Train­ing Tips

While the met­ric is help­ful, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily some­thing you need to in­crease to ride stronger

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By An­drew Randell and Steve Neal of The Cy­cling Gym

Why you should stop worrying about your ftp

For the past 10 years, func­tional thresh­old power (ftp) has been the met­ric that much of the cy­cling com­mu­nity has fo­cused on for train­ing. It’s the amount of power, mea­sured in watts with a power me­ter, you can hold for an hour, the­o­ret­i­cally. Not many peo­ple want to do a one-hour time trial, though, so the stan­dard es­ti­mate of ftp has been to take 95 per cent of the power you can push for a 20-minute time trial.

Much of the train­ing you read about and many of the pro­grams you can find on­line fo­cus al­most ex­clu­sively on im­prov­ing ftp. While this fo­cus in your train­ing may im­prove your 20-minute time trial num­ber, we would say that it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into mak­ing you a bet­ter rider out on your group ride. Train­ing at ftp in­volves a great deal of high-in­ten­sity work. When you do a 20-minute time trial, much of it will be done at VO2 max, a state in which your body is us­ing as much oxy­gen as it can, as will the train­ing to im­prove your time trial.

For most of us, we are train­ing to be bet­ter out on our group rides. Group rides are typ­i­cally some­thing in the range of two to three hours, most of which will be done at an en­durance or tempo heart rate. To be bet­ter on your group ride, you need to im­prove your aer­o­bic en­gine, which re­quires a dif­fer­ent fo­cus from that of im­prov­ing ftp. An im­proved aer­o­bic en­gine means a pos­i­tive change in your abil­ity to ride at a higher per­cent­age of your ftp power, while hav­ing a sta­ble heart rate, for longer pe­ri­ods of time.for ex­am­ple, let’s say on your three-hour group ride you end up with a nor­mal­ized power that’s 85 per cent of your ftp. To main­tain that nor­mal­ized power, your heart rate climbs to, and stays at, 90 per cent of your max heart rate. With proper en­durance and tempo train­ing, you should, over time, be able to change how high your heart rate climbs. As you im­prove, you will still ride at a nor­mal­ized power of 85 per cent of ftp, but your heart rate will only climb to 80 or 85 per cent of your max heart rate. This abil­ity to ride at a lower per­cent­age of your max heart rate and at the same power will mean you’ll save en­ergy, which you can call upon when push comes to shove later in the ride.

We saw this hap­pen this past winter with one of our clients at the gym. While his ftp has re­mained un­changed, he is now able to ride closer to his ftp power num­ber with a lower per­ceived ex­er­tion and for longer pe­ri­ods than when his train­ing fo­cus was only on im­prov­ing that 20-minute time trial wattage.

Now, we’re not say­ing that thresh­old and VO2 train­ing shouldn’t be part of your pro­gram. They have a role to play. But for most of us, they should play less of a role than they do in your typ­i­cal train­ing pro­gram. Too much sus­tained fo­cus on thresh­old and VO2 is detri­men­tal in the long run. It may work for a year or two, but af­ter that you will likely find your­self ex­pe­ri­enc­ing di­min­ish­ing re­turns and height­ened lev­els of fa­tigue.

To im­prove your aer­o­bic en­gine, you need to fo­cus pri­mar­ily on en­durance and tempo rid­ing, with lim­ited bouts of thresh­old and VO2 train­ing. We pre­fer train­ing mainly be­low thresh­old, with ap­pro­pri­ately timed VO2 and anaer­o­bic ses­sions. Make your aer­o­bic sys­tem strong enough and even­tu­ally the wattage you can push at tempo gets close to your thresh­old abil­ity.

The goal when try­ing to im­prove our aer­o­bic en­gine, or in­deed of all our train­ing, is to be able to push a greater wattage for longer and at a lower heart rate. When you’re out on your group ride, you don’t want to be cruis­ing in the group at a thresh­old heart rate. When your heart rate is that high, you are burn­ing lots of en­ergy. It’s bet­ter to be able to cruise in the group at an en­durance or tempo heart rate, thereby burn­ing less en­ergy and sav­ing it for when it mat­ters to­ward the end of the ride.

For the newer rider, or the rider who re­ally isn’t able to push that much wattage even when go­ing hard, we ac­tu­ally rec­om­mend a dif­fer­ent fo­cus away from en­durance. We see many ex­am­ples of such rid­ers at the gym. For them, we don’t use heart rate as a guide­line. We use wattage to guide the work­outs be­cause, at first, newer rid­ers need to work on sim­ply push­ing more wattage. They will of­ten be pre­scribed a Vo2-type block of train­ing to get started. Then, once they can push more power and the train­ing gets “hard,” we change the fo­cus and start bring­ing heart rate into the train­ing as a met­ric to watch.

Make your aer­o­bic sys­tem strong enough and even­tu­ally the wattage you can push at tempo gets close to your thresh­old abil­ity. Once you get this strong , you are in a great place for rid­ing well. left when things might get feisty near the end if the ride.

“To be bet­ter on your group ride, you need to im­prove your aer­o­bic en­gine.”

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