The 3 keys to improving your FTP and improve your level as a cyclist

Before explaining how we can improve our FTP, we think it is best to define this concept. Although it is quite common in the field of cycling training, not all users understand what it is at first glance.

Although in recent times the perception and definition of FTP (Functional Threshold Power) has changed slightly, we can say that, in general, this term refers to a performance marker. A kind of reference that serves to know the physical level of the cyclists.

The FTP (also known as UPF or Functional Power Threshold) indicates a cyclist’s ability to sustain a relatively high level of effort over a period of time. An effort that we measure in watts, i.e., to know the FTP we need a potentiometer. Thus, the more watts a cyclist is able to maintain over time, the more FTP, the higher level he/she has, especially in endurance cycling disciplines.

To locate us, where is the FTP

For trained cyclists, FTP corresponds to an intensity usually between 80-85% of maximal oxygen uptake, in exceptional cases it is close to 90%. If we talk about heart rate, for further reference, we will talk about it being around 85% of maximum heart rate. In any case, we are talking about intensities, those of FTP, that cyclists with a certain level of training and experience can maintain over time for 35 to 50 minutes, before fatigue causes them to reduce the level of effort.

The FTP has a very high correlation with the sporting performance of many cyclists, i.e., the higher it is, the more watts we move in the FTP, the better our marks or results in the sporting field of cycling should be.

In terms of how to improve FTP, three aspects can be identified. Three issues that we consider key to succeed in the mission to raise this parameter and become a faster cyclist, we explain what they are.

First, have a basis

Any cyclist setting out to raise his FTP must bear in mind that, as is always the case with human physiology, elementary adaptations must first be achieved before more complex ones can take place. To define it, we will use the simile of building a house. If we do not have a good foundation, it will be difficult for the walls and roof to hold up for long. 

In this sense, in order to improve at intensities corresponding to FTP (we are generally talking about percentages ranging from 80 to 85% of maximum oxygen consumption) it is necessary to optimise our performance and adaptations to somewhat lower intensities beforehand. It is necessary to run several kilometres, for several weeks, with the focus on running at around 70-75% of maximum oxygen consumption. At this intensity, what we will achieve is to boost the metabolic pathways through which our body obtains predominantly aerobic energy, i.e., energy obtained by using oxygen.

By riding at these percentages, we will create more capillaries in our muscles and boost the appearance of new mitochondria in our muscle tissue (a kind of cell organelles that are responsible for supplying energy to our muscles). In other words, we will improve our energy supply to be more resistant and withstand more intense workouts that are necessary in later phases to raise our FTP.

Depending on the level of the cyclist, this phase of more aerobic work can generally range from 3 to 6 weeks.

Second, long intervals

Once the cyclist has an aerobic base obtained through moderate rides, around 70-75% of maximum oxygen consumption (between 70 and 80% of maximum heart rate) it is time to tackle the next step towards improving FTP. It consists of working at slightly higher intensities, right around our FTP, 80 to 85% of maximum oxygen consumption or around 85% of maximum heart rate.

At this point, the specific methodology is to perform intervals of 10 to 15 or even 20 minutes at constant intensities equivalent to FTP, depending mainly on the cyclist’s level of experience.

These are intensities at which we mainly consume hepatic and muscular glycogen, so during training sessions it is advisable to stock up on carbohydrate-rich foods, such as sports nutrition preparations in the form of bars, gels or isotonic drinks.

Third, short intervals

When a certain level of accumulated work has been acquired below the FTP and in the FTP itself, it is possible to move on to the last stage in the process of its improvement. This is a part of the preparation, the last part, where slightly overhead intervals are performed. At intensities around 90% of maximum oxygen consumption or 90-95% of maximum heart rate. These are high-intensity workouts, lasting 3 to 5 minutes, exceptionally up to 8 or 10 minutes in the case of more experienced cyclists.

In this type of effort, we will be stimulating maximum energy production at the expense of aerobic metabolism and at the same time, the capacity of our organism to support high rates of lactate in the blood, even to reuse it as an energy substrate. These phenomena will also help us to withstand constant exertion over a longer period of time more reliably, and will help us to improve our FTP.

We believe that to significantly increase FTP, at least one block of training is necessary, consisting of the sequence we have just described, of at least 6 weeks, although it can be extended to 8 or even 10, depending on the amount of weekly training we do, our age or our level of fitness, among other things.

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