How to boost VO2max to Improve your Triathlon Performance

VO2max is largely genetic limited which means if you have been training regularly for a long time, you are probably close to your potential, however, VO2max training can still provide some important adaptations that will improve your triathlon performance, whatever event you are performing in. 

If you are new to endurance training there is a great chance that you will be able to improve your VO2max and have a significant effect upon your performance. 

Training Methods

Obviously, in triathlon, there are three disciplines however the principles of improving VO2max are the same in all three.  

Method 1

High Volume Low Intensity (HVLIT)

The intensity needs to be below LT1 for the vast majority of your training (80% total volume), the more volume you do the further below LT1 this will need to be, as the overall load will become too much. 

For example, a pro training for Ironman may do 30 - 40hrs of training per week, week after week.  If they performed their HVLIT training at just under LT1 the training load would be like doing an Ironman daily.  So much of their HVLIT training will be:

55 - 65% FTP for cycling

75 - 80% FTP in running (using power not pace).

If however you are a time-poor AGer performing ~ 10hrs training a week and you are already well-conditioned, doing 8hrs of the above training will not provide a significant overload, so you will need to perform this for many weeks to begin to see any adaptions.  Therefore we tend to work towards the top of the range, just under LT1 for at least some of the sessions. 

65 - 72% FTP for cycling

75 - 85% FTP in running (using power not pace)

How much do I need to do to improve my triathlon performance?

That is an impossible question to answer on a generic page, it depends on so many factors, and will be different for most individuals. 

Using metrics such as Training Stress Score and the other metrics that Training Peaks calculate (Acute and Chronic Training Load, Ramp Rates etc) will help to manage the overload.  Whilst the designers would like you to believe these are the holy grail of managing training, they cannot factor in a lot of other things such as your workload, sleep, your nutrition etc.  So we use these as a guide.   

As a starting point, you will need at least 6 weeks of HVLIT training to create a meaningful change with the appropriate loading.  Longer than this might also work, but it will depend upon other requirements in training and the timing of your races. 

I would usually start with a loading that can be sustained for 3-weeks, then have an easier week, before repeating. 

AVOID - smashing out a huge week in Week 1 and then hanging on, build the volume as you proceed through the block, using the last week of your mesocycle to increase the load if you can handle more. 

Rest or recovery weeks (also called adaptation phases) are essential for the continued development.  These allow you to adapt, recover and then build a bigger base.  They don't have to be a week in duration though, it's just a simple way of describing the phase.  Sometimes we use 5 days sometimes 10days, it all depends upon how well the athlete is recovering, and the load we subjected them to.  

What about the other 20%

Ah, you noticed!  Yes, we said that it's usually ~ 80% of the volume under LT1, so what about the other 20%?  In most cases is impossible to never go over LT1, so on a road ride there will always be small increases in power for traffic lights or hills, this will account for some of the 20%.  It's also advisable to include some quality work in the programme to avoid becoming one-paced.  We would normally consider ~ 10% of the total volume as some form of quality repetition, depending upon each individual's requirements.  

Sometimes this is a few short sharp very high-intensity intervals, for others, it might be FTP reps, but whatever they are they are usually above LT2. 

Method 2

The other method of developing VO2max is to use intervals of high-intensity work at or close to VO2max.  Typically we want to get as much time as possible in a session close to VO2max. 

Sessions fall into three main types

  • xsdsdsds

Sprint Olympic 70.3 Ironman
Time 60-80-min 2 - 2.5-hrs 3.5 - 4.5-hrs > 8-hrs
VO2max High Medium Medium/Low Low
Economy data data data data
T1 data data data data
T2 data data data data