VO2max vs Long, slow, distance

Hey all,

The question:
What is the ratio of time spent training VO2max to time spent doing long slow rides? Is 1 hour of VO2max training equal to 2hrs (more? less!?) long slow? Answers based on feeling and anecdote are welcome.

In the workout description of many VO2 max workouts is…
“Short duration, high-intensity repeats can be highly productive for all types of riders but are especially important for riders working on limited training time.
In far less time than that required by long, slow, distance, riders can develop similar aerobic capabilities - little time, high stress, comparable adaptations.”

I am in the build phase of an Olympic distance triathlon training plan. Through the base phase and into the build phase, VO2max workouts have been weekly staples. This year I increased my bike workout times from 1hr to 1.5hr during the week, and from 1.5 to 2hrs on the weekend. I’m wondering if I could increase that time further to decrease the intensity, or if I should decrease the duration and maintain the intensity because of some unforeseen diminishing returns for length of high intensity workouts.

Looking at my progression levels it looks like I am just really good at VO2max (lvl 7.5), but the goal of an Olympic distance triathlon is to sit in threshold (lvl 3.0). My first race is at the end of April, so I guess I will see if this training progression is going to pay off for the bike leg. I’ve also increased my workload for run and swim.

Further musings
A TrainerRoad dictionary to define “long, slow”, “limited training time”, “short duration/little time” would be effective to clear up my thoughts on this matter. I am aware it would be fluid given a riders goals.

For me, who wants to race an olympic distance bike leg in an hour, 2 hours does sound long for a training ride.
For me, who works a full time job, I could increase my training time from 10 hours to 14 hours or more if I chose to make that kind of time on the weekend and if the TrainerRoad plan could adapt to it.

Do as much high-intensity work as you can handle without running into issues with inadequate recovery.

Then fill in the blanks with as much low-intensity work as you can handle without running into issues with inadequate recovery.

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If you’re doing VO2 Max properly then 25 minutes of time in zone per workout is probably as much as 99% of athletes can handle, and will need to progress to that amount.

Trying to work out an equivalence btwn VO2 Max work and endurance riding is a fool’s errand. Comparing apples and broccoli.


Especially in base and build, you’re training to get adaptations to your physiology, not to practice for your events.

If those adaptations are best gotten by riding at endurance pace for several hours, that’s what you do, time permitting.

VO2max and zone 2 cause qualitatively different adaptations. In my mind, there’s no equivalence. No amount of Z2 is going to do what VO2max intervals do - that’s not to say that anyone should not do Z2, or that they should do VO2max 4x a week every week (I would burn out and I suspect most athletes would).

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I’ve played around with the plan builder a few times to get an understanding of what TrainerRoad think is possible. If you create a high-volume plan to accumulate 10+ hours of training, the output is more 1hr workouts. If you increase the duration of some rides, other shorter rides don’t disappear. Am I just seeing the limitations of Trainer Road plan builder?

VO2max is HARD, and I’m doing it 2 out of 3 rides per week. If I could trade another 30 minutes of my day to cut the intensity way down and continue to see progress as a short course triathlete, I would in a heartbeat. Red light green light has been no help at all either, if I rate my VO2max workout as hard it wants me to do an easy swim and run the next day, “adaptation declined”. If the program think VO2max is compromising my training, why am I doing it lol

Hey there and welcome to the TR Community!

As others noted, it’s tough (impossible??) to define an exact ratio when it comes to VO2 work vs LSD sessions.

While you may not be spending a lot of time at VO2 Max during your races, it’s still a good training zone to hit during your preparation. You’ll build up a strong aerobic engine doing those workouts, which will carry over and benefit your longer TT-style efforts.

Looking ahead at your plan, you have plenty of Threshold workouts coming up, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the lack of Threshold sessions for now. You’ll get more and more specific workouts slotted into your plan as you get closer to your A event.

How do you feel when it comes to recovery at the moment? You mentioned you may still want to add some longer, steadier riding into your plan. It might be a good call, but it really depends on if you can recover adequately from that extra riding. That means thinking beyond just the time on the bike itself – impacts from increasing training load can carry over into the rest of your life, too, which can create a feedback loop that ultimately impacts the quality of your training.

If you’re feeling good, I don’t think you need to change things up – especially as you mentioned you’ve increased your running and swimming workloads. If things feel too easy, then I might consider bumping up the volume a bit more – but I’d recommend doing so gradually and over time. Think something like adding an extra 15-30 minutes of riding to a couple of your workouts each week and building up from there.

Since you said anecdotes are welcome, personally, I’ve set some of my best 20+ minute power PRs after focusing on VO2 Max workouts in the past. For me, something about going all-out for a few minutes makes those longer efforts feel easier to handle in comparison. They’re still tough, but because my legs aren’t screaming at me quite the same way they do during a VO2 workout, I’m able to manage them a bit better after I’ve done a bunch of VO2 work.

Hope this helps! Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions on this.

If you are “good at VO2max” you could possibly focus on other traits. One VO2max-workout a week could leave room for some less fatiguing Z2/Z3 workouts. If you have predominantly fast twitch muscle fibers, as your VO2max abilities implies, be careful not to overload them with intensity; they generally need far more recovery than slow twitch fibers. In that case it is safer to train mostly at a lower intensity.

Generally when training for triathlon i think it is best to focus training where you have greatest potential to improve, and most time to make up, during a race. Your ability to race near threshold will improve from high volume at lower intensity without accumulating excessive fatigue.

is that a 40km TT?

Correct, the standard is 40KM, but it can go up or down a few Ks depending on the race venue. I did one last year that was almost 50KM because it was around a lake there weren’t many options to make it shorter.

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Race next week? How long in training are you spending in threshold or upper sweet spot? In minutes per workout?

1hr vo2max workout just means that you did some vo2max efforts within that hour workout. It’s not really comparable to a 2hr long slow distance in a time value sense. For example, you maybe only ride 10-15mins at a ‘vo2max pace’. So the real question is how many minutes of vo2max intervals give similar effects to x-minutes at a long slow distance pace

I like this answer, especially because it seems you are the first commenter with some triathlon experience. My focus is squarely on the run this year, last year I had IT band issues and only ran for competitions. I’ve done a lot of research and slowly worked up to 5 sessions and 30+ miles per week. All this VO2max work is in stark contrast to the long slow running miles I’ve logged so far this year.

Running takes a much higher toll on your body and need to recover.

The rationale for doing vo2max cycling work early in base is that you want more event specific work within say the last 2 months of your event. Which is a 40km TT, which would be shifting focus to doing longer threshold efforts.

Very valid point, like another commenter said most athletes can only handle 25 minutes spread out across a workout. I am no exception and get between 17 and 24. Someone has probably researched it somewhere but I’m not as good a googler as I used to be.

In the base phase I was doing 3.5hrs of 5 total at mid sweet spot and low threshold.
The build phase has increased VO2max work to 3 hours and I’m only getting a pitiful 2 hours at threshold on the weekend.

Not sure what that means in the context of a single workout. If I were you, my goal a couple months out would be doing 2x20-min threshold efforts at least once a week. In the past I’ve taken that even higher and was rewarded with my best fitness ever.

Ultimately triathlon is about having the best metabolic fitness you can develop. If your threshold as % vo2max tops out and plateaus, then its time to do a block of vo2max. Otherwise in my own personal experience, and that of coaching firms and physiologist I respect, do as much endurance and threshold work as you can handle with ability to recover and keep training.

I appreciate your insight. And you’ve introduced a concept I am unfamiliar with, “threshold as % of vo2max”. Maybe if I research that topic I can get a better understanding of the intricacies of my training plan.

This early season race has been graded as a C event so maybe I’ll see some development to my training plan that is closer to what I expected as I get nearer to my A race.