Not All VO2max Intervals Are Made the Same—A Physiology Deep Dive

“VO2max intervals” is a term used to describe an enormous range of work. We talk with coach Neal Henderson about why they are not all made the same and how best to build that critical race fitness.

FT EP 311 with Neal Henderson

VO2max intervals; love them, hate them, or fear them; it doesn’t matter because we all know that if we want to be competitive, we have to do them. But what do we really mean when we say VO2max intervals? Is a series of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, all-out intervals really the same thing as doing 5 by 5 minutes at 115% of our threshold power? Do they both get you to the same place? Surprisingly, that’s a controversial question. Some coaches and physiologists will say “yes” while others will say “absolutely not.” 

Joining us today to navigate this important question is elite coach and owner of Apex Coaching, Neal Henderson. Neal has worked with Olympians, World Champions, and Tour de France athletes. And a big part of his success is his remarkable ability to design work above threshold that targets exactly what each of his athletes needs.  

Neal talks with us about what exactly we mean by VO2max intervals – is it just anything above threshold or do we need to be far more specific? We’ll dive deep into the questions of whether all of this work produces the same results, how to best differentiate the effects this work has on you, and why not all of the benefits can be measured. Most importantly, we’ll talk throughout the episode about how to pick the right work to get you to where you need to be.  

Joining Neal, we’ll hear from Source Endurance coaches Kristen Arnold and Taylor Warren; owner of and author of Science and Application of High-Intensity Interval Training, Dr. Paul Laursen; writer Brady Holmer; author of How to Become a Pro Cyclist, Jack Burke; and of course, close friend of the show, Dr Stephen Seiler. 

So, pick your intensity carefully, and let’s make you fast! 

RELATED: Episode 251: Time at VO2max: An Important Metric You Probably Haven’t Heard Of 

Episode Transcript

Trevor Connor  00:05

Hello and Welcome to Fast talk your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Trevor Connor here with Coach holics via to max intervals. Love them, hate them fear them doesn’t matter because we know that if we want to be competitive, we must do them. The thing is, what do we really mean when we say vo to max intervals is a series of 22nd on 10 Second off all out intervals really the same thing as doing five by five minutes at 115% of your threshold power, do they get you to the same place? Surprisingly, that’s not a rhetorical question. Some coaches and physiologists will say yes, well, others will say absolutely not. Joining us today to navigate this important question is elite coach and owner of APEX coaching Neil Henderson. Neil’s worked with Olympians, world champions and Tour de France athletes. And a big part of his success is his remarkable ability to design work above threshold that targets exactly what each of these athletes needs. Neil is going to talk with us about what exactly we mean by Vo to max intervals. Is it just anything about threshold? Or do we need to be far more specific? We’ll dive deep into the question of whether all this work produces the same results, how to best differentiate the effects his work has on you, and why not all of the benefits can be measured. Most importantly, we’ll talk throughout the episode about how to pick the right work to get you as an athlete to where you need to be joining Neil we’ll hear from source endurance coaches, Chris and Arnold and Taylor Warren, owner of and author of science and application of high intensity interval training Dr. Paul Larson writer Brady Homer, author of How to Become a pro cyclist Jack Burke. And of course close friend of the show Dr. Steven Siler, so pick your intensity carefully, and let’s make it fast.

Background Noise  01:46

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Grant Holicky  02:31

Hey everybody, really excited this week to have a dear old friend of mine and friend of the show back Neil Henderson. We go way back race next tear together 20 plus years ago me working at Apex with you for a long time and you’re back with Apex now. Yes, sir. furrow in that plow again, getting ready for the Olympics this year. And I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit about that. But today we are talking about vo two Max.

Trevor Connor  03:00

Yeah, we have touched on this episode a few times. But grant, you really wanted to bring this back and you wanted to bring in Neil because I think while we’ve touched on it, this is a complex subject. And it’s these types of intervals are so popular. And as you pointed out, all get lumped together. People go oh, I’m going out and doing five by fives I’m doing vo two Max intervals as be able to say Oh, I’m going out and doing 20 times and doing vo two Max and all those very different intervals. Yeah,

Grant Holicky  03:24

there’s just so much up there. Right? You know, like the thing I’ve said on the show a couple times is that you can look at your power meter and just because it’s all purple doesn’t mean it’s all the same 110% of you know, FTP power is very, very different than 200% and certainly the one of the people that I learned a lot of this from his Neil and I really wanted to bring him back because I know how adamant you are, Neil about this in training.

Neal Henderson  03:51

Absolutely. It’s it’s one of those things that gets a lot of mystique and coverage and people you know, compare vo two Max and I was fortunate to work and still do work in areas where I’m actually testing and actually measuring the Oh to max collecting oxygen, collecting co2 and quantifying and measuring that and looking at the associated work. And honestly, there’s really even some crazy things that you can get into detail there that we’re not even going to touch on today from a lab type of perspective, I think the practical side of how we then approach vo two and VO two Max training in endurance sports and in cycling especially is really one of these things that there’s a lot of ways that we can elicit changes that are potentially laboratory maybe derived or measured or actual practical power output associated maybe with what might be near that field to max level

Trevor Connor  04:46

and let’s just clarify as we go into this because we’re gonna get into things like why do we call them vo two Max and roles? Are they all the same? What are the differences? What systems that we’re really going to dive into that subject but I think the one thing that we can say is is a nightmare bass session And of why do you do these is a waste of your time, I think has been proved pretty definitively both on the road with the athletes that we work with. And in the research that these type of intervals, whatever you want to call them, whatever energy system they’re hitting, they produce results, we see athletes improve. So I think that’s the one thing that we’re not going to challenge this conversation.

Grant Holicky  05:18

Yeah, not at all. I mean, the bottom line is Why is VO two Max important is because this is where we win races, almost every race is one with some sort of a view to max effort. Maybe a time trial is a little bit different than even then we’re going to talk about bursting up a hill, or how do you crest that hill? This is where races are one and you have to have this piece of your puzzle developed, right? Absolutely.

Trevor Connor  05:40

So something I’m sure you’ll agree with, which I tell my athletes all the time is any race really comes down to two, three moments. You’re either there, you’re not there. And if you’re not there, it’s over. And you’re not going 90% of FTP at that moment.

Neal Henderson  05:53

You’re not measuring engagement and monitoring your effort and keeping it totally in check like that. Now, you’re either in or you’re out.

Trevor Connor  06:01

I had an athlete I just started working with and he was very into the watching his numbers and that moment happening to miss the moment. I’m like, why weren’t you there? And he was like, why is 110%? Back down? And I’m like, and what happened? Why lost the race? Why would you back down? Why

Neal Henderson  06:19

that was not a great decision. You’re either in it or you’re not, you gotta get in it.

Grant Holicky  06:24

So why else is VO to max important? Obviously, we just kind of touched on this is where races are one. But what else can we kind of derive from this type of training?

Neal Henderson  06:33

Yeah, there’s a couple things. You know, if you think about the automatics, like it’s, it’s that aerobic ceiling, it’s that highest rate of utilizing oxygen to produce energy. That’s the key thing. It’s not just the oxygen that’s being consumed. But it’s actually the capability the work that you’re able to do from that process. That’s really critical. So that ceiling has an impact on on really what you’re able to use as some percentage of it, we often think about whether it’s an FTP, a threshold value and Lt one and Lt two as a fractional utilization of that aerobic Max, what percentage of that Max Are you able to sustain at those levels. And so if you never change that, let’s see denominator if my math is correct, dividing your your your whatever threshold issue metric, divide that maximum, if you don’t change that maximum, you’re going to kind of hit a ceiling and you can’t keep pushing up that sustained threshold Type value. And so you have to open up that ceiling, to be able to continue to push up in some cases with training with those who have been training for a while novices. Typically, that’s not the limiter. One

Grant Holicky  07:39

of the ways I like to describe this is runners, right? If your marathon pace is supposed to be five minute mile pace, and the fastest mile you’ve ever run is 445, you’re gonna struggle, you got to push that ceiling up of what your top end is, so that the pace can fit in there a little bit easier. And I think we see that in a lot of athletes, especially self trained athletes, they’re phenomenal at threshold or just below. But when we start going over into that, it starts to get really hard. So we’re going to talk a little bit today a lot today, we’re gonna dive into this really wonderful fun zone of fun. I love it. I mean, it’s personal.

Trevor Connor  08:19

So let’s touch on one thing before we really dive into this because I still remember, we had an episode with Sebastian Webber, and we were talking about recovery lengths and different intervals. So we were talking about threshold intervals and all the different types and we got to vo two Max intervals, and he was on screen and you could just see his face change. And he goes, What do you mean by Vo two max? And we’re like, What do you mean? It’s like, well, I know what that definition mean. But do you know and he like went on this. Everybody uses this term, but they don’t know what it means. So we have touched on this before but I think it’s a good thing to retouch on a Neil I’m interested in your definition. We talked about vo two Max intervals is because you’re training vo two Max is it because you’re training around your VO two max power is it another reason I have my explanation I’m interested in yours. Yeah,

Neal Henderson  09:08

I take really kind of two different angles on it. Number one is work that can elicit a high percentage of your actual vo two max. So things that will elevate your heart rate generally, we’re going to see that sustained up over 95% of max for some period of time and that oxygen consumption actually is nearing a maximum it’s at that upper limit. So you can get there a lot of different ways you can do longer classic vo two intervals three, four or five minute efforts that are over threshold nearing where that aerobic maximum power may be. And so for different people that occurs at a different percentage, say of FTP or threshold and so you have to maybe modulate really what that target is based on the individual’s capability rather than just use a set percentage of you have of FTP or threshold, that’s, I think a big difference in how I approach it from even just that perspective, that classic vo two type of training. Secondarily, I think about it as the actual work that is able to be accomplished near that highest aerobic output. And so those kinds of intervals can be very short, they might even be 30 seconds, 20 3040 seconds long, with some limited recovery. But we’re actually thinking about accumulating the work done there not just the VO to response but actually accumulating a time of contraction, that time under tension at that output in training to have that capability of producing those power outputs and sustaining them for longer. So there’s actually a really a neuro muscular side of that contraction of those forces that is different than just the classic cardiovascular central kind of vO two type of response

Trevor Connor  10:57

and something you touched on that I just want to bring up, you can go all the way back to the 1960s. And in the research a huge focus was always on time at 90% or higher. VO two Max we actually did a whole episode on this for anybody who’s interested was episode 251. But researchers and some big name researchers you can talk about Doctor biller Astra and a whole bunch of big news of the legends. Physiology, they were obsessed with this of how do we create intervals to spend more time either at or very close to vo two max power pace, you know, back then it was it was a lot more about pace. And so I think that’s a lot of where this nomenclature came from is that’s what they were trying to accomplish get you at VO two Max very close to vo two max. So instead of going around go I’m we’re doing intervals that are at 90% or greater a vo two Max was a mouthful. They just kind of converted to vo two Max intervals. And I think there has been a little bit of a misinterpretation among people of oh, that means these intervals are great for working your VO two max. And we were just talking about this offline. Neil, I know you want to jump on this. But it’s very interesting watching the research gymnastics among all these researchers of well, we’ve been studying this in the 60s and we’ve just said spending time near vo two Max is great. So why is that great? And some it’s like it’s the adaptive single other people it’s what just creates a huge amount of perturbation. So has to be good. Just kind of a gymnasts lore is better. Exactly.

Neal Henderson  12:26

Yeah. That create a stimulus does the greatest stimulus create the greatest response? I would argue probably not. And so there’s a really interesting aspect of that that historical context from the research body and the literature associated with that. Typically vo two Max tests in the lab right or a ramp type format progressive one minute long stages till tap out till the end. And that would be peak power output. So so many studies talked about, you know, we did X intervals had X percentage of PPO, right, right. That’s that peak power output in my world, man. pretty practical. It’s a totally different, okay, peak aerobic power, maybe call it pap, but whatever.

Trevor Connor  13:06

Let’s pause for a second here from Coach Kristin Arnold, who echoes his sentiment that it’s really important to understand what you’re training.

Kristen Arnold  13:13

A lot of the studies that are done on energy pathways that are used during exercise, use percent of vO to max right, so they’re doing a study on runners, they do a running test to see what their vo two Max is, and then they have them do another run in a certain condition at a percentage of that. And that’s how they calculate, okay, this athlete is, you know, likely to be in this energy pathway. And then what kinds of things can we feed them or not feed them in this energy pathway? And how does that relate to what is going to help them perform in the context of nutrient needs. That being said, like using these metrics is really important to make sure that they are measured correctly. And there are lots of different standards in the literature of like how to measure these variables. So reading the study and being familiar with what the experiment protocol is, make sure you know what you’re looking at is going to relate to the research question that you have.

Neal Henderson  14:22

Here’s the cool part. Two different athletes, I can get two really, really gifted, capable athletes who actually compete against one another and maybe they’re one to one to like, flipping back and forth who wins any given race, even if it’s something that really is say, reliant on a high vo two max output like a 4k individual pursuit, and we do lab tests with both of those individuals and they can actually have a very different PPO during the ramp, but with a similar oxygen Max vo two Max one has a greater anaerobic capacity because once that oxygen consumption maxes out for how they can get into that and keep going. I’ve seen athletes like mountain bikers, especially with extraordinary capability of hitting vo two Max and going five more stages like you can’t even imagine how insane that effort level is. Jeremy Horrigan kudelski one of them. Liam Killeen, unbelievable. Their oxygen consumption plateaued, their heart rate is at max and they go for 345 stages. VO two is not going up anymore. Lactate for sure is continuing because that’s how they’re generating that energy. And they’re able to do that from that anaerobic capacity, not because of an oxidative enhancement. And so that peak power output actually might not be the power associated with maximum oxygen consumption or power at VO two max. And so that stimulus actually even wasn’t even being probably prescribed equally amongst all the folks in these studies, right.

Grant Holicky  15:56

And then depending on what you’re doing, you need to be able to go there. And so some of what we’re talking about today is all right, one set of intervals may be producing that PPO and another set is we’re training something completely different. We’re training output, or training tolerance, we’re training the ability to sit there and be okay. And there’s a mental component that’s huge to that. And so that’s what’s really interesting about this for me, like we know, you talk about the there’s a three zone model, and there’s a five zone model, there’s a seven zone model. And I think really where this got in trouble is we could have gone to basically a 12 zone model, which I’ve seen

Trevor Connor  16:33

people Yeah,


it’s amazing.

Trevor Connor  16:38

I have actually seen, so and

Grant Holicky  16:41

I mean, it’s understandable to a point but it just it starts to fall apart. Like how are we actually going to educate people on this right. And so we have to understand the subtlety and the nuance that’s going on in this quote unquote, zone, this whole world. But a lot of what you’re talking about something

Trevor Connor  16:58

very quickly that you kind of hinted at was, you know, some of the explanations, well look at all the perturbation that you have at that point. I’ve got to point out some of the Dr. Seiler goes, Yeah, but that’s also a whole lot of stress. Right? And is that you might be getting a great perturbation, but is it producing adaptation? Or is it just pushing it over training? Right? And

Grant Holicky  17:17

the question then, is lots of stress, if you recover, you’re going to get a benefit out of it. But if you’re going not hard, have to recover that hard. You can’t get any consistency with that training plan. So how you sprinkle this stuff in is really important,

Neal Henderson  17:30

really important, for sure. I mean, some fun practical examples, you think about like a 4k pursuit, right? I mentioned that before, you know, it’s a four ish minute of it. I mean, I know. Now it has been gone under four. Slightly, but you know, if you think of a guy like Bradley Wiggins was pretty good. Yeah, he won the 2008 Olympic Games four minutes and 14 seconds. Eight years later, Mark Cavendish was doing the 4k pursuit as one of the six track Omnium events where he won a silver medal. He was only two seconds slower than Wiggins time and the 4k he was 416 Would you believe that those two guys have the same vo two Max their rider characteristics are extraordinarily different than the things that they’ve done you know, truly a sprinter and truly an endurance you know, everything else expert you know, time trial world champ Olympic gold medalist. But in this four minute event, they actually had almost the same result but they got there totally differently how they were able to execute and accomplish that is really an interesting thing. So even we may often look at a five minute power is pretty good surrogate for Max aerobic power, but it’s not right 100% Everything about that

Grant Holicky  18:41

well and there’s a reason you like to do the one minute power piece in there too. Right and and how we break those things up that this though is the thing that you’ve said forever it we get so many athletes that are so caught up in the 20 minute power number or what’s my FTP? Well, okay, what’s your whole profile? What is you look like above? What do you look like below? What do you what can you do in a sprint, this is what we understand an athlete based on and then can prescribe specifically towards the needs of that

Trevor Connor  19:13

athlete. And so this bit of a tangent but go into your point of you’re producing that power in very different ways. This is something that often surprises people, you hear about athletes all the time going and saying, I’m gonna go to altitude I’m gonna get all those great adaptations come back and often they are you But what a lot of people don’t know is when you first go to altitude all the adaptations are on the anaerobic side. It’s you improve your ability to tolerate acid to tolerate elevated lactate levels. You have to be at altitude for weeks and weeks before you start seeing a change in EPO and oxygen delivery. So people go out and go look at like all these gains I’m better at handling oxygen is like no actually you just got better at handling anaerobic

Grant Holicky  19:59

Yeah, well, and altitude does really interesting things. And we’re gonna get into it later about. There’s certain intervals we can’t do up here. Yep. Oh, shut them modify. Yeah.

Trevor Connor  20:09

Well, one of my favorite intervals when I was living at sea level is two by two minutes. And then I moved here and I attempted one set.

Grant Holicky  20:18

Yeah, that was it. Yeah. Well, I get people all the time that because it is such a classic, right? And this, this can be a nice segue into somebody’s like, there’s a huge range of intervals we can be doing that are going to elicit this kind of response. One of the classics is four by four. Yep, that people love four by four 110 or 102. Or whatever you can hold. Yeah, right.

Neal Henderson  20:38

I had a professor told me you can’t be you can’t increase vo two Max. If you don’t do that. I was like, an athlete to keep getting faster and nobody’s ever done. My for none of them ever.

Grant Holicky  20:48

Yeah. And because four by four up here doesn’t really work. I mean, you can do it, but you’re going to probably fall apart. I mean, even this is why in swimming, we would like everybody kicks 15 meters off a wall and can’t do that up here. You have to train it a different way. So you have to break it apart. You have to get ways as you were saying like, how do I get that time under load?

Trevor Connor  21:10

To that point? I am not looking at right now. But you’ve just brought that up. I love that you did. And I will put this in the show notes the reference. But there was a study by Dr. Blau, comparing 3030s. Yep. Which I know you love to the four by fours. And you saw significantly better gains in the 33rd.

Grant Holicky  21:28

Yeah, well, and there’s, I mean, there’s physiological reasons for that. But there’s a lot of psychological reasons for that. But most people don’t go out and do a lot of our powers. Even though that is theoretical, what we’re trying to do right, what can you hold for an hour, the whole point is to break it up to the Get to the point where psychologically and physiologically we can be under that load for a period of time. But yet at the same time, when we start doing that, with purple intervals, to max intervals, I think we get a lot of people kind of fighting back, well, why aren’t you doing four by four, you’re doing so much up there, there’s a lot of stuff you’re going it’s a complicated set, it’s all that stuff. But it’s ways to break up that time under load the same way we’re breaking up an hour of power so that psychologically and physiologically we can handle it, I

Trevor Connor  22:15

knew you’re gonna go there. And I agree. So I can tell you personally, if I’m just trying to physiologically improve my athlete, I prefer something like the 3030s or Tabata as I tend to go with those gonna get great adaptations, and they’re more manageable. I do still sometimes prescribe the four by fours, or the five by five vo two Max intervals. But it’s more with athletes where I go, they just can’t tolerate pain to teach them to handle pain I’m doing and there is no better way than those. Yep. Yeah, it’s a mental thing. Yeah,

Neal Henderson  22:46

absolutely. The psychological interaction here is huge. And again, there’s different you know, some folks really recoil from either one of these styles and formats. And sometimes I’m thinking about in training, I’m trying to maximize the load they’re able to do but sometimes minimize that minimal, that mental strain, so that they can accomplish it. And they can continue to do the next bout of work, whether that’s a couple days later, or get a good benefit from that from a mental perspective that they accomplish something rather than give them too much of the, well you need this, you’re not good at it, I need to beat you. I need to beat this into you. Like, you know, the beatings will continue until morale improves side of like, effort, training and prescription like that. I don’t do as much of that, like, because I recoil from it myself. That’s probably my counter. Yeah, that’s just my like, antagonists, you know, just doesn’t doesn’t work as well, in many cases, but a little bit to get that confidence and a little bit of a change. And it’s gonna get you there. I do

Trevor Connor  23:48

have to say we just recorded a potluck, where I talked about the fact that I did your 40 p test. You just looked at me and when Why would you do that to yourself, then it goes, the only person in the world who would do that to themselves is Neil.

Neal Henderson  24:05

You guys, you guys might be interested to know, I’m experimenting with some new protocols with athletes and some of them are liking it even more. Oh,

Grant Holicky  24:14

nice. liking it

Neal Henderson  24:19

more classic, using like a three point critical power that you know, three minute, minute and 30 seconds. By the office, it’s last weekend had had great results and people were much more you know, they’re willing to do it. The biggest thing so you know, I mean, there is some truth serum in that full power profile. I understand that too much truth serum might be toxic. I guess that was

Trevor Connor  24:46

my point for bringing it up because that was the most half as for DPS. I was saying nothing. I got 10 minutes at a 20 minute test and just went yeah, I can hold that for 20 minutes.

Neal Henderson  24:59

It’s probably good Yeah, and it is truly it is probably 50%. Psychological. Yeah, in terms of what you need to be able to accomplish anything reasonable to your capability. Yeah.

Trevor Connor  25:10

So I’m gonna hit you with the question that I know is just going to

Neal Henderson  25:15

just just keep in mind when you do that test, which one is generally first, I mean, five seconds, prints, whatever, don’t kill you with lots of breasts like you do the we do the five minute first, because we know that that’s an important one. And I don’t want that to be clouded by any other

Grant Holicky  25:29

ad off so and it takes off the 20. Exactly.

Neal Henderson  25:33

Change that perspective of what’s really hard, then you can go not as hard for long if you

Trevor Connor  25:38

do it right, that five minutes is the most miserable part of the whole 20 minute is the price. But I’m a time traveler. Yeah,

Grant Holicky  25:47

yeah, you’re not this

Neal Henderson  25:51

is very based on where your relative strengths or capabilities are.

Trevor Connor  25:56

So here’s my question. And half the reason I want to ask is because I want to see grant flip out. We got grant on a soapbox in that last potluck. So I want to see if I can get him back there. So there as grant you pointed out, there are so many different types of intervals that fit in this category of vO two Max intervals. So they’re all the same, right?

Grant Holicky  26:19

I’m gonna let Neil

Trevor Connor  26:22

Yeah, yeah. Knows. I didn’t ask are they? Yeah. Just to

Neal Henderson  26:28

this, that they are but yeah, right. Anything over 110% of FTP? Voc is what some people out there, kind of just put them in the box. And to me Wow. And

Trevor Connor  26:39

I noticed you didn’t let us get away with that in the outline? Yeah,

Neal Henderson  26:42

absolutely not. I’m calling that out. Because I mean, there is so much more about that. I used to say life begins in FTP in terms of like your your sensations and what you get out of things. You discover more about yourself in these places well above FTP. And so vo two is like into the first range above that. And there is a range for sure. But it doesn’t go up to 200% like the highest that I’ve seen again, somebody who has a little bit of training history, maybe 150% of FTP is going to be the top out of where that Max aerobic power occurs. Fun thing way back in the machine. If I get back a few years, Taylor Finney was a young 16 year old he was pretty new to cycling back pretty new to cycling. He was in his maybe second year he was 16 years old. He started basically age 15 and had him doing some 4020s were Yeah, to CompuTrainer studio at the time and intervals, you know, everything had to be just a percentage of I don’t think we even call it FTP might have been threshold. And so his 40 seconds on were at 140% of his FTP or threshold at the time, which was like in the low three hundreds. Okay, not bad by any stretch, but you know, 140% of that 320 If I do the quick math in my head, that’s like probably 450 Watt target his power of vO two max at the time was oh about 450 Watts loaded up that workout three sets of 840 20s You know, the 40 at that target 140% of FTP does the workout like okay, that was work but not dying. He didn’t like you know, keel over cry or anything like that. Had a couple pro athletes that I coach at the time, Ben de and Chris Baldwin. I mean, they were both national champion tee tees, you know, been an Australian Yep. And Chris, US TT national champ loaded up the same workout the tailor just did because time savings for me cool, I loaded up 140% of well, their FTP is were like in the 363 80 range. And their max aerobic power is maybe the same. But that 140% times that higher FTP target meant that they literally did three intervals in the first set, and both failed on the fourth. And I’m like, Guys, come on man, like 16 year old kid just smoke fest, and dial it down to 130%. And they did a few more efforts. And they’re blown up. And it’s like, oh, actually, I need to go like 120% for them because their FTP is higher. And their vo two might have been similar. But that percentage of FTP just mathematically, I was over demanding from them to try to do the same thing that this younger, less well trained, right, comparatively. And so it’s like that target, again has to be appropriate to what that capability is.

Trevor Connor  29:26

Well, it’s so important to understand the profile of the athlete. Yeah. And

Neal Henderson  29:30

how they’re able to do the work and what’s what’s the right range. So making sure that that target is appropriate. So if you do if you’re trying to do vo to work at 200% Well, I can have people do that for 30 seconds on and 90 seconds off, but it’s not necessarily a vo to be able to stress I’m doing something different. Yeah, for sure. And I personally categorize it as something clearly different. I don’t think my 39 These are vo to work even if I have them do it at a vo two and two NCAA in many cases, because it’s more just that we’re trying to get some some higher power output with adequate recovery. So we can repeat it initially to set the stage then for being able to go either longer on those efforts, or to shorten the recovery and keep the effort at that same intensity, and accomplish now a different goal and get into actually be able to work.

Trevor Connor  30:20

Dr. Paul Larsen literally wrote the book on high intensity interval training, let’s hear his thoughts and why knowing the type of rider is so important when picking the work.

Dr Paul Laursen  30:30

When you think about the exercise intensity, and the domain between v2, and via to Max, you know, this is the, you know, the severe exercise intensity range. And, you know, we have, when we, when we are working up in that, in that range, we are, you know, you’re going through that, VO to slow components, you’re, as soon as you get up there, it doesn’t, you are going to drift into vo two Max eventually. And then lots of ways to skin that. And in my experience, it often, you know, your ability to kind of hang out in that in that range often relates to your fiber type phenotype, ultimately. So if you’ve got, if you’re laden with fast twitch muscle fibers, you probably want to, you know, hit it, hit it hard and not hang out in there too often, where conversely, if you’re a diesel engine, got lots of slow twitch muscle fibers that are going to, you know, quench up a lot of that, you know, the blood lactate, etc? Well, you’re probably a little bit more comfortable hanging out and in that upper kind of range, don’t need as much kind of recovery. And yeah, so I think you might want to as an extra consideration, consider who you are or who your athlete is, depending on on the context, do they do they look like they’re they’re twitchy individuals, or do they look like they’re more diesel engines, if they’re diesel engines, they’re probably going to be real responsive to more work in that vo to slow component territory. If they’re twitchy animals, you might want to kind of be a little bit more cautious with your prescription in there.

Grant Holicky  32:14

There’s also another piece that we can get with that type of interval, too, which is there’s a technical component to that. You see a lot of people that are very good at pushing really big watts at a really low cadence, you see a lot of people that are really good at a very high cadence, but they don’t push a lot of big watts, going out and doing 30 seconds at huge watts at 100 RPM, seated planted nailed in that saddle. That’s a technical aspect that when you learn how to do that’s going to stay with you for years, let alone whether the physiology comes or goes, that’s going to stay. And that’s one of the things that I think is really important about this is not upper end, we start to get into things that become more technical or more psychological. And we’re doing neuro muscular work, or we’re doing technical work, not just physiological work. We’re

Trevor Connor  33:03

going back to your point of this is the intensity at which races are won. The cadence is critical because I’m one of those guys who can put out biggest power at very low cadences. Yep. But I learned very quickly in a race, if I’m grinding 60 RPM, by the time I spin up, obey, yep, that attack

Neal Henderson  33:20

is done and you’re not in it. Right. So

Trevor Connor  33:23

I learned that very quickly that when I was doing this type of interval work, I had to do what was uncomfortable for me and do it at a high cadence to learn how to be able to put that power out in a way that you can respond quickly in a race.

Grant Holicky  33:34

And one of the things that I’ve loved about this, that I truly took advantage of the old Apex lab with this was doing it on a trainer. And I know there’s so many people out there that don’t love the trainer, but what you can get, especially on ERG mode on a trainer, if you’re kidding starts to drop, you’re going to fail. If you can hold the cadence at 100 You’re going to be successful. And I remember vividly Max chance putting them in a workout in their wonderful cross athlete. And all I would hear from is Why do I have to keep pedaling, I just want to stop battling and but that on the trainer that erg mode of like nope, you’ve got to recover here, keep the kid moving is really really good and really gives us

Trevor Connor  34:18

a lot and you are doing high power intervals in ERG mode, and you drop even three, yeah, either done

Neal Henderson  34:26

there no a constrictor of increasing torque is gonna eat you alive.

Grant Holicky  34:31

And I love that I love because what it teaches people and now you got to remind them of it because people will walk out of it and go home. And you can do that on the road too. You can find those places on the road because it’s that whole idea of saying over the pedals, if you’re over the pedals, you’re over your cadence. You can do this for a lot longer. And if you start to fall apart muscularly you’re going to fall apart if that cadence low

Neal Henderson  34:53

torque demand just goes beyond what you’re capable of those intervals, the levers that you have, the intensity is what One of them the duration of the effort, the recovery, duration, and the recovery intensity are all these different things that we can modulate. And I think that’s actually one of the things that to me is like, the super fun part of building and planning workouts like this, that can create a stimulus that is different than a classic, whatever it is a 4020, or a 3030, or for a minute or two minute. To me, those are basic stuff that’s like square blocks. Man, I like a system where we have all kinds of different shape things. So that’s like those workouts, right, that Pyramid of Power that I do from 10, second to 62nd efforts, and there are five second to 62nd and five second increments are the mini period by 10 seconds, that we’re able to actually get a stimulus there by modulating each one of those components differently, to elicit a stress, which is really just a, again, it’s way more interesting for athletes over time, and they don’t get in their head as much. And that way they don’t get in their own way. Because you’re not actually in a 22nd effort. When I say it’s like near your like one minute power, you’re not holding that power. And so there’s some variation there that again, comes into a pacing part, which we’ll get later. So

Trevor Connor  36:17

here’s here’s something I need to throw at the two of you and just hear your response. Because going back to that question of is it all the same like I agree with I don’t think it was all the same. But I’m going to point out and I could pull up more, but just three studies here. Here’s a 2002 study led by Dr. Larson, where they tested a bunch of different high intensity interval programs, and said all produce similar results. Here’s a study by a to this a 2016 study led by Paquette I’m sure I’m mispronouncing that, where they compared a super maximal I think it was a 3030 interval to a submaximal basically a threshold interval and said there was no difference in the results. Likewise, there was the 2013 study by Dr. Seiler where they varied intensities from VT one up to what was considered vo two max power all kind of produce the same results. So how do you respond to that? Yeah, that you

Neal Henderson  37:10

can get to an end point from many different angles. Now, in some of those studies, I would really want to just make sure what is the outcome measure that they’re looking at? Like what was or wasn’t changed? Again, all of those had a net result of similar response in what that key metric is. But were there potentially adjacent capabilities that may have been improved more so in one of them versus another? That might be? Again, interesting to see from again, the practical applied side? And I know in science, we can’t, we can’t do both all the time, we have to pick a measure and stick to it and look, and do we see a change are no, we didn’t see a change in those outcomes in that one, either adjacent?

Grant Holicky  37:53

Well, I’m just putting in one of the things I think’s really interesting about that study. And what we’re looking at is they’re they’re talking about a submaximal effort. And an above my, like, this is something that you taught me and I use all the time with my athletes is I can go out and do 4028 by 4020s. And that’s going to elicit a very similar response than a straight eight minute LT power Effort, Right. And it’s way more entertaining, or it’s different. But it’s also in my mind. And we all know I come from the mental side of things a lot. And I know you do, too. It’s that idea of this is what racing is like, right racing isn’t like that. And I think there’s something interesting about Neil and certainly me even more so me, we came from different sports, we came from swimming, or we came from running. This is the norm in those sports, how we pull the levers in those sports, like, I can do 20 fives and I can make that a distance set, or I can make that a sprint set. And so that essentially 15 seconds on I can do that in a million different ways. Now, it’s why both workouts get complicated enough that athletes are writing them on their STEM. Yes. But it does provide a different way to get to the same result. One of the things I would say about that study is it’s not talking about some of the things that we’re talking about, what does the 39 D do? What does a 32nd to one minute pyramid do when you come back down? Those are very different stimulus that are going to give a different response. And as we said a second ago, that response might be difficult to measure. Let’s pause

Trevor Connor  39:29

here for a minute and hear a different perspective from Dr. Steven Siler who feels that we may be overcomplicating this

Dr. Stephen Seiler  39:36

alright, VO two Max, we’ve got to pull in oxygen from the atmosphere. We’ve got to get it into the lungs, we’ve got to get it into the blood and we’ve got to transport it to the muscle and then the muscle has to be able to use it. So there’s this oxygen cascade that we’re trying to train. And the big discussion over many decades has been well where’s the limiting factor and probably it changes a bit with your training status but it If we assume that you’ve got to maintain some central capacity to just deliver, how’s that going to happen? Well, it seems like we need to get up to maximum stroke volume. So, you know, we need to have some intensity, but we probably don’t have to have 100% of you up to max or even 95, or maybe even not even 90. The data suggests that you know, VO two for most people, the stroke volume is plateauing at fairly low intensity. So it’s difficult to argue that your heart needs a bunch of minutes at 95% heart rate max to get a good stimulus. It’s difficult to make that argument. But we need some, then you go down to the peripheral part, the muscular part. And then you say, well, maybe these 3030s give a different fiber type recruitment than more steady state intervals. But I gotta tell you, everything we’ve seen on the research suggests that we’re really making this too complicated that interval training is not that hard. It’s hard to do. But it’s not difficult to design an effective workout. And yes, 3030s can be good 30 fifteens. But if you string together a bunch of 30 fifteens, the heart sees it as a block of 810 minutes of high oxygen demand. And it it works to that it delivers to try to meet that demand. The muscle sees it more peripherally. There’s more stochastic change at the muscular level. So I would almost say like Winnie the Pooh, yeah, both kinds of intervals can be useful, but they have a little bit different peripheral and central effects, I have not been able to identify an optimal workout for vo two Max maintenance or improvement. And the final thing I’ll say is, it should give us some pause to realize that in the big scheme of the limiting factors for endurance where we say you got to view to Max, you have to have a high threshold or fractional utilization. And then you can measure economy throw in a little anaerobic capacity. Well, those big three, which one peaks fastest in the career of an athlete, almost always, it’s failed to max. So it’s not hard to achieve.

Neal Henderson  42:08

I mean, here’s a fun thing with some of those early workouts that I was building, I was coming from it from actually a prehab perspective. I worked in clinics, I worked in a lot of sports medicine areas, like in the early parts of my career, where people were coming in, and overuse injuries are very common with endurance athletes, and it was like seeing people doing low intensity training, and then instantly into intervals. It’s like, whoa, whoa, whoa, what if we sprinkle in a little bit of stress that’s gonna get some of that connective tissue, you know, tempered, you know, enough so that when they start to turn that higher intensity dial up, they don’t come in with these itis is this tendinitis, this overuse, because they’ve actually done adequate preparatory load to be able to then do at that higher level that they might be, you know, they might be physiologically capable, but they were actually musculoskeletal ly not yet prepared to be able to do the load that their actual internal physiology was able to do. And so that was, again, a different perspective that isn’t necessarily again, from the physiology point of view. it in a way is neuromuscular. But again, it’s from that neuro mechanical load and overload.

Grant Holicky  43:28

Yeah, and that’s really interesting in cyclists because the overuse itis is don’t always show up. And so this is one of those things that you can bring an athlete and we’ve seen it you bring athletes that have done very much a heavy sweetspot program or very heavy on LT program and you start to give them these things. And either they’re walking out of these workouts that minute on minute offs that in my mind is is really hard and they’re going well it wasn’t that hard because a great Niall ism they’re shoveled isn’t very big. They can’t dig the big hole or you bring somebody that comes from soccer or lacrosse or this like on off piece all the time. Swimmers are really good at this. They have a giant shovel, so you have to really manipulate the rest like Taylor’s got a huge shovel when he walks into the lab and might not have the rest of it to back it up. So how you prescribe this there’s a lot that goes on behind the curtain because example

Trevor Connor  44:23

I ever saw that as I went out and did sprint training with a really good sprinter through sprinter Rob Nope. Rob did Rob destroys me. I’ve never done a sprint workout with him. There’s no point but I can get through so I do these 8/22 Sprint’s and I can get there three sets of it. And yeah, I remember I can get there three sets. No, bro. He came out with me, you know, great sprinter. He got through three sprints. And he was like I’m done. Yep, tap. Yeah, that’s exactly what you said. I just can’t dig that deep a hole because I’m not a sprinter at all. Yep. Where he destroyed himself in three. Yep, exactly.

Neal Henderson  44:58

And that’s that capability. And like, again, when you do all out type efforts, you got to understand the type of animal, you’re you’re prescribing that to, again, if I give you 10/22 efforts over the course of whatever amount of time, you can do that, and you walk the next day, and actually, like you feel good the rest of the day, for the most part, somebody else who is really high sprint capable, they might do again, three and literally be like, smashed and wrecked for a couple of days, because they’ve actually 20 plus millimole lactate, they’ve actually had so much acid that they’re eating through the, you know, fish phospholipid bilayer, and their muscles and have actually destroyed themselves, it’s truly destructive. And it takes days to recover from that which again, such a different thing, I prescribed the same thing to two people who have very different capabilities, make sure you get that target appropriate. If I want to perturb it, but not kill you, I might need to moderate that effort for the Sprinter whereas you I can just let you have at it.

Trevor Connor  46:05

This season for spring knee, as sunshine and spring weather inspires us to ramp up a ride and mileage our knees don’t always keep up. If you got knee pain, we have the solution for you that stock lab members can follow our knee healthpathways featuring Dr. Andy Brewer, see the introduction in the knee Hill pathway at fast Doc Now let’s talk about these intervals. What are the different ways that we can define them? And what do those different ways mean? Is it the length of the interval? Is it the length of the recovery? Is it the intensity? If we just even brought up cadence you bring in neuro neuro muscular effects? There are so many different types of these intervals. How do we want to look at them? And what is most important? How do you approach it? Well,

Grant Holicky  46:45

I Neal touched on this a second ago, he kind of listed some of these, you know, you can differentiate these a million different ways whether it’s with length, whether it’s with output, whether it’s if you’re in the lab, oxygen consumption lactates an interesting way to measure some of this stuff. But even something as simple as how do you ride the interval? I’ve got a minute on, am I going out all out? And then Dianne? Or am I trying to hold a consistent box are ramping up at the end? Those are going to elicit very different responses. So I kind of want to turn this over to you. And I want to rapidly go through some of these pieces, right? Like what changes with length, what changes with zone, what changes with etc, etc. So and I’ll try to not like jump in over and over again. So we don’t make this episode three hours. We can do a part one and part two.

Trevor Connor  47:33

Part three, we’ll get

Grant Holicky  47:36

to that aside I from the boss, but start with like, Yep,

Neal Henderson  47:41

so length, typically if we think about short with think of micro intervals. So these are anywhere probably as short as 20 seconds. I guess you could maybe go less than that. But I really wouldn’t consider much more shorter than 20 seconds up to maybe even the minute is getting on that upper CUSP where you’re going to be doing generally for a vo to stimulus, a limited recovery. So not even equal recovery but maybe closer to 50%. So a 4020 fits that a 2010 which is again most people think Tabata equals 2010 Well, that’s the E three D. I believe from Dr. Hirofumi Tabata that was the one that he felt elicited or measured and found that elicited the greatest but

Trevor Connor  48:24

they’re all Tabata. So that was the first one that he did research on. Yeah, yeah, it’s a class

Neal Henderson  48:28

again, it was the greatest shirts servation and greatest

Grant Holicky  48:31

potential response, so but a 4020 and a 3015. Or yeah, Tabata so think I

Trevor Connor  48:37

will also say the 2010 is the one that gets me curse and the most

Neal Henderson  48:42

hurts, there is some discomfort, I think of those micro renewables in duty cycle. And those are two to one work to rest duty cycle on to one off. So those intensity for those kinds of things, I typically then use near that like five minute power target, yep, you know, plus or minus just a little bit. Because if you go much higher than that, you’re not going to be able to accomplish enough repetitions to get that vo to actually submitted to get your heart rate up that high. If you overload if you do that 20 seconds all out on the first one and you’re trying to do six or eight of them, you actually start to fail, you can’t produce the output and therefore you don’t get the cardiovascular stress or strain is that you’re trying to accomplish for that actual vo two type of string. So having that target then be modulated more towards what you can probably do for around five minutes is proper in my worldview for that field to work in the intervals then can be five to 10 minutes, which again, depending if it’s 20 and 2010, that’s 30 seconds per round. So it’s going to take at least 10 times do that for me to get five minutes. I don’t I don’t actually try to do those micro intervals in less than five minutes. That’s generally I’m trying to elicit change

Trevor Connor  49:55

and just a side tangent here. Those researchers who are big on the Best intervals are the ones that are you do the most time at greater 90% of vO to max, they’ve come back again and again again to show that that two to one ratio of effort to recovery seems to allow us to produce the spend the most time at or very close to vo two Max Yep.

Neal Henderson  50:17

And again, the target on those is typically at peak power output, peak, aerobic power power, VO two Max are associated pretty closely, which is

Grant Holicky  50:26

why it’s really important to have an understanding of what that is for you, we use a ballpark of 120% A lot of times, but that’s not everybody, yep.

Neal Henderson  50:34

If you’re pretty well trained, and you’re an average endurance athlete, and that way, you probably fallen in there probably falling in there. But you might need to do a little less or a little more depending on your individual characteristics as an athlete, and the purpose

Trevor Connor  50:46

of that short rest, that is to your aerobic system recovers quicker than your anaerobic system. So the whole idea is deplete the anaerobic system never give enough time to recover. So you’re having to do this work more aerobic ly,

Neal Henderson  50:59

exactly. And keeping that that basically oxidative engine turning over to not shutting it down and slowing. And so you’re keeping everything and keeping that heart rate elevated. Well, that 10 Second, recovery is not enough for heart rate to drop. So from the cardiovascular perspective, that’s what you’re trying to get that stimulus, respiration rates, high all those things. So micro intervals in sets and accomplishing a total of 10 to 20 minutes of work is the way I think about that. 10 minutes is kind of a you know, earlier in the season, and then we build up to maybe 15 and 20 minutes of accumulated time. So you can do the math of how you how you accomplish that, and lots of different ways to get there. But that’s kind of the idea on micro intervals.

Trevor Connor  51:40

These micro intervals impact our energy systems differently from longer sustained efforts, which we’ll talk about in a minute, let’s hear Coach Taylor Warren’s thoughts on this,

Jack Warren  51:50

those workouts are quite different a 4020 versus mega steady state bo t max, I’d say the 4020 might be a little bit more race specific, just because it’s kind of what you have to deal with. And the bunch are fighting for position surging a lot, it’s almost an anaerobic workout that turns into a vo two Max workout, as the workout progresses, in this first effort, you’re gonna be able smash yourself really hard. And then subsequent efforts are more than likely the power is gonna start drop off and you become more aerobic during that workout. A big difference between that and a steady state via to max, whether the goal is accumulating, you know, 15 or 20 minutes of time via to Max, I think that’s gonna target the aerobic system a little bit more heavy than then something like 4020.

Neal Henderson  52:35

That 10 to 20 minutes does hold through as we go into these next levels of more intermediate, which I typically think more like 90 seconds to two, maybe three minutes. Again, there’s, there’s lots of different ways you can do, you know, break those apart. But those are more again sustaining that output but for a little bit longer. For me, I find those to be really effective, because the mental strain is not extraordinary. But they continue to develop them that confidence and capability of I can do eight two minute intervals at that five minute power target with just say equal rest, two minutes recovery, early season, I might do a little longer one and a half times rest and get down to generally a one to one ratio, I often for those kind of even intermediate, don’t go much less than a one to one, because I want to maximize the output over the entire set, I don’t want to see that big drop off and fall off. And so again, it’s the load that’s accumulated in those ways. So a big 110 by two minutes on two minutes off is like a high point high watermark. If somebody can do 10 by two minutes at their five minute power with just two minutes recovery, and that’s going to be a pretty easy recovery. They’re ready to go. Yep.

Grant Holicky  53:47

Or say 16 One minute efforts nobody’s ever done that never

Neal Henderson  53:51

worked. You might tell them it’s 1516. Just

Grant Holicky  53:55

one, but I love that workout. Right? The 16 minute on minute offs like that is that’s my test. Yep. If I’m repeating want to see where I am, right? If I if I’m in a good place to do a really good hard road race, or build a Rube a kind of race or across race even? Yeah, that’s what I’m testing on myself. And you’re absolutely right, I’ll go up to 20 sometimes just to be like, Am I there? I’m there, man, I got this. This is great. Yep. And then we go to the classic.

Neal Henderson  54:23

And those are basically those four and five minute efforts that are above threshold, they’re probably you know, for depending on the person, 110, maybe even 120%, but probably closer to that 110 115. And there’s a longer period of time that you’re sustaining discomfort in any effort there. And so it’s a different demand from I think more of a psychological perspective than actually the peripheral and also the output is lower. So actually, for those of us who live at altitude, and if we’re going to go compete at sea level, those micro intervals and intermediate intervals are much more important, because we’re actually getting some of that high error, output time accumulated. Whereas if we just do that 110%? Well, here at altitude, when we go down the sea level, we are underprepared for the amount of sustained contraction. And, you know, I know there’s different things going on. But you know, some people, when they go to sea level, they’re unable to do it, it’s that they’re just not able to continue to contract and hold that forceful contraction for long enough to be able to stay with the group or to be able to Yeah,

Grant Holicky  55:28

and we saw this really clearly defined in swimming, because it was easy to define it right, you would go down and swim a mile at sea level. And I have athletes that just couldn’t hold a high enough pace, they were holding one double close, and they needed to hold 58. And they just couldn’t do it. They didn’t know how to do it, because they we were doing this longer training up here that like beat this one minute pace into their body in their mind. So we would break these into shorter pieces, hit him with lower rest, even do stuff that was faster on higher and just kind of manipulate those levers to go, this is what it’s going to feel like. And then it was really fun to start working with you. Because there was all this stuff that I was bringing from swimming going, oh, yeah, this works great. And we can influence that in. So as we go forward, that’s the classic times. Right. We talked a little bit about the zooms, right and the zone five need to be subdivided. Yes, it does. But we can measure this stuff with actual oxygen consumption. But it’s very hard to do it. Most people don’t have the resources. And yet, it’s just a snapshot when we do it. Yep. Right. The one piece that I really want to throw out there is this kind of idea of the energy source. And not necessarily from the classic approach of well, what is the energy source? Because the energy sources, both we know, it’s

Neal Henderson  56:45

some aspect of everything going on. But what

Grant Holicky  56:49

are you trying to target, right, and this comes back to some of the initial discussion, a lot of those intervals, you were just discussing, you’re trying to target Max aerobic power, right, we do do a lot of stuff that tries to target above that, and why and how.

Neal Henderson  57:04

So with that stimulus, and what you’re trying to get a response. So that’s really where you’re starting to then play with another aspect of how you’re pacing and how that expected demand is going to be met. And so cyclocross racer, individual pursuit are, we have to be able to tolerate an extremely intense start, and then manage whatever is kind of sustained or repeated right across, you have that repeating effort. Whereas on a, say, a pursuit, it’s just very, it’s a very hard start, and then holding that effort for several minutes, right. And so the way that you have to train is you have to be able to understand what the demand is after that starting part. But you also have to have enough encumbered initial stress, so that that repeating work or sustained work is able to be accomplished after that. And so even stuff like 4020s for my track athletes, 4020, or 3030s, and 2040s are, you know, I’ll do three sets of those, whatever 864 of them are 10, eight, six, right, the first effort in most cases, it was a standing start, yeah, to get something that’s specific to what the preparation, what they’re trying to do what they need to be able to do, they need to be able to tolerate that high torque, high force, high output and then maintain even the on off after

Grant Holicky  58:35

that, write that classic like a Batman which is your classroom and we’re gonna start off super hard

Neal Henderson  58:40

for way over FTP settled me be just under and recover, right, even though you’re actually getting near vo to during an FTP or threshold type of effort. And then a strong finish again, right? To get that and this grace, you know, type of you need the finished on and this

Grant Holicky  58:59

goes back to what you were talking about with heart and kudelski. And some of those guys of what they were able to do above maximal oxygen consumption, right? Like they’re hitting these little marks, which is what we used to call lactate tolerance.

Neal Henderson  59:11

Tolerance. Yeah, anaerobic capacity. Those are the associated primes. Exactly.

Grant Holicky  59:17

And this is that kind of thing that I personally believe that there is this frontier in this range that we call vo two Max, that starts to incorporate some of these other things. What are we trying to do, right?

Trevor Connor  59:31

Let’s hear from cyclists, Jack Burke, who once again echoes his idea that riders respond differently, but degrees of building up lactate and then learning to flush it is critical.


So I have this theory that maybe 10 years or so or sometime in the future, we’re going to realize something new, that we’re going to be able to discern between athletes and it’s basically gonna tell you like, Okay, who responds really well to high intensity versus who responds really well to sweetspot training? Because I’ve had coaches that have different opinions on this and I know For at least me, personally, I’ve always found that work over my threshold doesn’t give me as much to help me improve, it doesn’t give me that much. But it comes with a much higher cost versus let’s call it sweetspot work like working just below my threshold, I can do so much of it. And I just my fitness just grows and grows and grows. And the cost is much lower to that. And versus I’ve had coaches where they like maybe a lot less training, but it’s when you do go all out, it’s you’re going to death’s door. And that just doesn’t work for me. And so I do a lot more work just below threshold or just over. And it’s also just like how you understand it like depending on how the coach explains it to you. But just over threshold for me, what if I do over unders, the over part is I’m still in control, I’m not going all out, like I used to when I was first taught how to do these efforts. It’s over, I’m still in control. But you can definitely feel like you can’t hold this for a very long time. So maybe you just do it for 40 seconds to build up that lactate. And then your real focus part of the interval of these over unders is not the over part, it’s actually staying in control and flushing the lactate on the under part, this is literally just what the effort is. But just explaining it that way really helped me with it was to understand when you do the over part, you’re not trying to hit like massive numbers there, you’re just doing just enough to build up that lactate. And then the real critical part of this interval is the underparts, to teach yourself how to flush it at a higher number to build up that lower number.

Grant Holicky  1:01:25

And this brings us to that next segue, we’ve talked about the different levers that we can pull. But what are we trying to do? And once you establish as a coach, what you’re trying to do, then what kind of intervals are we using for those? And we’ve covered a lot of that right? We can use those short, with specific rest to get a maximal oxygen consumption, maximal aerobic power kind of idea. But how do we play around with the stuff that’s above? Like, where are we going?

Neal Henderson  1:01:56

Yeah, for me, a lot of times I think about it as trying to get that more response first, and then get into what are the associated demands the specificity side of it. So I can do classic vo to work and get that stimulus first. But then what are the actual demands associated with that. So again, using say a bunch of intermediate 810, two minute vo two intervals. That’s a classic setup Foundation. And then I might get into three, you know, five, three minute efforts. But the first 30 seconds is extremely high, the next 30 seconds is still over. And then the last two minutes we hold it up. It’s a progression upon that. But again, closer to the demand, if I want to do that same three minute effort, but I don’t want them to be under as much duress for the entire time and maybe not get quite as much of a vo to type stress, I’m going to have the first two minutes study and then build 30 seconds and then finish hard for 30 seconds. Once somebody does that a time. Again, they have this confidence that I can do the two minutes, and I can lift it. And again, each of these components, it’s kind of like where do I need the physiology? Where do I need the psychology? And where do I need the specificity for the demands? And any given athlete even doing the same event different timing of their season, we have to approach it differently. I wouldn’t do the most specific thing first. In most cases, this is

Trevor Connor  1:03:22

one of the things that has kind of been a theme through all this that I’ve really been appreciating, which is you brought up when I pointed out those studies to you and said they kind of produce the same results. You did bring up the fact though, what are they testing? And you might be the particulars of what they’re testing, as we’ve been going through and talking about these different types of intervals, how much of the conversation has been the mental side and other things that we don’t test at all. So when you were talking about that short interval length versus something like a two by two minute that’s been a big part of my training and what some what I’ve done with my athletes, like when I do a Tabata 2010 I’m just going all out, there’s no control, right? Yeah, just as hard as I can go every 20 seconds and try to recover. What I like about the two by two minutes is I have to control it. And there’s a skill in that a skill that you bring into a race where you you have to like when that moment hits on that short hill, you gotta go as hard as you can but you also have to be aware of what’s the line where I blow up right

Grant Holicky  1:04:21

and a great way to describe that as you see this with young athletes and I see the locks I get young cross athletes right that are stupid strong. Yeah. And and very much like Taylor was it because I know you went through this is like, Okay, how do you attack and what are you holding back and because you can attack and you can drop the field but you’re gonna be solo every single time we just again Max chance we just talked about this with Max Max would attack who hug him. Nobody comes with me because nobody can tell you have to tone this down a little bit and people will come with you and then you’ll also be able to settle in and stay in the break. So it’s yeah, it’s how you use that how you understand what you’re doing with it. too, yeah, Beijing

Neal Henderson  1:05:00

in 2008 first lap. He overcooked lap one. And it was like the cost of doing business is extreme, I knew that he would not be able to have his optimal finish based on just lap one. That’s it, no matter what, in a pursuit on the track, as you’re on us specific gear, if you’ve gone too fast, the output associated with doing that is gonna jump on you and drag you down. And again, by no means is a seventh place finish at the Olympics. But some months later, he was world champion. Yeah, and, and, you know, said American records, and all those kinds of things. It’s like the potential was there, but the execution was just a little bit beyond. So I do want to come back to the psychology though. So in those studies, what would be so cool again, retrospectively right now, is to have a questionnaire to all the athletes that completed all of those different intervals. Which of these would you choose to have in your training plan? Oh, you know, once a week for the next four weeks, or twice a week for the next four weeks? And to see what that rate I would love to see. Is it like a totally wild like distribution across that it’s equal in some definitely do this? And some will definitely do that. Or would everyone gravitate towards one or the other? That would be actually quite interesting.

Grant Holicky  1:06:23

Well, one of the things I would love to do is your Pyramid of Power, which direction do you like, after 20 years of doing that? Being able to have that data from people like heal the people like Bruner? Indigo, Kobe? Which way do you like to do these because they’ve all done them. And it would be really interesting to see if we could start to see a line between how they like to do that direction. And what they tend to in the sport. Yeah, because I do think that’s a big piece of this psychological side. And this is something that obviously, I’m very passionate about. But being comfortable with the uncomfortable. This is something that you and I would talk about ad nauseam with all of our athletes. But it does differ with the zone, it differs with the pacing, and you start to learn how to just control yourself in these places. I was talking to an athlete recently, we’re getting it was Bruner, we’re getting ready for cross worlds. And I had moved on minute offs in his program, because it’s the test. I wanted to kind of see where he was. And he called me up and he’s like, Yeah, you know, but that workout is so easy. If Oh, excuse me. And I went back the last time he did it, and I looked at the power mic, okay. It wasn’t going easy. But mentally, it’s become easier. That’s his style of doing something extraordinarily more difficult is three by 20. Tempo for him, right. And we used to joke and time trials, I would probably rather do a whole time trial as a 4020. And probably would get pretty similar. Yeah, because of how mentally we get used to it. But time doing this time getting like used to that feeling. And especially as we get older, as athletes are working with Masters populations, or we’re working with somebody that comes from Ready Steady state stuff. This is something we have to sprinkle in and teach them to learn how to do. And I mean, this is even going back to your athlete that looked down Trevor and said, I’m at 110%, teaching him to not look down, right, just go. And that’s what’s fun about some of these things that Neil does. And that I do, they may not make the most sense, because nobody’s tested them in the lab yet. But think about the protocol of going in a lab and doing Pyramid of Power on everything. That would be a train wreck. Wow,

Neal Henderson  1:08:37

I’ve done it a lot. And I can’t imagine actually, as a study trying to execute that with equal applied stress for each person across each interval, right away.

Trevor Connor  1:08:47

And that’s also why in the research, you tend to have very simple stuff.

Neal Henderson  1:08:51

Yeah, basic. Yeah, it has to be basic like that. And

Grant Holicky  1:08:55

this is what comes back to what Siler says a lot, right? The coaches have figured out in the field, something anecdotally that we maybe we eventually get to in a lab and we go, Hey, guys, we figured this out in the lab and all the coaches go, Well, yeah, we knew that we’d been doing that. Yeah. And so there’s a lot of different ways to do those things. And that’s what I think is so much fun about this, and then the psychology of it. I like to use this stuff, to prep people to compete, you’ve got to be able to go hard. When you’re toast, you have to be able to keep going hard after you’ve gone extraordinarily hard, introducing them to these things in these ways. That’s really, really goes a long way. And it’s hard to measure

Trevor Connor  1:09:37

where I was gonna go with the the mental side, we talked about that moment in the race where you’re either there or you lose the race. And when you hit that moment in the race, I can tell you from lots and lots of experience. You have two thoughts. The first thought is, oh my god, this is incredibly fast. There’s no way we can sustain this. And then the second thought is 3040 seconds later where You go, Oh my God, we are sustained. Yeah. And that’s where you have to find it in yourself to, to do something that you don’t think you can do. And I think that’s a lot of what these intervals are about is like the Pyramid of Power. It’s, I’m hurting, I want to quit. Now, I got to do something harder. Well, in

Grant Holicky  1:10:20

the great Frank, shorter line, right? How do you know when to go? Well, I waited till I was absolutely on my limit. And I figured they must be on their limit, too. So I went harder. Yeah,

Neal Henderson  1:10:30

best time to attack is when you believe you can’t, right. And if you can, if you initiate it, you might find that no one else could write,

Grant Holicky  1:10:37

I think doing some of this stuff in different ways with different goals. And this is sometimes where the goal of just I’m going to hurt you. Yeah, I’m going to put you in the box decreasing rest. Sprint’s yeah, we’re just going to put you in the box and just ask you to do it over and over and over again, I talk a lot with my cross athletes about we will do 10 by 1010 on 10 offs, just to practice stand, sit, stand, sit, stand sit. Am I getting a physiological response out of that? Probably not? No, no, it’s too short. Like and, and it’s one to one. I mean, there’s a lot of problems with that. But the mental thing of go again, go again, go again, go again, that’s where I think getting some variety in your quote unquote, VO to max intervals and using them year round. This is going to take us a little bit into how do we work this stuff into his season plans. A good segue, but the mental side of it. Why do I like to do them in January? Because I like to prep them for feeling this. We talked about raising the ceiling. But you got to have an eye on a race. And we’re in a different world. Now it’s it, especially with the higher end athletes, you don’t roll up to race number one and just like ride through

Neal Henderson  1:11:47

  1. No, you can’t you can’t train into the season. You can’t train into those early races.

Grant Holicky  1:11:53

And I don’t even feel like you can do that in long seasons. Were you one of the best I would much prefer to come into a season fairly hot and then take my break somewhere and then come back up. Right. That’s how we raised crossties. And we always come in hot because that forces me to put the midseason break in.

Trevor Connor  1:12:08

Yes. So that’s interesting, because I was always the opposite. Like to come into the season undercoat and dial up to me there was something about going into those first couple races, which obviously I didn’t target, right. Yes. And suffering. Yeah. There was no better way to build the race hurt. Yeah, than to just go in and go, these first few races are gonna hurt like nothing else.

Grant Holicky  1:12:33

Well, and I think that’s just that’s an interesting way, when we look at a season plan, there are different ways to do this. And they do work, some people are going to use the racist. I think I personally, and I’m kind of guessing Neil does this too. I know he does. We’re going to elicit some of that response in a training piece. And yeah, the first race is always a shock, right? You’re always you’re always tasting blood and cross season. But I do think that’s interesting. And then there’s that last piece of the puzzle, and I got a text from an athlete recently. Oh, look at McNulty Strava. Went look at Brandon Strava. Like he can do it. Any volume guy was like, Yeah, that’s what I saw. He’s not doing any volume, which allows him to come into those early season races, not overcooked, perform, and then lift himself. So there’s a whole bunch of different ways to do this.

Trevor Connor  1:13:21

This is a good spot to hear from Brady. Homer agrees that this work is essential for our top end, but offers a warning.

Brady Holmer  1:13:28

I think when it comes to doing vo to MAX type intervals, the important thing there is to be careful and cautious around the frequency with which you’re performing those maximal slash Supra maximal intervals. So I mean, as an athlete, and even as somebody who were to coach somebody, you know, probably not prescribe those maybe once or twice a month, if you tried to do those too often, especially on top of like a high volume training program, I think that can lead to some not only autonomic, but also, you know, just physiological or physical fatigue. So I think future Max intervals, they obviously have a role in training program, you know, and not just for maybe performing via to Max, I mean, those are going to kind of put you at the limit of where you would be taking part in a race or something like that. So I think not only do they kind of train, your ability to just withstand that, quote, unquote, pain, but they can also kind of teach that mental resilience. So I think that’s an important part of training that is sometimes overlooked, but they are called again via to max intervals. So they’re going to help you improve your maximal aerobic capacity, if that’s something that you’re interested in, but kind of where I see the utility in those is like, every now and then your body just needs to get pushed to its max, especially if you’re somebody who is you know, continuing to race and things like that. So, you know, maybe less of a quote unquote, physiological adaptation there, but they’re important thing for athletes to do pretty often.

Grant Holicky  1:14:50

How do you use vo to max quotes again around that? How do you use these intervals? We’re talking about your season plan. Well,

Neal Henderson  1:14:58

surprisingly, It is early, not week one. But within the first few weeks of training, we’re starting into some of those shorter micro intervals, but they’re controlled, there’s some vo to stress and then it’s going to be at least closer to even a one to one ratio with their short efforts, just to get a little accommodation. And then we’re into it by that first proper cycle, because I really do view and bringing that aerobic ceiling up first, and then filling in the volume filling in the sustainability, which again, is very opposite, classic periodization of just volume, lower intensity, and then adding the intensity later, I go at it very differently. And it’s in some cases, just based on the kind of athletes that I’ve worked with the demands, what they’re competing in, and actually seeing well, it works. track cycling has been a winter sport for the entire time that I’ve worked with athletes in it. And some of the other athletes who have been involved in that, oh, also have had exceeding success on the road. So Taylor 2009 individual pursuit World Champion American record, and then he won Perry Roubaix, 23, in May, so worlds were in March, and then he wins a long road race in May. And then the next year 2010, repeats, world champion in the individual pursuit, he again repeats wins the u 23. Perry rube a for a second time and wins you 23 TT and was I believe, shared bronze medal in the road race at the end of the year. And it’s one of those things like we set that aerobic ceiling high and then filled in that endurance and got that fractional utilization, that sustainable part, the durability, later on, once the ceiling is up, we’re not trying to change and bump up that ceiling late because if we do too, and that kind of intensity isn’t there in February or March for Worlds, he doesn’t win a world championship. And so it’s like a very different approach. And again, it’s also North American being based here in say, Colorado, it snows and it’s cold, not all the time we get sun and you know, it’s not snowing every day, but the amount of volume that generally every week in and week out over the winter that we can accumulate with out having to resort to a five hour train ride I don’t love now is we can do that quality a couple days a week higher intensity work, lower total volume, but still be building an appropriate training stress. And as the weather gets a little bit better, then we increase the volume and maybe maintain that high end. So again, a very different approach. But I think it’s based on the reality of what we have to work with and what the demands are.

Grant Holicky  1:17:43

And there’s some really big pieces here like I’m scribbling notes like crazy. What you were doing with Taylor on the track is what you’re seeing a lot of the cyclocross into road athletes do you know, we, I, we talked about it back in the old days trying to convert convert our cyclocross racers on their power profile towards sprinters or individual pursuits rather than time travelers Do you wanted to see that? You know that a good four minute kind of capacity right? Because it’s that upper end. So you watch a vein art go that season? Yeah, you didn’t do worlds you took a little bit of time, but now he’s coming out. He’s winning races, Vanderpool is gonna roll into the season. pretty freakin good. Is my assumption. Yeah, they are getting that early, and then going, what are they doing when they go to camp? They’re doing volume? Yep, they’re going to altitude they’re doing volume. And I think that what you’re talking about is almost a reverse periodization in someone’s head. Right. For some people,

Neal Henderson  1:18:35

I’m call it that.

Grant Holicky  1:18:35

But what we’re getting to is you can use that on again, in quotes, micro level, which is a season approach. But this is really how we tend to. And Neil and I have talked at nauseam, and are very much at the same page about developmental athletes about how we’re developing young athletes get the high end power, raise the ceiling first, you can always lay volume on somebody. And they may be an unbelievable distance ride or swimmer or runner. But if they don’t have the speed, they don’t have the groundwork. And so we like to lay this groundwork first. You know, and I The other thing that I love, and I’ll tell this story we went out a couple of weeks ago, and we’re doing some Sprint’s everybody in the group hit an all time max power or a four month max power. Doing that stuff early raises the expectations of what they think they should be doing when we do these workouts. If I’m hitting 1400 Watts, I’m going to make sure my butt’s hitting 1400 Watts later in the season. Again, it’s nice to do this stuff when the legs are pretty good. And despite what everybody wants to tell us just because you took three weeks off doesn’t mean you’re not

Neal Henderson  1:19:39

fit. Top End is probably going to be actually at its peak when you come right off a break. And then as we go down, yep, it gets doled out a little bit, but you still have that target that you’re chasing what you hit in January or February or whatever that timeframe is. And to me, so much of this is developing the confidence it’s not the capacity exclusively. Ultimately when we compete I would prefer to have the confidence at 100%, rather than the capacity at 100%, if one of them has to be at 80, or 90%, and the other one has to be at 100, which I don’t think you have to have either or, but in one of those two contexts, give me a head that’s ready, rather than legs and the legs may come along for the ride, because the head drove them there. If your head can’t drive the legs, then they can’t do anything you don’t get out, you don’t get to see what was going on. So

Trevor Connor  1:20:25

you have to have something to teach you to handle that pain. Yeah, I’ve had this conversation with athletes before where they think of when I get really fit, and I’m ready to win races, it’s not gonna hurt anymore. And it’s actually the exact opposite, you can use it, you’re gonna get dropped. When you’re really fit, you’re gonna be there, those moments when everybody’s the same strength now becomes about who can hurt the most. Yeah,

Neal Henderson  1:20:49

and that was the thing, like when we trained to actually go deeper on race days is something I’ve told a lot of athletes, we’re not training to make this easy. If that’s what you want, go, you know, be a recreational, whatever. If you’re here to be a competitive athlete, we’re actually trying to go beyond what you’ve ever done, you’re gonna you’re gonna have some discomfort. And I again, I don’t always call it pain. Again, I try to paint a different picture so that people aren’t afraid of it. And that way, yes, there’s going to be hurt. But it’s not pain. Pain is when you’re actually doing damage, in my opinion. Yeah. And there’s something there that there’s a discomfort, exercise induced discomfort like this. That’s where change is occurring. That’s where the good stuff happens. That’s where you can win races, you know, you don’t have to feel good to go fast. In many cases, if you’re actually making yourself feel even worse, in that way, you go even faster. So embrace it, make friends figure out a way to get in there. Make friends with that. Go deeper into that pain cave, don’t be afraid of the darkness.

Grant Holicky  1:21:46

And I think this is one of those things that we do talk about a lot with peaks. Now. You know, people talk about how long can I hold this peak? Or I’m too good too early. The peak is mental, as much as it’s physical. How long can you stay in a place where you’re willing to go put everything into this race again, again, again, those peaks are limited. The physical peak probably can stay for a while if you’re not doing too much racing and falling apart from the stress, which we can do pretty well. If we rest, recover, rest, recover, rest, recover. It’s really that mental side that am I prepared to do this again. Yeah,

Neal Henderson  1:22:20

like Vanderpool last year, right? He wins. cyclocross worlds, he wins, you know, didn’t even start to think clearly. Last

Grant Holicky  1:22:26

year, Todd, I want to Yeah, but up in

Neal Henderson  1:22:28

recess. And then during the tour, what you’re doing is leading his teammate, he’s doing big work, but he’s not having the pressure and expectation of winning stages themselves, but he’s contributing to that. And there’s a pretty darn good feeling if you help a teammate. Yeah. In stages and has, you know, phenomenal results. And then Oh, he did okay. At the end of the year. Yeah. In September, I think. Yeah. August and, yeah, it’s one of the things that’s a long period of time that he was at a high point. Right,

Grant Holicky  1:22:53


Neal Henderson  1:22:54

Well managed it, right. Yeah. That’s really good. had confidence, though, and definitely was doing high intensity work before cyclocross world. He was definitely doing some Beatle to work guaranteed.

Trevor Connor  1:23:04

Alright, guys, well, I hate to say it, because it’s been a really fun conversation. But I think it’s time to hit our take homes. Neil, do you have something for us?

Neal Henderson  1:23:12

Oh, man, I got a couple. So number one, when you do vo to work, make sure your target is appropriate relative to your capacity. So make sure you’re doing the right thing. 120% may or may not work for you, you probably need to think about more what you can do for five minutes. Number two, don’t be afraid of doing vo to work early. You don’t have to do your longest hardest vo to work early. But you should be doing some to get that ceiling up a little bit higher and be ready for mechanically loading more and tolerating more and then being able to gain that confidence in some of those longer intervals later on. And third, think about the specificity of the demand of the kind of riding or racing that you do that requires this? And how about how you go about training for that, based on the pacing of the efforts, whether it’s hard start steady or build or some mix of those things be ready and capable to execute in different ways? Those are my three.

Grant Holicky  1:24:09

Yeah, my big one, honestly, is a kind of segwaying off of the last one, you said what are you trying to achieve with these intervals. And understand that there’s a whole bunch of different things that we can do with these and specifically tailoring the interval to target what you’re trying to do and don’t be afraid of that all inclusive moniker of vO two Max and think that that’s all in one bucket. One of the things I really hope to do with this was the show and broaden people’s exposure there. There’s a whole world out here of things that we can do, whether that’s bio psychologically whether that’s purely physiologically there’s a lot of things we can do. So start with what am I trying to achieve, and then pick a set of intervals that are really going to help you achieve that.

Trevor Connor  1:24:57

So what I have been thinking about since we We asked it fairly early in the episode is, do they all get you to the same place? Does all this animal work, do the same thing and raise those studies that said, when they had their metrics that kind of got you to the same place. And so what I’ve been hearing in this whole conversation has been fascinating to me is the way we study physiology in the lab, it might very well be true that yeah, they all kind of get to the same place. You know, what your your power at four millimolar lactate might produce that same result. You know, any increase in your VO two Max might produce the same result. What we were talking about far more this whole time was all these things that you can’t really measure in the lab, but are so critical to racing, your ability to handle the discomfort, your ability to respond to the attacks, the whole neuro muscular side, there were just so many things we talked about that? No, they don’t measure in the lab. And that seems to be the things that differentiate these intervals, which I found fascinating. So that I mean, you said let’s do a part two, the part two to me is then going into what are all these intangibles that we can’t measure? And what are the tricks and the ways to help you solve those deal with those All right,

Neal Henderson  1:26:11

so I’m the calendar will do it. I’m down. All right. Love to hear it.

Trevor Connor  1:26:14

Alright guys. Well, that was fun. Great conversation.

Neal Henderson  1:26:17

Definitely. Thank you.

Grant Holicky  1:26:18

Thanks so much. That

Trevor Connor  1:26:19

was another episode of fast talk. The thoughts and opinions discretion past talk are those of the individual subscribe to fast doc wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. As always, we love your feedback. Tweet us at at pass doc labs. Join the conversation at forums dot fast Doc Or learn from our experts at fast talk for Neil Henderson. Kristin Arnold Taylor Warren. Jack Burke. Brady Homer Dr. Paul Larson, Dr. Steven Siler and grant ology, I’m Trevor Connor. Thanks for listening.

Grant Holicky  1:26:53

That was another episode of fast doc.

Trevor Connor  1:26:56

We will use that