How to improve your FTP


After looking at how much you can improve your Functional Threshold Power (FTP; the power you can sustain for 60 minutes), it is equally important to know how you do it! In many cycling groups, the discussion quickly turns to someone’s FTP. It is also called the benchmark of someone’s cycling performance. You can read how to improve your FTP in this article.


The FTP appears to be a true performance indicator and is linked to almost every discipline in cycling that takes 4 minutes or longer. It provides real insight into someone’s aerobic metabolism and efficiency. We usually talk about the FTP in the context of power, the heart rate that goes with it we call the threshold heart rate. So the performance at the threshold heart rate is the FTP. The FTP can be represented in 2 ways; namely absolute (for example 300w) or relative (for example 4watt/kg). Whereby the latter runs parallel to your climbing speed. So the higher your relative power on the FTP, the faster you ride up the Alpe d’Huez. One kilogram less with the same power output can easily make a difference of one minute in an hour of climbing. In this article we look at improving the absolute FTP.


Training. Actually, the simplest answer there is, as long as you get off the couch and jump on the bike. In fact, there is basically no “bad” training to improve FTP. Everything the aerobic system uses during training is basically a stimulus for the body. Of course, it is true that certain workouts and combinations of different workouts work better for improving the FTP. In the past, people thought that training at the threshold heart rate/FTP would improve the FTP. So they did a lot of very hard workouts. The result was a lot of fatigue and often only a small increase in the FTP. In order to know which training sessions are the best, it is important to look at the facets of the performance at the threshold heart rate or FTP.


The FTP is physiologically the point at which the production and breakdown of lactate are just equal to each other. In the scientific literature this is also called the Maximal Lactate Steady State. This means there is acidification, but it is under control and therefore maintainable for a longer period. Looking at the internal factors that determine FTP, there are actually three, namely;
VO2max: the maximum aerobic capacity. This intensity itself can only be maintained for 4-8 minutes as lactate production is much higher than this. However, this determines the ceiling of your aerobic efforts.
FTP as a percentage of VO2max: where the turning point occurs. For untrained riders this will be around 50%, while riders in the Tour de France are more likely to be around 90%.
Efficiency: how much power your body can release per liter of oxygen at the turning point. A high VO2max is of course nice, but if you are not efficient you will not notice much of it on the road.


Now that we know out of which 3 components the FTP consists, we want to train them all individually. Below is indicated which type of training affects which of these three components. They are in (not entirely) random order.
The long endurance training: endurance training in which the length of the training mainly determines the effect. Riding harder during your endurance training has therefore little meaning; it only adds fatigue while it does not strengthen the stimulus itself. Because the muscles are continuously loaded during your endurance training, this is a very strong stimulus for the aerobic system, as it ensures an increase of the mitochondria (energy factories) in the muscle. The more mitochondria you have (and the better they function) the higher your VO2max, but also the better the body is at buffering the lactate. So the long ride increases your VO2max, higher efficiency, and most importantly a higher percentage of your VO2max at which you are not yet acidifying!
Threshold: or long intervals (95-105% FTP). These long intervals (4-15 minutes) at and just above the threshold are a specific stimulus for the FTP. They really make you better at tolerating and breaking down the lactate created by being active at a high percentage of VO2max. The problem with these stimuli is that they are also very tiring and therefore cannot be done very often.
VO2max: or short intervals (105-120% FTP). These short intervals (2-5min) are especially effective for improving the VO2max itself, so they provide room to push the thresholds further. During the short intervals you are really at the limit of your aerobic system.
Tempo/SweetSpot intervals: long blocks below the threshold. Because the intensity is below the threshold, around 85-95% FTP, the body remains in a steady state. This makes it easier to spend more time at a relatively high percentage of VO2max. If you also execute these intervals at a somewhat lower cadence, this is a very good stimulus that will ensure an increase in efficiency.


All in all, there are many different ways to improve FTP. Actually, there are roughly two ways to distinguish. The traditional way is for relatively frequent tempo and threshold training, while the ‘modern’ way actually skips that and combines mainly long endurance training with short Vo2max training. This ‘new’ method is also called polarised training and you can read more about it in this article. What is the best approach for you depends on your training history and goals. As mentioned earlier, there are several roads that lead to Rome. The most important thing is to see on which aspect you can make the most progress. You can find this out by properly mapping this out, for example, by doing an exercise test.
If you want to really step up your game, consider to start working with a training plan. We offer coaching services with a personal coach, but also provide training plans with our app JOIN Cycling. These plans are dynamic and adjust every day to what you do and what your goal is. Just check it out in the Play or App Store.