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What is FTP in Cycling and Why Should I Care?

what is FTP Functional Power Threshold

FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, is a term that you’ve probably heard if you’re involved in any form of cycling. Whether in a podcast, a training article, a forum, or just the Saturday training ride, FTP is everywhere! 

But what is FTP? And why should cyclists care? In this article, I’ll dive into the world of FTP and explore its significance for cyclists and triathletes like yourself. So, let’s demystify FTP and understand why it deserves your attention.

Understanding FTP in Cycling

FTP (Functional Threshold Power) refers to the highest average power output you can sustain for an extended period without fatigue setting in. It represents the point where you start to redline. 

Below this redline is very uncomfortable, but you can maintain it for a long time. Whereas above it, things start to really hurt and fatigue sets in much sooner. 

In simpler terms, FTP is the maximum effort you can maintain for around 30-60 minutes. 

Why Should You Care About FTP?

what is FTP used for in cycling

FTP is a crucial metric for cyclists and triathletes for several reasons:

1. Training Zones and Progress Tracking

By determining your FTP, you can establish personalized training zones that help you optimize your workouts. These zones, ranging from easy recovery efforts to high-intensity intervals, are based on a percentage of your FTP. 

Monitoring your progress and adjusting your training based on FTP improvements allows you to train effectively and see tangible results.

2. Performance Evaluation

Knowing your FTP enables you to gauge your cycling performance accurately. Whether you’re preparing for a race, aiming to beat personal records, or tracking improvements over time, FTP serves as a valuable benchmark. 

FTP helps you assess your fitness level, set realistic goals, and measure your progress as you work towards achieving them.

3. Training Prescription and Intensity Management

FTP acts as a reference point for coaches when prescribing training plans or workouts. With your FTP established, we can design workouts that target specific training adaptations and ensure appropriate training intensities. 

Understanding your FTP helps you manage the intensity of your workouts, preventing burnout or overexertion.

4. Race Strategy and Pacing

FTP plays a significant role in race strategy and pacing decisions. By knowing your FTP, you can gauge your sustainable effort level for different race distances or durations. This knowledge helps you optimize your pacing strategy, ensuring that you don’t start too hard and burn out prematurely. 

Understanding your FTP allows you to make informed decisions during races, maximizing your performance and chances of success. This is especially important for triathlon where you have to swim before and run after the bike leg. 

Think of it as your “intensity budget” with the goal being to get the biggest return on your investment without going into the red. 

How to Determine Your FTP

testing your FTP in cycling

To determine your FTP, you have a few options:

1. Field Test

Perform a dedicated FTP test, such as a 20-minute best-paced effort, and then take 95% of the average power, to estimate your FTP. This test requires pacing yourself and pushing your limits for the given duration.

2. Power Meter Analysis

If you use a power meter, you can analyze your power data from specific workouts or races to estimate your FTP. Look for sustained efforts or time trials where you produced a consistent power output. 

This can get you in the ballpark, and then you can adjust over time based on how hard or easy your workouts feel. 

3. Indoor Cycling Platforms

Platforms like Zwift or TrainerRoad offer FTP tests or workouts that estimate your FTP based on your performance during the session. These tests are designed to challenge your limits and provide a reliable estimate of your FTP. Note: each method has strengths and limitations, and should not be used interchangeably.

FTP is a powerful tool in the world of cycling. By understanding your FTP and its implications, you can optimize your training, track your progress, and make informed decisions regarding race strategies and pacing. 

Whether you’re a seasoned athlete, or just starting out, caring about your FTP can take your training and performance to the next level. So, embrace FTP as a valuable metric, put it to use in your training, and unlock your full potential on the bike. 

Caveat About FTP

While FTP is a valuable metric, and very useful to know, it is NOT the only thing that matters in performance. And so while improving your FTP should always be a goal, other aspects of your training and performance should not be ignored along the way. FTP is just another tool in the toolbox.

Dave Schell Cycling Coach in Boulder Co
Dave Schell

David Schell is a Level 2 USA Cycling Coach with a focus on off-road and ultra-endurance cycling. As the founder of Kaizen Endurance Coaching based in Boulder, Dave has been guiding cyclists from beginners to professionals since 2010, primarily in long-distance mountain and gravel cycling. Dave is also TrainingPeaks Level 2 Coach and has served as the Director of Coach Education at TrainingPeaks from 2013-2019. Learn more about Dave.