VO2max training for cyclists

29 March 2022


Who is Dan Lorang?

Dan Lorang is the worlds best endurance coach.

That is a bold claim that you will never hear uttered from the humble man himself but if there was ever an award for it he would certainly be a strong candidate. Dan is the head of innovation and performance at BORA – hansgrohe professional cycling team and if this wasn’t enough also coaches Ironman world champions, Jan Frodeno and Anne Haug, and has recently taken on another one of the sports best Lucy Charles-Barclay. 

Below he outlines a typical session the BORA – hansgrohe riders use to prepare for the classics…

Photocredit @lukgood.studio

What is VO2max? 

The VO2max tells us, how high is the maximal oxygen uptake (volume) that the body is able to use in the cells during exercising. It is the gold standard parameter for the aerobic metabolic capacity. Important for the oxygen consumption is the oxygen use from the body cells (mitochondria), the blood transport and the uptake over the lungs. Often VO2max is used related to body weight, then you talk about the relative VO2max (ml/min/kg). Highly trained athletes can achieve values > 90 ml/min/kg, untrained people are around 30 – 50 ml/min/kg. In general, the VO2max of men is 10-15% higher than for women.

 What is the benefit of a higher VO2max? 

A high VO2max can be a predictor for good aerobic fitness and leads in general to a higher endurance performance. Your body can cover a higher amount of energy expenditure over the aerobic metabolism pathway what helps you to keep longer the effort, to safe energy (especially carbohydrates) and to avoid early exhaustion. Higher VO2max often also comes with higher power at maximal fat oxidation and a better compensation of high intensity efforts. Never less the VO2max is only one of many performances’ predictors in a very complex matrix of performance values. For example, a high VO2max with a low body efficiency could result in a lower performance level as a little slightly lower VO2max with a higher degree of metabolic and muscular efficiency. So, the best athlete is the one who has a high VO2max and who can use a high percent of it during constant and decisive efforts. 

How can you train your VO2max? 

There are different pathways to train the VO2max. A good training method to develop the VO2max is the polarized approach, that means that one part of your training sessions consist of high intensity session (15-20%) and the other part of really easy aerobic training (80-85%). 

Short intervals

20-60 sec followed by a ½ recovery time. You repeat this interval 5-10x in a row and do several sets of them. 

  • 3x 10x (30:15) with (30 sec @125-135% of FTP : 15 sec @60% FTP) and 5-8 min. recovery between the sets 
  • 3x7x (40:20) with 40 sec @125-130% of FTP : 20 sec @60% FTP) and 5-8 min. recovery between the sets 
  • … 

Longer intervals 

Intervals of 4-8 min. which also can have an impact on the SV for example: 

  • 5×4 min. with 4 min @110-115% FTP and 4 min. recovery @50-60% FTP between the sets 
  • 3×7 min. with 7 min. @105-118% FTP and 4 min. recovery @50-55% FTP between the sets 

Warm-up and cool-down of the sessions can be adapted to your available time. I would recommend at least 15-20 min warm-up before starting with the first intervals. 

Nutrition: Eat 60-70gr of carbs per hour. 

Easy aerobic training 

Long and easy training session @50-65% of FTP helps you to develop the second part of the VO2max. These rides should be 2-6h long and should contain no great intensities. You can include some sprints of 6-7 seconds every 30 min. but in general these rides should be a complete contrast to the high intensity sessions. During these sessions you have a good benefit when you eat 30-40gr of carbs/h. 

** You can follow the buttons under each of Dan Lorang’s VO2 workouts to try them. Don’t worry if you’re not a Today’s Plan customer, all users will receive a free trial with this workout and you can sync it to your favourite cycle computer or Zwift to make following it easy.