Our Favorite Workouts: VO2max Intervals for Power and Speed – Cycling
By this time of the year most of us are pretty fit and strong. You’ve had a good chunk of your season to really dial in the long training and your level of strength endurance is probably high. If you’re getting the long sessions, maintaining strength and recovering well week in and week out, the next step in your race season might be to include some good solid speed work.
This session is not about race-specific sets, tempo or threshold — its focus is pure power and speed. This is an important step in your fitness gains, but if it’s done wrong or without the right foundation it could be more harmful than helpful.
This is the icing on the cake; be sure you have a solid cake before you add the icing.
Some important points to remember when planning pure VO2max sessions:
- Place them in your routine wisely.
- You don’t need a lot of work in this area. To do it right you can really only handle a very small amount.
- It’s key you take equal or even double rest between reps.
- The focus is maximal effort, not amount of work.
- Altitude is a factor in this type of training so keep that in mind. Sea level is best for really hitting these sessions.
You gain a huge amount of fitness and power from these sets, but the amount each person can tolerate is very individual. When planning, also consider what type of athlete you are. Ask yourself these questions:
- How sound is my foundation?
- How close is it to my key race?
- How long will it take to recover?
- Will I miss any race-specific training because I couldn’t handle this yet?
If you are 100% sure that you won’t compromise race goals, then adding in the right amount of VO2max work is going to see big gains in your race performance.
If you are a slower aerobic machine, increasing your power and top end is key. Never replace your foundation with these sets, again, it’s icing on the cake!
Warm up: 30 minutes easy, 2 x 5 minutes building to upper steady (3 minute easy between), 5 minutes easy, 3 x 1 minutes building to VO2max effort through the 1 minute (1 minute easy between), 5 minutes easy.
In as big a gear as you can handle and still maintain 90-100 rpm, raise effort as high as you can — 10/10. Your heart rate will go to max. These can be done uphill or on a flat road depending on the athlete, or you can use your turbo trainer for a controlled environment.
- Beginners: 5-10 x (45 seconds as hard as you can, 90 seconds very, very easy but keep moving)
- Intermediate: 6-10 x (90 seconds as hard as you can, 3 minutes easy between)
- Advanced: 4-8 x (3 minutes as hard as you can, 6-10 min easy spinning between each)
Be sure to do at least 30 minutes easy to cool down after these sets — one hour is best; no more than that is needed. But remember, the cool down has to be easy.
If each rep is done correctly you should be to failure by the end of each one. It’s not about pacing this session but rather to do max effort for each and every rep.
You don’t need many of these sets to see gains. When placed carefully in your program, doing two to four a month at a time when you are in your best fitness is enough.
Remember your first goal in triathlon should be to become a huge aerobic machine that can back up endurance training for many weeks. Only after you have lots of strength and endurance do we add a little icing with power and speed. Allow ample recovery within 48 hours of these sets and fuel well with high carbs as soon as possible after you finish.