5 tips for improving your FTP from the experts
© Patrik Lundin / Red Bull Content Pool
If you want to see a serious increase in your overall fitness on two wheels, we’ve got some top-rate advice from an expert cycling physiologist.
You’re in good shape, but you want to be in great shape. Maybe it’s because you’ve got a sportive or a crit coming up, or you just want to feel stronger and go for longer on the bike when you’re out on a weekend ride.
Whatever your reasons, increasing your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is an excellent motivation for focusing your efforts, and is a true barometer of how sharp your body is. Simply put, your FTP is a measure of your fitness on a bicycle that is decided by how long you can sustain a consistent effort for over a specified period of time.
With the expert input of Philipp Diegner, a professional cycling coach and performance analyst, we’ve pinpointed five ways you can improve your FTP and see some real progress.
1. Stay consistent and establish a training routine
As Philipp says, “the key to sustainable improvements is to keep training over long periods of time”. His key tip here is to invest the relatively short amount of time it takes to sit down and plan out a routine that suits your daily schedule. Be realistic with your plan and how it fits into your life.
Once you’ve established that schedule, stick to it, which is harder than it sounds.
A basic structure would be three or four weeks of intensified training, followed by one week of recovery, where volume and intensity are reduced significantly.
2. Train hard, but smart
Make every effort count by training hard, but not all the time. “Hard workouts with specific efforts produce strong stimuli, and that results in gains for your fitness and, more specifically your FTP” explains Philipp.
Training sessions that focus on interval efforts around your FTP – or even harder than your FTP – can be done two or three times per week. Be careful though, as this is the maximum limit at which your body will benefit and turn these efforts into performance gains. Anything above that is wasting your time.
Going beyond that will produce more fatigue but no additional benefits for your fitness, and can even result in overtraining.
Any other training sessions you do in the same week should be at a moderate endurance pace, which Philipp designates as “mostly below 70% of your FTP”.
3. Rest is just as important as training
For so many reasons, rest forms an integral part of any successful training programme. When working on improving your FTP your rest periods will play just as central a role in your gains.
“The body requires time to really recover every two or three days,” says Philipp. “In phases of hard training especially, resting ensures that you are ready for the next tough workout. It also allows you to keep a training regimen for more than just a couple of weeks."
4. Go long
The occasional long ride is an excellent way to improve your aerobic fitness, which ultimately determines your FTP. So, riding for three hours or longer trains your body to become more resilient and your energy systems to burn energy more efficiently.
Even one long rides per month can be effective in inducing these gains.
5. Mix it up
Once you’ve found a routine that works for you, it’s tempting (and easier) to do the same workouts over and over. Don’t fall into this trap. Over to Philipp, who explains that “doing the same all the time trains the body to be proficient at doing very specific work”.
This eventually leads to a plateau in fitness, because “your aerobic system is never receiving unique and significant stimuli, which force it to adapt again”.
By mixing it up you can improve over months, and even years.
The best way to avoid this common mistake is to vary intensity and duration between workouts and different training blocks. Doing longer intervals for up to 20 or 30 minutes, as well as short and very intense work, or HIT (High Intensity Training) with work rates beyond 110% or even 115% of your FTP will contribute to notable gains.