Why and How to Calculate Your FTP Before Starting a Cycling Program

If you’ve started indoor cycling then no doubt, FTP is an acronym you’ve heard. But what is FTP or Functional Threshold Power, how to measure it, and why should you perform this test?

FTP is the most common measure of cycling fitness and is a test that establishes the amount of produced power, (measured in watts) that you can output for 60min. Having this measurement is the basis for creating training programs that are not too difficult and not too easy for each individual athlete.

There are many performance tests for cyclists such as the LTHR or Lactate Threshold Heart Rate, Ramp Test, CP or Critical Power test, 10 mile or 10-kilometer time trial and many others. However, FTP is the ideal test for measuring overall endurance fitness and is the basis for determining training zones and workout intensity and all power-based workouts and training programs.

What are Training Zones:

Zone 1 – Active Recovery (Easy)

  • Riding at an easy, conversational pace with low heart rate and power.
  • Used in warm-up and cool-down training efforts.
  • 20-50% of FTP.

Zone 2 – Endurance (Base)

  • This effort feels comfortable enough to ride all day or 2-6hrs.
  • 56-75% of FTP.

Zone 3 – Tempo

  • Feels more difficult than Zone 2 but still comfortable enough to sustain for a longer ride.
  • Training intervals of 8-60 minutes.
  • 76-90% of FTP.

Zone 4 – Sweet Spot (Lactate Threshold)

  • This feels like a hard and steady effort.
  • Training intervals of 8-30 minutes.
  • 91-105% of FTP.

Zone 5 – V02 Max

  • A lead out effort like riding in a break-away while cycling in a group.
  • Training intervals of 3–8-minute efforts.
  • 106-120% of FTP.

Zone 6 – Anaerobic Capacity

  • Sprint effort.
  • Training intervals of 30 seconds.
  • 121-150% of FTP.

Zone 7 – Neuromuscular Power

  • Maximum sprint effort.
  • Training intervals less than 30 seconds.
  • MAX % of FTP.

When you’re first starting out it isn’t necessary to go out and buy all the gadgets and indoor cycling training toys. You can even train without a power-meter and heartrate monitor altogether by using your rate of perceived effort, (RPE). However, cycling indoors with a power-based indoor trainer gives you an advantage for measuring FTP and when you’re ready for more data purchasing a heart rate monitor of any kind can be used to enhance the FTP equation.

Many smart indoor trainers and smart indoor bikes will provide access to their indoor cycling applications which offer a multitude of training program choices. Choose a program that best fits your schedule rather than the toughest challenge offered because with endurance cycling especially, time on the bike matters most, not how fast you can sprint through intervals. Endurance cyclists will mostly focus on long sustained efforts while a sprinter or downhill mountain biker will focus on the data of their shorter and faster efforts
Once you have decided on a training program, it is advised to test FTP every four to six weeks to track your progress. If the number goes up without also increasing your weight, you can high-five yourself because your fitness is progressing.

What does an ideal FTP look like? Basically, the goal is more power, less weight and a reduced heart rate but those numbers will look very different person to person based on age and fitness level and various physiological advantages or disadvantages. When you see the watts per kilogram produced by a professional or elite cyclist keep in mind that they have been training for years with professional coaches and a team of doctors and manual therapists. Also note that indoor training is harder than cycling outside and athletes often produce lower watts per kilogram inside due to heat, lack of wind, inertia, and rolling resistance gains.

The base numbers for FTP – as listed by Hunter Allen and Andy Coggan in “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”

World Class Pro Domestic ProCat 1Cat 2Cat 3Cat 4Cat 5
Male5.6 – 6.4 w/kg5.2 – 5.7 w/kg4.6 – 5.3 w/kg4.0 – 4.7 w/kg3.4 – 4.1 w/kg2.4 – 3.6 w/kg
Female5.3 – 5.6 w/kg4.5 – 5.2 w/kg4.0 – 4.6 w/kg3.5 – 4.1 w/kg2.9 – 3.6 w/kg2.0 – 3.1 w/kg

FTP represents your 60-minute, sustained power however, pacing correctly for this length of time is incredibly difficult and physically taxing so testing durations are reduced and approximations are given instead. The most common test is the 20-minute time trial where you ride a hard and fast effort for 20 min and where 95% of your average power is determined to be your functional threshold power.

How to Performing the FTP Test:

  • Warm up 10 min easy, 3×1 min high cadence, 1 min easy, 5 min spin
  • 5 min sprint or lead out press Lap at start and finish
  • 10 min recovery
  • 20 min lead out press button again
  • 5-10 min cool down
  • Multiply 20 min effort by 0.95

Retest every 4-6 weeks and compare your average power, heartrate, and physical weight. Try to be consistent in the time of day you perform the test and in your physical and mental wellbeing. Make sure you’re well hydrated, fueled and hydrated and remember to calibrate your power meter pedals or smart trainer before each test. If you also cycle outdoors and you want to replicate real-world, on-road performance then add a fan and lower or raise the room temperature to match the outside temperatures. With all that said, take the results as a base and try not to obsess over the results. There are many contributing factors when testing your FTP that could result in higher or lower numbers and that’s why it’s recommended to test often. FTP testing is just another tool to use in your training regime so try to avoid making it your most important marker of fitness success. How do you feel? That should be your most important measurement when indoor cycling. If you feel good most of the time, then you are on the right track to improving and becoming a better athlete. Keep at it!

Written by Ryan Petersen, an NCCP Cycling Coach and IBFI and Retul Level 2 Bike Fitter and a 15-year veteran in bicycle retail and distribution. She has coached beginner and intermediate athletes in road cycling, mountain biking and indoor cycling. She has competed in road cycling, triathlon, cyclocross, ultra endurance cycling, downhill and cross-country but her heart belongs to bike packing and cycle touring. She is shade-grown on the west coast of beautiful British Columbia, Canada.

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