It’s easy to quickly get confused when you start looking into the jargon of the cycling world. One term you will come across a lot is FTP, but what is cycling FTP? And, how can it benefit me mas a rider?
FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power, which is defined as the highest average power you can sustain for approximately an hour, measured in watts.
FTP is often used as a benchmark among trainers and coaches, to help determine your current ‘level’ of power and fitness. After a few weeks of training you can re-measure your FTP and gauge how much you are progressing over time.
It is also used to help determine training zones whilst you are using a power meter. Some of the latest cycling training apps will also use FTP to help set you workouts and training plans.
Throughout this guide we will share how you can properly determine your FTP, and how to improve your cycling FTP.
How to find your cycling FTP
To find your FTP, you will need to use a bike with a power meter or smart trainer with an integrated power meter. Ideally, a bike with a power meter is better as your FTP will be more a more true reflection of your FTP if you are riding outside.
You also need to make sure the test is repeatable. Remember you ll want to measure your FTP again at some point in the near future, so make sure you have a section of road picked out that you can ride on for 20-minutes at maximum effort.
You can measure your FTP by participating in a one-hour time trial, but this isn’t realistic for most riders. Therefore a more standardised 20-minute test is widely used, and is a great place to start.
- Make sure your power meter is calibrated
- Warm up with a light 10-15min ride
- Ride at maximum effort for 5 minutes
- Followed by 10 minutes of easy spinning in low gears
- Finally, ride at maximum effort for 20 minutes. Ensure that your pace is a consistent effort. It should remain steady throughout the full 20 minutes.
- Ride easy for 10 minutes to cool down.
To calculate your FTP, take the average power of your ride over the 20-minute maximum effort duration and multiply it by 0.95 (or subtract 5%). This is your FTP. For example if your average power was 220 watts, your FTP would be 220*0.95=209 watts.
Why you should know your FTP
FTP becomes useful when you are on a dedicated training plan that includes set workouts – whether that be with a coach or via a training app.
Most functional training apps will use FTP to calibrate your workout intensity. For example, an app may set you 5 minute intervals at 120% your FTP, with 3 minute recoveries in between.
If you have a coach, they will use FTP in the same manner, and measure your progress over time. It’s the same if you are a professional or amateur athlete.
You understand your effort levels better
One of the biggest benefits of knowing your FTP, is being able to use that number whilst out on your rides.
If you are coming up to a tough section of the ride, for example a 20 minute moderate incline. You know that you can ride for that duration at your FTP and still be able to carry on.
This is why it’s helpful to use a power meter. As long as you regularly look down and check your output.
This will prevent you from starting with far too much effort, and gassing out early.
Measure your improvement over time
One of the best ways to accurately measure if you are improving, getting fitter, and faster on your road bike is by using your FTP as a benchmark.
Yes, it’s fun to try and smash a particular time, or beat your buddies whilst riding on your favourite circuits. But, they aren’t the most accurate way to measure improvement (you should still try to beat your friends however).
It is recommended that you should check your FTP every 4-6 weeks if you are a keen rider.
Your FTP isn’t a value to be compared to another rider’s FTP. Just because yours is higher by 10 watts, doesn’t mean you are more likely to win a race. Other factors such as power-to-weight ratio, efficiency, and technique all play a major role when it comes to race day.
Your FTP is more of a personal number, used for planning out your training, and measuring improvement.
You can use training zones more effectively
If you are using an app, or reading a book/magazine that includes a cycle training plan. They will often quote the intensity of the workout via a % of your FTP, or threshold power, and split the workouts into zones, depending on what you are trying to improve upon.
It might look something like this:
|Zone||Name||% FTP||% Heart Rate||Duration|
|2||Endurance Ride||56-75%||69-83%||3+ hours|
|3||Steady Tempo||75-90%||84-94%||20-60 mins|
|5||VO2 Max||106-120%||>106%||3-8 mins|
So when you hear other riders talking about going on a tempo, or endurance ride. They are referring to a ride where they stick within those particular zones, and will be checking their power output whilst riding to stay within the correct % FTP.
How to improve your FTP
There is more to improving your FTP than just training as hard as possible, as much as possible. Instead you need to train in a variety of zones, especially 3 and 4.
On a steady ride, most riders will settle nicely into an endurance pace, which is great for building a solid cardio and strength foundation.
But, to really improve your FTP you need to be pushing right at the top end of your threshold. It’s similar to a weightlifter increasing their weights week on week, rather than staying at a comfortable weight.
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