FTP lagging my VO2 Max

Over the past couple of weeks I started logging all my rides on the Garmin head unit and sensors I got for Christmas and it’s decided today my VO2 Max is 58, which from what it says and a bit of reading seems very good for a 41 year old (top 1% for my age according to Garmin). This surprises me a little because while my FTP is decent, at about 270/3.9w/kg, even the Garmin says it’s only “good” (3 on a scale of 1-5, whereas the VO2 Max is at the top of 5 out of 5 on a similar scale).

I say it surprises me, I was a decent athlete (running and MTB) when I was younger, but what I’m wondering is, does it mean I’m still someway below where my FTP could get to? I’ve only been structured training since I could measure power with my Kickr in October, before that my riding has been consistently intermittent for many years, long periods off, especially every previous winter until Zwift, followed by various times where I’ve got quite into it briefly but without the goals to really take it seriously. Riding a lot would have been twice a week, the past 4 months I’ve ridden 5 times a week, every week.

And if so, are there any training sessions in particular that target being able to use more of that VO2 Max capacity because when I google that question everything is about improving the VO2 Max?

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Ian, from what I read, I learned the following:

  1. VO2 max can be measured only in the lab, you know, exercising in a respirator with tubes to measure oxygen intake. It can be estimated from power duration curve, but this requires a solid, extensive set of data and a good model. Some people say that performance in 5 min range has particular impact on VO2 max estimate, but it is actually the full power duration curve fit which gives that estimate through a sophisticated model. It is what it is, an estimate. I do not know how accurate Garmin estimate is or how good their model is. Do not take the number too seriously. It is just an estimate.
  2. If you do have a good value of VO2 max, it is excellent! It is largely genetic, and can be improved by training only to a limited extent. This is your ceiling for developing your FTP. If it is high in your case, you can focus on drills which help to improve your FTP (which would be endurance and tempo to extent the duration which you can ride at high power, and sub-FTP and FTP drills, e.g., sweet spot, to lift it). Then, the sky (or rather VO2max :slight_smile: ) will be your limit!

Here are some background links on the FirstBeat Analytics/Garmin calculation of VO2Max. These might give some context to how much value you might put into those numbers, rather than on a measurement done in the lab.


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For what it’s worth, here’s a post from a University of Delaware academic blog on “BMEG442: Engineering Exercise and Sports – Applying engineering principles to exercise”:


Here’s the final paragraph:

Across the board, there appears to be a high degree of accuracy with Firstbeat’s Fitness Test in estimating VO2max. For endurance athletes everywhere, this is a huge sigh of relief. Rather than partaking in expensive, strenuous VO2max testing, we can monitor our progress utilizing the technology in the watches we wear everyday. In addition to watching our paces, heart rates, and overall progress, we can also monitor our cardiovascular health and athletic progress as we continue to train and push ourselves everyday.

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Thank you for these excellent links!

I noticed that the article explains that

“Because the Firstbeat method is sub-maximal by nature, it uses an age-based estimated maximum heart rate (HRmax) in the calculation. Therefore, the error in the HRmax estimation affects the accuracy of the VO2max estimate.”

This is the tricky part. HRmax is rarely known and may be difficult to determine accurately. Standard formulae, like 220 - age, are notoriously inaccurate. Direct testing of the max HR is challenging and may even be risky for people who are no longer young or have health problems because one should push the HR to the limit, and a little more, to get HRmax. It is rarely achieved in indoor cycling. It just feels like too much.

Still, it is good to know that there is such a simple method of estimating VO2 max available!

Ian, I may be biased as a WKO5 user, but this software (developed by the same team that runs Training Peaks) has the ability to estimate VO2 max from power duration curve. How they do it is not publicly known, but the people behind the program are very knowledgeable in exercise physiology. This program is not free, although not very expensive. I am not suggesting that you buy it, but it may be useful to know that such capability exists. It seems that it uses a different method of calculating VO2max than Garmin.

I’ll have a look at WK05 because I find this stuff interesting.

On MaxHR, I have other questions that I’ve struggled to google on that because mine should be 179 on those defaults but I’ve measured 190 at fail on a ramp test (I think I’m quite good at going to deep into painful territory because on the same ramp test I set an FTP of 286 but that’s nowhere near true).

Maybe this is skewing the VO2 Max, but also wouldn’t having a high MaxHR be exactly the sort of genetic advantage that one would need to set a high VO2 Max?

Also, if for now we assume it has some validity and that, at least, my FTP is not making the most of my VO2 Max. What workouts would close the gap?

I have been using a Garmin FR 230 as my running watch for a few years. It also uses the FirstBeat algorithm to estimate VO2Max. I wouldn’t get too excited by the numbers it blurts out. I did a few beep tests, which are demonstrated to closely estimate VO2Max, and the FirstBeat results are anywhere between 10 and 25% on the high side.

I just ignore those. I assume the cycling ones are in the same bag.

Thanks, as I say I used to be an athlete when I was younger, running middle and long distance at UK level, my beep test results were always extremely good (must admit I just did what my coach told me and always thought it was a fitness test rather than a VO2 Max test, but I can see from a quick look you are right). I was trying to be modest but I actually do have fairly good reason to believe I can be pretty fit again at another endurance sport.

I’m going to assume for now that even if the absolute results are on the high side, their model is at least intelligent enough to differentiate between all the people they apply it to (i.e. they are not putting everybody at the upper end).

So, to the central point, what workouts would somebody with a high VO2 Max (let’s assume it’s not even me), but limited training of FTP, focus on?

Putting aside the sedentary twin studies and the short-term papers, if we turn to the real world and look at the observations of an exercise physiologist whose primary job was testing athletes—often the same athletes over multi-year time frames.