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How To Improve VO2 Max Cycling

How To Improve VO2 Max Cycling

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Cycling is an incredible sport, and it’s becoming more popular daily. It’s one of the best forms of exercise and low impact on the body. There are many reasons that people take up cycling. It might be to socialize, get in better shape, or even improve their fitness to a higher level.

VO2 max is a good way to see how good your cardiovascular fitness is. It can be tested to see if you’re making progress in your training, and you can see where you stack up against your fellow riders and friends. 

A question we often get asked by our amazing readers is, “How do I improve my VO2 Max cycling?” In this article, we’re going to be telling you how by discussing:

  • What Is VO2 Max?
  • How Is VO2 Max Measured?
  • What Factors Influence VO2 Max?
  • Ways To Improve Your VO2 Max

What Is VO2 Max?

VO2 Max is a physiological measurement of the amount of oxygen a person can use during exercise. It’s commonly known as maximal oxygen uptake. It’s a key indicator of a person’s cardiovascular fitness and their aerobic capacity.

In simpler terms, VO2 Max is how much oxygen the body has the ability to take to the muscles. The more oxygen that can get to the muscles, the better they can perform and the more energy you can transfer, alongside avoiding lactic acid buildup.

How Is VO2 Max Measured?

VO2 Max is measured in milliliters of oxygen consumed per kilogram of body weight per minute or in short (ml/kg/min). This means the amount of oxygen coming in while under intense exercise or it can be seen as oxygen carrying capacity.

How Is VO2 Max Tested?

The official proper test for VO2 is to either get on a bike or a treadmill and get yourself linked up to what they call a metabolic cart. This is a device that puts a mask on your face and can measure the amount of oxygen you are breathing in and the carbon dioxide you are expelling. You will then be required to do a functional threshold power or ramp test.

Another way of testing is the Cooper test, which involves running as far as possible in 12 minutes. Then, it will give you a rough estimate of your VO2 Max. Finally, you will find some smartwatches and applications that will give you a rough estimate. 

Realistically, the only way to go is using a metabolic cart for an accurate result. Not only will this give you accurate figures, but they often add a heart rate monitor and sometimes a cycling power meter so they can evaluate your fitness level thoroughly on other levels as well.

VO2 Max Test

What Factors Influence VO2 Max?

To fully understand how we can improve our VO2 Max, it’s good to understand the factors that affect a person’s unique VO2 Max. Here’s what you need to know. Some of these factors can be changed, others can’t. We will start with the factors that can’t be changed. 


The first factor to mention is genetics. We all are very different inside and out, and that is down to the fact we all have different genetics. Some of us are more genetically blessed with a high VO2 Max, and others are not. 


Next, we have age, and you will find the more you age after you are an adult, the more your VO2 Max will decline. This is due to heart function, mass, and a few other factors that, over time, decline.


Men generally have a higher VO2 Max compared to women. This is mainly due to hemoglobin levels and extra muscle mass. In our opinion, it’s best to compare VO2 Max with the gender you are, not against others. 

Then, we have the factors that we can change. It’s vital to understand these as they clearly indicate what we should be doing to improve our VO2 Max. Here’s what you need to know.

Regular Physical Activity and Training

If you train regularly, there’s a good chance you will have a much higher VO2 Max than someone who doesn’t. The more you use the cardiovascular system and train it, the higher the VO2 Max goes. Hence, athletes are so high when it comes to VO2 Max and cycling performance. 

Training at High Intensities

Another big factor when it comes to VO2 Max is high-intensity training. Cyclists or athletes in general who go to these high intensities often find themselves with a much higher VO2 Max compared to people who don’t. Pushing your aerobic system to grow and improve is a great way to gain a high VO2 Max.

Training With a Lot Of Duration

Endurance athletes are known for having big VO2 Max scores. This is because they generally train for long periods. Doing high-duration training sessions regularly greatly affects VO2 Max, and pro cyclists are a great example of this. Endurance performance training sessions can increase cardiac output and give you a higher power output without being at your maximum threshold levels.

Body Composition

Your body composition also plays a big part when it comes to VO2 Max. This is because people with higher body fat have more to carry, which requires extra oxygen and energy, limiting the VO2 Max level. Conversely, people with more muscle mass can have increased VO2 Max.

Ways To Improve Your VO2 Max

As we can see above, there are many factors that we can’t change when it comes to VO2 Max, such as genetics and age. On the other side of things, we can do many things to change it, such as training and losing weight.

Improving your VO2 Max is about focusing on those things and improving them. As a personal trainer to many cyclists, I was often asked about improving VO2 Max, and here’s what I personally would focus on doing. 

Also Read: How To Train For High Altitude Cycling

Adopt a Regular Training Plan

Consistent training is one of the best ways to improve your VO2 Max. Having a training plan not only keeps you accountable but also ensures you stay regular. After a few days of not training, you are not benefiting from the recovery anymore and should get back to it if possible. 

Training 4-5 times a week with 2-3 rest days often gives the best result for improving VO2 Max. It’s also good to put the rest days after very tough sessions where you have given your maximum amount, so you don’t get on the bike too fatigued.

Train at Different Intensities

The next and probably the best VO2 Max booster is to ensure you train at different intensities. Ensuring you do a mix of long endurance pace sessions and high-intensity short sharp maximum aerobic capacity sessions will give your VO2 Max a huge boost.

Regarding cycling, you could do 2 x 3-hour endurance training sessions each week alongside 2 x 45-minute HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) exercise training sessions. This would be an amazing plan to boost VO2 Max.

Also Read: What Is a Tabata Ride?

Cross Training

Another great way to improve VO2 Max is to do some cross-training. Alongside your cycling, you could take up running, strength training, rowing, or even skiing. Doing another form of exercise and changing the way your body has to work is great for improving cardiovascular ability.

Running is a great sport to complement cycling as it utilizes the leg muscles, which often get neglected when cycling. It also has the ability to push the heart rate up very high and keep it there. When cycling, it’s easy to let off the gas naturally. 

Strength training is another form of cross-training that can heavily benefit VO2 Max. It builds lean muscle mass, which has been shown to increase VO2 Max and promote the growth of many different types of muscle fibers. 

Proper Diet And Nutrition

Then we have a proper diet and nutrition. Surprisingly, what you’re eating makes a big difference when it comes to performance and recovery. A good diet can help contribute to weight loss, lots of protein maximizes recovery, and carbohydrates can power you through a session. 

I highly recommend using applications such as MyFitnessPal to track your calories and look at the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats you’re taking onboard. Protein is best after a workout, carbohydrates are best before.

Optimize Sleep And Recovery

You can train as hard as you like and eat perfectly, but sometimes, the best way forward can be taking a step back. After training many athletes in my time, one of the most common factors that stopped progress was not taking enough time to rest and recover. 

Eight hours of sleep and regular rest days go a long way to improving VO2 Max. It gives the body time to recover, turning those hard workouts into growth. If you don’t take the time to rest and recover, the body struggles to improve.

A Final Note

VO2 Max can be a challenge to improve. It doesn’t just come from one factor, but it comes from many. The key is to look at improving overall fitness through training better and more regularly, eating a better diet, and even, at times, resting more. Thanks for taking the time to read our article. 

Picture of Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri

Robbie picked up a bike ten years ago at the age of 26. It started with a ride from London to Paris. Since then, he couldn’t get enough of big mile cycling and started bikepacking and eventually ended up racing ultra distance and even breaking world records.

Robbie has also worked in bike shops and closely with brands to design bikes and new products. Now he loves to share his knowledge and experience to add value to other people's cycling.

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