FTP: What is that?


If you are a cyclist or have competed in triathlons, you have probably heard the words: Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

What is that? I currently coach novice athletes/cyclists new to the triathlon world and am often asked: “What is FTP and what does it mean?” My response: FTP is an acronym for Fabulous Time in the Paincave!

Kidding aside, my response is FTP is the maximal cycling effort in which is measured in watts, the amount of work an individual can sustain for about 60 minutes. Whew! Meet me in the paincave for 1 hour!

As a competitive cyclist for a decade, I heard the buzz words of power and watts, among cyclists. Athletes were asking, Do you train with a power meter? What was your watts climbing Mount Baroda (aka – the HUGE hill heading east out of Baroda?!) I quickly learned I needed to know what these words meant, and more importantly, how can I use those buzz words to help my athletes become better cyclists as well as become a better cyclists myself.

This is what I learned.

While training with a heart rate monitor, my training plan included intervals. LOTS of quick and fast intervals. For example, I had a workout that included 30-second sprints at my LT (Lactate Threshold) with 1-minute recovery. What?! By the time I was at 30 seconds of my sprint, I was at my LT. It took the entire 30 seconds for the heart rate monitor to yell, “You are there!”

However, training with a power meter drastically changed my ability as a cyclist. I am able to see my FTP within 2 seconds of the sprint start. Now…I am able to cycle SUPER FAST for the entire 30 seconds knowing I am immediately at the specific number of watts my training plan is asking me to do. Don’t get me wrong! Heart rate is a great training tool. However, the heart rate I need to SPRINT FAST responds several seconds after the effort begins. I get immediate feedback from a power meter because power is the input of the effort where heart rate is the output of the effort and is delayed. Make sense?

I would encourage cyclists and triathletes to know their FTP number. This is why: as a cyclist – beginner and seasoned alike, FTP is significant for your best training and performance. Your pace should be based on training numbers expressed relative to your own ability, not the ability of Mirinda Carfrae or your training partners!

Cycling Coach Nate Wilson (2014) elegantly made this analogy: “FTP almost can be thought of as a sponge. The higher this number is, the bigger the sponge is, and the more efforts one can absorb. Every time a race goes hard, it will take less out of the athlete with the higher FTP, and in return they will have more energy left in the tank for a big selection or for the sprint at the end.” Training with FTP is important for all cyclists.

Should beginners test their FTP? Absolutely! It’s actually best to test your FTP prior to beginning a training plan so we have a true baseline to measure your training over time. Initial FTP testing will allow us to help you fine tune your training plan and see how your body will respond to different types of cycling workouts. Don’t have a power meter? No worries! Elizabeth Coaching Cycling Studio has WAHOO KICKR trainers, software, and specific cycling workouts to increase your FTP!

How do I test for FTP? At Elizabeth Coaching Cycling Studio, your initial FTP test is FREE. Schedule a visit today.