VO2max intervals are a type of HIIT training that specifically aim to improve aerobic power (VO2max). Although many workouts increase VO2max aerobic power, VO2max intervals are often considered to last about 5 minutes. But why? Here’s how to create individually tailored VO2max intervals that work best for you.

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Contrary to Tabata intervals and 40-20 intervals – which can also have the goal of improving aerobic power – VO2max intervals typically last between 3-10 minutes, instead of a couple of seconds.

Although long slow endurance training can also be implemented to improve aerobic power – VO2max intervals are different since they take place in the high-intensity domain. The intensity is often above steady state intensities (e.g. above anaerobic threshold).

Before we dive into the ideal intensity and duration for VO2max intervals, let’s first look at an example of VO2max intervals.

 

  1. Warm-up
  2. Intervals: 4 intervals of 5 minutes, 100% of VO2max-power*
  3. Recovery: 5 minutes between each interval, at an intensity of 50% of VO2max-power
  4. Cool-down

*INSCYD athletes and coaches can find exact VO2max power in their metabolic profile. With VO2max-power, we mean the amount of aerobic power at VO2max. For example: when you have a VO2max of 60 ml/kg/min and a body weight of 80 kg, your VO2max equals 4800 ml/min (60 * 80 = 4800). Roughly every 12 ml/min equals 1 watt. Your VO2max-power therefore equals 400 watts (4800 ÷ 12 = 400). 

This workout would take roughly 35 minutes (ex warm-up and cool down).

Graphic of the Example VO2max interval workout
Example VO2max interval workout: 4x5min. at 100% VO2max power, 5 minutes recovery in between intervals.

In this example we used 5 minute intervals, but should you?

There’s a wide range of VO2max interval durations that are effective. That is because basically any intensity above anaerobic threshold, will make you reach VO2max sooner or later.

All intensities above the anaerobic threshold or critical power (top graph) will make you reach VO2max (bottom graph) sooner (e.g. after 4 minutes at an intensity of 370 W) or later (e.g. after 10 minutes at an intensity of 320 W).
All intensities above the anaerobic threshold or critical power (top graph) will make you reach VO2max (bottom graph) sooner (e.g. after 4 minutes at an intensity of 370 W) or later (e.g. after 10 minutes at an intensity of 320 W).

Short, high-intensity intervals can result in a maximal oxygen uptake within 2-3 minutes. Long, slightly above anaerobic threshold intervals can take much longer (e.g. 10 minutes) before they result in a maximal oxygen uptake.

As a result, when you use short VO2max intervals, the intensity should be high. When you prefer longer VO2max intervals, you can choose an intensity only slightly above the anaerobic threshold.

But which one is better?

Both strategies have the potential to improve aerobic power. Your decision depends on other factors. If you want to increase your anaerobic power (VLamax) too, it makes more sense to choose high-intensity, short intervals. When you want to decrease your VLamax, it makes more sense to choose longer VO2max intervals at a lower intensity.

Learn why this is the case and how to make the decision, via our guide. Use the form to receive it directly in your email inbox:

VO2max intervals: what intensity to choose?

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Wondering how to tailor VO2max intervals for each of your athletes? With INSCYD’s metabolic profiling, you can go beyond generalized training programs. Understand not just VO2max, but also other key metrics like VLamax, anaerobic threshold and others – watch the full list.

It’s the next step in individualized coaching for sports coaches and athletes. If you’re interested in seeing how INSCYD could help you improve your athletes’ performance—and in the meantime, increase your revenue—book a free demo with INSCYD in your own language.

The obvious benefit of VO2max intervals is an increase in VO2max. So if your VO2max is below VO2max norm values for athletes, it’s time to start increasing it. Contrary to Tabata intervals or 40-20s, longer VO2max intervals allow for keeping the anaerobic energy contribution relatively low, which can prevent an increase in VLamax.

There are many benefits of having a high VO2max. All other things equal, an increase in VO2max increases:

 

That typical 3-10 minute VO2max intervals are effective in increasing endurance performance has been known for years. Even competitive cyclists who already have a high VO2max can increase performance with training programs lasting only a couple of weeks.

In 4 weeks, competitive cyclists performed 6 HIIT workouts: 6-8 intervals of 5 minutes above threshold with 60 seconds recovery. They significantly increased their:

 

  • 40-km time trial performance
  • Peak sustained power output at the end of a progressive exercise test
  • Time to exhaustion at an intensity above threshold
  • Muscle buffering capacity

However, a more recent study shows that although 3 weeks of three weekly sessions of VO2max intervals (4×5 minutes with 2,5 minute recovery) do increase performance metrics like VO2max, short intervals like the 40-20s might be more effective (for elite cyclists)

The only way to find out what works for you is a simple pre- and post metabolic test that gives you a 360 degree overview of your progress.

INSCYD offers a comprehensive metabolic profile of the athlete, which revolutionize your approach to training and performance analysis.

From optimizing nutrition plans and rehabilitation programs to tailoring high-intensity interval training, INSCYD provides actionable insights based on comprehensive metabolic profiling. 

Whether you’re developing talent, working with amateur athletes, or aiming for Olympic-level performance, INSCYD provides actionable insights that are backed by science and trusted by professionals and top tier teams and federations.

Get a 360-degree overview of your athletes’ physiological capabilities. Book a free call with INSCYD today and take the first step in revolutionizing your approach to athlete performance.

What are the best intervals for VO2 max?

The best intervals for VO2 max have an intensity above critical power or anaerobic threshold, and last between 3-10 minutes. Learn which VO2max duration and intensity works best for you.

What is the interval duration for VO2 max?

The interval duration for VO2 max is between 3-10 minutes. This is roughly the time it takes to reach VO2 max, depending on your exercise intensity.

How often should you do VO2 max workouts?

You can do VO2 max workouts every day, as long as you pay attention to your recovery too. You should consider mixing several VO2 max workouts: from long slow distance endurance training to HIIT interval training.

Do VO2max intervals raise FTP?

VO2max intervals raise FTP, because they increase your threshold by improving the ability to clear lactate. This is obviously only true if your VO2max intervals are effective (they raise VO2max) and if they don’t increase your anaerobic power contribution, which would increase lactate production and therefore negatively affect FTP.

5 minute intervals increase VO2max in well-trained cyclists

Weston, A. R., Myburgh, K. H., Lindsay, F. H., Dennis, S. C., Noakes, T. D., & Hawley, J. A. (1997). Skeletal muscle buffering capacity and endurance performance after high-intensity interval training by well-trained cyclists. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology, 75(1), 7–13.

Shorter intervals are more effective in elite cyclists

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Nygaard, H., & Lundby, C. (2020). Superior performance improvements in elite cyclists following short-interval vs effort-matched long-interval training. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 30(5), 849–857.

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