A well-structured training plan progressively increases your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Increasing your FTP increases your ability to hold higher power values longer making you a faster cyclist.
For more information on training with power check out Ask a Cycling Coach Ep 258.
Increasing FTP and Training Power Zones
At one point or another, you’ve probably wondered what’s better – improving your FTP or increasing the amount of time you can spend riding at FTP. During a structured training plan, your ability to ride at threshold will increase, but realistically you shouldn’t be able to ride at your threshold forever. In conjunction with improving endurance, your FTP needs to increase too, so that you can continue to challenge and grow your power zones.
There are seven different power zones. Active recovery, Endurance, Tempo, Sweet Spot, Threshold, VO2 Max, and Anaerobic Capacity. Each power zone is defined by a percentage of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). The time you can spend in each zone is progressively limited. For example, athletes can generally stay in their endurance zone for multiple hours but can only stay above anaerobic capacity for a handful of seconds. The higher the power zone, the harder it should be to maintain time in that power zone. When your FTP raises, your zones change. A power output that you could only hold for a minute might be something you can hold for two minutes. This progress is incremental but it has benefits to endurance and power.
Your training plan focuses on endurance and expanding stamina in a number of ways. For example, the intervals in a training plan can steadily increase in duration and difficulty from one workout to the next. Increasing the time you can spend in a power zone is intended to increase your muscular endurance. During the Base phase, for example, athletes spend a good amount of time increasing their ability to ride in the sweet spot zone. By steadily increasing the time you spend in the sweet spot zone your workouts are improving your strength and muscular endurance.
You Can’t Increase Duration Forever
With that said, you can’t increase your ability to spend time in a power zone forever. You can only elevate the amount of time spent at a percentage of threshold for so long before it affects your threshold. Essentially, there comes a point where being able to hold a power value for a certain amount of time is an indication that your FTP and your zones are higher. Over time, the power that was your threshold can eventually become more like your sweet spot. This is why in addition to workouts increasing your stamina and ability to spend time in a zone, they also focus on raising FTP. After establishing muscular endurance in the Base phase, the Build phases focuses on increasing your FTP.
If you can spend an extended amount of time in zones like threshold, VO2 max, and anaerobic capacity, this is an indication that it’s time to reassess your FTP. Your fitness has improved, and you’ll need an updated FTP if you want to continue to grow and challenge those higher power zones.
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Time to Take a Ramp Test
Luckily, it’s easy to keep your training on track and your zones in line when you assess your FTP regularly. You’ll be prompted to take a Ramp Test at the start of each new training block to keep this number up to date. With that said, after a hard block of training it’s normal to feel tentative about training at a new FTP. You might even be tempted to skip your Ramp Test and continue training with the same power values. But you shouldn’t do this! If you skip a test you might be shortchanging your next block of training. Your FTP needs to be updated in order for your workouts to accurately target all of your power zones. If you don’t update your FTP, you won’t be training your max efforts or accurately training the rest of your zones.
The good news is that if you reassess your FTP and it increases, this is an indication that you’ve gotten stronger and will need those harder workouts to make sure you are getting the most from your hard work. Keeping your FTP up to date keeps your training tailored to your fitness.
The goal of a structured training plan is to increase stamina and power progressively. The workout in your plan that looks impossible today will be possible one day. It will probably even be possible at a higher FTP! It’s all about taking your plan one workout at a time and trusting the process. Your stamina and your power will come incrementally with progressive structured workouts.
Your FTP is a Tool
Remember that your FTP is a tool used to keep your training accurate. As exciting as it is to see that FTP grow, it’s not always going to increase and it doesn’t always need to increase. The Ramp Test is designed to accurately assess your FTP. If you just finished a block of training where you missed some workouts, took a vacation, or had a lot of real-life stress you might see that number decline. Which is okay! Sometimes training gets interrupted. The Ramp Test is placed at the beginning of your plan to keep your training on track, and ensure that you are training in the most efficient and effective way.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.
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