Wake up the Animal: Cycling VO2 Max Test

Winter is coming and all Canadian Bears submerge in their caves. Me too. Me and Blake decided to shuffle around several things in our lives and cut out unnecessary things. To spend the winter I found a dark, cozy cave for us – a pain cave. Unlike bears, I won’t have time to sleep this winter – I’ll be busy engineering an athlete. Spring 2020 will see the new Sasha Ironman – Version 2.0.

After the recent follow up appointment with my doctor, I received a clearance to resume training. Two months of no training will definitely reduce your fitness level. The question is: by how much? There is a way to test your fitness level at any given moment and it’s called VO₂ Max Test. This is a lab-based test and is considered the ‘gold standard’ for identifying an athletes oxygen carrying capability.

VO₂ Max is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during incremental exercise; that is, exercise of increasing intensity. The name is derived from three abbreviations: “V” for volume, “O₂” for oxygen, and “Max” for maximum.


To give the answer by how much two months off training will lower your fitness level you need to have done at least two tests: before & after. I haven’t had a chance to test myself before, therefore there is nothing to compare against. However by doing the Test now, I set a baseline point which I will use as reference.

Come Prepared

  • Refrain from exercise and consuming coffee, nicotine and other stimulants in the four hours before your appointment.
  • Have only a light breakfast on the morning of your appointment (<300 calories). If your appointment is in the afternoon, have a light breakfast and a light lunch.
  • Ensure you are hydrated for your tests. Consume 250-500 ml of water or non-caffeinated beverages on the morning of your test.
  • Stop consuming fluids an hour before your visit.

Know what to Expect

It’s a graded step test, where the resistance of the rainer will gradually lift the power until you can no longer pedal.

We started the test at 100 watts, with the power output increasing by 20 watts every minute.

The idea is to keep going to failure to obtain your max heart rate and maximum oxygen intake.

Ideally the test will last 12 minutes, which is long enough for you to get warmed up but not overly long, so external factors come into play that could fatigue the body and skew the results.

To get the most accurate data I brought my TT bike for this. Right away it was placed on a smart Wahoo Kickr cycling trainer. Martin – an instructor – will set the power output and will also have visibility into all my live data as I’m riding.

Chest Heart Rate Strap + hooked into a mask and a flow metre which directly analyses oxygen consumption and sends comprehensive physiological data to the separate machine.

Usually the test performed only one, however I felt like I didn’t give it all the first time, so I asked Martin to redo the test. I was wondering if I could push more. That’s why there will be two reports following the test.

Let’s see what I’ve got…

VO₂ Max Cycling Report Interpretation

Test #1

VO₂ Max: 51.3
Heart Rate Max: 165
Calories per hour: 1121

Aerobic Zone (Fat Burning): <100 bpm
Anaerobic Zone (Cardio Training): >150 bpm
“Grey” Zone: 110 – 140 bpm

Test #2

VO₂ Max: 49.7
Heart Rate Max: 168
Calories per hour: 1097

Aerobic Zone (Fat Burning): <110 bpm
Anaerobic Zone (Cardio Training): >140 bpm
“Grey” Zone: 120 – 130 bpm

What did I learn?

 It was interesting looking at the repeated testing.
 VO₂ Max score for the second test is lower, while heart rate is higher.
We can see a higher heart rate across the power curve in the second test, suggesting that I was not in a rested state at the start of this test (10 minutes rest in between).

Also, the cross-over heart rate (when you reach 50/50 carbs/fat utilization) was 13 BPM higher during the second test.  This suggests I stayed burning fat longer in the second test. Martin suggests that the first test depleted glucose levels, so I was forced to draw more on stored fat during the second test. 

Now that I’ve set the baseline, I need to have a plan on where to go and what to do next. I feel like the way I’ve been training before did not allow me to perform at my best and fully open up my potential. I have more, I can do better. With that in mind, I was to change several things and see where it leads.

  • Improve VO2 Max score as a result of increased cycling fitness
  • Improve FTP from 267W (April 2019) to at least 300W (April 2020)

How will I achieve the goals?

  1. Training Plan. I am hiring a new cycling coach – Mr. Igor.
  2. Change the approach to training. Mental change…
  3. Better utilize experience and knowledge of nutrition, hydration and recovery, specifically around athletic performance.
  4. Work smarter – not harder. Whenever feel stuck, instead of beating yourself up to death, seek for help. Ask questions.


Special thanks to Martin, and his offer to perform the test at his lab Body Insight | Toronto. It was a blast and I can not wait to come back again for the follow up test few months later.