VO2max intervals

VO2maxAim of Session

Developing your aerobic capacity, or the maximal ability of your body to take in and use oxygen. 


Session description

WARM UP: Progressively moving from zone 1 to 3 over 15 minutes, included in session duration
MAIN SET: Repeated 3 minute intervals, with equal recovery. Effort is one that you could only sustain for 5 minutes maximum. HR should be approaching HRmax by the end of the 3 minutes. See Coach comments for number of repeats
COOL DOWN: 15 mins spin, included in session duration


Your aerobic capacity, or VO2 max, is  the maximum volume of oxygen that can be taken in and used by the body in a minute. Research shows that this is determined by a high cardiac output and a high rate of oxygen extraction at the muscle bed. The focus of this session is on oxygen delivery - so aiming to increase the ability to transport large quantities of oxygen to the muscles. This is brought about primarily by increased stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped per contraction). Research work in running has shown that this approach to training (i.e. breaking down time spent at VO2max into manageable chunks) is one of the most effective ways of improving your top end - if you just tried to work AT VO2max for as long as you can, you might make only 6 to 8 minutes. In this session, you might reach the progression of 8 x 3 minutes i.e. 24 minutes, and 4 times as long at VO2max!

Application for the Rider

After focusing on endurance training and building a large fitness base at the start of a training cycle many athletes find that their top end has actually become de-trained. Including a block of VOmax intervals at this point is well advised to re-establish your top end ability before moving on to more specific sessions for your chosen event.

Alternatively if you have reached a plateau with working at sub-maximal intensities, lifting your aerobic capacity or 'ceiling' can give you scope for further development for other parameters such as MLSS and lactate threshold. 

Practicalities and tips!

  • There is no need to worry about your position when completing this session, the aim is to cause as much 'central' stress as possible - to do this you need simply to drive heart rate and ventilation as high as possible. This is normally much easier to achieve if you are 'sitting up'.
  • Similarly this session is a great one to perform on a hill. Choose a climb that takes you roughly 3 minutes to summit; having both a defined finish point and extra resistance to work against can help you manage a truly maximal effort.  

Evaluation of the session

  • Check your heart rate for each effort. Are you consistently hitting close to your maximum on each effort?
  • Also check your power output. Increases in your average power over 3 minutes are a good sign that these sessions are having a positive effect on your VO2 max.
More in this category: Hill accelerations »