Everything you need to know about FTP (Functional Threshold Power) testing

Everything you need to know about FTP (Functional Threshold Power) testing

FTP or Functional Threshold Power is quite the buzz word, especially around most cycling circles. But what does it mean? What is the use of doing a FTP test? When is the best time to do the test? Will it be specific to my event as a cyclist or triathlete? Coach Devlin gives all these answers and how the results are best utilized in today's episode of RIDE with CoachParry

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What is FTP?

 

BRAD
Welcome on to the next edition of the RIDE with Coach Parry. My name is Brad Brown. We've got our cycling coach Devlin Eyden with us once again. Welcome back. Tara, good to be back. They have a great question in from our forums on the coach Perry online community. And it's about FTP testing. And we're going to dig quite deep into it today. But before we before we do, it's a term that often gets thrown around for those who don't know, what, what is an FTP test? And I mean, what is FTP? And what does it tell you?

DEVLIN
So FTP refers to a functional threshold power. So that's what the FTP stands for. It's a term like you say, that's loosely used. And I mean, it's become one of those buzzwords at the moment, you'll sit at a coffee shop with a bunch of riders, and everyone starts comparing their FTP. And the thing to keep in mind with FTP, and when we start testing FTP is, it's a good way for us to quantifiably measure performance, but it's only an aspect of your performance.

So that's key for people to understand. First and foremost, it's not the be all and end all. The thing with functional threshold power, so the idea of the threshold is that it was designed around a sustained effort. So it's the highest effort you can sustain for a long period of time. And this test was designed around an hour. So it's how long can you as an individual sustain the high intensity for an hour's duration, obviously, before we hit the wall.

So the test was then developed and it's been made use of thousands and thousands of power profiles and heart rate files that now have actually been incorporated into it as well, and was developed, it's almost impractical to get someone to sit on an indoor trainer or on a bike for an hour and test that sort of intensity. So it had been calculated, and well researched to then reduce it down to a 20 minute test.

So there are various ways of doing FTPs as well, all of them are going to come out at very similar answers so very similar threshold. And I think the key thing to understand is, what phase of your training programme are you in. And what I mean by that is, if you're working on base training work, and it's low intensity, it's good to do an FTP or some form of performance measure at the beginning of your training programme.

So you've got a baseline to work according to. And that's how we prescribe training zones - based on percentages of FTP. But if you're doing a base training phase, you need to understand that your threshold, you're not working at or above threshold at any point in base training. So you're not really going to be improving on an FTP test. So the only way to improve that is to be working at or above threshold, and the more high intensity training.

So I think it is important. People will do an FTP, they'll go out and they'll do six to eight weeks worth of low intensity base training, because that's a phase, do another FTP and then panic because their results haven't gotten any better. So it is key to understand that it's very focused around what training phase you're in. And then from that as well, to know that it isn't the be all and end all. There's a lot of other contributing factors that come into FTP as well.

 

Devlin's preferred way of testing FTP

 

BRAD
Dev, what's your favourite way of testing? I mean, you mentioned that there's various, I mean, is there a specific way that you like to conduct those tests?

DEVLIN
Yeah. So personally, from my side, I like to do a 10 minute self paced warm up. So get my clients doing a self paced warm up for 10 minutes, from there move into 3x1 minute intervals, maybe 4x1 minute intervals. And those intervals are just a higher cadence. So don't worry too much about what the power output is in those intervals. Just higher cadence, really get the body warming up properly, get used to a little bit of high intensity, with a minute's active rest in between each of those intervals, followed by a five minute really light spin, that's your warm up itself.

Then the test, the protocol that I follow would be a 20 minute time trial, basically. So if you've got access to a power metre on your bike, the best way would be to do it on your bike on either an indoor trainer or steady gradient climb road, you obviously don't want to be doing it off road, you also don't want to be doing it on a downhill. But indoor trainers with a power metre, if you don't have access to a power metre, then using a watt bike, for instance, is a great way of doing this. 20 minutes is quite a long period of time, though, to sit at such high intensity. So I usually recommend a pacing strategy.

So pace yourself over the 20 minutes. But keeping in mind that we're looking at a highest average power over the 20 minutes. So obviously, if you go out too easy, it's going to affect your power, your average over the period. And in saying that if you go out too hard, you're going to bomb towards the end. So all of those are going to affect the test. So there are ways and the more you do it, the more you'll understand your body and how you respond to doing it. But I think the key thing is to make sure that you can sustain an effort and I would personally rather the athlete be able to say 'I had a little bit left in the tank' by the time they finished the test.

 

Does FTP differ depending on the discipline of cycling?

 

BRAD
There's obviously lots of different types of cycling, there's road, there's mountain bike, I mean, if you take triathlon there's time trialling, does it differ? Do these tests and do the numbers differ depending on the the discipline of cycling you are involved in?

DEVLIN
So numbers in terms of the kind of intensities might differ if you take 100k road ride, and you will look at normalized power and average power versus an 80k mountain bike marathon, for instance, depending on the terrain and that. So the absolute and the raw values will change slightly. But when doing a test like this, and for training purposes, it doesn't matter what discipline you do, you'd still do an FTP, on a watt bike or on your particular bike that you're comfortable on, ultimately you're still putting the same amount of torque and the same amount of power into the pedal stroke.

So irrelevant of what modality and what bike it's on. We'll still then, based on with the power that you can put out, will then base our training zones based on that which you would then train according to on your bike, be it road or mountain bike. So no, I wouldn't see too much of a difference in the test itself.

 

What do you get out of a FTP test?

 

BRAD
You mentioned the zones. I mean, obviously you do these tests to get the data which you then base decisions on. And I always say what gets measured improves. And if you're not sure what you're doing the best way to start figuring out what you're doing is to measure things. So that's the reason for this test, what some of the cool data that you can get out of here. And what can you do with it to improve it and improve your songwriting over time?

DEVLIN
Yeah, so again, I did mention earlier with robots and knowing what training phase you're in, and where it's going to be quite important. But the training zone, so there's an algorithm, there's ways of calculating what training zone so there'll be percentages of FTP. And then it's then putting that those values into your interval type training that you'll be doing so and it'll it'll take as well, it's a way of quantifying the actual workload that you're doing.

So we can correlate heart rate. So that's another reason why we would measure heart rate doing a socket as well, for those who don't have access to a power metre. So we'd still be able to say sit in zone to based on a correlating heart rate to what the what the, the equivalent power would be, if that makes any sense. And then from there, your intervals at 105 or 110% of FTP would then be how we would then start to push that threshold, and hopefully start building on that for the next time you want to do another test.

And ultimately, the reason we train is to keep a graph improving the whole time and to keep our performance getting better. So during a test like this, it is also important to retest so that we know we don't stagnate so you know that firstly, we're on the right track in terms of the kind of training we doing, as well as then saying, okay, we need to tweak our training zone slightly so that each time we do these intense sessions, we're not getting used to them, we're not adapting to them we're actually pushing that envelope a little bit more and constantly pushing the progression.

BRAD
I love it. Dev, I think that was jam packed with info and what FTP testing is all about and what it can do for your cycling. If you want to be part of one of the most active communities online, make sure you check out coachparry.com/cycling, we've got a whole bunch of training programmes. They'll help you achieve your goals right through from beginners all the way through to the advanced stuff, mountain bike and road and there's a whole bunch of triathlon programmes in there too, running programmes as well. So go check it out.

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