FTP: The single greatest determinant of performance

So, what is FTP and how can you ensure it’s right?

Functional Threshold Power is defined as the greatest mean maximal power you can currently produce for one hour. Notice the word currently. FTP is a moving target that is constantly changing.

The fact that it changes is actually a good thing because FTP reflects your bike fitness and serves as a good marker of how your training is going. When your FTP is rising the training is going well. When it’s falling something is wrong.

With challenging and focused training your aerobic fitness should measurably increase every few weeks. This is especially true early in the season. Once you’re in to the heart of your season the changes are likely to be much smaller. In the Base period it’s a good idea to test your FTP progress about every 6 to 8 weeks since that’s about how long it takes to realize measurable fitness gains.

Measuring FTP

Even though it’s the highest power you can sustain for an hour it’s not a good idea to do a one-hour time trial as a workout. Motivation will be the limiting factor. It takes something like a gun to the head to motivate someone to work at a maximal effort for that long. A one-hour, solo test in a workout is a sure way to get bad data. It’ll be much lower than what you are capable of doing.

The most common test for finding FTP is a 3 minute MMP aerobic test or 20-minute, steady-state ride done at maximal effort on the Wattbike. It should be treated as a race, so be rested for it. The biggest mistake athletes make in doing these tests is starting out much too fast for the first third and then fading over the last two-thirds. It’s far better to start at what seems like a relatively easy effort and then take stock of how you are doing and increase or decrease the effort accordingly. The more times you do this test the better you will become at pacing it.

Once you’ve finished a field test and downloaded the data look to see what your average power was. FTP will be 75% of MMP in a 3-minute aerobic test. You must check your FTP in a similar manner every few weeks to see what’s happening to it. Early in the season it will undoubtedly rise if your training has been going well. Late in the year after your last race it will likely go down. Adjustments need to be made accordingly throughout the year.

Every time your FTP changes your zones also need to change so that training intensities match your current level of fitness. FTP changes also affect the intensities at which you are capable of riding relative to duration. Until you get all of this power measurement figured out, which you will, just make sure for now that your FTP is always correct and that will ensure that you have valid zones on which to base your training.


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