The essential physiological skill in most cycling events is threshold power.
You are likely to be a successful rider if you can generate many Watts at your threshold power.
Sprinters, climbers, and time trial experts need a great threshold power. A good performance at threshold power is compulsory for winning a cycling race.
Even if you have a highly trained aerobic system, you cannot be sure of winning. Of course, tactics, technical skills, VO2 max, and sprinting prowess also matter, but having a high threshold power makes it unlikely that you will get dropped before the finish line.
There are numerous terms describing threshold power: critical threshold power, functional threshold power, anaerobic threshold, AT, threshold power, lactate threshold, etc. Most of these terms describe the well-known situation: when you ride at a certain speed, you can continue for maybe an hour, but if you ride just a little bit faster, your legs will burn up within minutes.
I think it is only of academic interest to decide the most suitable term. So instead, I will take you on a guided tour around the concept of threshold power training, including practical examples for your daily training.
What do we actually know about Threshold Power Training?
It is well-established knowledge that training with high intensity improves your ability to continue exercise without accumulating lactic acid.
This physiological skill is often the most determinant factor in endurance sports. That is probably why you are reading this article: You want to learn how to increase your threshold power because that will make you a better endurance athlete.
What is the right intensity for Threshold Power Training?
Many coaches develop training sessions targeted to improve your threshold power. Intervals with an intensity around your threshold power are the most common, and they are very time effective, too.
However, there are other ways to train, which will boost your aerobic engine.
Most of my cycling training programs are built in a way that increases threshold power using a combination of
- VO2 max intervals.
- Threshold power intervals,.
- Sub-threshold power intervals.
- Endurance rides.
Even though these training intensities are pretty different, they all improve peripheral adaptations like increased capillary density, more myoglobin, more mitochondria, better use of free fatty acids as fuel, larger glycogen stores, etc.
Is interval training necessary?
There are many concepts and ideas about how to build threshold power. Most cycling coaches have their strategy.
My training principles focus on high-intensity training methods, VO2 max, and interval training. This differs a bit from other successful cycling coaches, but most of us achieve magnificent results using a combination of the training intensities mentioned earlier. Coaches often prefer one of these intensities, or maybe they use another term for almost similar intensities.
Suppose an athlete with the right talent starts to train using any of the four above training principles and for the required duration of each training session. In that case, he will be capable of becoming a professional rider. It might sound controversial, but road cycling is not as scientific as many cycling coaches would like to think. Talented riders who train hard will always ride faster than others.
That is why some athletes carve out a professional career without ever using a cycling coach. They train hard, they eat right, and they rest and, of course, are naturally talented. Their training principles probably include more LSD training (Long Slow Distance Training as used by runners) than my training programs advise, and I have to admit that these riders become extremely strong (or at least some of them do).
I am not sure these riders will ever reach their physiological potential. Still, they might hit 98% of their optimum performance, and that is more than enough to turn them into talented and determined professionals.
Thus, it is not only a question about threshold intervals because many training intensities will increase your threshold power.
What is the real secret of successful threshold power training?
The secret to becoming a great endurance athlete is consistency. You have to work hard, be focused, and be consistent. Not just for a week, a month, or a year. It would be best if you put in consistent work over several years to build the necessary endurance to reach your full potential as an endurance athlete.
Most professional athletes have more than ten years’ heavy endurance training background. This illustrates that one of the fundamental reasons professionals are better than YOU is that they train consistently for several years.
Practical Examples on How to Increase your Threshold Power
I strongly recommend power meters and heart rate monitors as a part of serious cycling training. However, it is possible to use all of my cycling training programs and principles without a power meter or a heart rate monitor. If you do not have a power meter, please consider using a good ergometer bike, at least for preliminary testing purposes.
Many riders are searching the internet to get a quick fix to help them get closer to their goals. However, at present, no legal steps are letting you reach your full potential in record time. Please remember that the below-mentioned training methods can increase your threshold power, but they all require consistent work for an extended period before you will gain significant results.
If the concept of power meter training is entirely new to you, here is an introduction to power meter training.
The higher intensity you train at, the more benefit you will get from using a power meter. It is challenging to achieve proper pacing at intensities above your threshold power; this is where a power meter could become an appreciated training partner. If you prefer to use mainly LSD principles, it is less critical to use a power meter. A heart rate monitor would be just as effective.
VO2 Max Intervals
Intervals close to VO2 max are a potent stimulus for your aerobic system. VO2 max intervals not only improve your VO2 max power but also provide a significant boost to your threshold power. Therefore, people looking for time-effective interval training should include these intervals in their workouts.
I usually use VO2 max intervals most of the season because I work with elite riders who need sessions close to maximum oxygen consumption to achieve further progress.
Even though VO2 max is not the most critical power output, it is still desirable to learn this skill because the physiological adaptations to VO2 max training are the same as those you achieve with training at lower intensities, such as threshold power training. The most significant difference is the time needed to train to achieve the same progress.
Remember that threshold power is only a percentage of your VO2 max. The physiological skills you train with during threshold power intervals are also stimulated at VO2 max intensity. If you decide to train at a lower intensity than VO2 max, you have decided to train your aerobic system less effectively.”
Example: 3 x (3+3min) at VO2max / recovery. If you use a heart rate monitor, your heart rate should be above 95% of the maximum at the end of these intervals. If you use a power meter, your target power could be in the area of 120% of your functional threshold power or, even better, based on your 5min maximum capacity.
If you want more inspiration for VO2 max training, have a look at my VO2 Max Booster Program.
Threshold Power Intervals
Threshold power interval training is probably the most common way to increase threshold power. The principle is to know your power output or heart rate at threshold power and use these values to pace yourself at the same intensity throughout intervals. You will have to do a test or a time trial as a reference.
The most challenging part of such an interval is to stay at the right intensity throughout. Going slightly too fast at the beginning makes it impossible to maintain the right power to the end. On the other hand, if you go too slowly, you will not get the adaptations you are training for.
Threshold power intervals are challenging but effective in building a solid aerobic engine. Threshold power intervals are also suitable for becoming better at pacing for triathlons, time trials, or breakaways.
Example: 3 x (12+ 6min) at threshold power / recovery. Target heart rate should be in the range of 88-92% but depends on how you have performed at previous tests or races with a duration of ~ 1hr. Some riders can ride with a higher percentage, and others cannot make this range.
The best method to find out is to ride a 40km time trial or participate in a criterium. Then, using a power meter, you can use your functional threshold power from one of the events mentioned above to calculate your functional threshold power.
Sub-Threshold Power Intervals
VO2 max intervals and threshold power intervals are the two most time-effective ways to increase performance. But there is one major problem: high-intensity intervals only work when you finish them. If you do not maintain the correct intensity throughout the interval session, the effectiveness decreases. You will achieve better training if you choose an intensity with a higher success rate.
My experience is that the success rate of high-intensity intervals is lower than sub-maximum intensity intervals. Still, sub-threshold power intervals can offer significant improvements when made in appropriate doses. Also, there is an argument that there is a physiological sweet spot because you can train at quite a high oxygen consumption without going anaerobic. Thus, you will give a great lift to your aerobic system (and almost nothing to your anaerobic performance).
Example: 4 x 15min slightly below threshold power. If you use a heart rate monitor, stay 5-10 beats below your threshold heart rate. You could do these intervals with power output at 90-95% of your functional threshold power using a power meter.
As sub-threshold power intervals can improve your aerobic system, endurance training with lower intensity can also make improvements. However, you have to work for a much longer time to achieve the desired progress. I know many of you will consider this impossible, but please remember that real LSD training has proven to make great athletes for many years.
Example: 4 to 8hours at the lower or middle part of sub-threshold intensity. You can use power meters and heart rate monitors for pacing, but often it is more a feeling of comfortable pacing throughout the distance.
What is the best way to increase threshold power?
It is a difficult question, and I think no answer fits all. My personal belief is that a combination of VO2 max and threshold power intervals is necessary for highly trained riders (professionals/elite) to make them reach their physiological potential. Even though I give these two methods a little plus, I admit that your success rate when you try these intervals is crucial. If you miss the intervals too often, it would be better to go with sub-threshold power intervals or endurance rides.
For most riders, the most secure way to build threshold power over time is to use a combination of all four training methods with sub-threshold power intervals as the most frequent interval training session.
Ok, you have managed to read this far, and I guess you are now very inspired to design some great workouts that will help you to increase your threshold power.
19 thoughts on “How to Increase Your Threshold Power”
Great article Jesper. I have one question. What recovery period would be recommended between efforts for the Sub-Threshold Power Intervals? 5-7 minutes, perhaps?
I don’t think it is that important to consider recovery periods between long sub-threshold intervals. In theory, it would be best to keep recovery periods relatively short to maintain a high oxygen uptake in the recovery period. Though, since it is an interval with an intensity below threshold power, you will quickly reach your target oxygen uptake than when you train e.g. VO2 max intervals. Thus, I would suggest you try to just take the recovery period you need and start the next interval when your legs and mind are ready for it. 5-7minutes would probably be fine, but some riders will prefer more recovery.
Jesper, just to say in response to your last post that I very much enjoyed this one. Indeed I have just started training using your 5x 40/20 sec intervals at 90/50% Vo2 max. Interesting although this averages out at 77% Vo2 max my HR when doing these intervals never gets as high as an equivalent 5 mins at even 75%. Is this normal?
Hi. i have a hill here that i do sometimes, it’s 2km and it takes me 9 mins, i do it in a big gear(for me), i do it 2 times, it’s a pretty hard effort, speccialy in the end, is this a good way to improve thereshold?
It seems to me that most training sessions are purposefully designed to focus on a certain intensity. For example, Tuesday’s session will be at Threshold intensity, Thursday’s will be VO2, Sunday’s will be Aerobic. This is how I have trained for several years now. And, I feel I have trained myself to be good at that (as good as my natural abilities will allow, which isn’t much). However, here’s where things fall apart for me. I’m pushing myself to stay with a fast group staying in my Threshold range then I need to go into VO2 range for a short climb or attack. I cannot after this burst go back to maintaining a threshold effort. I need to go into a recover pace. I think because that’s how I train. VO2 intervals are separated by rest periods. Does it make any sense to have sessions that are Threshold intensity intervals with VO2 bursts?
Actually, it isn’t necessary to do long rides of 6hours?
Only in winter and once a week to be able to make the km’s? And stimulate your fat metabolism?
So, if I understand it good, you just have to improve your treshold power to be a better cyclist by doing treshold intervals, subtreshold intervals,… because they are the most effective?
So many pro-riders who train ” Ã l’ancienne” and do jut a lot of km’s, won’t reach their physical abilities?
i’m 19 years old, non-competitive but i’m riding for almost 2 years.
i didn’t start racing because of school and my parents…
but i will start racing after winter, the races are about 60-75 km (criteriums), When I started training, i did a VO2 max test (with a oxygon), my VO2max was 72 ml/kg/min. They said, it was quite good…
It’s good enough? Now it will certaintly increased, because then, I was almost non-trained… Just some running on school, where I was also one of the best… Can I even become a pro cyclist?
I did a lot of km’s. Also this summer, training rides of 4h , 4hu45, 5h..
But in these 2 years nothing of intensity.
So my question is, can i start my winter preparation directly with sub treshold intervals? If i do 2 (or one?) long endurance rides in the week, and for the rest sub treshold, treshold intervals,…; are these endurance rides enough?
Can you give me some tips to create a training plan?
And, i’ve bought a powertap sl, so i can train soooooo good :p
I also want to say, that i do, i want to do and will do everything for it!
I Never drink, never smoke of course, go to sleep at nine o’clock, food is perfect (i’m studying for dietitian ), never go out…
Training, training and training.
P.S I’m from Belgium
Hi Jesper……75 years old, doing the El tour de Tucson 109 miler in November……and with a finishing time of 7 1/2 or 8 hours my training has been and is to increase my long ride 10% each week until I reach 110 miles a couple weeks before the race..my ride tomorrow is 75 miles, probably 6 hours, with tempo, steady state, and climbing repeats 3 other days of the week for and hour and a half or two hours. Is the long ride ok, better, or best, or would shorter most intense rides work as well, or better. thank you so much.. “Ole”
I have had a few seasons off the bike.
How much of a base in terms of miles and hours would I need to put under my belt, before starting this type of interval training.
At present I can comfortably cover 80-100kms at 17/18 mph twice a week.
Thanks for any advice.
I just downloaded your 12-Week Winter Training Program and find myself really jazzed to get started. Coming off one of my best seasons after two major medical events I’m anxious to hit the ground running … or, rather biking next Spring. One question; what is the protocol for a 30 minute max test using only a heart rate monitor or is this type of test only for power meters? If so, what is your recommendation to determine a base line max level using only HR that I can check against at the end of the 12 weeks?
The book assumes a 10 hour window of training per week.
Would you have any advice for someone who has around 7-8hrs / week
By the way I fully subscribe to the quality vs quantity idea.
The ’12-Week Winter Training Program’ is based on a weekly training volume of up to 10 hours per week. Actually, all weeks except week #12 is less than 10 hours per week. Also, it is easy to customize the training program so it fits perfectly. Some riders prefer to train more and other riders prefer to train less. That’s one of the strengths of this training program because all riders get interval training based on their current fitness and a training volume they can consume.
Thanks. It’s not winter either but I bought it anyway just after posting 🙂
Look forward to checking it out and applying it to my plan.
Jesper, I’ve designed my next month of workouts above and just below my FTP. I have 4 interval workouts, the lower the intensity the longer the interval. What is the proper order to run these in throughout the week? Higher intensity to lower or lower intensity to higher? And why? Thanks!
On the 27th of March my 20min was 270 (NP).
On Saturday my 30min while out for a tempo spin + few hard efforts (but short) was 282. Entire spin with warm up 7 cool down was 250 NP (1h30).
I’m sure by the way I feel that threshold has moved & I’ll do a test in the next week or so but would you suspect the same based on the above ?
last ftp test was 5,15 W/kg over 20 minutes; 19 y.o
I’m a 40-something *amateur* new to racing who has had great triathlon training results in the past using a HRM. I’m focused on cycling now and am looking at using power instead of HRM. I’m also keen to avoid the cost and physical limitations of buying a PowerTap or other ‘hardware’ solution. Looking for comments on the effectiveness of Ciclosport HAC6 or iNewton power meters. Thanks!
did new test
20′: avg 5.2 W/kg
Hello, is it enough me to improve my time trial speed that i train only by interval trainings?
Vo2 and threshold interval, so 85+% of my pulse.
during a week I have 2 day for rest, 1 day for VO2 training 2 for treshold and 2 for subthreshold.
Should i make long distance too with 80% pulse?