Ep 311 - VO2 Max Intervals and Altitude

@trevor @robpickels

Thanks for the great guest line-up and discussion regarding VO2 max intervals on Episode 311. I have a question regarding training at altitude for competitions at sea level. But first, some context.

I’m a masters track cyclist focusing on endurance events including the 2 km individual pursuit and the 10 km points race. I live at over 6600 feet. I have two “A” priority events each year (nationals, worlds). Both are at sea level.

For the last two seasons my most frequent intervals in the build and peak periods have been a) one set of 4 times 2:45 (longer than my 2k race time), and b) one set of 4 times 45 seconds (longer than my 500-meter race time). Both intervals are standing start, race gear, and full gas all the way. Both types of interval include 10 minutes easy pedaling between efforts.

The average power for my 2k intervals at altitude is significantly lower than the average power for my 2k races at sea level. Some of the difference in average power is probably the result of the taper in my training and perhaps the caffeine and adrenaline associated with my races. However, I believe altitude is the biggest single factor.

When I heard Neal Henderson’s comment during the podcast about racers living at altitude being “underprepared for the amount of sustained contraction” at sea level, I jumped off the couch and yelled, “That’s it!” Also, Grant’s comment about his swimmers being unable to hold 58s at sea level made perfect sense.

From the podcast it sounds like some standing-start 40/20 Tabatas would better than the 4 x 2k (2:45) intervals that I was doing last year.

Here’s my question: Given my situation, what interval session would you prescribe for each of threshold, VO2, and anaerobic endurance? (In other words, one interval for threshold/FTP improvement, one for VO2, and one for anaerobic endurance.) For the purposes of this thread let’s assume that a “live high train low” strategy and/or supplemental O2 are not options.

Thanks very much.

Hi Dave,

Really glad that episode helped you! It was a fun one to record.

I think you’re spot on with what you learned from Neal. 2x2min intervals used to be my go to high-intensity interval. When I moved to altitude, I had to stop doing them. I just couldn’t do them with enough quality.

At altitude, I far prefer Tabata-style intervals. When they are short like that with a short rest, you can get pretty close to sea-level wattage. My favorites for anaerobic capacity are 15sec on 15 sec off and the classic Tabata of 20/10s.

I don’t really differentiate Anaerobic Capacity and VO2 intervals anymore, but something that’s a little more of a classic VO2 workout that is effective at altitude is one of Neal’s favorites: 30/30s (30 seconds on, 30 seconds off.)

For threshold work, I don’t find altitude has a big impact. You can do all the same workouts. Just be aware that the wattage will be a little lower than sea level. My experience is that it’s still close enough to get the same adaptation. Personally, I do love 5x5s with a 1 minute recovery. it allows me to push an even closer wattage to what I’d do at sea level.

Hope that helps!

Trevor - Thanks for the excellent response. Just what I was looking for. -Dave