How to Make VO2 Max and Threshold Workouts Work for You – with Hunter Allen

Threshold and VO2 Max intervals are two of the most common workouts for endurance athletes. However, what is the difference between the two, and how do you best execute each one? We dissect these questions with coach Hunter Allen.

man in yellow cycling jersey riding road bike

Tabatas, over-unders, and sprints are just a few of the most popular types of intervals that have received a lot of attention for the gains they offer. But if there are two types of intervals that might be considered the go-to workouts of endurance athletes, it would be threshold and the dreaded VO2max intervals.  

At first glance, threshold and VO2max intervals can appear similar. For example, our popular 5 x 5-minute intervals can be used to train either. Crank up the watts with a longer 5 to 10-minute rest between efforts and you have a classic VO2max workout. But, with lower watts and a one-minute rest, you’re then looking at more of a threshold workout.  

Understanding the differences between the two—and how to best execute them—is very important. Helping us break this down in our latest show is legendary coach Hunter Allen, author of Training and Racing with a Power Meter, co-developer of the TrainingPeaks software, and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. Allen has used threshold and VO2max intervals with athletes from beginners to top pros. He shares his experience with us on what he’s found to be most effective. He also talks to us about Project Fuerza, which uses the power files of pro riders to create NFT artwork.  

hunter-allen-with-derosa
Hunter Allen (pictured above) joins us to talk about threshold and VO2 max workouts.

Along with Allen, we’ll hear from Dr. Stephen Seiler, a friend of the show and world-renowned researcher from the University of Agder in Norway. We’ll also hear from Brent Bookwalter, a retired World Tour rider who now invests his time with the Pro Cyclists Foundation charity. Finally, we’ll hear from Dr. Robert Kenefick, a researcher at Entrinsic Bioscience.   

So, decide if you want to deeply suffer for just a couple of minutes or suffer for a longer time—and let’s make you fast! 

References

Agnol, C. D., Turnes, T., & Lucas, R. D. D. (2021). Time Spent Near V˙O2max During Different Cycling Self-Paced Interval Training Protocols. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 16(9), 1347–1353. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2020-0314 

Astorino, T. A., deRevere, J., Anderson, T., Kellogg, E., Holstrom, P., Ring, S., & Ghaseb, N. (2018). Change in VO2max and time trial performance in response to high-intensity interval training prescribed using ventilatory threshold. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 118(9), 1811–1820. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-018-3910-3 

Beltrami, F. G., Roos, E., Ow, M. von, & Spengler, C. M. (2021). Cardiorespiratory Responses to Constant and Varied-Load Interval Training Sessions. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 16(7), 1021–1028. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2020-0104 

BILLAT, V. L., FLECHET, B., PETIT, B., MURIAUX, G., & KORALSZTEIN, J.-P. (1999). Interval training at V˙O2max: effects on aerobic performance and overtraining markers. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31(1), 156–163. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-199901000-00024 

Cavar, M., Marsic, T., Corluka, M., Culjak, Z., Zovko, I. C., Müller, A., … Hofmann, P. (2019). Effects of 6 Weeks of Different High-Intensity Interval and Moderate Continuous Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(1), 44–56. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000002798 

Edge, J., Eynon, N., McKenna, M. J., Goodman, C. A., Harris, R. C., & Bishop, D. J. (2013). Altering the rest interval during high‐intensity interval training does not affect muscle or performance adaptations. Experimental Physiology, 98(2), 481–490. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1113/expphysiol.2012.067603 

Esfarjani, F., & Laursen, P. B. (2007). Manipulating high-intensity interval training: Effects on V˙O2 max, the lactate threshold and 3000m running performance in moderately trained males. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 10(1), 27–35. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2006.05.014 

Faude, O., Kindermann, W., & Meyer, T. (2009). Lactate threshold concepts: how valid are they? Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 39(6), 469–90. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200939060-00003 

HELGERUD, J., HØYDAL, K., WANG, E., KARLSEN, T., BERG, P., BJERKAAS, M., … HOFF, J. (2007). Aerobic High-Intensity Intervals Improve V˙O2max More Than Moderate Training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(4), 665–671. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3180304570 

Hewson, D., & Hopkins, W. (1996). Specificity of Training and its Relation to the Performance of Distance Runners. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 17(03), 199–204. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2007-972832 

LAURSEN, P. B., SHING, C. M., PEAKE, J. M., COOMBES, J. S., & JENKINS, D. G. (2002). Interval Training program optimization in highly trained endurance cyclists. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(11), 1801–1807. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200211000-00017 

Messonnier, L. A., Emhoff, C.-A. W., Fattor, J. A., Horning, M. A., Carlson, T. J., & Brooks, G. A. (2013). Lactate kinetics at the lactate threshold in trained and untrained men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 114(11), 1593–1602. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00043.2013 

Milanović, Z., Sporiš, G., & Weston, M. (2015). Effectiveness of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Continuous Endurance Training for VO2max Improvements: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. Sports Medicine, 45(10), 1469–1481. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0365-0 

NAKAHARA, H., UEDA, S.-Y., & MIYAMOTO, T. (2015). Low-Frequency Severe-Intensity Interval Training Improves Cardiorespiratory Functions. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 47(4), 789–798. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000000477 

Paquette, M., Blanc, O. L., Lucas, S. J. E., Thibault, G., Bailey, D. M., & Brassard, P. (2017). Effects of submaximal and supramaximal interval training on determinants of endurance performance in endurance athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 27(3), 318–326. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12660 

Parmar, A., Jones, T. W., & Hayes, P. R. (2021). The dose-response relationship between interval-training and VO2max in well-trained endurance runners: A systematic review. Journal of Sports Sciences, 39(12), 1410–1427. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2021.1876313 

Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Vegge, G., Tønnessen, E., & Slettaløkken, G. (2015). Short intervals induce superior training adaptations compared with long intervals in cyclists – An effort‐matched approach. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 25(2), 143–151. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12165 

Rosenblat, M. A., Lin, E., Costa, B. R. da, & Thomas, S. G. (2021). Programming Interval Training to Optimize Time-Trial Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine, 51(8), 1687–1714. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01457-2 

Seiler, S., Jøranson, K., Olesen, B. V., & Hetlelid, K. J. (2011). Adaptations to aerobic interval training: interactive effects of exercise intensity and total work duration: Effort-matched interval training. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 23(1), 74–83. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2011.01351.x 

STEPTO, N. K., HAWLEY, J. A., DENNIS, S. C., & HOPKINS, W. G. (1999). Effects of different interval-training programs on cycling time-trial performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31(5), 736–741. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-199905000-00018 

SYLTA, Ø., TØNNESSEN, E., HAMMARSTRÖM, D., DANIELSEN, J., SKOVERENG, K., RAVN, T., … SEILER, S. (2016). The Effect of Different High-Intensity Periodization Models on Endurance Adaptations. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(11), 2165–2174. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001007 

SYLTA, Ø., TØNNESSEN, E., SANDBAKK, Ø., HAMMARSTRÖM, D., DANIELSEN, J., SKOVERENG, K., … SEILER, S. (2017). Effects of High-Intensity Training on Physiological and Hormonal Adaptions in Well-Trained Cyclists. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(6), 1137–1146. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001214 

Wen, D., Utesch, T., Wu, J., Robertson, S., Liu, J., Hu, G., & Chen, H. (2019). Effects of Different Protocols of High Intensity Interval Training for VO2max Improvements in Adults: A Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 22(8), 941–947. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2019.01.013 

Weston, A. R., Myburgh, K. H., Lindsay, F. H., Dennis, S. C., Noakes, T. D., & Hawley, J. A. (1996). Skeletal muscle buffering capacity and endurance performance after high-intensity interval training by well-trained cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 75(1), 7–13. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210050119 

Episode Transcript

This content is for Listener, Library, and Coaching Essentials members only.
Listener Membership is FREE. Please join now.
Log In Join Now

Related Episodes