VO2 Max Intervals to Improve Your Climbing

VO2 Max intervals increase one's Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and last 3 - 6 minutes at a near maximal effort. Since many races are decided on climbs of a similar length we call VO2 max intervals 'race specific' and we even go so far to recommend athletes complete these intervals up and down climbs.

This training tip will explain and describe a simple VO2 Max interval workout to improve your climbing and increase your power output:

VO2 Max Intervals: Zone 5 (105 – 120% of Threshold Wattage): 2 sets of 2 x 4 min ON 4 min OFF; 8 min in-between sets

  • Warm up easy for 15 – 30 minutes
  • Perform these intervals on a climb (if available)
  • Begin the each interval by modulating your wattage between 105% and 120% of your threshold power.

With an accurately set threshold wattage, 105-120% is pretty much as hard as one can go for 4 minutes

  • Hold your wattage in “zone 5” for 4 minutes.
  • Use your Powermeter to hold your wattage above the bottom of your zone 5 but not above.
  • After the first 4 minute interval turn around and coast back down the hill, turn around again and reposition yourself to begin the next interval from the same spot after 4 minutes of recovery.
  • A properly paced VO2 max interval should feel moderately hard at first, difficult in the middle and like a maximal effort at the end
  • Tip: use your PowerMeters readout as motivation to hold the effort between your zone 5 wattages for the full four minutes. Don’t let your wattage dip below!
  • Use the real time feedback from your PowerMeter to go hard enough but not too hard. Try to maintain your power output above 105% but not above 120% (this is too hard and physiologically unrealistic)
  • After two intervals, take an 8 minute set break to spin around and recover.
  • After you complete both sets ride around in zone 2 or cool down.
  • Download your power file and see how many watts you were able to achieve for each interval!
  • Here's what a properly executed 4 minute VO2 Max Interval looks like by the power and heart rate data:

4 minute VO2s with power heart rate data

Technique: “Make the power” any which way you can; it does not have to be pretty. Dance on the pedals out of the saddle or try spinning, seated. Be aggressive, get after it! I recommend alternating between sitting and standing. Position your hands out on the hoods for maximum leverage to rock the bike back and forth as you pump up and down on the pedals. With the real time wattage feedback from your powermeter you’ll quickly see which climbing technique enables you to make the power.

Motivation: These are difficult intervals (some of the toughest) so come into the workout motivated and ready to suffer. The payoff is that you will be a more powerful, faster bike rider. If you have snot coming out of your nose, or drool coming out of your mouth at the end of the last few intervals you are doing them correctly. For the goal-oriented athlete, there can be a tremendous amount of satisfaction in the successful completion of such a difficult workout within the prescribed zone 5 wattages.

Advanced VO2 workout: If 2 sets of 2 intervals for 4 total VO2 intervals is not enough for you, try 2 sets of 3 [2 sets of 3 x 4 min ON 4 min OFF]. However, remember to focus on the quality and amplitude of the power first before moving onto the quantity. Finally, if 24 minutes of VO2 work is not enough for you, try the grand-daddy VO2 workout off all time: 2 sets of 3 x 5 min ON 5 min OFF with 10 minutes in-between each set! Copyright 2020, FasCat Coaching

Frank Overton is the head coach, founder and owner of FasCat Coaching, a cycling coaching company in Boulder, CO. Frank is an advocate of power based training, full gas intervals, sweet spot training and winning in the kitchen. To talk with Frank or a FasCat Coach fill out our New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation or browse over 70 training plans using the same coaching methodology as the 4 minute VO2's described above! 

About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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