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How I went from 242w FTP to 302w? How to make progress in cycling for triathlons?

Cycling is the sport that motivated me to do triathlons. Swimming was a barrier of entry into TRI, but cycling was what I was most passionate about. My first memories of cycling was watching the Tour de France during the Lance Armstrong era and being fascinated by the road bikes which look way different to normal kids cycles.

Since then cycling was my favourite cardio even while bodybuilding and my mode of transport in college.

So once I was fully immersed into TRI, I was hooked on to cycling.

Before IM Dubai 2020, my FTP was 242w. This was my first ftp test. So this was my baseline. My goal then was to get to a ftp of 300w and 5 w/kg. 16 months of training later, my FTP was 302w at 4.8w/kg. I averaged 317w for in the 20 min FTP test. This was 6 months before IM Dubai 2022.

What did it take for me to reach there and what was my approach? What principles I stick by can be useful to you? And since it is World bicycle day, A perfect time to post this blog.

1. Stick to the plan:

I never miss a workout my coach uploads unless I am sick or travelling. I always make sure to make a comment on my thoughts behind the workout, how I felt etc. The credit for my improvement and growth in the sport has to go to my coach Chai from powerpeaks. We worked hard to reach new levels and push beyond them. Trust your coach and respect his plan. Stick to the plan!

2. Indoor Training:

I do 99% of my bike training in Bangalore indoors. It is a combination of factors from the distance to travel to reach safe roads and also my affinity to indoor training. I love my wahoo kickr and the erg mode and how I can precisely hit those intervals. I believe indoor training is best to make physiological adaptations. For me atleast. For my training camp in Abu Dhabi for IM 70.3 Dubai 2022, I did lot of outdoor rides (a 60/40 split between indoors and outdoors) and I did improve on bike handling and my nutrition planning. I even felt an improvement in holding the TT position at race effort power. But for key high end sessions, I ll choose indoors anyday. Outdoor riding was more fun and enjoyable. Soon I will incorporate more of outdoor riding into my training atleast for the Endurance rides.

3. Using erg mode:

For interval sessions, I use the erg mode almost always. The only time i don't use erg is obviously for FTP tests, Endurance rides or TT efforts. The erg mode forces you to work against a set resistance and maintain cadence. I feel this is harder or weirder than non erg. So once I go outside, the same effort feels easier. And Indoor training is generally accepted as 'harder' than outdoors. The workout below was in Erg mode (1:20 sec at z5 with 1 min rest x 8) X4.

4. Polarised training:

During my build/base phase, my training is always polarized. This means 80% of my workouts are long endurance rides which are z1-z2 (easy) and 20% of the workouts are high end Vo2max or LT2 sessions( These are super hard). This helps me build up the lactate clearance while also building the base endurance. Once I start getting into to the in-season training in the specific preparation phase, my training slowly shifts to threshold and tempo efforts. There always a long endurance ride(3-4 hours)on the last day of the week. This is key for fat adaptation and building the engine.

5. Get the job done:

Realising I won't feel amazing in all workouts and that's ok! Getting the sessions done when you don't feel as great is where you reap the rewards. Get the job done. If you feel amazing and strong for all workouts, you are probably under training and not giving room for adaptation.

6. Listening to the body:

Expanding on the point above, when I know I have been dedicated and giving my 100% to the training plan, and if my body is asking for recovery, I allow myself to recover. I used to be naive in the beginning and used to force myself to stick to the plan even if I felt my body was beat down and I needed recovery. I stopped doing this. I listen to my body more and don't feel guilty taking a day off since I know I have put in dedicated hard work every single day.

7. Recovery:

It took a while for me to understand that the workouts are not where the adaptations happen. Workouts are stressors and 'damages' to the muscle. The true adaptation and improvement happens during recovery. Sleep, nutrition, hydration and lifestyle habits are key! Without these dialled in, there is no point of working hard during training.

8. Breathing exercises:

I incorporat breathing exercises when i get into a serious training phase. I keep this as a cherry on top.

I have written a blog specifically about this and how it helps my endurance performance. Do check it out. It basically involes diaphragmatic breathing, pranayama and few others.

9. Patience:

I used to be so hard on myself when my performance is not up to the mark. I am obsessed with data too. This is not a healthy habit at all. Cycling should first and foremost Enjoyment. The trajectory to the progress in not linear. It will have temporary undulating path. Consistency will make sure this trajectory is upward in the long run. Ups and downs in fitness are part and parcel. Don't be married to the numbers.

10. Compare yourself to yourself:

Do not look at others and feel you are great or poor. It's all relative. Compare yourself to yourself. Get better than your were yesterday. That's all. That's your only competition.

11. TT position:

Once I have built up enough fitness, I do all my hard intervals or tempo intervals in the TT position. I get so comfortable in the TT position such that this is where I feel most comfortable putting down the power in the pedals. And also the position where I feel most comfortable for recovery. I always focus on relaxing every other part of my body during hard efforts and I concentrate. Music does help here. I try to keep my upper body still. Get comfortable in the TT position. Below is an example of me doing the z5 efforts in the TT position.

12. S&C:

This part is key for building the musculature needed to handle the training loads, correct imbalances and also reducing the risk of injury. I have a lower body strength day everyweek. Back squats is a staple. Leg extensions, Leg curl, Deadlifts(regular and stiff leg), Step ups, Leg press, Seated calf raise, Standing calf raise are my go to exercises. All of them done for 3-4 sets for 8 to 20 reps. Stretching is a regular during my rest days. Mostly consists of basic static stretches to improve flexibility.

13. Nutrition:

I eat clean all year round. This is very important. And I have my go to pre workout meals and post workout meals. Trial and error and find your favourites. Make sure to include good sources of carbs pre and post ride and good amount of protein after a ride. Crucial for recovery and replenishing glycogen stores. Overnight oats(more on why I stopped Quaker oats in a later post), pb&j sandwich with Greek yogurt smoothie, granola are my go to pre ride meals. Post ride, pasta or rice or tortilla is my favourite carb source. I recently started experimenting with different carb sources for fuel during the rides. The energy gels are processed and started causing me gastric issues. Now, I am trying maple syrup and it's been amazing so far. So keep trying stuff and finding what works best for you. I aim to consume about 300-350 cals on the bike during hard efforts. That's about 75 to 90g of carbs. For the easy endurance rides I do not load up on carbs too much, just electrolytes as I feel this helps in fat adaptation. Have to test this more with data but I have always consumed lesser carbs on my easy rides.


Hope this helps! Happy World Bicycle Day!

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