How to do a 30-minute interval session to increase VO2 max

Half an hour of interval training on an exercise bike gives you an intense leg workout that builds your average VO2 max, develops your cycling sprint power, and increases your overall aerobic capacity

Clock19:47, Friday 29th March 2024

Join James ‘Hank’ Lowsley-Williams as he takes you through some full-effort sprints that will test the limits of your maximum power and improve your anaerobic capacity.

This workout boosts your VO2 max by using sweet spots or ‘tempo’ intervals in between each sprint, which also increase your Functional Threshold Power (the amount of watts you can sustain for an hour).

It’s a tough session split into two 10-minute blocks, in which we’re going to alternate between sweet spot intervals and 10/10 sprint efforts, to push your aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

Explore all of GCN’s VO2 max-boosting training sessions

What is VO2 max and why does HIIT training improve it?

VO2 max is the maximum rate at which your muscles can effectively use oxygen. It is the key indicator of the limits of your aerobic fitness, which is a type of exercise that is fuelled using oxygen. As soon as you surpass your VO2 max, you enter the anaerobic zone and your body starts breaking down glucose instead.

Anaerobic exercise can’t be sustained for very long which is why boosting your VO2 max is important, as it will raise the level of exertion you’re able to ride at for sustained periods of time.

High-intensity intervals like the ones featured in this workout are one of the most effective ways to boost VO2 max, with a study in the Norwegian University of Science and Technology showing that high-aerobic intensity endurance interval training is significantly more effective at increasing your VO2 max than other forms of exercise, such as lactate threshold training.

At GCN, we think indoor cycling on our turbo trainers is the best and fastest way to increase our VO2 max. Plus, it’s a perfect way to isolate and train those power zones when we can’t get out on the roads.

How to calculate your VO2 max

Without conducting a test in a laboratory, something most of us don’t have access to, it’s only possible to get an estimate of your VO2 max. This is still a really useful figure, though, that can be used for training purposes.

It can be estimated using either your FTP or maximum heart rate:

  • 106-120% FTP
  • >106% threshold heart rate

Learn more about the different training zones and how to calculate them

Indoor cycling workout details

  • GCN instructor: James ‘Hank’ Lowsley-Williams
  • Indoor workout duration: 30 minutes
  • Indoor training type: HIIT interval training to boost VO2 max
  • Fitness difficulty: This is a tough, high-intensity workout that is going to hurt
  • Benefits of this indoor cycling workout: Increasing VO2 max and improving FTP

From VO2 max to endurance sessions, check out GCN’s full library of indoor cycling workouts

Warm up text on an image of a bike with a red overlay

Warm up with varied intensities and RPM

For this sprint session, you need a thorough warm-up to prepare. Start easy, then gradually build in some intensity to work the legs a bit, then finish your warm-up with a two-minute 7/10 effort.

Top Tip

During your warm-up, drop down some gears to increase your RPM and spin the legs to prepare for the intervals to come.

'Intervals' text over a GCN cyclist with a red background

Sprint intervals with sweet spot recovery

Now for the main interval sessions, during which we're going to alternate between full-power 30-second sprint efforts and two-minute recovery periods. Those recovery periods are still going to be tough, though. You're aiming for a 7/10 intensity, known as sweet-spot or tempo riding. Hold on for eight sprint efforts, and you're done.

Top Tip

Stay strong during the high-intensity intervals to get the best VO2 and FTP workout possible.

'COOL DOWN' text on a background with GCN training cyclist with a red overlay

Cool down: Spin the legs to release lactic acid

Well done – you've made it through the session. Before you hop off the bike, spin out that lactic acid with two minutes at 3/10. If you feel you need a bit more time to spin out the legs, feel free to keep spinning for a few more minutes.

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