How to Improve VO2 Max

Improving VO2 max means increasing your body’s effectiveness at using oxygen for exercise. Also known as VO2 peak, training this aspect can help to improve your endurance and output, whether training for a local race or just improving your fitness. Our guide takes you through what VO2 max is, how it’s measured, and how you can improve yours.

Table of Contents:

What is VO2 Max?

VO2 Max represents the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use as you cycle. It’s not a term solely applied to cycling, though many usingindoor bike trainers may keep track of theirs. Thisperformance test can be used to assess fitness for many different sports and practices.

Breaking down the term, we see:

  • V = Volume
  • O2 =  Oxygen, with its chemical formula O
  • Max = Maximum 

Altogether, your VO2 max is the maximum volume of oxygen in your blood, and how effective your body is at using that oxygen. The faster your body can process this oxygen, essentially the more you will be able to exercise. Leaving you with a quantitative value of endurance fitness. 

Essentially, if you improve your VO2 max, you can improve your endurance cycling. Therefore, many keen cyclists may wish to include this cycling test in their training programmes. This can help to make a benchmark of their ability, and track their progress. 

How is it Measured?

VO2 max is measured in ml/kg/min - which, translated, means millilitres per kilogram per minute. That equates to millilitres of oxygen, per kilogram of body weight, per minute. 

The measurement looks at your cardiac output (how much blood is pumped to your muscles with each beat), and how efficiently your muscles are able to extract oxygen from that blood.

How is it Tested?

Testing for VO2 max is usually carried out in clinical and athletic testing, rather than being something you can easily and directly measure yourself. In order to do the test, your oxygen levels are measured whilst you complete physical activity, with increasing intensity.

This is usually carried out on a treadmill or stationary bike, such as a smart bike. You can perform our Health Assessment Test which will give you an accurate, though indirect, measure of your VO2 max. Meanwhile, ventilation is measured, as well as the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the inhaled and exhaled air. 

When calculated, this results in your value in ml/kg/min, and this value is your VO2 max. 

What Affects VO2 Max?

Genetics do play a role in how effectively your body can process oxygen as you exercise, but there is more to it than that. Some of the factors which affect VO2 max, include:

  • Altitude - As altitude increases, the amount of oxygen in the air decreases. Therefore, at altitude, the rate at which oxygen can transfer to the lungs will be slower. Cycling at altitude can also affect your blood sugar and how much hydration you’ll need.  
  • Training status- Beginner cyclists are less likely to have a high VO2 max as those who have been pedalling for a long time. You may be able to increase your VO2 max fairly quickly, depending on how often you cycle. The fitter you are, the slower you will be able to improve VO2 max. This is as large jumps in your aerobic efficiency become more difficult to achieve. 
  • Age - VO2 max can decline as you age. Above the age of 30 your ability to effectively use oxygen may decline with each decade. If you tested a decade apart and had maintained the same measurement, then you would have improved VO2 max, relative to your age, despite the value being the same. 
  • Gender - While of course not the case for everyone, in general, female cyclists tend to have a lower VO2 max than male cyclists. This is due to a higher muscle mass and haemoglobin (the protein responsible for transporting oxygen in red blood cells) levels in males. Both of which can affect VO2 max.

Improving VO2 Max on an Indoor Smart Bike

Improving your VO2 max takes a lot of work and consistent training. Monitoring your VO2 max can be pivotal in helping to improve your endurance. Over long distances, you will need the most efficiency from your body, to sustain you over a long race. 

With our time-efficient plans and cycling workouts, you can train smart with the Wattbike Atom smart bike. You can improve your VO2 max by approaching your indoor cycling training consistently, and using a heart rate monitor. You can ensure you’re cycling close to your VO2 Max by training with a heart rate monitor. When you’re riding close to your maximum heart rate, you can consider that to be contributing to your VO2 max training. This is because the two values are so closely correlated.

While connecting to the Wattbike Hub on your indoor trainer, you can see realtime cycling data alongside your workout.

5 VO2 Max Workouts from the Wattbike Hub

We have tailored workouts on our Wattbike Hub app, which allows you to select expertly-designed sessions to train on your indoor bike. 

1. VO2 Ladder Workout from the All Blacks 

With the All Blacks, we have designed a VO2 Ladder workout to improve your max. The workout features 5 levels, where each level gets shorter but more intense:

  • Interval 1: 10 mins at 80% Functional Threshold Power (FTP) - stay focused, this is meant to feel fairly comfortable.
  • Interval 2: 8 mins at 100% FTP - this will start to feel hard especially towards the end
  • Interval 3: 6 mins at 110% FTP - this is out of the comfort zone and heart rate will be high - prioritise that recovery!
  • Interval 4: 4 mins at 115% FTP - this is will be very hard now - one interval left
  • Interval 5: 2 mins at 120% FTP - empty the tank on the final interval

Take 2 minutes rest between each level. Then enjoy a well-earned 5-minute cool-down.

2. Cyclist VO2 Max Builder

Created by Dave Nichols PhD, to improve top-end aerobic capacity. This is a 60-minute workout which includes:

  • 10-minute warm up
  • 4 x 4-minute max intervals
  • 1 x 3-minute max interval
  • 12-minute cool down at 40% FTP.

3. VO2 Max Decliners 

This 15-minute workout was also created by Dave Nichols PhD - and is suitable for anyone with moderate training experience looking to improve.

The workout is broken down into:

  • 12 x 1-minute segments - at varying FTP
  • 3-minute cool down at 50% FTP.

4. Power Up

This 30-minute workout, again by Dave Nichols PhD, is suited for a cyclist with a busy schedule. Providing a worthwhile session in limited training time. The aim is to maintain your power output across 4 intervals. 

The 30-minute session is split into:

  • 10-minute incremental warm-up
  • 4 x 3-minute intervals at max power (130% FTP)
  • 4 x 1-minute recovery at 50% FTP
  • 5-minute cool-down at 50% - 30% FTP.

5. Mark Beaumont: VO2 Max

Created by Mark himself, this workout is one of his regular indoor sessions. Suitable for more experienced cyclists, focus on controlling your breathing during the recoveries. 

This 52-minute workout is broken into:

  • 13-minute warm-up
  • 15 x 1.25-minutes at 130% FTP
  • 15 x 1-minute recovery
  • 6-minute cool-down.

Mixing up your training types is important for improving your VO2 max. Keep in mind that just training flat out won’t be the only thing that can impact your results. You’ll need to be aware of the other factors which will have an impact on your VO2 max, so you can keep your goals realistic and achievable. 

Boost Your Performance with Wattbike

At Wattbike, we’re passionate about indoor cycling. With our cycling data, and using compatible training apps, you can improve your performance with our indoor bike trainers.

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Presenting VO2 Ladder. Created by the All Blacks
Presenting VO2 Ladder. Created by the All Blacks

Time to step out of your comfort zone with our latest workout, VO2 Ladder, featuring 5 intervals to build your aerobic efficiency.