I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase my cycling performance this winter and that lead me to do a little research on VO2Max. VO2Max is your bodies ability to take in and use oxygen and its properly tested in a lab where a rider is attached to a trainer and covered in hoses and wires, it can also be closely or not so closely estimated by all kinds of tests and equations. I’ve never really thought much about VO2Max because I remember reading that its not very trainable and tends to be geneticaly set.
Well at the elite level it probably is, I’m sure that Greg LeMond didn’t train any harder than Lance Armstrong, and we know he didn’t dope, and even so Greg’s VO2Max was super high. Here’s a quote from Greg when asked about how rare his physiological gifts are.
“I read in a deposition in a trial that an expert witness said that I couldn’t have had a ninety [VO2 Max]…that I would have been a one in a thousand in the pro ranks to have that. I happened to have been in the 1980s and was probably the best rider out of a thousand pros. So [laughs], I was one in a thousand.”
In this interview Greg goes on to talk about how his VO2 Max would vary based on his weight and training but how riders with far lower lab measured VO2 Max then his in the 1990s were able to climb the Tour de France mountains with sustained efforts around 500 watts, or about 80 watts more then Greg. There actual doped VO2 Max numbers are estimated to be around 100 or more. EPO allows your blood to carry that much more oxygen.
So my curiosity engaged I first attempted to estimate my VO2Max using the resting heart rate method, I laid on the bed with my HRM on and my heart rate never went below 60. The calculator told me that I had a V02max of 16. When I started to try and make some sense of that number I found that was the equivalent of a octagerian asthmatic in a nursing home. Hmmm maybe I should look at that again. Apparently you’re supposed to count heart beats for 20 seconds, which for me means 20 beats. That spit out the number 47 which their chart tells me is one number away from excellent.
Next I found a bike centered method for calculating VO2Max.
“VO2max = 12 * PTW + 3.3”
PTW=power to weight ratio and suddenly it hit me, VO2Max has alot to do with weight. It’s right there in the unit used to express it, 47 ml/kg/min or liters of Oxygen uptake per Kilogram of body weight, per minute.
The directions say you need a 5 minute max power number to get you’re power to weight ratio. Strava used to show me my max power estimates for 5 and 10 minutes and I think my max for 5 minutes was around 320 watts. Since my weight is 102 KG my PtW ratio is 3.13. If I plug that into the equation I get 40.9 for my VO2max.
My power output estimation takes into account my larger weight than many I ride with. For instance, if I lost 50 pounds and climbed a hill around the same speed I do now my power would be much lower. Really these are all just estimates and don’t tell me much but it makes me feel good. For instance, on the Pine Hills climb ranked on Strava I’m currently 5th place out of 14 but I put out 79 more watts on the climb then the guy with the fastest time, very small and skinny guy.
On another Strava segment that is mostly flat Luke was faster then me by 1.5 mph and since its mostly flat as you can imagine he had to put out more power then I did, 41 Watts more, the fact is I even spent some time tucked in his draft on that run which means my power output would measure lower if it wasn’t being estimated by GPS data.
So whats the point, VO2Max or more simply power to weight is very trainable, just lose weight. Besides losing weight the most scientifically proven way to improve VO2Max quickly is high intensity interval training.
There is a great blog I ran across when researching VO2 Max, with some interesting charts that show comparative abilities and power outputs across a wide spectrum of abilities.