(This post was originally written for Velonews)

When the hammer drops on your next group ride it is likely a VO2 effort. I see it all the time in reviewing athlete’s power data: the crux of getting into the break, making the selection, or the race winning move lasts between 3 – 6 minutes.  This is raw VO2 power and requires that you ride full gas.  We can mimic the physiological demands of those moments in our training with VO2 Max Intervals.

Here is a simple VO2 workout to improve your explosive power and ability to deliver in those make or break moments in your group ride or race:

VO2 Max Intervals: Zone 5 (105-120% of Threshold Wattage): 2 sets of 2 x 4 minutes on, 4 minutes off; 8-minute rest in-between sets.

  • Warm Up easy for 15 – 30 minutes
  • Perform these Intervals on a climb (if available)
  • Begin each interval by modulating your wattage between 105% and 120% of your FTP power

4 minute VO2 Intervals

With an accurately set FTP, 105-120% should be as hard as you can go for 4 minutes (and any 3-6 minute VO2 interval).

  • Hold your wattage in Zone 5 for 4 minutes
  • After the first 4 minute interval turn around and coast back down the hill (or pedal in Zone 2 if on flat terrain).
  • Turn around again and reposition yourself to begin the next interval from the same spot after 4 minutes of recovery.
  • A properly paced interval should feel moderately hard at first, difficult in the middle and a max effort at the end.
  • Tip: use your PowerMeter’s readout as motivation to hold the effort between your Zone 5 wattages for the full four minutes.
  • Don’t let your wattage dip below your Zone 5 wattage!
  • Try to maintain your power output above 105% but not above 120% (that is too hard and physiologically unrealistic).
  • After two intervals, take an 8 minute set break to spin around, recover and prepare for the final set.
  • After you complete both sets ride around in zone 2 or cool down.
  • Upload your data to TrainingPeaks and analyze your average interval wattages!

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 power meter, 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 rested, motivated, fueled and ready to suffer. The payoff is that you will be a more powerful, faster bike rider. Imagine you are charging up the race’s climbs with the taste of blood in your mouth and the podium is within your grasp! 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.

Power Data Analysis

The graph below is an athlete’s power data from the VO2 Intervals described above (Zone 5: 4 x 4 min ON 4 min OFF, FULL GAS. This particular athlete is training for a road race with 3 climbs that last approximately 4 minutes each. Not only is this VO2 workout great for his fitness and power output, but it is specific to the power demands of his race course.

4min VO2s

Notice the distinct plateau-shaped power vs. time graph for each interval and the relative steady wattage output.  These intervals were well paced with averages of 340, 331, 331 and 332 watts, respectively.

Pacing

Since you are motivated and ‘hungry like the wolf’, don’t go out too hard for the first 1-2 intervals.  You want your last interval to be as good as your first.  There’s the Right Way and the Wrong Way to perform intervals.   In other words, don’t start each interval at 150% of your FTP only to struggle to hold 95% in the 2nd half.  Use your powermeter to also not go too hard.  By modulating your effort in real time with a powermeter, you can execute your intervals much better than you can by heart rate.  Use the display to pedal harder into your zone 5 but not above.  In that case back off so that the watts fall in your zone 5 wattages.  Not too hard, not too easy, just right like Goldilocks.

Pro Power Analysis Tip

Calculate your average 4 minute VO2 Interval power by adding up the average of each interval and divide by 4 (or # of intervals).  Use this number to measure improvement against future 4 minute VO2 workouts.  For example, if you averaged 283 watts April 16th, 2014 for this VO2 workout, repeat the intervals in 2 weeks under the same rested conditions and analyze your average interval power to see if you eclipsed the 283 watts from April 16th.

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!

Progression from introductory VO2 intervals to more advanced and more challenging interval workouts may be found in our six-week $49 interval training plans!

Copyright 2018, FasCat Coaching

Frank is the founder and owner of FasCat Coaching in Boulder, CO. Frank and the FasCat Coaches have been prescribing VO2 intervals to athletes for over 15 years.  To get VO2’s prescribed for your training, fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to schedule a Coaching Consultation.  Or you may buy one of FasCat’s six-week interval training plans for $49 here.  Either way, look forward to increasing your VO2 Max Power at crunch time!

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