What Is FTP and Why Does It Matter for Cyclists?

One of the best ways to stay fit and have the desired body weight and heart rate is cycling. But cycling is not just about interacting, having fun and getting fit. There are many technicalities that come with it and you need to understand them. 

What Is FTP and Why Does It Matter for Cyclists

If you’re a veteran cyclist, you’ve probably come across the term FTP as it’s a common word used by coaches. However, if you’re a new rider, this can be a confusing word that can take you some time to understand. FTP is the Functional Threshold Power, which measures fitness for riders.

If you’re struggling to understand what FTP is, this article has got your back as we’ll do an in-depth explanation about all these.

What Is FTP

FTP (Functional Threshold Power) is the highest average number of watts that you can sustain within an hour as a rider. It’s the best way of measuring how fit you are. This term is popular with coaches who use it to establish the training zones using a power meter and benchmark metric.

What Is FTP

Note that FTP typically means a steady effort you make while cycling and not the up and down levels that you’d see when cyclocross racing.

Some people also term FTP as a 20-minute test you can calculate and track to help understand your improvements if done regularly.

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How FTP Works

As you’ve read above, FTP helps you measure your fitness levels in relation to your weight and heart rate. As you train, you should test your FTP every 4-6 weeks to check your progress. If after the test you realize that your number increases and your weight remains constant, it means you’re becoming fitter.

How it Works

So, as you train, your aim should be to maximize your FTP number, reduce your weight and heart rate, and produce the same power. However, achieving all these can be an uphill task for beginners whose fitness level is relatively low.

Most of the time, coaches or athletes focus more on different power figures like five seconds or five minutes and FTP numbers to develop a rider’s program. FTP remains of relevance in this case.

How To Measure FTP

There’s a formula you can use to measure and know your FTP. You can do that by;

Look for a power meter, then put it in the best place or trail where you can ride for 20 minutes without stopping. Even though the test should run for about an hour, it doesn’t seem realistic or achievable to most riders. This is why it’s recommended to do the 20- minutes.

Doing The 20-Minute FTP Test

  • Mark the power meter
  • Then do some warm-ups for about 10-15 minutes before you begin the test.
  • After that, cycle energetically/aggressively for about five minutes.
  • Repeat that for about 10 minutes, but this time, round spin easy.
  • Then do the last ride for twenty minutes. Ride continuously with all your efforts and at your best pace. Ensure you maintain steady rides to get the best results. Before you begin riding, make sure you press the lap button to give you an easy time doing the calculations.

Doing The 20-Minute

  • You should afterwards cycle for another 10 minutes to help you cool down.
  • Once you are done with the riding test, calculate the FTP by multiplying the average power of the 20 minutes effort by 0.95. For example, if your average is 100 watts, your FTP will be 95 watts.
  • Afterwards, you can do your FTP test and even move to more advanced test methods. It’s best to measure your FTP using a bike with a power meter to give more accurate measurements. Also, consider repeating the test severally to have consistent results from one test.

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How To Tell If Your FTP Is Good

If you want to know how good your FTP is, convert it to a power to weight ratio. You can achieve this by dividing your FTP by your weight in kilograms. For instance, if your FTP is 200 watts and you’re 100 kgs, your power to weight ratio is 2.0.

Note that newer cyclists have a lower power to weight ratio of about 2.0 while for the veterans it is 7.0. Also, this number doesn’t affect your training capabilities, but it’s a measure you can use to compare yourself with other riders.

Importance Of FTP For Cyclists

FTP has a significant role in cyclists’ life. It will help them to;

Know The Effort Levels You Can Sustain at Different Times

When you first do the 20-minute test, your energy will be higher, but before finishing up, your wattage will reduce even if you maintain the same efforts. This is why a power meter is helpful, as it will help you measure your power production rather than you relying on how you feel.

Since it’s best to repeat the test, the more you do this, the more you’ll learn about your effort levels. You can make this a cycling challenge with your friends to help you ride at your FTP. While riding, you can keep checking your progress and understand your capabilities better.

It Helps You Set Your Training Zones

As a cyclist, it’s good to have a training zone that matches your energy level. To achieve this can sometimes prove to be an uphill task. However, with FTP, this will be a no time job. Use training software, then enter your FTP number, and it will help you identify your training zones. 

You can also use a training plan from a magazine or coach to determine your training zones. Note that there are about 6-7 training zones you can opt for depending on your coach’s recommendations.

Below is how to determine training zones depending on your FTP;

Zone Name Heart rate (% of threshold Power (% of threshold power) Typical duration Use for
1 Active recovery Less than 68% Less than 55% N/A Active recovery
2 Endurance 69-83% 56-75% 3+ hours Long endurance rides
3 Tempo/sweetspot 83-94% 76-90% 20 minutes to 1 hour To improve endurance
4 Threshold 95-105% 91-105% 10-30 minutes To improve FTP
5 VO2 More than 106% 106-120% 3 to 8 minutes
6 Anaerobic capacity N/A More than 121% 30 seconds to 3 minutes Increase anaerobic capacity

 

Whenever you hear a cyclist mention tempo or endurance rides, know that they’re referring to specific training zones. The training zones help you work out according to your capability to prevent overtraining or undertraining on a given day.

It’s advisable to avoid training too hard on your easy days to enable you to manage the very hard days.

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To Understand Your Improvements

It’s normal to begin your FTP test at a lower watt. But with more practice, you’ll be better, faster and fitter. Remember, you can know if you’ve made progress by merely beating your friends in a race. Instead, you’ve got to use your FTP to see the baby steps you keep achieving every time. It’s advisable to test your FTP after 4-6 weeks.

But don’t compare your FTP to that of your rider friend, as a higher FTP doesn’t mean you can win a race. Remember, the FTP is like your personal number during a training session. So, the winner of a hill-climbing race is determined by looking at the highest power to weight ratio. Flat time trial winners are those with the highest strength to drag ratio.

Is It Possible to Improve Your FTP?

Yes. If you want to improve your FTP, train regularly. Cycle in zones three and four most of the time to help you improve on your FTP. Only ride in the endurance zone while establishing you’re a solid base for long and steady rides. To improve, go for the threshold.

You can also cycle in the sweetspot zone to see some progress in your training. If you opt for sweetspot training, do it as a group to have the support to keep going. 

However, if you want certain training intervals opt for;

  • Four by 15 minutes between 84 and 97% of FTP. Do ten minutes of easy riding in between the efforts.
  • Two by 20 minutes between 84 and 97%. Then have a five minutes easy riding session between the efforts.

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What Are the Disadvantages Of FTP?

Even though FTP is a good way to measure your fitness, it has limitations. One of the disadvantages of FTP is that it only measures fitness and not skills. For example, if you’re a sprinter, you will only know your strength or fitness and not sprinting prowess. This means it’s ideal for cycling only and not the other disciplines. So, if you intend to improve your other skills like running, your fitness level might decrease.

Another shortcoming of FTP is that it doesn’t fully entail the 60 minutes trial as it purports. Instead, most cyclists do a 20 minutes test, and others abbreviate FTP tests. Such tests rely on assumptions about a rider’s physiology, and relative energy system contributed during the training/test.

This can be disadvantageous for long hour cyclists who have limited time to perform the test or do the test above their threshold. In such a case, the FTP will overestimate the power produced over a long time.

The Alternatives of FTP Test

Since FTP has limitations, you might be tempted to look for an alternative. If you don’t like the intensity, go for a ramp test. You can find them through Zwift or Wattbike apps and use them to perfect your skills.

Before using it, ensure you do some warm-ups for one minute, then increase the power as time goes by. Then begin the 100 watts. As you do this, the power will keep growing until you cannot pedal. Immediately you stop pedaling, these apps will show your FTP depending on how intense the session was.

Alternatively, you can use Sufferfest with 4DimensionalPower (4DP). It helps you check on the five seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes or 20 minutes of power efforts according to your fatigue. In the end, you’ll know your Neuromuscular power, maximal aerobic power, functional threshold power and anaerobic capacity. If you analyze these results every month, you’ll get your overall fitness representation.

The Wattbike will also enable you to do fitness tests like the classic 20 minutes FTP test to know your maximal minute power and maximum heart rate. It will also allow you to do the submaximal ramp test, sharp three minutes aerobic test to identify your benchmark.

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Is Your FTP Better Than Your Friends?

When you do an FTP test with your friends, you’ll all get unique numbers that differ according to the power meter. The difference will be a small percentage which shouldn’t be a reason to boast around. Instead, you should work on how to outshine them on the road with a sterling performance.

However, it’s good to know your strengths and weaknesses to help you prepare well if you want to go to a competition. Using any available chart, identify your capabilities in the one minute, five seconds, and five-minute power output.

Below are the FTP basic numbers based on the US system

  World class pro Domestic pro Cat 1 Cat 2 Cat 3 Cat 4&5
Male 5.6-6.4w/kg 5.2-5.7w/kg 4.6-5.3w/kg 4.0-4.7w/kg 3.4-4.1w/kg 2.4-3.6w/kg
Female 5.3-5.6w/kg 4.5-5.2w/kg 4.0-4.6w/kg 3.5-4.1w/kg 2.9-3.6w/kg 2.0-3.1w/kg

  

What If My FTP Reduces?

If your FTP reduces, don’t worry about it as it’s something normal and is prone to happen. These numbers keep changing according to your health status, training season, etc. For example, if you’re stressed or during a hot season, expect to see changes in your FTP numbers. Also, when you’re at a stage where your endurance improves for a long time or your power for quick bursts is high, it might stagnate.  

Remember having a lower FTP shouldn’t discourage you. Instead, focus on how to keep training to enable the figure to rise.

Bottom Line

It’s every cyclist’s dream to remain fit and win as many races as possible. However, achieving the desired fitness goals proves a real challenge to most cyclists. But this shouldn’t be the case anymore as you can rely on FTP to help you improve your fitness level. 

Set your FTP training zone and work hard towards increasing your number. Also, don’t focus on the other riders’ FTP but instead work tirelessly to maintain your weight and heart rate as the number increases. 

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