Is muscle mass a limiter for lighter rider?

I am a male amateur cyclist, (height: 5’6", weight: 55-56 kg, waist 28", age: 32 yrs), aiming to improve my raw FTP. I have been on and off of TR workouts since fall 2019. I completed SSB mid volume I, II, general build mid volume between Nov’19 - May’20, with few interruptions due to travel. My FTP went up from 200 watts to only 220 watts during that phase. However, I find myself struggling to raise my FTP beyond 220 ish watts. I am wondering how much room is there to grow my FTP at this body weight. Is muscle mass a limiter here? I recently started throwing in some off the bike strength exercises. But is it possible to see FTP gain without adding extra body weight? Thanks for any suggestion.

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So, look at it this way.
You are at about 4w/kg. And that’s very good.
I think you are on the right track. You will need more muscles to develop more power. At your weight, it will be very hard to not gain weight. You have to put the muscles somewhere.

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There are pro riders close to your weight putting out more power, so it’s definitely doable, but probably harder for us average Joe’s who don’t have 30 hours a week to train.


Come on… i know they are thin… but he is 5’6 and 120 pounds… he is SUPER light

Yes, cycling performance is primarily driven by aerobic capacity, not muscle mass This relationship exists at nearly all effort durations, but the longer the duration the less muscle mass matters. Even relatively short efforts (60 seconds) are primarily aerobically driven

So sure, add in strength training, and work on your explosivity - but you don’t need to add mass to improve performance


While I believe this is mostly true, you also need muscles. At 120 pounds he can still put some muscle weight and get more power that way.

Thanks for all the replies and suggestions.

It seems like off the bike strength training should play a big role in my case!

I suppose @fadikar would’ve corrected y’all but they didn’t specify if they were male or female.


Sorry! I am a male.

Not too far off, I could find more this is the first “little guy” that came to mind

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Lets go back to this for a moment:

Aerobic capacity is largely driven by volume, not intensity. If you can ramp up volume, you might well see additional growth of FTP. Just plain old zone 2 / aerobic endurance will drive those adaptations. There is a local young guy (early 20s) with similar height/weight and he puts in 20 hour weeks. That level of consistency delivered huge increases in FTP, aerobic capacity, etc.

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I would consider an increase from 200 to 220 watt FTP to be good if the plan adherence was off and on. That is 10%.

You mention getting through SSBI/II and a build in 6-7 months. It should take about 5, I think. I think lower hanging fruit is to lay out a plan and stick to it instead of worrying about trying to build muscle at this point. As Frank Overton says, FTFP! Then try increasing volume, then worry about other things once you’ve addressed the low hanging fruit.

Thanks! Agree that sticking to the plan helps. But sometimes interruptions are almost unavoidable because of family and work :frowning:

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Weight is not too much of a barrier enthusiasm is for me. Back in April/May this year at 56kg my FTP was about 281w and was quite stable for a few months. I am 58.5kg and my FTP is lower at 249w. FWIW I’m a 5ft 9, nearly 45year old and last year I had BC and chemotherapy. I was simply more motivated earlier in the year than I am now.

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I certainly notice that pulling into the wind I cannot churn with the same power as some of my larger riding partners - and I am 179cm/5’9" and 64kg.

but 130 > 120…
if he can put 10 pounds of lean/mean muscle mass on the legs, it would make gaining more less hard.
I bet Nairo’s thighs are 2x of most of us at just 130!

Targeting 10lbs of mass to just the legs is not easy, or quick, but doable. But OP is also definitely not at his limits due to weight, that extra 10lbs likely isn’t the only thing helping Quintana with the next ~100w of FTP

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Sure. Quintana has been riding since he was a kid. So he has way more experience. Plus he is a pro and he puts much more hours than most of us ever will.
Plus we have all the doping…

I made very substantial gains my first year on TR almost exclusively on low volume. If you can’t consistently complete mid-volume, maybe you can on low volume.

Also, chances are as a 130 pound man, you’re extremely unlikely to pack on pounds of muscle hitting the weights. But someone with that little mass probably has the most to gain from doing so. Getting stronger and adding muscle aren’t exactly the same thing. Weight training will improve your ability to generate force even without physically adding muscle.


Cardiac muscle, maybe. Not leg muscles, though.

Look at it this way: there are women out there whose weigh the same as the OP, but have FTPs of around 300 watts.