If you’re a cyclist who uses a training plan based on power or you’ve dabbled in a virtual training platform like Zwift, you’ve probably thought about increasing your functional threshold power (FTP). You may also feel a bit confused about what workouts will best serve you when it comes to boosting wattage. After all, threshold is a notoriously awkward pace to hold: Just a little too hard to be comfortable, just a little too easy to feel like you’re really pushing on an interval.
To help clear up that confusion, we asked two longtime cycling coaches how to increase FTP—and just as importantly, when you should focus on other metrics instead.
A Quick Overview on FTP
Your FTP is the highest power that you can maintain over a full hour of riding. It’s often measured by using a 20-minute test, though some purists will ride for the full 60 minutes for the most accurate assessment. Your FTP is then used to set your power zones for the rest of your training, so it’s an important number to know if you’re training seriously.
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“If someone tells you in one sentence how to increase your FTP, they’re lying,” says Jakub Novak, former pro and coach at ProCyclingCoaching. FTP, as he says, is complicated. Because it’s that weird “middle zone” where you’re not quite anaerobic but you’re still working pretty damn hard, it requires both fitness and strength. It’s not an easy one to just push your way through—the workouts to improve FTP are long and hard.
But before you even consider how to increase your FTP, you should know what your baseline is right now. That means doing an FTP test if you haven’t done one this season. Don’t rely on your test from two years ago. Instead, take time in the next week to do an FTP test so you know your current status.
Finding your current FTP stats matters because the workouts you do in order to increase your FTP are based on your current stats. If you aren’t using a current number, you’re likely going to be training too easy or too hard, which can hold you back from making improvements.
What to Know Before You Start Training to Increase FTP
1. Know Power Is Preferred, But You Can Start With Heart Rate
Obviously power is in the name (functional threshold power). But if you don’t have access to a power meter, you can still train using your threshold zone, based on your heart rate.
If you don’t have a power meter on your outdoor bike but you do have a smart trainer (like a Wahoo Kickr) that measures power, note your heart rate while riding at threshold power on the smart trainer. Then, use that data to set your heart rate goal when riding at threshold outside. (In this case, plan to do your FTP testing on the smart trainer anytime you reassess your FTP.)
Heart rate can only get you so far, though. Ultimately, if FTP is a big focus for you, you’re going to have to invest in a power meter.
2. Go Low to Get High
You may think that to improve your FTP, you need to spend all of your time at the very top end of your threshold power zone in workouts (which is 90 to 105 percent of your current FTP). On the surface, this makes sense: Work harder, get strong faster. But if you’re always trying to stay at the high side of your range, you’re more likely to end up overtrained and with a lower FTP than when you started!
That’s why FasCat coach Frank Overton pioneered the idea of “sweet spot” training, where you spend time at the lower end of your threshold range. “The underlying principle of sweet spot training is a balanced amount of intensity and volume that produces a maximal increase in an athlete’s FTP,” Overton says. “The sweet spot occurs between a high-level zone 2 and lower zone 4. It is within these ranges that you will build your base the most while simultaneously increasing your power at threshold. It gives you more bang for your buck, and thus the nickname, ‘sweet spot.’” (You’ll see this show up in workouts below.)
3. Build Your Base
Before you get into the weeds on improving FTP, Novak points out that having an endurance base is key. You don’t need to be a super cyclist to start working on FTP, but having some base miles under your belt along with strength training is going to make your FTP efforts go much better.
“I wouldn’t focus on FTP until after spending three to four months focusing on strength in the gym, as well as base miles on the bike. Then I would shift to focusing on FTP,” he says. “It’s much easier to make gains in your FTP when you have strong leg muscles and a base of endurance fitness.”
4. Test Regularly, but Not Obsessively
There is a danger of over-testing your FTP. If you’re racing a lot, you may not want to add another long effort to your schedule. For example, pro roadie turned gravel racer Alexey Vermeulen says he only tests his FTP once or twice a year. And even if you’re not racing, you don’t want to spend one workout every week doing one 20-minute effort.
You won’t see improvements if you focus on testing compulsively. Do the workouts during the week, and test monthly at most, says Novak. He also adds that if your FTP changes, you should update it in whatever app you use to schedule and record your workouts, because a change in your FTP (for better or worse) will raise or lower your other zones as well.
5. Consider Your Goals
FTP—specifically, how well you perform in your 20-minute FTP test—is only one predictor of performance. But it may not be the best predictor of performance for you. In fact, you could think of it as the “vanity metric” of the cycling set: It’s how you set your avatar’s abilities on Zwift Island, and it’s a number that most cyclists understand and envy.
While you should be aware of your FTP, depending on your goals, it may not be worth increasing. Vermeulen says he hasn’t focused on his FTP for years. Sure, he’s aware of it—but mostly, he’s getting ready for races by working on his endurance base for longer events, honing technical skills for gnarlier courses, or sharpening his sprint for races that tend to end with bunch sprints. So, before you panic about increasing your FTP, ask yourself if there are other things you should be focusing on instead.
The 3 Best Workouts to Increase FTP
You’ll see that these workouts are focused on longer intervals—they’ll feel easy for the first set, considering FTP shouldn’t feel overwhelmingly hard, like a 2-minute hard effort would. But by the second or third interval (or toward the end of the FTP block in the third workout), expect to hit a mental and physical wall—but keep pushing, because this is where the real magic happens!
1. The 1-Hour Sweet Spot Workout
“This is my favorite sweet spot workout because it increases threshold and builds endurance,” says Overton. “It’s compact and can be done weekly, indoors or outdoors. This sweet spot workout works for beginners to advanced riders.”
- 10- to 20-minute easy ride for warmup
- 3 x 10 minutes between 84% and 97% of threshold with 5 minutes easy spinning between sets
- 10-minute (or longer) easy ride for cooldown
2. Hill Reps
Long, steady hills are a great way to force yourself to stay at FTP since it’s hard to drop down to an easy effort and there’s no option to coast. This workout pushes you to stay at the top of your FTP range, and even go slightly over. Novak says this is one of the most efficient ways to increase FTP. However, if you’re new to FTP training, note that this can feel overwhelming, especially on the final rep, so be mentally prepared!
- 30-minute easy ride for warmup
- 3 x 10 minutes on a hill at 100% to 105% of FTP, 5 minutes easy spinning between reps
- 30-minute easy ride for cooldown
3. Steady State FTP
Novak likes this workout for extending your ability to stay at FTP—which is going to be important on race day! This looks like a simple workout, but it’s a hard one to handle. We highly recommend a great playlist or an action movie (if you’re riding inside) that will keep you pumped the whole time. Notice that the workout portion falls in an extremely tight percentage range, so it’s going to take a lot of focus to stay in the right spot.
- 30-minute easy ride for warmup
- 40 minutes at 96% to 99% of FTP
- 30-minute easy ride for cooldown
How to Schedule Your Workouts for FTP Gains
These workouts aren’t for everyday use. They’re great as a once- or twice-a-week workout, with easy/endurance rides and appropriate rest days between them. An optimal schedule would look something like this:
- Monday – Rest
- Tuesday – Endurance ride
- Wednesday – Intervals / FTP workout
- Thursday – Endurance ride
- Friday – Easy / short ride
- Saturday – Long ride
- Sunday – Intervals / FTP workout
For more structure, consult with a coach like Novak or Overton, or consider an app like FasCat’s Optimize, which will help you create a schedule that fits these workouts around your goals.