If you’ve been around folks who train with power on the bike, one term you’ve probably heard is FTP. So let’s break it down. First, we’ll look at the acronym. FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power. In simplest terms, FTP is the amount of power (measured in watts) that you can produce in one hour at maximal effort. We use FTP to determine each individual’s power training zones, much like you would if you’ve ever trained with heart rate zones.
How do I determine my FTP?
There are two basic methods for determining your FTP. As per the definition above, you can do a 1 hour max effort time trial. Your average power for the hour would be your FTP. As you might imagine, this is a very demanding effort, and can be hard at times to work into a training program. The physical and mental toll can leave you drained for multiple days potentially. The alternative to this method, and the most common approach, is to use a 20 minute maximum effort to derive your FTP. In this method, you take the average power from your 20 minute max effort, and multiply by .95. Therefore, your FTP is 95% of your 20 minute max effort. While still challenging, this method allows you to recover within a day and, for most people, is a more manageable task to get motivated for.
When should I test my FTP?
This is a bit more subjective. Technically, you can test as frequently as once per month. However, I typically don’t advise this method. The mental toll a power test can place on you can be a greater hurdle than the physical stress on the body. More than anything else, you want to make sure you have the motivation and desire to put in your best effort. Otherwise, the test will yield sub-par results, skewing your training numbers and having a dispiriting effect. What I recommend is that testing be done when the coach or athlete doesn’t know where their current fitness at any given point in time prior. Another option, especially for those with “test anxiety”, is to move up your FTP in small increments over time. If you’re consistently hitting at or above your target wattage and never failing, it’s likely time to bump it up.
To bring everything full circle, FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, is an essential metric to understand if you want to effectively train with power. In the Cycling Center, every workout centers around each individual’s FTP, and the training zones derived from it. Knowing and applying these principles will help guarantee success, no matter what cycling discipline you pursue.