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Just what is FTP? And how do you work with it?

Always been confused about FTP? This guide will make it easy to understand how this magical number can help your training.

If you’ve been in triathlon or any Endurance Sport for any length of time, you’ve probably heard a lot about functional threshold power (FTP) and testing. Perhaps you’ve wondered if it’s something that should matter to you, and if so, why? Here we’ll seek to clear up the reasons behind testing, and tell you how to utilise it properly.

What is FTP and why does it matter?

FTP is the maximum power you can sustain for one hour. Think of power at VO2max as your upper limit of aerobic energy production and FTP as the percentage of that limit that you can sustain.

When looking at the variables that determine endurance performance—VO2, FTP and efficiency FTP is the variable that is both easily measured and trainable. Setting a benchmark FTP will enable you to establish training zones so you can best distribute your training time and work toward improvement.

Should beginners bother testing?

It’s actually better to test in the beginning so you can set a true baseline to gauge progress over time. Testing early and often will allow you to fine-tune your training plan so you can see how your body responds to different types of training. Plus, if you have a power meter and never use it to test FTP and don’t use the data to guide and monitor your training, then you really just bought a very pricey basic bike computer!

Can I test without a power meter?

If you don’t have a power meter, you are better off testing and setting heart rate zones to guide your training instead. Heart rate is a subjective response to the work you’re doing, while power shows the objective, actual work you’re doing. Ideally, you can test and use both during your training and racing.

Can I test on a gym or spin bike?

Beware of gym bikes that claim to measure power. Though many spin-type bikes at commercial gyms have algorithms that attempt to approximate power, many will err on the side of stroking your ego. Along those same lines, if you’re lucky enough to have access to multiple options for testing, it’s better to test the scenario that you’ll be using when you race outdoors. Measuring power at the crank arm versus the pedal versus the hub will show differences.

Is it still valuable to test if I have access to indoor power training but don’t use power outdoors?

Yes, if you have an indoor-only option, such as a Wahoo Kickr or Cycleops Powerbeam option, it’s definitely valuable to test. I would recommend testing power and heart rate to set your zones, and retesting the power indoors periodically under a similar set of circumstances.

Simple FTP Test

There are many methods to find your FTP including extrapolating data from a race, analyzing past files and doing a set test. One of the most commonly used tests, detailed in Racing and Training with a Power Meter by Hunter Allen and Dr. Andy Coggan, involves the following steps:

1. Warm up well over a 20-minute period, including a few fast cadence efforts.

2. Do five minutes hard aiming for a tough but sustainable effort.

3. Spin as recovery for 10 minutes.

4. Do your official 20-minute test. The first five minutes should feel difficult but sustainable, the last five should be an “I’m never doing this again” effort.

5. Calculate your FTP: Take 95% of normalised power produced for 20 minutes.

Tips to Get the Best Result

  • Only test rested. Don’t do difficult workouts the day prior, or any workouts the day of the test.

  • Eat 2–3 hours before the test, hydrate as normal.

  • If you’re indoors, set up a cool room with a fan and minimal distractions.

  • Ride both the 5-minute and 20-minute intervals with an even or negative split—don’t go out too hard.

  • Keep your cadence commiserate with your outdoor cadence, assuming that falls within a range of about 80–100 RPM.

  • Repeat under similar conditions every 3–4 months in order to gauge progress and tweak training.

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