EPC Tips - Workout of the Week - Vo2 Max Intervals on the Bike

Aug. 23, 2013

By Cody Waite

This week's workout adds some high intensity to the mix with Vo2 Max intervals on the bike!

Cody WaiteTraining your Vo2 Max energy system is hard work that if performed properly brings big rewards on race day by giving your power a boost across all distances of racing speeds. Every endurance athlete benefits from Vo2 Max training, regardless of race distance. Training your Vo2 Max over several weeks will bring greater efficiency and speed at threshold and sub-threshold efforts, as well as increased anaerobic power and the ability to recover from short anaerobic efforts in a race situation. All good things.
Get ready to bring on the hurt and dig deep into your 'pain cave' so you can tap into more power on race day with this Vo2 Max bike session:

  • 15 minute warm-up spin.
  • 5 minutes at threshold power/effort to really wake up the legs and get the HR up.
  • 5 minutes easy.
  • 20 x [1:00 "ON" / 1:00 "OFF"]Warm-down with 10+ minutes easy riding.
    • "ON" = Vo2 Max power/effort (115% of Threshold Power)
    • "OFF" = 50% of Vo2 Max power/effort
    • As an example, if your Threshold power is 300w, then your Vo2 Max power is roughly 345w. So you'd go 1 minute at 345w as your 'work' interval, followed by 1 minute at 170-175w as your 'partial recovery' interval, then repeat for the prescribed number of reps (20 in this case) or until you can no longer hold the 345w in the work interval.

The 'fun' part of this workout is that the first few to several reps will feel fairly 'easy' or at least manageable, but as the workout progresses and lactate builds, you'll eventually begin to struggle and want to 'tap out'. The work intervals are short, but the recovery intervals are also short and they are partial recovery (at 175w in this example) so your HR never gets a chance to fully recover and you'll see higher and higher HRs with each interval and less and less drop between the work intervals. The first 10 minutes of the interval set acts as a build or warm-up until you actually begin to tap into your true V02 Max energy system in the second half of the set.

If you're training with power, continue only as long as you can maintain the prescribed power levels or until you complete the 20 reps. If you do not have a power meter, you will go more by feel as the work intervals should be a hard effort (95% of max kind of hard) and eventually your HR will catch up to the work you're actually doing after the first 4-8 reps. Then you'll see your HR reaching 90%+ of max HR on the work intervals and maybe dipping down to only 75-80% of max HR on the partial recoveries.

With these shorter intervals it's as much a mental battle to stay in the game as it is a physical one.

As you progress in your Vo2 Max training you can increase the work and recovery interval durations, while keeping the overall total workload around the same 35-40 minute duration of the set. For example a progression following the 1:oo/1:00 set would be to 10x [2:00/2:00] after you adapt to that then maybe a 6x [3:00/3:00] set, and eventually maybe even a 5x [4:00/4:00] set. This kind of progression would take many weeks, if not an entire season, as these workouts become very stressful and require large amounts of concentration, strength, and will power as well as leg power to complete.

An XTERRA specific variation I like to do on my mountain bike with this kind of session is on a bike park flow track. My local bike park has a double track climb to the top that takes about a minute at full speed. I hit it hard getting power up around 360-380w on the slightly rocky hill. Then at the top, I hit the lap button on my Garmin as I hit the start burm and rip the 1-minute downhill flow-track that consists of big rollers, burms and double jumps winding back to the bottom, where I lap again and immediately hit the next climb. What's cool about this workout is that I crank it hard up the hill, HR is pegged by the top, and then I maybe pedal a total of three revolutions down the 'flow track' but because of the intense focus and pumping required to hit the jumps and berms my HR stay elevated as a 'partial recovery'. Great MTB specific session to build the power and also enable to skills while my heart is in my throat and legs are on on fire.

The XTERRA 'Workouts of the Week' are brought to you by XTERRA pro, Cody Waite. Also the head coach of EPC Multisport, Cody and his coaches work with XTERRA athletes from from first-timer to World Champion and help each one maximize their potential and make the most of their racing experience. You can purchase the 2013 XTERRA Championship Group Coaching plan and get all the specific training sessions that will have you at your best for XTERRA USA and XTERRA World Championships. Don't forget to follow EPC Multisport on Facebook!

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