VO2max is a synonym for the maximum possible intake of oxygen. It is the amount of oxygen which is processed by the body under maximum activity. It essentially depends on four factors.

First, the oxygen needs to get into the lungs. Therefore it is an advantage being able to breathe in and out a lot of air within a given timespan. Blood needs to absorb the oxygen and transport it to the muscles. The heart pumps the blood through the blood vessels. Finally, the muscles need to absorb the oxygen transported by the blood and needs to use it. Parts of the VO2max value is genetically determined but the other part is definitely trainable. 

VO2max is a good indicator for endurance capacity of an athlete but many other factors come up when aiming for a win. As a consequence athletes with a lower VO2max can beat athletes with a higher one.

When your body breathes in oxygen, it is delivered via the blood stream to mitochondria in the working muscles and is then used to develop Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) via aerobic metabolism. The magnitude that your body can use this oxygen and make ATP is termed your VO2 max. VO2 max is a representation of the level of cardiovascular fitness that an athlete has. 



Thus, it is trained via aerobic means. For instance, any training that lasts over 3-4 minutes, and is at a pace that is maintainable and repeatable.

An endurance athlete would want to test their VO2 max so that they can prescribe training intensities to improve aerobically. Once you have a max established, training at certain percentages of this number will dictate which adaptations occur. For example, training at high percentages of VO2 max will accumulate lactate and thus bring an athlete closer to their lactate threshold and improve their ability to clear it from the blood. Lower percentages will allow for longer training durations and help to raise the magnitude of VO2 max.

Training at 105%-120% of FTP at 4-6 mins intervals is the ‘ideal sweet spot’ for improving VO2 max but it also improves with steady endurance work. 


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

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!


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. You want your last interval to be as good as your first. 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 power meter to also not go too hard. By modulating your effort in real time with a power meter, 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 on the money.

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, 2021 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 this VO2 workout: 2 sets of 3 x 5 min ON 5 min OFF with 10 minutes in-between each set.


VO2 Max Ranges:

For 20 to 29-year-old males, the range is about 46 to 62. 

For males between the ages of 50 and 59, the range is about 32 to 49. For women between the ages of 20 and 29, VO2 max is usually around 43. 

Women who are 50 to 59 years old generally have a VO2 between 29 and 39. As these numbers demonstrate, age and gender play a significant role in an individual’s VO2 max.

CALCULATOR: https://www.michael-konczer.com/en/training/calculators/calculate-vo2max 

Top-level endurance athletes can be as high as 6 L/min (men) and 4 L/min (women) putting men into the 80s and women into the 70s when tied to body weight, way up at the world level.

Below are the values both for the world’s top athletes:

  • Greg Lemond (m): 92-94 mL/kg·min
  • Lance Armstrong (m): 84 mL/kg·min
  • Miguel Indurain (m): 88 mL/kg·min
  • Chris Froome (m): 84.6 mL/kg·min
  • Flavia Oliveira (f): 76 mL/kg·min
  • Oskar Svendsen (m): 97.5 mL/kg·min

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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