VO2max is defined by Joe Friel as (in bold because he’s the MAN when it come to cycling coaching):

“VO2max, also called “aerobic capacity,” is a measure of how much oxygen your body uses when exercising at a maximal effort for an extended period of time. It is typically measured with the athlete wearing a breathing apparatus that determines how much oxygen is inhaled and how much is exhaled. The difference is what was used by the muscles to produce energy. The more oxygen one can use, the more aerobically fit that person is.”

It is essentially the maximum output that you are able to sustain for 5 – 6 minutes.  When developed it is one of the most lethal weapons in your arsenal.  Bridging up to someone, attacking, hucking up to the group when things are cooking and the general lungs in the mouth feeling we all experience during certain portions of a cross race are all situations that require a stout VO2max type effort.

Once you have laid down the foundation for your ftp, and some time toward the end of that period in your annual training program, you’ll do well to spend time building power at this rate.  Because not everyone has access to a proper VO2max test (but most with a power meter have a good idea of their ftp) we took athletes with varying strengths over the period of a racing season and analyzed the percentage of difference between ftp and VO2max.  This variance was normally between 25 and 15%.  While equated to road race specialties these designations will help you find a place to start relative to power output.  Sprinters were in the 25% range, all-arounders (roulliers) had about a 20% difference and good time trialists were closer to 15%:

Sprinter: ftp /.75

All Arounder: ftp/.8

Time Trialist: ftp/.85

So, as example, if your ftp is 300 watts and you are a sprinter then simply take 300/.75 to arrive at a goal of 400 watts.  It can be a little daunting at first because pegging that kind of power for 6 minutes will be out of your reach at that point in the season.  As with every phase though it is a progression beginning with shorter duration so hang in there, you can do this!

You should have some good legs and a strong mental outlook for these very taxing efforts.  That will require you to schedule these after an easy day.  Doing these after a tough day is like a punch in the stomach!

Take 5 minutes off between sets for each of these different durations.  2-3 sets in a ride is challenging enough to push your limits without wiping you out so completely that you can’t complete the intervals at the power level that we’re looking for:

VO2max2: warm up for 20 minutes.  Then a 2 minute interval at prescribed wattage, followed by 1.5 minutes of recovery x 3 is 1 set.

VO2max3: warm up for 20 minutes.  Then a 3 minute interval at prescribed wattage, followed by 2 minutes of recovery x 3 is 1 set.

VO2max4: warm up for 20 minutes.  Then a 4 minute interval at prescribed wattage, followed by 2.5 minutes of recovery x 2 is 1 set.

VO2max: warm up for 20 minutes.  Then a 6 minute interval at your max, followed 3 minutes recovery x 1 is 1 set.  (You’ll have a good idea of what kind of power you can push by the time you get to this point.  Settle in at that power and push yourself to your limit for the duration of the interval).

Your heart rate will not react fast enough to use as any type of a gauge for the 2 and 3 minute efforts.  It can be a guide for the 4 and 6 minute intervals though.  If you know your heart rate zones and see that you can go with a higher heart rate then adjust the power to suit and you’ve just gotten stronger!

Good luck and go fast!

Rob Kelley