Workout Wednesday: 30-Second Surge Intervals

Workout Wednesday: 30-Second Surge Intervals

VO2Max is one of the key determinants of performance and correlates closely with success (or indeed lack of) in races or competitive events. In other words, the higher your VO2Max is, the more likely you are to do well performance-wise!

This workout is one I like to call “30-second surge intervals”.

The anatomy of the workout

It’s a workout where the the work interval lasts for 30 seconds, and the rest intervals between them are a mere 15-20 seconds long. This pattern will repeat anywhere between 6 and 12 times in a set, before a 3 minute active recovery, which acts as your rest between the sets.

This design of workout has been shown provide a large boost in VO2Max over a 10 week period, when performed roughly twice weekly.

These are some of my personal favourite intervals for boosting not only VO2Max, but also functional threshold power too.

This type of workout is great for helping you become accustomed to the rapid changes in pace you’ll experience in races or when out on fast group ride and is very specific in helping you to deal with short recovery periods too. So let’s get into the workout itself.

Performing The Workout

As with our previous high intensity sessions, we’ll start by warming up thoroughly with around 20 minutes of riding in Zones 1 and 2, and progressing towards Zone 4 in the latter part of this period.

For this workout to be executed properly, we ideally need a stretch of road or trail that will allow us to ride uninterrupted for around 8-10 minutes.

If this isn’t available to you, but you do have an indoor trainer at your disposal, then feel free to use this to perform this workout. Make sure the trainer is stable so that when you increase the speed from the recovery to the work interval, your bike isn’t rocking around underneath you.

The work intervals should be ridden at an intensity right around your VO2Max, which is Zone 5 on the power intensity zone scale, equating to around 105-120% of your current Functional Threshold Power of FTP. 

If you don’t have a power meter, a heart rate monitor alone will not be much use here, as the intervals are so short, so instead try to ride each 30 second interval at a pace you feel you could sustain for around 4-5 minutes.

On a rating of perceived exertion scale, this would be around about an 8 out of 10, 10 being the highest intensity you can imagine.

Start your first set of intervals, aiming to complete 4-6 minutes of total work time, e.g. 8-12x 30 seconds with 20 seconds active recovery between each.

The recovery intervals should be as low an intensity as you feel is necessary, so long as you keep moving and pedalling. Don’t be tempted to make your recovery intervals more intense than they need to be, as this will compromise the effort you can make in the work interval.


After the first set of intervals is done, take 3 minutes of active recovery before you perform a second set. At this point, try to objectively judge how the effort was, and end the session if you found the intervals too much of a struggle.

If all is going to plan though, aim to complete another 2-3 sets of intervals depending on your fitness and training history.

As you do more of these sessions over a period of weeks and months, you should be pleasantly surprised at:

  1. your raw wattage numbers during the 30 second intervals and
  2. your ability to recover rapidly and surge once again. 

You’ll then find that when it comes to a competitive event, your body is primed for the stochastic or unpredictable nature of racing!

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