Three training sessions to improve your… Functional Threshold Power (FTP)

Functional Threshold Power, or FTP, is one of the key training terms in cycling and is effectively the maximum power you can sustain for an hour. As a result, FTP is seen as a crucial figure in determining your all-round ability on the bike, and is a number top riders swear by.

FTP is linked to your blood lactate threshold, as the more lactate acid your muscles are able to process before becoming overwhelmed (and you blow up), the more power you will be able to sustain. Sounds great, right? Luckily for you, your Functional Threshold Power is trainable, too.

Six things you need to know about… training zones

FTP is also an vital figure in setting your training zones, which you can use to guide your rides in order to extract the most bang-for-you-buck from your time on the bike. If you don’t know your FTP (or threshold heart rate), then it’s relatively easy (if painful!) to find out through a 20-minute test. RCUK’s coaching columnist, James Spragg, digs deeper in the subject of lactate threshold, and explains how to measure your FTP, in this article, while you can learn more about training zones behind this link.

Six things you need to know about… lactate threshold

Now it’s time to boost your FTP, which, if you have a busy schedule of sportives, time trials or racing penciled in, will see you reap the rewards on the bike. So how can you improve your FTP? We caught up with Dig Deep Coaching director and former professional cyclist Stephen Gallagher to find out exactly that.

Here are three of Gallagher’s top three FTP training sessions.

A popular training ride for working on Functional Threshold Power is a 2×20 session: two 20-minute efforts, either side of ten minutes recovery.

During the 20-minute efforts you should be riding at 100 per cent of your FTP, if using a power meter, or looking to bring your heart rate up to that level for at least the last 11 minutes, remembering there will normally be a lag. It’s here that power has its advantages over heart rate, as power is a direct representation of effort, while heart rate is a response to effort.

Gallagher says the session is for building and maintaining fitness, and one which he regular outlines for coaching clients. “It’s a good session as you’re approaching the season, and to maintain your fitness over the season,” he explains. “You are using 100 per cent of your FTP if you’re using wattage. With heart rate, you’re looking at hitting your FTP heart rate for the last half, or the last 12 minutes of the effort.

“A lot of people fall into the trap of trying to hit their FTP heart rate early in the session so in effect you’re actually going over your threshold. There’s always a lag with heart rate.”

The session

Warm up for 20 minutes, riding at zone two (endurance) with three or four quick bursts of between 30 seconds to a minute, where you ramp the cadence up to around 120rpm. “It should be done on feel, don’t set a target wattage,” Gallagher adds. “It’s important not to put a strain on the muscular system, but just open up your lungs.”

Ride for 20 minutes at FTP power, or if using a heart rate, look to build it up to your threshold heart rate after eight to ten minutes.

Ten minutes recovery (zone one).

Ride for 20 minutes at FTP power, or if using a heart rate, look to build it up to your threshold heart rate after eight to ten minutes.

Warm down for ten minutes (zone one).

One way to build your body’s tolerance to lactate acid is to introduce plenty of it to your training.

The ‘over and under’ session is one way to do just that, riding above your FTP and dipping just below, with the short session also allowing plenty of scope to adjust the intensity according to your fitness and training targets.

“This is a session I like to set for guys looking to do longer time trials and also those tackling Alpine sportives, where you could be riding one climb for an hour,” Gallagher says. “It is about getting used to the build-up of lactate and teaching your body to deal with it.”

The nature of this training session, and the quick changes in effort, lends itself to using a power meter, as that will give an instant response to effort and so will allow your to quickly and accurately gauge the intensity, whereas your heart rate will take a little time to respond.

The session

“If you have the luxury of time to do a longer warm-up, riding for 30-minutes and building through your zones and hitting your sweetspot [at the upper end of zone three/lower end of zone four] will get your legs up to speed,” Gallagher explains.

“This session typically follows a rest day in a training plan so you might find your legs are heavy. That’s not a sign of poor fitness, it is just what happens and you need to have your legs up to speed for this session [so a good warm-up is valuable].”

After warming up, ride for 30 seconds at 130 FTP power (VO2 max heart rate).

Without any rest go straight into 30 seconds at endurance (zone two) and repeat for ten to fifteen minutes.

Warm down for ten minutes (zone one).

Upping the intensity

If you want to turn up the intensity even more, Gallagher suggests the following two options:

EITHER 30 seconds at 130 per cent FTP, followed by 30 seconds at 80 per cent FTP (zone three, tempo) and repeat for six to eight minutes.

OR 20 seconds at 130 per cent FTP, followed by ten seconds at endurance (zone two).

“Don’t [be tempted to] up the intensity of the ‘rest’ period, if you are reducing the time you are spending in it,” Gallagher warns. “Either up the intensity and leave it at 30 seconds, or reduce the time and ride it in zone two.”

Time trialling is a discipline which relies heavily on a high FTP, so it make sense to incorporate TT efforts into your training.

“This session is another that can really help to raise FTP because you are effectively riding at ten-mile time trial pace,” Gallagher explains. “It’s a hard aerobic session.”

Another point to note is that all of these sessions, though tailored to suit riding on the road, can be condensed into a turbo trainer session.

“All of these sessions can be done on the road, but they are also good for doing on the turbo if you are pushed for time,” Gallagher adds.

The session

Warm up for 20 minutes, riding at zone two (endurance) with three or four quick bursts of between 30 seconds to a minute, where you ramp the cadence up to around 120rpm.

4×6-minute efforts at or slightly above ten-mile time trial pace [just over FTP, approximately 105 per cent], with four minutes easy recovery in between each.

“If you recover well between efforts, push each interval ten watts past your TT power effort,” Stephen adds. “Otherwise, instead of increasing the amount of reps I would build the duration of the efforts eight minutes, keeping the recovery around four minutes [if you want to up the intensity].

Warm down for ten minutes (zone one).

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