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Going Beyond Functional Threshold Power, Part 2: Durability

While functional threshold power (FTP) is a crucial metric for assessing a cyclist's performance, focusing solely on FTP can be limiting. True cycling excellence requires a combination of three things:

  1. Versatility (the ability to adapt and excel across varying terrains and racing scenarios) is indispensable for tackling the diverse challenges of competitive cycling.

  2. Durability enables cyclists to maintain performance over long distances and through demanding conditions, essential for endurance events.

  3. Resiliency is critical for recovery, allowing cyclists to perform consistently across multiple stages or after intense efforts.

Together, these attributes create a well-rounded cyclist capable of succeeding beyond the confines of raw power measurements. This article is the second of a series of three (click here for the first one) designed to give deeper insight into why we need these attributes and some tips on how to improve them.

What is durability in cycling?

Durability refers to an athlete's ability to maintain a high level of performance over an extended period, despite the physical and mental fatigue that accumulates during long or intense rides. This quality is crucial for cyclists aiming to excel in endurance events, stage races, and long-distance rides. Let's delve into what fatigue resistance entails and why it's important for cyclists.

Key components of durability

Building elements of durability into our training requires a multifaceted approach, but training consistency is an absolute requirement for building durability. With established consistency, there are a few elements that will further help us build durability.

Muscular Endurance

Good old muscular endurance does not get discussed much anymore in a world of zone 2 and polarized training. Strong, well-conditioned muscles can sustain repeated contractions for extended periods, which is crucial for maintaining power and pace.

How do we develop this? We go a little old school and add more big-gear, low-cadence intervals (if our knees can take it). Try doing 3 x 5-minute big-gear Tempo/Sweet Spot intervals twice a week, targeting 45-60 rpm with 5 minutes of recovery between intervals. Progress the number of intervals from three to five over the course of a training cycle. Also, try including lower-gear Tempo in your workout regime. Start with 30 minutes of Tempo targeting 65-75 rpm and see if you can build that to an hour.

A bonus tip: After any big-gear/low-gear work, spend five to ten minutes spinning at a higher cadence in a low-endurance effort to "reset" your natural cadence.

Cardiovascular Durability

Also known as aerobic endurance, cardiovascular durability is the ability of the heart, lungs, and circulatory system to supply oxygen-rich blood to working muscles during sustained physical activity. In cycling, aerobic endurance is crucial for maintaining high levels of performance over extended periods. A well-developed cardiovascular system delivers oxygen efficiently to working muscles, supporting sustained aerobic performance by supporting our ability to maintain optimal heart rate over long periods with excessive strain (often measured in decoupling or drift).

So how do we build aerobic endurance? Starting with the big picture, the development of good aerobic endurance begins with a well-developed, structured training plan with a base training period of 8-12 weeks that features a consistent and progressive amount of aerobic zone 2 rides. As aerobic fitness builds, we can progress into more intensive aerobic efforts like Tempo and Sweet Spot (high Tempo) work. During this phase, training volume matters; simply put, if we can increase and progress volume when building aerobic endurance, we will see improvement and gains.

Metabolic Durability

Metabolic durability in cycling refers to an athlete's ability to efficiently manage and sustain energy production over extended periods of exercise. It encompasses the efficiency of various metabolic processes that provide the necessary fuel to muscles during prolonged physical activity.

There are two key ways we can increase metabolic durability: improve our physiological efficiency and increase our functional threshold power (FTP). To build physiological efficiency, the simple answer is to ride our bikes, as much as we can, consistently for years. We will continue to improve our physiological efficiency for years if we commit to riding consistently.

Now, including increased FTP in this list is a bit of a cheat, but the reality is a higher FTP will allow us to maintain power and pace with less strain. Two athletes riding in a pack are likely putting out the same power, but the one with a higher FTP will have lower strain. How do we build FTP? That's pretty straightforward; we need to work that intensity range and a solid dose of Sweet Spot efforts (such as classic 2 x 20-minute intervals at about 90% of FTP) with quality time-in-zone progression, leading into FTP intervals (classic 3 x 10-minute intervals at about 100-105% of FTP), again featuring quality time-in-zone progression.

Mental Durability

Mental durability, also known as mental toughness or resilience, refers to an athlete's ability to maintain focus, motivation, and performance despite the physical and psychological challenges encountered during cycling. It is the mental strength that enables cyclists to push through pain, fatigue, adverse conditions, and the monotony of long rides. This aspect of endurance is crucial for achieving peak performance and overcoming obstacles. Development of mental durability is a tough subject to write about in an article, but at the core, a clear goal and understanding of our "why" are crucial for developing good mental toughness.

Durability in cycling is not just about physical endurance; it's about the integration of various components such as metabolic efficiency, cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, and mental resilience. Developing this multifaceted attribute allows cyclists to push through limits, maintain performance over long distances, and recover swiftly between efforts. By focusing on structured training, proper nutrition, effective recovery strategies, and consistent effort, cyclists can build the durability needed to excel in the sport.


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