What is FTP and why is it important for cyclists?
You may have come across the term FTP more often when reading about training. In this article, we'll take a look at how to determine your FTP, what to do with that number, and how to improve your FTP. Also highlighting why FTP is not always the best number to use as a guideline to train effectively.
What does the term FTP stand for?
The English term FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power. This is a measurement of the power you can hold for an hour, measured in watts. FTP is expressed in watts per kilo - the power produced divided by the weight of the cyclist. It's a nominal value based on the theory that you need more power to get to the same speed, and less if you lose weight - even though that's not always the case when you take into account the incline, aerodynamics and rolling resistance . FTP is one of the most commonly used training metrics in cycling and is often used by coaches as a method and to determine training zones using a power meter. Smartphone training apps also regularly use FTP to set up workouts and training plans.
How do you determine your FTP?
Your FTP is determined by the 20 minute test. First, you need a power meter. Next, you need a place where you can cycle for at least 20 minutes at a time. Optimally you could do an hour time trial, but that's not realistic for most riders. Instead, the standard procedure (and the option that works well for your first FTP test) is this:
- Calibrate your power meter
- Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes
- Cycle at full power for 5 minutes
- Followed by 10 minutes of gentle spinning
- Finally, cycle at full power for 20 minutes at a pace that matches your hardest steady effort. Make sure you can distribute your force constantly and thus remain even.
- Then cycle slowly for about 10 minutes to cool down.
- Then take the average power of that 20 minutes of effort and multiply that by 0.95 to get your FTP. So: if you drive an average of 200 watts, your FTP is 190 watts.
The most important thing is that you make the test repeatable so that you have consistent results.
What can you do with your FTP?
How do you know if you are getting fitter and faster? Because you beat your training buddy on a hill? Or because you improved your time in your local time trial? Measuring your FTP is like stepping on a scale - the numbers don't lie. There are a number of useful applications where you can use this.
Learn about your effort levels
The more you ride with a power meter, the better you will understand your capabilities. Are you starting a 20 minute climb? Let your cycling buddies blow up for the first few minutes while you carefully spread your effort and ride your FTP.
Improve your performance
Knowing and measuring your FTP forces you to do a relatively strenuous workout on a regular basis. You drive more often at your maximum power. This allows you to drive more consistently and with less (unwanted) interval.
Prepare training plan
You can use your FTP as a guideline to create a training plan. First, measure your current power. Next, set your target FTP.