What is a good cycling training routine to improve my VO2 Max?

What is a good cycling training routine to improve my VO2 Max?

An athletes V02 Max is the maximal volume of oxygen uptake than an athlete can sustain during high-intensity activities, another way of describing it is how big its aerobic engine is. For this reason, you can see why it is a very important factor to consider when analyzing the strengths and limitations of an athlete, at his current cardiovascular fitness and performance capacity. V02 Max is a trainable system although results vary greatly from one person to another. The ones that will see the greater gains in their VO2 Max are the less condition athletes as they have a big space to grow. Many times, as more experience athletes have trained their bodies for a longer time, they get closer to their ceiling and improvements get harder and harder to make.

VO2 Max name is derived from “V” for volume, “O” for oxygen, and “max” for maximum.

Regularly an athletes VO2 Max level gets measuring using a series of predetermined test which normally take place on a lab. Before the start of the test, he/she will get connected to a face mask which will measure the current oxygen intake. This mask is then connected to a specialized computer which will store and calculate any variables during the process in order to provide you with the final results. In the test, the athlete will be ask to gradually increase the intensity on which he is riding in intervals normally of 1 or 2 minutes. At the moment when the athlete oxygen intake has reached his maximum and its sustained or starts to decrease as the intensity continues to increase, the VO2 Max level is then found. The test will take normally between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the current athlete’s condition. A well-trained cyclist will be able to achieve around 60 – 70 mL/kg/min, while professional cyclists commonly reach values of 80 – 90 mL/kg/min.

VO2 Max is properly defined by the Fick equation:

VO2 Max = Q x (CaO2 – CvO2)
When these values are obtained during an exertion at a maximal effort. Where Q is the cardiac output of the heart, CaO2 is the arterial oxygen content, and CvO2 is the venous oxygen content.
(CaO2 – CvO2) is also known as the arteriovenous oxygen difference.

Although there are factors like age, gender and altitude that affect your VO2 Max level and are not controlled by the athlete, there are ways that he/she can improve how effective its body his at that level. One of the best ways to improve the VO2 Max of an athlete is by High Intensity Training (HIIT). During these sessions, he will have to sustain from 110% to 120% of its functional threshold for a predetermined period of time many times varying up to 5-7 minutes long for experienced athletes and as short as 20 seconds. One of the most important factors of this type of training is that you want to spend as much time as possible in your V02 Max zone. This will usually mean that a 1 to 1 ratio is used for intervals, or the same amount of rest period is required compared to the high intensity interval time (you will see some examples below).

A more commonly used and easy way of estimating an athlete VO2 Max is done using the heart rate ratio method

An estimate of VO2 max is based on maximum and resting heart rates, it is given by:

VO2 Max HR Estimate Formula

As mentioned before as athletes get more and more fit and closer to their V02 Max ceiling, the improvements will get harder and harder to obtain. A good way to shock the body for athletes of this caliber is by implementing block periodization (You can read more about the different types of periodization if you like). What this means is that during a complete mesocycle on that athletes training plan, he will have a primary focus of improving his VO2. Not only will it be its main focus, but it will change his training drastically making him have HIIT sessions up to 4 or 5 times per week. This will cause a large amount of stress to its body giving it no other choice but to adapt to the current situations. This has to be followed of course with proper rest, and nutrition. Again, we have to emphasize that this is not a good solution for every athlete, being that if the body is not fit for the stress overtraining will occur causing negative results on the training plan.

Here are a couple of examples of different training sessions that can be used to improve an athlete’s maximum volume of oxygen uptake:

  • 5 to 7 sets of
    • 5 Min at Zone 5 (110-120% of FTP)
    • 5 Min Recovery Interval
  • 7 to 10 sets of
    • 3 Min at Zone 5 (110-120% of FTP)
    • 3 Min Recovery Interval
  • 8 to 15 sets of
    • 1 Min at Zone 5 (110-120% of FTP)
    • 1 Min Recovery Interval
  • 10 to 30 sets of
    • 30 Sec at Zone 5 (110-120% of FTP)
    • 30 Sec Recovery Interval

Do keep in mind that your Vo2 Max might be high, it does not inherently mean that you will be an excellent athlete. There are many other factors that come into play when racing and training, that is why an appropriate time for each system has to be given so that the wanted improvements are reached. If you need any assistance in setting up your training plan so that it is properly balance, please do take a look at our other training articles so that you can make a more informed plan. You can as well contact me and I can assist you to create a customized cyclist training plan, this way you will know that you are in the right track and you will be able to achieve you goals quicker and more efficiently.

Please do let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns in the section below.

Thank you for reading!

Gilberto Cortez - USA Cycling & TrainingPeaks Certified Coach

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