Whether you're riding up and down hills or just down, we could all do with some VO2 work now and again! Here's some tips!
Words: Anna Beck Photos: Mike Blewitt, Bartek Wolinski
One famous philosopher once stated “To erg is life”.
Actually that’s not true–I made it up–but sometimes I read philosophy and it’s a saying I definitelyhave uttered on more than one occasion to many of my athletes. We are deeply within the bowels of Australian winter, the mornings are dark and cold and the lure of staying in the warm bedsheets is enough incentive to skip the group ride.
Fear not! With the advent of smart trainers, or even the humble old mag or fluid trainer, there is a way to maintain and even increase your fitness when the days are short and the training volume is lower in the cooler months.
Here are two of my favourite ergo VO2 max boosting sessions, a gift from my pain cave to yours.
What is VO2?
VO2 is often the zone that will determine a race winning move or break in a race, it’s also called Zone 5 and is the maximal sustainable effort lasting between 2.5 and around 9 minutes. During a cross country race, heart rate will often hover around threshold, however power will move stochastically from threshold to VO2 max zones and above in tricky technical sections.To clear that steep, rooty 2-5min climb every lap, it’s likely you are pushing hard into this zone.
The thing about your VO2 max is that it isn’t difficult to optimise… in theory. It only takes sessions with from 12-30 mins of ‘work’ time to reap the multiple benefits of VO2 max training; notably increased stroke volume of the heart (central effects) and optimised oxygenation of target tissues (peripheral).
The sessions itself are easy to write and prescribe on paper, but very taxing physically, neurologically and mentally. Thus, while I often prescribe intense sessions like this throughout mid-base phase onwards, leave extensive VO2 training until build and peak sessions. It’s important to have done some groundwork on your aerobic base before launching into these sessions.
These sessions are best scheduled after a recovery day, in order to be fresh enough to hit the right zones and get the correct training adaptation. Pacing is also important; for those aerobes out there who live and breathe endurance miles, the zone is often harder than perceived. On the other hand, for those of us who relish sprints and higher intensity, it’s easy to hit these too hard off the bat and limp home at the end. Power zones are a perfect way to manage consistency of the effort, however if using heart rate or RPE, you want to start at around 8/10 and by the end of the effort you should be feeling a desperate need for a recovery interval.
It’s also important to note for these higher intensity intervals that if using heart rate it can take a bit of time for the numbers to reflect your workload, so don’t be surprised if you’re working hard and it takes until the end of the first, or midway through the second effort to reflect this.
These sessions are based on either percentage of threshold power (%FTP), heart rate zone or rate of perceived exertion (RPE), so be sure to do some field testing prior to starting if you’re planning to use power or heart rate.
Before you start
As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail, so for optimal morning ergo success I recommend setting your bike up the night prior.
- Have a bench next to the bike with your bottle, towel, music player/phone
- Have motivating music ready to go
- For more intense sessions it’s recommended to have a snack before training, or alternatively during your session
- Plan a recovery snack or meal for post-workout
-These sessions are HARD, recovery is paramount