Functional Threshold Power 101, with Coach Simon Beldon
MBPC coach and team rider Simon Beldon explains why you need to be able to put a number on your functional threshold power (FTP), why that number can help us to coach you to your best performances – and how you can still beat people with a higher FTP than yours.
What is FTP?
Functional threshold power (FTP) in simple terms is the power in watts that you can sustain at a steady state (not so hard that you blow within a few minutes and not too easy – right on that red line). It’s the power that can be sustained from anywhere between 30 and 70 minutes. Most riders tend to use their one-hour average power or 25-mile time trial as that number.
How do you measure it?
This depends on the athlete and discipline they ride in. The good old 20-minute test, as devised by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan, is used for the majority of people. This test includes 20 minutes of riding as hard as you can. You subtract 5% from the average power sustained for those 20 minutes to obtain your functional threshold wattage value. However, I have found this method is flawed when applied to people with a bigger anaerobic contribution to their system. This means that their very top end power can give them a higher figure over 20 minutes if you apply the Allen/Coggan 95% rule to it. For this reason, I first assess the rider in order to understand their power profile and I adjust the test accordingly. This could mean an individual riding at their best power for up to 40 minutes. For others it can be two short tests of three and 12 minutes.
How important is FTP and why?
FTP can be a good indicator of performance and is an anchor point from which we work to create your training zones. Knowing your FTP means we can measure performance and it allows us to see where your training is working (or not working). Having a higher FTP will allow you to go faster in most disciplines in cycling, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all metric that many people obsess over – it’s just one part of the training and physiological systems that contribute to the overall package.
What is a good FTP and what happens if my FTP is not good?
Again, it depends! FTP is one metric and it totally depends on the particular discipline of the rider. We will always look to build someone’s FTP as high as we possibly can, but there might be other physiological demands in their event that are equally as important – for example if they’re a track rider. For those doing time trials or triathlon, an FTP of over 4 watts per kilo will usually put you in a good place. But again we don’t obsess over it as it is more important to get from A to B as quickly as possible, and good aerodynamics and/or a better pacing strategy can beat someone with a superior FTP.
How do I improve my FTP?
FTP can be improved in a number of ways from longer level 2 endurance rides to top-end VO2 max work. We tend to use a good solid base of level 3 tempo and sweetspot, before moving onto specific threshold intervals.
How does FTP work with Training Peaks – is it easy to understand?
For the rider, Training Peaks is excellent at being able to monitor where you’re at with a number of graphs and historical data. Some coaches at MBPC also apply software from Training Peaks called WKO5, which gives a much more detailed analysis with power graphs and modelled numbers of current FTP figures (measured daily). This compares data and allows the rider and coach to understand if training is working, and can be used as a guide for pacing in TTs or longer climbs.
How often should my FTP be retested?
Each rider is different, but this can range from every six to 12 weeks. The software we use is normally a good indicator of when someone’s FTP is going up or down in any significant way. Feedback from the rider is also important when sessions over a period of time are either becoming easier or more difficult to complete – and that’s usually a good time to test and also to understand the athlete’s limitations.
What is a good training session for boosting FTP?
For those riders with time at the weekend, the following session can assist in conjunction with other prescribed training:
25 mins warm-up L1-L2, cadence 100 --- 20 mins – 3mins @ FTP/2 mins @ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 revs (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete) --- 10 mins recovery – L2, cadence 100 --- 20 mins – 3mins @ FTP/2 mins @ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 revs (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete) --- 10 mins recovery – L2, cadence 100 --- 20 mins – 3mins @ FTP/2 mins@ sweetspot, cadence @ 80-90 revs (keep the variation of efforts until the 20mins is complete --- 5 mins recovery
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