouts are great approaches. Sweet spot workouts are great all-around workouts. As @JulianM said, the key is that she has fun. Trashing herself on VO2 workouts and being demoralized are a sure fire way to burn out. Sweet spot is also a rather ideal %FTP for olympics in terms of specificity.


Reassure her that a lot of people struggle with VO2max workouts! They are mentally and physically challenging for me, even after several years on TR.

One thing I have found useful is to just focus on the interval I am in. It takes some compartmentalization to do this but instead of thinking “Oh man, I have another five 3-minute intervals after this”, it’s more productive to just be in the minute I’m in.

Maybe something like South Twin -1 (https://www.trainerroad.com/cycling/workouts/113940-south-twin-1) could work? There’s a decent amount of rest AND it’s “only” four intervals.

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I’m afraid I have to respectfully disagree with this suggestion.

South Twin -1 is a taper workout; it’s on week 8 of a triathlon speciality plan. It’s a vo2 max workout in name only. The total IF is only 0.81.

If you keep knocking off intervals and adding rest to vo2 workouts, it’s not going to be doing anything to build fitness. Either you do vo2 max workouts properly, by which I mean pushing your maximum aerobic capacity at whatever power it takes for you to get there, or do something else entirely.

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Agreed, this workout probably won’t be physiologically productive. My post was considering the possibility of it being a mental barrier and my intent was to suggest a workout that could give the OP’s wife a nice “win” to build some confidence.


Ah yes, I see what you mean. Yes, that could work - as could possibly your earlier suggestion of the supra-threshold workouts.

I still think there’s a lot to be gained psychologically by thinking more about heart rate than power. Forget what % of FTP you’re at, no-one will have the same power curve. But everyone can benefit from pushing hard.

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Many thanks for all the replies, some great suggestions in there. I think a combination of the shorter on/off intervals and the longer supra-threshold intervals might be worth a try. Might try alternate weeks so if she struggles with one format, then it’s different the week after. I know that isn’t exactly progressive but at the moment I think the mental hurdle is what we need to defeat.


Spot on! And would also recommend turning down the intensity.

They are very tough. And if it’s early days in her TR experience even more so, but every year I find the first few VO2 sessions abominable.

They don’t get easier, your body just gets used to the fact that you can go that hard without dying! Your breath rate rises to maximum, your HR rises and you gush sweat…you will be getting all sorts of signals telling you to back off but it’s only two or three minutes and you’re done.

Of course check all the other elements too; sleep, recovery, nutrition and spacing out the run and swim portions. She’ll get there :+1:


Agreed with above posts. Best to keep the VO2max workouts, but dial the intensity down. Eg for something like Spencer, dial down the intensity to, say, 110%, maybe lower in order to complete it.

Like @JoeX said, it takes a while to get used to the sensation of pushing your body to the limit. To be honest, sometimes it feels like you might die :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:. But after a while you start to look forward to it… kinda!

see also our recent thread Time at VO2max discussion

Depends on where you start, as doing more work than before is the goal. Sometimes it means you only do a little bit more work than before. Trying to manage intensity in a triathlon plan is quite difficult. Any new triathlete should focus on completing s/b/r workouts consistently over worrying if they are doing enough intensity.

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Any update? How’s your wife getting on?

She’s doing okay. She managed to complete her half Iron Man, however unfortunately we’ve had a bereavement in the family (my dad) so training has taken a back seat this last week, hopefully she’ll get back on it next week once everything has settled down again, if nothing else the last week has at least given her some physical recovery after her event.

Going to start her on Olympic distance speciality next week, to prepare for her next triathlon in July. I’ll use the good advice from here to help her get through the VO2 workouts. Thanks.

Best wishes to you and your family. Stuff like this brings it home how minor our training ‘problems’ actually are.

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Congratulations and commiserations. Hope everything works out for you both, on all counts.

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I’m so sorry for your loss.

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