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Customisable VO2max Increase Plan for MTB XCO/MARATHON (Power-Based): 8 Weeks; 7-12 Hrs/Week

Includes Structured Workouts

Structured Workouts automatically sync with compatible devices and guide you through workouts in real time.

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Tom Bell

All plans by this Coach


8 Weeks

Includes Structured Workouts

Structured Workouts automatically sync with compatible devices and guide you through workouts in real time.

Learn More about Structured Workouts.

Plan Description


This MTB plan is designed specifically for cross-country and marathon athletes to improve VO2max, also known as ‘aerobic capacity’, which is a key marker of success in both disciplines [1].


VO2max is the highest rate at which oxygen can be utilised to generate energy during exercise. This threshold thus represents a limit to aerobic metabolism. Beyond this point, the majority of energy is derived ‘anaerobically’ (without oxygen) and can only be sustained for short periods (< 5 minutes). Raising VO2max is enormously advantageous for the competitive MTBer's performance, both during steep climbing and over the entire race duration [2].

VO2max is also linked to ‘lactate threshold’ (or ‘Functional Threshold Power’), which is also critical to high MTB performance [3]. Your VO2max represents the ultimate "ceiling" for how high threshold power can go, so raising VO2max means lactate threshold can also be increased.

In experienced athletes with longer training histories, improving the VO2max can often be more challenging than raising lactate threshold [4], so this particular MTB program, whilst focusing on raising both concurrently, uses training methods shown to stimulate the largest improvements in VO2max.


The plan is laid out over the 8 weeks using two distinct mesocycles, each featuring a 3-week ramp in training load, which is then followed up by a week aimed at recovering and adapting to the load. This ramp rate from week to week is "functionally conservative"; enough to result in a meaningful training stress yet gradual enough to avoid 'non-functional overreaching' or overtraining.

In pursuit of greater adaptations, a more fulfilling training experience and to avoid mental and physical burnout, the plan features a large variety of workout designs and intensities. This is balanced with what's known as a 'polarised training intensity distribution'; a planning and sequencing approach shown both in the literature, and in our own experience coaching 100s of athletes, to be a successful framework for significant fitness improvement for both time-rich and time-crunched cyclists [5].

NOTE: The plan's volume is totally adaptable from the default 7-12 hrs/week, where guidance on doing so is provided in our detailed user guide supplied with each plan.


  • Develop VO2max over duration of the plan
  • Concurrently build and maintain cycling economy/efficiency
  • Provide additional improvement in lactate threshold (FTP)


[1] Bejder, Jacob, et al. "Physiological determinants of elite mountain bike cross-country Olympic performance." Journal of sports sciences 37.10 (2019): 1154-1161.

[2] Abbiss, Chris R., et al. "The distribution of pace adopted by cyclists during a cross-country mountain bike World Championships." Journal of Sports Sciences 31.7 (2013): 787-794.

[3] Novak, Andrew R., et al. "A multidimensional approach to performance prediction in Olympic distance cross-country mountain bikers." Journal of sports sciences 36.1 (2018): 71-78.

[4] Impellizzeri, Franco M., and Samuele M. Marcora. "The physiology of mountain biking." Sports medicine 37.1 (2007): 59-71.

[5] Neal, Craig M., et al. "Six weeks of a polarized training-intensity distribution leads to greater physiological and performance adaptations than a threshold model in trained cyclists." Journal of applied physiology 114.4 (2012): 461-471.

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Training Plan Sample Week


Average Weekly Breakdown

Workouts Weekly Average Longest Workout
Bike x3
4:50 hrs 1:30 hrs
MTB x2
5:01 hrs 3:30 hrs
Day Off x1
—— ——
Workouts Per Week Weekly Average Longest Workout
4:50 hrs 1:30 hrs
5:01 hrs 3:30 hrs
Day Off
—— ——

Training Load By Week

Tom Bell

High North Performance

High North Performance is a cycling training and metabolic testing consultancy based in Harrogate, UK. We provide customised training programs and performance diagnostic services to professional and amateur athletes using both established and novel training methods, leading testing and analysis technology, as well as a scientific and strategic approach to planning and preparation.

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  • Syncs daily with other popular apps like Garmin and MyFitnessPal.

Refund Policy

This plan is protected by our Refund Policy and may, with the author's approval, be exchanged for a plan of equal value from the same author.

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