How am I so bad at this?

Hi there TF Forum, first time caller, long time listener.

How am I so bad at cycling?

TL;DR: 35 year old male, 5’ 11", 75 kg (~20ish% BF). Last tested TR ramp 212 (last fall). Consider myself athletic, multi-sport athlete, but seem to struggle with cycling and looking for the best path forward to improve (goal of 300 FTP, 4 w/kg).

Quick-ish background:

As per the TL;DR, I like to consider myself an enthusiastic athlete. I’ve played sports all my life at a mid-to-high level. Primarily hockey (B level men’s league 1-2x a week pre-COVID, pretty competitive level in Toronto) and golf (mid-single digit handicap pre-kids), but played AAA baseball in my teens, and currently ski/snowboard, x-country ski, waterski, sail, surf, etc.

Always been on the skinnier side so began powerlifting a decade ago (Starting Strength). Got decently normal-person strong (squatting ~350 lbs for 3 sets of 5, slightly higher deadlift, sub-200 bench). Have continued to lift but not as consistently since kids (4 and 1 years old).

I’ve been road cycling irregularly as an enthusiast for a decade, but never trained properly. Bought a Neo 2T when COVID started and initial ramp was 180. Worked my way up to 212 over a few months last spring/summer. Took some time off the bike to mix things up and began running a bit more to get outside over the winter (strange timing in Canada, I know). Not a long distance runner (no more than 10k), but can run a 5k in `~23 mins (hoping to bring that down to sub 20 over time).

Stress: Medium - high stress job, kids, but pretty good at managing it;
Diet: Good - relatively healthy, adequate macros, probably too much before bed junk;
Sleep: Not enough - Garmin says I average ~6.5 hours, but I sleep like a rock when down just don’t get to bed early enough (too few hours in the day).

Long story short - I’m getting back to cycling and want to make some good progress, but have limited time. FTP is probably closer to 200 w right now and that just feels too low. How am I so bad at this? Are my expectations just too high? I would also still like to lift and run occasionally (maybe 1x per week each).

Do I stand a chance of reaching my goals on a low volume plan (at least as a start)? Any other suggestions for how I can progress and improve my FTP? I feel like I should be ‘strong’ enough to be above 200 w at 75 kg with a calculated 1RM squat of 400 lb in the recent past. Is this purely an endurance/aerobic capacity issue? Will a low volume plan help or is it too intense/not enough miles?

Desperate to improve and reach my goals, appreciate any help the collected wisdom of the forum can provide.

Thanks,

VVV

Looking at the list of sports you’ve been playing, most of them are not pure endurance sports like we think of as road cycling. FTP is mostly a measure of that aerobic engine, so maybe you have just not developed it enough. Tbh, your FTP is not bad, more average for your weight, but you probably expect a bit better from yourself, especially given your hockey background.

In my opinion, you won’t develop a strong aerobic engine on a low volume plan. It takes a while to develop, and likely more in the region of 10+ hours a week and some longer rides.

However, instead of focussing on FTP, you might have more fun and success looking at other forms of cycling that don’t require so much time and also maybe line up better with your previous sports. Stuff like MTB (especially downhill/enduro) and track cycling needs short sharp bursts, a lot of strength work/lifting, and you can get by with less hours and less endurance engine. CX and crit, and XC MTB racing probably sit in the middle - you need a higher FTP, but short repeatable power is still important. Pure endurance events (long road and gravel events) need more time to train for, and might be out of reach on very limited hours, imo. (You can still do them of course, but just expect to be limited in performance).

2 Likes

I think you have too high expectations of yourself. For reference I started as a couch potato 1½ year ago (30, male, 73kg @ 175cm when I started) at 130w FTP. Mostly did some Zwift because I knew jack all about training so the training programs seemed accessible. I kept going and eventually I hit a ftp of 170W after a couple of months until I realized the Zwift plans aren’t the best. I started training with Stages and after half a year I was sitting at 210w ftp and then I spent the summer mostly just riding for fun (lots of 2 hour endurance but nothing of much else). Found TrainerRoad and started using it and to no surprise my FTP had stayed the same during the summer with no growth, after sticking to TR for a while I’m up to 243w ftp and have my eyes set on 300w but I’m not sure if that’s attainable for me but I’ll try. I tend to hover around 67kg so cycling really did a number on my weight.

After the rambling my point is that consistency is key, if you want to get better at cycling you need to dedicate the time. I’m time crunched due to work and I spend 6-8 hours a week on cycling but coming this summer I’m switching jobs and will free up a lot of time and I’m excited to finally be able to go on long-ish rides.

If cycling is something you do alongside other things and not your main focus I think you should focus on what you’ve achieved instead of focusing on what you’re not achieving. 210w ftp is not bad for someone doing other things. (In my opinion).

2 Likes

This :arrow_up::arrow_up::arrow_up:

You’re doing better than you’ve given yourself credit for.

Recounting your summary, you’re time crunched and sleep-poor yet still hovering around 3w/kg without any consistent bike training under your belt.

Keep lifting once a week but don’t overdo it.

Try a low volume plan, but don’t be afraid to add in extra rest days or rest weeks (you can push the plan down using the toggles on the app / website) - listening to your body is one of the most important lessons you can learn.

Focus on the enjoyment from your riding; so be open to swapping out your Saturday workout for an outdoor ride of the weather is nice :+1:t2:

Just keep working at it week-on-week, keep your FTP on the conservative side** and focus on consistent workout completion, nutrition on the bike, adequate protein and try to introduce any strategies that may work for you to get as many extra minutes sleep as you can.

It will take time, so focussing on enjoying the process will serve you better than fixing on a set outcome by a deadline. Good to have goals but don’t let them dominate your thinking.

Good luck :+1:t2::+1:t2:

** what I mean by this is if your ramp test with an all out effort gives you xx Watts, then given your constraints it may well be sensible to trim a couple off watts off the number you use to set your zones, simply to give yourself a decent chance to nail the workouts if you’re compromised from fatigue - if you’re feeling strong you can always ping the intensity up a percent or two

3 Likes

There are some people who are naturally good at everything, but those are few are far between. For the rest of us, we like to do what we’re good at.

I also had a 300w, 4w/kg FTP goal and surpassed that last year, but I’ve been riding since 1995. Your 4 year old would probably kick my ass at hockey and baseball.

3 Likes

I think most people underestimate the importance of volume and endurance work.

Just reading your background I fully believe you could easily get a 300W FTP. I don’t think you can get there on a TR LV plan though.

6 Likes

If you want to be a better cyclist you’ll need a stronger commitment to get to 4watts/kg. Figure 8-12 hours per week of solid training and less running and other stuff plus more sleep and recovery. A low volume plan is probably not going to do it.

On the other hand you may be a good sprinter with a low FTP. You’d have to consult your power profile. If that were the case you could use it to your advantage.

1 Like

Thanks all for the thoughtful responses.

Thinking critically, I’ve probably excelled at sports and in positions where I could rely on skill/knowledge vs pure athleticism (golf, hockey, baseball, etc.). But with something like cycling (especially indoors on a trainer) it’s all raw athleticism, consistency, and time.

@splash - if LV won’t develop my aerobic engine, what’s the minimum dose that will? LV + one long ride per week + one run (and one strength session)? Guessing anything more than what I’m currently doing would help? I like your idea of looking into a shorter duration discipline, like crits. Would the LV crit plan be a good option or should I do something that focuses on my assumed weaknesses (aerobic engine).

@TheVeon - good to hear your experience and I think I’d like to dedicate more time to cycling at some point in the future. But for now I like the variety I’m getting from running/lifting, etc. from a mental freshness standpoint during COVID. Maybe I just chip away at the FTP and set some interim goals with the time I have to dedicate and shoot for the ultimate goal later when I can dedicate more time/kick the kids out of the house.

@dsirrom - I like the idea of being conservative with ramp results for go-forward programming. Don’t know if my ego can take it, but let’s see! I do think I have a recovery problem due to life stresses and sleep. Will have to work on this. The immune system hasn’t been great since the kids entered daycare, probably another sign of being generally under recovered.

@team_bunty - yeah I think this is a mindset thing - I probably want to be good at everything to my detriment. And my 4 year old is uncoachable, so you don’t have to worry. She takes after her mother - maybe she’ll be the track athlete/cyclist.

@Landis @AJS914 - if I won’t/can’t dedicate more than 3-4 hours per week to cycling, any suggestions on how best to allocate those hours to get the most out of it? As most seem to imply I likely can’t get to 300 but hoping I can keep moving up in small amounts from wherever I am now (need to retest).

Thinking I’ll pick the right LV plan, try to include one long outdoor ride wherever possible, run/lift 1x per week and see if I can make any progress. If not, reassess in a few weeks/months.

Is TR the best use of my 3-4 cycling hours a week. I’m thinking yes given the structure/intensity, but maybe someone has a better idea?

1 Like

Yes, I’d stick to the TR LV plans and if you can add in one longer, lower intensity endurance ride per week on the weekend - preferably outside.

1 Like

Play to your strengths rather than work on your weaknesses, and let your strengths drag up your overall fitness. Works for me.

There’s no substitute for volume, but it doesn’t have to be year round. My strength is in anaerobic repeatability, but I ride solo centuries during base training and try to participate in a few fondos per year.

2 Likes

Man I really don’t know. However, this situation seems like what TR products are designed for. Honesty if it were me with only 3-4 hours/week I’d be doing 3-4 hours of sweetspot. If you could squeeze one longer ride in a week on the back of all the sweetspot I think that might be your best bang for the buck.

1 Like

I agree with @team_bunty - with limited time, play to your strength, and pick the cycling events that go with that. I’d use the TR low volume plans, base and then general build. Maybe crit speciality, but I’d probably go rolling road race instead. Imo short power build and crit speciality would be too much on the short power side - you still want to work on that engine somehow.

If you fancy crit racing, you need good repeatability, and in general a high FTP is also helpful (as always), but a lot can be done with skills and positioning. I’d think you’d find that more fun than slogging away for hours to bring up endurance. If you do want to go down that route, deffo find a club or a good group to ride with first, to work on group riding skills.

You have got some really good advice here.

My tidbit I can add it isn’t just that you excelled in skill sports, it could be you have certain strengths and weaknesses, which isn’t the end of the road by any stretch. I’m pretty much your size, I was an all state level track runner, and playing football through Junior College on the strength of my speed and coordination (along with not being afraid to tackle anyone on the field). I was running sub 5 minute miles in junior high and the 40 in 4.5 in high school along with lower 20 second 200s, but I would absolutely fall off a cliff anything after a mile. I was born pure fast twitch. But it turns out I love cycling, so I put in years of work on endurance training. And I did change my capacity, it just took time… I pretty much peak at the upper 3w/kg range, touching on 4, but my satisfaction comes from the training and improvement which is still going on at 42 years old. So it really was an opportunity to have something to work on for years.

Just my experience, but hopefully some perspective.

2 Likes

FTP is an important metric and 4 w/kg is a great milestone but I don’t see that as an end result in and of itself. Reading your post, it sound like your feedback that you aren’t cycling at the level you want is FTP growth over time, measured on a ramp test taken indoors on the trainer.

Keeping up on the fast group ride or being competitive in a target race are results that will provide you more objective feedback on your cycling ability and having the required engine/ftp is one process goal that will help make it happen.

Building a big engine takes a lot of hours consistently over several years. Hard to bypass that for most of us. Having big and small goals that I am excited about helps me stay consistently motivated to do the work.

2 Likes

I went from 230W (off the couch with some prior running, 37y) to 280W FTP since last summer on consistent low volume riding (TR structured training since October) and I am yet to stop seeing gains. My goal is 4w/kg (320W) as well but I know it will take a long time and I’d be super stoked to reach 300W by the end of this year.
I’d say that especially with the LV plans consistency and patience are key. Try to be process orientated, nail your workouts and come back when you stop seeing gains.,

1 Like

:+1:. IMO, if cycling is your true and only goal and you are limited on time, I would do the following.

  • Stop running, it is NOT helping your cycling. Replace said run time with cycling.
  • Stop weightlifting, replace time with cycling. Focus more on weightlifting in the off season. Then continue weightlifting with cycling when you have more time to train in the future.
  • Perform all workouts on the trainer. It’s the most efficient and keeps you at home to handle life/family stuff. Plus requires less prep time before and after.
  • Follow TR low volume plans and add on z2 rides whenever you can. Even if it’s only 10 mins at the end of a workout. Add where/when you can. Any days you have a little extra time add in z2. You can spin on the trainer and attend to your kids.

This should give you a fitness bump until you have more time to train. For reference, it took me 2 years of TR mid volume and then .5 years of high volume plans to eventually get to 300w+ FTP and 4.0 w/kg. That was coming from a CrossFit background and being generally considered “athletic”. So if you are newer to cycling and it is your future, then expect years of training and the need to eventually increase your volume to reach your goals.

8 Likes

@Landis - I’m thinking the same thing about TR being the best option for this scenario, especially since I can fit in workouts late night after kids are down.

@splash - So TR LV: Base → General Build → Rolling Road Race specialty? Any difference between Sweet Spot or Traditional Base or a reason to pick one vs the other?

In what phase do people typically see the most gains (at least FTP gains)? When I did my first TR run last year I think I did base and maybe a little build before stopping, but can’t recall exactly.

@G650 - That perspective is appreciated and in truth I’m the same - wanting to train for health and happiness but motivated by improvement and numbers as a way to keep motivation high. In the end the numbers don’t matter, but they make it easier to track progress and stay engaged.

@Carbman - Nice to hear a success story with similar starting fitness/age and LV plan. Think you’re right about consistency, have heard that over and over.

@MI-XC - I think this is a good plan when/if I want to focus on cycling as my main goal. Not sure I’m there yet. But interested in your perspective, do you still weight train (noting your crossfit background)? For general health/wellbeing and feeling strong/being useful not sure I ever want to completely stop strength training, but long term maybe a cyclical/seasonal approach is best. I know there’s an interference effect between energy systems and it’s impossible to be elite at both types of training (strength and endurance), but I’m not at my genetic potential for either, so hoping to still make progress on both.

Also, if anyone’s interested, I wondered if my trainer was maybe reading a little low (Neo 2T), so I threw some money at the problem with some new Rally pedals. I was right. 3 w low. Progress! :grinning:

Thanks again everyone!

1 Like

At the moment I’m 100% a cyclist and trying to push my limits of training and racing XCO, XCM and MTB 100s. I’m quite competitive so I want to see how far I can push this. I am on high volume plans training 10-12 hours a week and up to 16 hours now that I can do long outdoor rides. I do not do any strength training at the moment but riding trails is certainly a full body workout. I’ve tried to mix weight training and cycling at the same time and couldn’t find the balance in the past, resulting in me being slower. I do want to find this balance since I’m not getting any younger and next winter will try to do that.

1 Like

As others have said you’re doing great, but to be realistic and have realistic expectations it’s tough to get where you want to be on 4 hours a week, not impossible but certainly will take time. In the car world, the saying is “there’s no replacement for displacement” and on 3-4 hours a week you’re likely not going to induce enough stimulus to make those gains quickly and build your engine up.

Are you saying you can’t commit more than 4 hours a week to training or cycling in general? If it’s 4 hours on the trainer and you’re still willing and able to do 1-2 endurance rides per week outside, totally different ballgame, but 4 hours a week is 200 a year (accounting for some time off). I’m your weight and hit 4/kg last year after I was doing nearly 400h a year.

If you’re truly time strapped and can only do 3-4 a week that leaves you with pretty much doing all intensity to make the most of your time, which can be physically and mentally exhausting.

2 Likes

Sweet spot base LV has a lot of threshold workouts. TB has more endurance type workouts, but I don’t know if the LV plan would be enough to improve. Most people do sweet spot base.

Probably base 2 or build. Speciality is really more to consolidate your fitness and build race sharpness. If you don’t have a race coming up, you could also double down on base, or do base - build - base - build