What is improvement

I am doing a block that is targeting my weakness (sustained) It involves repeating the same workouts and I have noticed the following.
The av and np is going up as workouts are dialled down less if at all.max and av HR is going up, yet mid and after session recovery is much faster.
So the question is, and I hope the coaches out there do not find this too silly but…
my nieve understand was legs would get stronger, turn the pedals with less effort making you a better rider, while the results are showing the workouts are just enabling me to work harder .
So where does the ability to turn the pedals easier come from, if such an ability really exists.
Taken to an extreme, if improvements continue so we can ride at a HR and respiratory rate of 400 we could then turn pro but it will not happen, there is something else elite riders have that we do not , and it is beyond the ability to work harder , because they are riding in the hr range of mere mortals, albeit at much higher power


That is a fairly complex set of questions, but the basics would be…ultimately, no matter how much you train, you WILL have a certain weakness (eg sprint or sustained) because of our genetic makeup determines the percentage of muscle fibre types. Fibre types can be changed through training to resemble those of the another type to make them better at the demands you’re placing on them, but the fibres cannot be changed, and thus no matter what training you do, they’ll never be as good as someone else with a better percentage of those types of muscle fibres for the weakness you’re trying to address.

Being able to turn the pedals in a sustained effort at a lower HR comes from various things such as increased vascularisation (better blood supply) to the working muscles, increased blood plasma, greater density of mitochondria within the muscle cells, increased glycogen storage in the muscles and the liver, bigger heart muscle through training, increased ability for muscle fibre recruitment (neurological adaptations) etc etc. There is SO much more to it, but that will give you an idea.

Why can’t we all turn pro? Because genetics, unfortunately. We cannot change things like lung capacity, muscle fibre tyre etc etc. We can all just try to be the best we can with the genetics we have by good training, good recovery, good nutrition etc to give our bodies the best possible chance of being as good as is possible, but there are freaks of nature out there, and they are pro athletes.

That’s very brief, there is so much to incorporate in those questions that you could literally write books on it!


Thanks Ross, no interest in turning pro but huge interest in turning those darn pedals a big faster with less effort rather than upping my ability to suffer.
If I could up FTP and keep HR and breathing the same, now that would be improvement

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I may have misunderstood what you’re getting at here, but assuming I haven’t, I would make the point that increasing your power and FTP will enable you to ride faster and for longer; it’s not just about peak power.

FTP is, loosely speaking, a measurable way of estimating what power you could hold for an hour. Let’s say you’ve got an FTP of 200W; essentially, that suggests that if you held a power of 200W for an hour, you’d be spent. However, what all the science shows is that it’s possible to chug along at a tempo/sweetspot level (so about 85%-90% of FTP) for much longer. So you should theoretically be able to hold 180W or so for far longer than 1 hour.

Now, if you increase your FTP to - say - 230W, you’ll be able in theory to do your hour at 230W - but the real benefit is that your ‘tempo’ zone is now at about 210W. So you should be able to sustain a power level that would have previously burned you out inside an hour for much longer.

Pros don’t just hit bigger numbers than us; they have much better endurance and so on as well. Sam Bennett is a faster sprinter than anyone, but he’s also - whilst he’s notionally a fat sprinter - a better climber than even the sprightliest of mountain goats that’d show up on your local club run. As Ross said, that’s because genetics. We can’t do what they do. What we can all do, however, is aim to improve constantly.

My first FTP test in 2016 (Rubber Glove, back in the pre-4DP days) put me at an FTP of 180. I’m at 264W now - not massive numbers, admittedly, but it does mean that I can now cruise on the flat at speeds which would have had me breathing out of my ears back then. That’s the real benefit in my view.


Hey Alan,
This is a great question and you have already got some very detailed answers.
Although I am sure a lot of us would like to quit the day job and turn pro, alot of this does come down to genetics and how much your body can handle. The body has 3 kinds of muscle fibre:

  • Type I: slow twitch muscle fibres better for endurance
  • Type IIa: adaptable muscle fibres depending on your training
  • Type IIb: fast twitch muscle fibres better for explosive power

When following a training plan we obviously look to get fitter. Or in other words, improve the efficiency of our muscle fibres. For slow twitch this means able to keep going for longer by remplenishing oxygen supply more efficiently. For fast twitch this means firing more coordinated and frequently.

So to answer your question about getting stronger legs to make the pedal stroke easier, yes you will develop strength from working through a plan and seeing improvements to your 4DP numbers but also your body will become better at dealing with the stress so with time you can work to the same FTP number but your HR will not be working as high as previously.


Thank you all for your comments. Recently a now retired pro went flying past me up this hill . He spoke a greeting as he flashed past. He was in view just long enough to admire the smooth pedal stroke.It also struck me that I have muscular legs while his were skinny, yet his were much stronger. I did not have the gears to pedal at his cadence.By the way he spoke he was not working hard either. So the obvious question was how do I get from where I am towards where he is?.I reasoned that if my legs had that strength all I would need is the oxy and energy supply to support it. (losing 50 years off my age and losing 10kilo were not considered of course) I have some understanding of the way body systems work but I am totally incapable of putting that knowledge together and producing the wonderfully eloquent replies here, thank you once again

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