Functional Threshold Power or FTP is a single power value used by athletes and coaches to define a range of training ‘zones’ as well as assess overall fitness gains, losses, and status. FTP, as defined by Andy Coggan and Hunter Allen, is the highest average power or watts a rider can maintain in mostly steady state activity for one hour. Power above FTP will cause the athlete to fatigue relatively soon, compared to power just below FTP which can be maintained for much longer. 

As Mitchell explained in ‘How Much Time Does it Take to Improve FTP’ article, it takes roughly 10 weeks to see improvements in FTP from structured exercise. Over these 10 weeks it is important to incorporate a series of workouts which promote the right kind of stimulus and at a manageable and productive rate to improve FTP. Too much load too quickly and the athlete will burn out, not enough load not fast enough and the FTP will likely not budge. One of the major reasons coaches and athletes focus on improving their FTP in training is that FTP is somewhat of an intersection of power needs in the sport of cycling and reflects when and if overall fitness is going up or down. In this article we will discuss various methods to stimulate the physiological adaptations that promote an increase in an athlete’s Functional Threshold Power. 

Aerobic Intensity with Volume

One of the most effective and proven methods to improve FTP is riding in an aerobic intensity for 2.5-6 hours continuously several times per week. The key here is to accumulate fatigue without too much load at any one time and gradually improve overall fitness via aerobic activity. My colleague at Source Endurance, Matt Hill, describes this method as ‘raising the ocean’. By improving aerobic fitness, physiological adaptations which support other types of fitness (anaerobic and phosphocreatine) also improve. At Source Endurance we use TrainingPeaks and track Chronic Training Load, or CTL. As volume and intensity of completed exercise goes up, so does CTL. As we mentioned before, it is important to not accumulate too much fatigue too quickly, and so ramp rates need attention. A ramp rate of higher than 7 points can indicate the athlete may be at risk for a suppressed immune system and overtraining.

Aerobic Intensity with Volume

Rpm = rotations per minute of pedal stroke
FTP = functional threshold power

Athletes who choose to use this method to improve FTP will need between 12-25 hours per week to train in order to get the optimal stimulus. Athletes who have limited time or only have availability for the lower end of this range will need to utilize a balance of long aerobic intensity exercise with a variety of workouts from the method and methods below to create the proper stimulus.

Sweet Spot and Threshold Training

For the time-crunched cyclist, sweet spot and threshold training gets the athlete a good bang for their buck to raise their FTP. Matt describes this method as ‘concentrating the ocean into a pool’. Sweet Spot as described by Hunter Allen and Andy Coggan is 88-94% of FTP. Athletes can start to train at 8 minutes with 5-10 minutes rest and work their way up to 20 minutes with several reps. Training in this zone is appealing and effective as it stimulates a range of physiological adaptations necessary to raise FTP in a relatively shorter period of time. These adaptations include increased plasma volume, increased muscle mitochondrial enzymes, increased lactate threshold, increased muscle glycogen storage, hypertrophy of slow-twitch muscle fibers, increased muscle capillarization, interconversion of fast-twitch muscle fibers, increased stroke volume/maximal cardiac output, and increased vo2 max.

Sweet Spot and Threshold Training

FTP = functional threshold power

FTP End of Block Workout

Rpm = rotations per minute of pedal stroke
FTP = functional threshold power

HIIT Training

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is becoming more and more popular among athletes of all types. HIIT is a type of training which focuses on maximal or close to maximal efforts from a few seconds up to a several minutes with rest in between. One of the major benefits of HIIT is that it is time-saving and improves power at short efforts by populating and improving efficiency of fast twitch muscle fibers and anaerobic capacity. By accumulating a high amount of intensity in a short period of time the athlete improves their VO2 max and threshold power. For example, an athlete could perform a workout with one, 20 minute interval just above threshold OR with HIIT they could perform 4x5 minute intervals at a much higher intensity/ wattage with rest in between. The HIIT workout allows the athlete to accumulate a higher load in this short time period than if they performed a longer interval at a lower intensity. The major drawbacks of HIIT is that it requires more rest between sessions to recover and therefore the cumulative workload over several weeks and months will be an overall lower capacity than if the athlete focused on volume or a mix of volume and sweet spot or a mix of all three methods.

FTP Example HIIT Workout

Prescribing Personalized Interval Sets to Maximize FTP

At Source Endurance we use WKO5 software to analyze our athletes’ power file data and create custom training plans and workouts to maximize the performance of all of our athletes. There are several tools within WKO5 which help to create custom interval sets, determine if the workouts we are providing are creating the optimal stimulus, and overall track progress across days to years to ensure FTP is improving at the athlete’s maximum capacity. 

Through using the Power Duration Curve we can track if power values in time durations at and around FTP are improving and therefore if the training is creating the proper stimulus.

FTP PD Curve with Metrics

The Optimized Interval Targeting Chart displays an athlete’s thresholds for each energy system (phosphocreatine, glycolytic, and aerobic) and ranges to target for wattage for focus in each system.

FTP Optimized Interval Targeting

Through fine tuning various training zones, proper testing, and using the right mix of various workout methods, FTP can be a great area to target in training to build overall fitness. 

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About the author: Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD is a level 2 USA Cycling coach as well as a Registered Dietitian (RD) specializing in sports nutrition and is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). With Kristen’s nutrition expertise and diverse experience in the sport of cycling as a racer and a mentor, she provides a comprehensive approach to her coaching. She works with athletes from the beginner to elite ranks in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking disciplines. Kristen is professional road racer racing with ButcherBox Pro Cycling, and seasoned mountain bike and cyclocross racer. Learn more about Kristen.