New Cyclist: Questions on HR, FTP and Max Watts

Hi Everyone,

I am a new to cycling and have been educating myself on how to create a plan to become better. I am an experienced runner, 10 years ago a NCAA All American in track and while I’ve slowed plenty over the years I’m still competitive in the local scene and still very fit in a running sense. For something new, I’m going to spend next year focused on cycling to take a break from running and over the past 2 months have spent 3-5 days a week on the trainer and really enjoying it so far. My goal is to race gravel event next Spring/Summer and complete a 100mi gravel race by the end of the year.

Here is my question: My FTP has increased from 195 to 265 (3.4w/kg) since day 1, but two things do not seem to translate from building running fitness to cycling: I cannot seem to get my heart rate nearly as high as running and feel very limited in my ability to go to a max/all out sprint effort.

So, two things I’m curious about:

  1. Heart Rate: I can’t seem to sustain heart rate above 150bpm on the bike. Compared to running, 150bpm is a sustained steady pace and my LT pace usually has me 170bpm avg (max HR 195ish…been a while since I’ve gone to the well like that). I feel like when I push harder on the bike my legs simply won’t do the work rather than being out of breath or feeling lactic. I switch gears and start pushing as hard as I can and quickly my legs simply won’t turn the cranks any more. Will that change over time (ie simply a matter of conditioning)? At max effort I am still at 150bpm and within a minute of recovering I’m back to 125-130.

  2. I cannot seem to go above 425-450w in an all out max effort. This seems really low and I don’t really understand why I can’t push harder. Again, I start hammering and hit 100% effort really quickly. Is this simply a matter of strength? I’ve never committed to a strength plan and have a typical runner build of skinny legs and not a lot of muscle mass.

So far my cycling has been on the trainer, 60 minutes per session on average (a few longer ones) and I’m still maintaining 40-55 running mpw depending on # of days.

Again, very new to this so the answer is undoubtedly time in the saddle but hoping to gain some understanding as I learn how to train on the bike.

Thanks in advance!

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I can’t help, but I’m interested in the responses you get. Many years ago NCAA athlete, but no where near All-American. I was just happy to get to play with some really talented guys.

I can’t get my HR above 150 bpm so far either. I’ve got about 4 months into riding and hit 150 bpm on my last ramp test at “failure”. I know from past experience on a long hill when I was (significantly) younger I could get my HR up to 190 bpm cycling, but there aren’t any around here and it “feels” like my legs fail before my lungs on max efforts like ramp tests.

Running, I’d be at 150 bpm no problem.

Max sprint is 1100w, so yours seems out of whack. My 5-min power is only ~400w, so nothing to write home about. What time duration are you speaking of for a “max effort”?

I’m talking about a 30-60second sprint max effort.

I should also add I’m using a Tacx Neo 2T so accuracy of the power reading shouldn’t be the issue (sadly, it’s me…).

  1. It’s pretty normal for running maxHR to be higher than cycling maxHR - somewhere around 5 bpm would be pretty normal. Running involves more muscles than cycling, and more muscles demand more oxygen. XC skiers tend to have even higher maxHR’s (involves more muscles than even running), while swimmers have lower maxHR.

  2. There is the amount of oxygen and blood the heart and lungs can supply, and the amount of blood and oxygen the muscles can demand/take delivery of. Normally these two aspects develop in tandem, so a newbie cyclist and a pro can both work at close to their maxHRs. However, in your case you have a very well developed heart and lungs to match the oxygen your running muscles can take delivery of. However, your cycling muscles aren’t as well developed, and reach the maximum they can take delivery of while your heart is capable of delivering more. Yes, time in the saddle is gonna address this gradually - increasing the capilliarization of the relevant muscles, and increasing the mitochondria to process the energy is a slow and gradual process. The good news is with good heart and lung fitness from running, and a good ability to recover from exercise, this will probably be a faster process for you than someone off the couch. A combination of lots of zone 2 work, plus some VO2Max efforts should do the trick.


I’m no scientist but - cycling and running are different :wink:

Cycling burns about half the calories per mile/hour vs running. It is “easier” in that sense (hence the fact multi hour rides are normal whereas it takes a really good runner to regularly go an hour +). Cycling also uses a different mix of muscles. It also uses less upper body muscles than running. There is certainly a lot of carry over on the cardio side but they are not a one to one match.

So for those reasons (and some others), a well trained runner is going to find it hard to work the cardio side as hard when staring cycling as they could running as their limiter will be cycling specific strength vs their cardio abilities. You have a V8 engine but a little Fiesta cycling body. What you describe is what I would expect to hear from a well trained endurance athlete who takes up cycling and I felt similar when moving from swimming to cycling.

It will get better as you train. Former runners generally make pretty good cyclists so your future is bright!


Huge quads are seen on the track, but generally speaking not on the road. FWIW I ran but was never a competitive in high school, definitely better after a mile than on the track. Worked at a desk from 30+ years and then at fifty-four took up cycling. Figured I was slow twitcher, yet on the bike I’ve got an ok (for my age) sprint 1100 watts at 5 seconds, 700+ watts at 30 seconds, and about 500 watts at a minute. Much younger guys (college and post college) that I ride with and have some kick are doing 700+ for a minute. But that comes at a price - I’m a hard gainer on 30+ minute long power.

The efforts from 5-15 seconds are more neuromuscular and use your fast (PCr) energy, and efforts from 30-90 seconds are largely glycolytic (anaerobic). Above 90 seconds and they become increasingly aerobic the longer the effort. There is a tradeoff between aerobic power and glycolytic power. You can raise anaerobic/glycolytic capacity and repeatability by doing short efforts, and that usually comes at the expense of long (1+ hour) power.

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Your watts will largely be determined by your weight. Try pushing lower cadence (70-80). The HR means nothing. You’re just not working that hard if you can get up to 195 running but have only seen 150 cycling. It might feel hard mentally but your body disagrees. You prob will have a slightly higher max HR running but otherwise they should be fairly similar, with running being higher. Not the the degree you have described.

Do a Zwift race and get back to us. I imagine you’ll discover some extra watts and see that HR soar if you’re really throwing down

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@WMIRunner Regarding 425-450W max…I think that might be a hardware/indication error issue. Curious to know if say your riding along fairly easily (15-20mph) and pin it for 30 seconds all out on flat road no wind. What speed are you able to get up to?

A runner with your background (even untrained) I bet should be able to double those wattages or more without much problem.

Missed the bit about all trainer rides, is that correct? Are all your sprint efforts done in TrainerRoad in Erg mode? Have you tried doing a sprint effort in Zwift or outside?

Thanks all for the helpful replies. While I have done all efforts outside on the bike I’ve never tracked it with a hrm and or power meter. I have done all out sprints on zwift and races on there with the results I outlined in my question. I think what I’m hearing is undeveloped quad strength which makes a lot of sense.

Why does that make sense when you have no idea what power your really producing? Undeveloped quad development? What is that really? Making power on a bike is so much more than a muscle group. Anything past about 1 minute is aerobic so making power is all about getting 02 to the muscles. Something you have proven you can do better than most. That is not lost. I still think something is not correct with respect to all things virtual/online and your power.

Speed is a poor mans PM and while not exact 450W is probably around 30-31mph for the masses (really depends on frontal area, temp, drivetrain loss, temp, altitude). If you really can’t et your bike to go much past 30mph flat/no wind then you are probably topping out around 450.

I could be wrong but, just want to make sure you don’t follow the wrong rabbit too far down a hole. You could be easily producing 1000W+ and you just have a calibration issue. Without more info we are just guessing. Welcome to cycling!

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I’m with Landis, what is undeveloped quad strength? I get dropped on 30 second sprints by guys with smaller legs and I can lift more weight in the gym.

Which brings me back to the physiology discussion. What if your legs were predominantly type 1 slow twitch fibers, and your type 2 fast oxidative glycolytic fibers had adapted to being more slow twitch? That would reduce your sprint power. Doing a lot of short intervals would develop some glycolytic power needed for sprinting, by encouraging those fast oxidative glycolytic fibers to be more fast twitch.

But thats getting ahead of things as Landis said. Do you have any data like this from outside?

Seems about right. For an upper bound, as I’m a big guy and not very aero, on Monday I did a 30mph flat, low-wind 30+ second sprint (wind was South 3-5mph and I was going West). Average power was 586W, fairly well controlled and slowly built to a peak of 775W, while speed topped out at 32+mph from an initial cruising speed of 20mph.

FWIW when I first got a trainer it seemed impossible to replicate my outside sprint power on the trainer. Now I can put out the same 1-sec, 5-sec, and 30 second power both indoors and outdoors. So it could be something as simple as learning to sprint on the trainer. Going to assume your Tacx Neo 2T is accurate.

Thanks again for the helpful replies. Perhaps what I should have said rather than undeveloped quad strength was undeveloped muscle specificity to cycling - or specific to my question…sprinting. I haven’t practiced it much and haven’t done any outdoor rides in a while with a power meter or hrm…and those that I have done have been at a moderate/steady effort. Anyway, the replies so far have been helpful; thanks again.

yes, specificity here is neuromuscular and the fast PCr energy system at the start, say 5 seconds or so, then mostly glycolytic energy system for the remaining 25 seconds. In the context of sprinting, and sprinting workouts, a strong aerobic system supports faster recovery from a 30 second effort.

I’m a visual thinker and WKO has a model to show contribution of different energy systems. To help illustrate sprinting and training for it, here is mine for the last 90 days:

You can see the blue glycolytic energy system dominates even out to 30 seconds. About 60 seconds out the aerobic system becomes a bigger contributor. Sprint training works on increasing glycolytic power

And WKO also has a model for PCr energy system, the explosive or “fight or flight” energy system. The model has mine at about 7 seconds, and last year with focused training I took that out to 12 seconds. So the first handful or two of seconds are driven by PCr energy system while glycolytic is ramping up and takes over.

Minor changes in positioning on the bike have helped me deliver more power. I throw some short 5-sec sprints into at least a couple workouts a week, to continue working on (and refining) the neuromuscular coordination aspect. At 5-second duration, a few of those efforts at the end of a workout do not impact my future workouts (as opposed to doing 1-min max efforts).

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Cycling sprint power is interesting. Generally it gets measure by 5 second power I.e. Your average power over 5 seconds. There are two distinct parts to that - your max power and how quickly you can get to your max power. Hitting 1000w at 5 seconds will give a pretty significantly different number than hitting 1000w at 2 seconds even though the max watts is the same.

I never ran track but I’d imagine a cycling all out sprint to be somewhat similar to the first 20 meters of a 100m dash. Pure power for sure but also a ton of technique.

It is very hard to get a great all out sprint watt number on a trainer as when going all out, being able to move on the bike and crank on the bars like you do outdoors usually leads to higher numbers. A real sprint kind of feels like its going to wreck your bike on a trainer.

Also besides developing strength, it can take a while to just figure out what “all out” really is on the bike.

I do remember a moment in a group ride sprint after I had been riding for a year or so when it clicked and I had an “oh, so that is what a real sprint effort is” moment.

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I am not trying to be argumentative, but, we’re talking about the an NCAA all American not being able to get past 450W. 450 is like clipping into the pedals and accelerating through an intersection after a stoplight turns green. Literally no technique other than trying to clip in and not get run over.

I did go out and ride at 400-450 for 30 seconds from 20mph and got to about 30.5mph. Flat, no wind/cars, temp 60’s, I’m 76kg wearing a flappy vest and 1100’ above sea level.

One thing I know for sure…Every good runner that has turned to cycling has turned into a friggin monster. These guys can move 02. Won’t be long before WMIRunner is wondering why he or she is off the front of every race/ride. :boom:

yeah something is off, I’ve seen some power curves of true diesels but for me on the road just standing up usually means 350-400W unless I’m actively controlling the motion. Thats 93kg with a broad chest and clearly not aero like you, so it takes a little more power going from 20 to 32mph on the flats.

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Yes and just so someone doesn’t get bogged down with this (not you WW)…I just picked 20 and pushed 450 until it sort of came to an equilibrium which was about 30 seconds later and 30-ish. If I started from 0mph then it might take 45seconds or maybe 55 seconds. Point is for everyone speed is power & power is speed. It would be good to know more on the speed side from the OP to validate power. I’ll shut up now. We’ve probably turned WMIrunner back to running :laughing:

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