5 Ways to Boost Your FTP
Updated: Jan 14
by Don Jackson
How can I improve my FTP?
I get this question a dozen times a week.
My first reply is ride your bike! A cyclist may want all the FTP "fruit" without all the work or they may have a goal but then ride without an intent or purpose. I call this a "wing and a prayer." Improvement doesn’t happen thru osmosis, it takes action!
What is FTP? It stands for Functional Threshold Power, which is commonly defined as the highest average power you can sustain for an hour, measured in watts. FTP is often used to determine training zones when using a power meter and to measure improvement.
If you’re training for an event, you can measure your FTP every four weeks to track progress. (There are several ways to estimate FTP from efforts that are much shorter than an hour.) If the number goes up without your weight also increasing, you have become fitter.
We look at power-to-weight ratios rather than absolute power. If a 90 kg rider has an FTP of 270w, that is 3.0 w/kg. If that rider has an excess of 10 kg to shed, and can maintain the same level of power, the FTP rises to 3.4 w/kg (270w / 80 kg). For some cyclists, the biggest gains can come from healthy shedding of excess weight.
In the ideal situation, FTP goes up, weight goes down, and heart rate is lower to produce the same power.
One thing to keep in mind that while FTP is an effective measure of fitness, it lacks specificity. A time trial rider trains their body to cope well with long, sustained efforts. A sprinter focuses on short, sharp accelerations. The result is that if FTP is used as the only measure of fitness, then the time trialer will probably appear to be the ‘stronger’ rider on paper, but the sprinter has their own set of skills which certainly can’t be overlooked.
Back to the question of improvement. Here are five ways to boost your FTP.
1. Ride in your “Sweet Spot” that occurs at 83 to 97 percent of your FTP.
Riding in this zone can help improve the aerobic, steady state efforts that characterize FTP. Sweet Spot gets its name because it is a balanced level of intensity and volume. You can achieve more positive physiological adaptations than if you were to ride harder at zone 4/threshold. By riding below your FTP, you get a more repeatable workout and won’t take quite as much out of you.
How: Find an uninterrupted stretch of road, ideally with a steady grade 3 to 5 percent. Focus on maintaining a steady effort. Start with 3×8 minutes at “sweet spot” with 4 minutes easy spinning in between. Build up to 3×10 minute with 5 minutes easy spinning in between.
2. Threshold Climbing Work.
To improve performance on long climbs, do efforts at 100-110 percent of FTP on a sustained climb. Ideally, the power for the efforts should be the maximum power that can be sustained for each interval in the set, without dropping power from the first effort to the last. These training days are difficult and are most effective if done at quality power, so do them on days when you are fresh and can afford to dig deep. A good session of threshold work should not include more than 60 minutes spent at threshold, so piece out the intervals to stay under this limit.
How: Start with 3×10 minute efforts at 100-110 percent of FTP with 5 minutes of easy spinning between efforts. Build up to 3×15 minute efforts at 100-105 percent of FTP with 8 minutes of easy spinning between efforts. The “gold standard” FTP workout is 2×20 minute efforts at 100-105 percent of FTP with 10 minutes of easy spinning between efforts.
3. Flat Land FTP Work.
A lot of riders fall into the trap of only doing threshold work on a climb. Climbing threshold work is great, but it is easy to get to a point where you can only put out your best FTP numbers on a steep gradient and are floundering on the flats.
How: Use all the same climbing FTP workouts given above, but on flats at 95+ rpm. If the terrain allows it, when doing FTP sets, I recommend doing one of the three efforts on a flat road and two on a climb.
4. Train on a REGULAR basis following a STRUCTURED training program.
There are several training programs out there that allow you to customize your training or better yet find a coach to help you with your goals. An action without a plan is a design for disaster.
5. Ride at a healthy cycling weight
Look down at your toes, if you see any bubbles or bumps - shedding some excess weight might be the fastest way to improve your FTP, health and cycling happiness.
Questions? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reference: E.F. Coyle, A.R. Coggan, M.K. Hopper and T.J. Walters, “Determinants of endurance in well-trained cyclists.” J Appl. Physiol 64:2622-2630, 1988; Nate Wilson Training peaks