FTP in Cycling: Everything You Need to Know

FTP Meaning In Cycling

Since the breakthrough of power meters, the meaning of FTP has grown in importance in determining cycling performance. 

However, the whole terminology around “threshold” led to a lot of confusion. 

For the concept of “threshold” dozens of terms have been invented and I think even scientists lost the plot along the way. Anaerobic threshold (AT), and maximal lactate steady state (MLSS) are different words for practically the same thing. Though, scientists would raise their fingers that this is scientifically incorrect. 

To be honest, who wouldn’t be confused here? But hold on, the concept of FTP isn’t that complex, yet useful in your training plan. 

Here’s what FTP is and why it’s important in cycling…

What is FTP in Cycling? 

The term FTP stands for functional threshold power. FTP is used to assess a cyclist’s current fitness level. It is expressed in watts and refers to the highest power you can produce in a quasi-steady state for an hour without getting tired.

Surpass your FTP and fatigue appears much sooner. Remain below your FTP and you can maintain that power much longer. 

By calculating your FTP you will be able to figure out your training zones, track your progress, and improve your pacing. The last point will be overly advantageous for time trials or long climbs. 

While many cyclists don’t have ready access to lactate testing and some factors can make lactate testing problematic, the FTP concept may still be preferred no matter its critics. And as FTP and AT shouldn’t be used interchangeably, FTP is a reliable concept on its own.

FTP data can be accurately obtained with a simple field test since the best forecaster of performance is performance itself. 

Many pro cyclists race very successfully using FTP as the preferred metric. FTP is as relevant for a criterium as it is for an ultra-endurance race. It’s a good overview of what you’re able to tolerate. Because as you know, riding above your FTP fatigue occurs much sooner.

As professional cyclists always look at increasing their functional threshold power, what is a good FTP?

What is a Good FTP?

I often get asked during group rides “What is a good FTP for my age?” But the truth is it depends. 

Because we need to define what good means. And how to make data comparable. Otherwise, lighter riders would be underestimated on the flats and heavier riders would be overestimated at climbs. 

So, a better display gives the watts per kg equation at FTP. If you’re new to this, watts per kg is your power in watts at FTP divided by your body weight. 

Thereby, riders of different weights and strengths become comparable. For example, Jeff has an FTP of 300 watts at 80 kg which equals 3,75 watts per kg. On the other hand, Mark is lightweight and has an FTP of 225 watts at 60 kg which equals 3,75 watts per kg. 

By way of illustration, Allen and Coggan have a thoughtful power chart in their book Training and Racing with a Power Meter. In that chart, 3.75 watts per kg at FTP is assumed “good” compared to world-class performance. Many pro cyclists can produce 400 watts at FTP or over 5.5 w/kg. Reigning Paris Roubaix Champion Dylan Van Baarle even has an FTP of 440 watts. 

In women cycling 3.45 watts per kg at FTP is assumed “good” compared to world-class. For example, a woman would need a 207-watt FTP at 60 kg body weight to achieve that.

Looking at what a good FTP for a beginner is, the chart states 2 watts per kg at FTP solid for a man novice and around 1.7 watts per kg for a woman novice rider. However, this is just the average FTP data to guide you. 

Why FTP is important seems obvious now, but how do we test FTP and check it regularly? Let’s talk about that now.

How to Test Your FTP

You can estimate your functional threshold power by doing a 20-minute FTP test. Treat the test like a race.

Go out on the road or use your indoor trainer and do the FTP test on Zwift, for example. If you ride outside use the same stretch of road or the same climb for your test to make it comparable. 

Here’s the whole test protocol:

  • Warm up for 20-30 minutes
  • Do a 5-minute all-out effort (you can shorten it, or skip it)
  • Ride easy for 10 minutes, around 50% of FTP
  • 20 min FTP test, all-out time trial effort
  • Ride easy for 10-15 minutes or more

After the test, upload your training data to your preferred software. I use Training Peaks and I highly recommend it. Look at the average power of your 20-minute test. Take the average power and multiply it by 0.95 to get your FTP. This is great for well-trained cyclists. Less trained riders may subtract even 8%. So, look at your ability.

Congratulations you calculated your FTP score.

The 20-minute FTP test is all about practice. The more you complete over time the better you get at pacing yourself and sustaining the effort. It’s a great way to test your fitness level and adjust. And with these adjustments derive your correct training zones.

How to Calculate Training Zones with FTP

The FTP concept is successful because it’s simple, flexible, and practical. Every cyclist can do it. You just need a power meter and you’re ready to go. So, with the knowledge of your functional threshold power, you can define your training zones to tailor your training toward your abilities:

  1. Active Recovery: <50% of FTP
  2. Endurance: 50-75% of FTP
  3. Tempo: 76-87% of FTP
  4. Threshold Power: 95-105% of FTP
  5. VO2max Power: 106-120% of FTP
  6. Anaerobic Capacity (Micro Bursts): 121-150% of FTP
  7. Neuromuscular Power: Maximal Effort, All-out sprint

Hopefully, you can comprehend now what FTP means in cycling. So, go out and do the FTP test. Consequently, a correct FTP will give you the correct training zones. And with the right training zones, you can work on becoming a faster cyclist.

Wanna know how to increase your FTP? Then read the next article.

Ready to Improve Your FTP?

If you enjoyed this and want to improve your FTP, then get your hands on one of my plans and ride faster for longer, or click below to get my specific base, build, and peak plans for amateur and elite cyclists:

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Footnotes

  1. The Book Training and Racing with a Power Meter contains a good FTP chart
  2. Functional Threshold Power in Cyclists: Validity of the Concept and Physiological Responses
  3. Is the Functional Threshold Power a Valid Surrogate of the Lactate Threshold?
  4. Comparison of a Field-Based Test to Estimate Functional Threshold Power and Power Output at Lactate Threshold
  5. The Reliability of 4-Minute and 20-Minute Time Trials and Their Relationships to Functional Threshold Power in Trained Cyclists

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