Breath, not legs, problem on FTP

Did an ftp yesterday. Every time I do this kind of rides it’s my breath that limits me from improving the watts, not my legs getting stiff. How should I do my training to improve? Suggestions?

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I assume you’re talking about the ramp test so it likely depends on how conditioned you are at VO2 Max level efforts. Did the effort feel any different than other similar efforts in the past?

If running out of breathe is a blocker for you, you probably just need to spend more time training at those levels. When I first started doing the ramp test, my lungs would be the first thing to make me want to give up. I’ve learned to breathe through the pain and take deep breathes even when my lungs & body are on fire. So now it’s my legs that refuse to turn the pedals :).


Same here. I quit because I can’t breathe and my HR is maxed, not because my legs can’t turn. (Edit: I was referring to Ramp test)

Thanks. It actually was the 20 minute FTP test. Result 287 watts. So you recommend high HR at high cadence? On the test I eas pretty stable at 303 watts during the complete test and cadence of 85.

  • Avoid shallow breathing - just one or two can throw you off if you are close to max.
  • Try a longer warmup, potentially including a few very short intervals above FTP to prepare for the effort. Take a short break, then perform the test.
  • If you are unlucky, the ramp steps and anticipation of the upcoming stress can lead to hyperventilation. If the above doesn’t help, you could try using the old test.

They actually recommend NOT warming up for the ramp test

That’s interesting. For the 20 min test, you’re probably hovering between 95-110% of your FTP for the duration and my understanding is that you start to get into the V02 territory from 110-120% of FTP.

V02 max by definition is where you’re effectively reaching the limits of your body’s oxygen consumption so if you’re truly operating closer to 105% during the test, you should have more O2 to spare?

I find that if I pace my 20 minute test evenly, my heart rate increases slowly throughout the test, and toward the end my heart rate and breathing eventually rise to near maximal levels. With only a short time left, the finish is in sight and I can get through it. If you are reaching a maximal breathing rate too early, it probably means you started too hard. With experience, you will recognize this sooner and be able to lower your pace to a sustainable level early enough to produce a useful test result. At the beginning of the test your motivation is high and the finish is out of sight so it is very common to start too hard.

I suppose that the onset of rapid breathing is marking the point where my anaerobic capacity has been fully used, and now all of my effort must be supported by oxygen intake? I am no expert of physiology, but I think this feeling is fairly typical for maximal efforts that are primarily aerobic?

Also if you have a high anaerobic capacity, you may only be able to hold 90% of your 20 minute power for an hour. In this case a 20 minute test probably is in the low range of VO2 max (111% of true 1-hour FTP).

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I know that the warmup is supposed to be self contained, but if @borchgrevink wants to find out why he runs out of breath before he runs out of power, it helps to go through a couple of experiments to see what could be the cause.

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Yeah, in my experience, if I run out of breath on a 20 min FTP test, it’s because I went out too hard.

Well, maybe, but I held the same average watts the whole test, but I don’t think I could go much higher.

Not much to add here. Other than it beats not breathing!

I used to run into the same issue. When I rarely do the 20 minute efforts I’ve gotten better at managing my HR by simply dipping the watts down a little to recover a tad. Then I pick a a time within the 20 to go all out. As the training progressed I get better at not needing the little recovery and I also able to have longer all out efforts.

It helps me to have zwift up for my 20 minute test. With the calculation on the screen I can gauge if that 20 second slight dip is really going to kill my overall test and if my all out is really moving the needle.

Physiologically I think you’re describing what is supposed to happen.

Breath on my friend! It’s really not a bad thing.

I usually have this problem, primarily because I have reduced lung function because of asthma. To compensate, I found that exhaling COMPLETELY before breathing in really helps to eeek out a higher performance. It’s more important to remove all that CO2 from your lungs because that is what makes you short of breath.

To me, it’s a matter of finding the right cadence to have muscular and cardio failure coincide.

Try this: hold 70% of your FTP at 95 cadence for five minutes, then drop to 85 cadence for 5 minutes. See what happens to your heart rate and perceived muscular fatigue. Heart rate should drop, and muscular fatigue should increase.

It just sounds like you have more muscular endurance to tap, so you should be able to drop your cadence a touch to end up more “balanced” in the end.


Good suggestion. I’ll try this.