What is FTP?

FTP is an abbreviation for “Functional Threshold Power” – simply put it is the power that a cyclist can sustain for 45 minutes to 1 hour. It is commonly accepted that riding as hard as possible for 20 minutes will provide a power reading equivalent to 95% of a rider’s FTP.

Why should you know your FTP?

Knowing your FTP is essential for two main reasons.

  1. It can be used as a benchmark to determine whether or not your training is working. As your fitness improves your FTP will follow.
  2. FTP can be used to set Power based training zones. In a similar way to heart rate zone training, power zones ensure quality training time at the optimal intensity for the desired training effect.

Calculating your FTP

Here’s a simple method of determining your FTP. It’s not going to be laboratory accurate, but it will provide a personalised FTP that can be relied upon for training and testing. This test is best performed on a turbo trainer as you will need to pedal flat out for 20 minutes !

  1. Ensure Power Meter has been set to Zero / Calibrated
  2. Get comfortable on Turbo Trainer
  3. Warm up for 10 minutes (include a couple of full power bursts)
  4. Press LAP on your bike computer
  5. GO !! flat out for 20 minutes. As hard and fast as you can for the duration
  6. Press LAP on your bike computer
  7. At the end of the session review the power data from the 20 minute lap
  8. Your FTP is 95% of the average power for those 20 minutes. e.g. Average Power = 220 Watts > FTP = 209 Watts

FTP Zones

Once you have your FTP figure you can calculate your Power Training zones. The Power Zones below are recommended in Training and Racing With a Power Meter, written by Hunter Allen & Andrew Coggan.

Zone 1 – Active Recovery – Less than 55% of FTP
Zone 2 – Endurance – 55% to 74% of FTP
Zone 3 – Tempo – 75% to 89% of FTP
Zone 4 – Lactate Threshold – 90% to 104% of FTP
Zone 5 – VO2 Max –  105% to 120% of FTP
Zone 6 – Anaerobic Capacity – More than 120% of FTP

The definition of each Power Zone has been defined below courtesy of Dr Andrew Coggan Ph.d (ext link)

These Power Zone definitions are extracts from Training and Racing With a Power Meter written by Hunter Allen & Andrew Coggan.

Z1 – Active Recovery

“Easy spinning” or “light pedal pressure”, i.e., very low level exercise, too low in and of itself to induce significant physiological adaptations. Minimal sensation of leg effort/fatigue. Requires no concentration to maintain pace, and continuous conversation possible. Typically used for active recovery after strenuous training days (or races), between interval efforts, or for socializing.

Z2 – Endurance

“All day” pace, or classic long slow distance (LSD) training. Sensation of leg effort/fatigue generally low, but may rise periodically to higher levels (e.g., when climbing). Concentration generally required to maintain effort only at highest end of range and/or during longer training sessions. Breathing is more regular than at level 1, but continuous conversation still possible. Frequent (daily) training sessions of moderate duration (e.g., 2 h) at level 2 possible (provided dietary carbohydrate intake is adequate), but complete recovery from very long workouts may take more than 24 hs.

Z3 – Tempo

Typical intensity of fartlek workout, ‘spirited’ group ride, or briskly moving paceline. More frequent/greater sensation of leg effort/fatigue than at level 2. Requires concentration to maintain alone, especially at upper end of range, to prevent effort from falling back to level 2. Breathing deeper and more rhythmic than level 2, such that any conversation must be somewhat halting, but not as difficult as at level 4. Recovery from level 3 training sessions more difficult than after level 2 workouts, but consecutive days of level 3 training still possible if duration is not excessive and dietary carbohydrate intake is adequate.

Z4 – Lactate Threshold

Just below to just above TT effort, taking into account duration, current fitness, environmental conditions, etc. Essentially continuous sensation of moderate or even greater leg effort/fatigue. Continuous conversation difficult at best, due to depth/frequency of breathing. Effort sufficiently high that sustained exercise at this level is mentally very taxing – therefore typically performed in training as multiple ‘repeats’, ‘modules’, or ‘blocks’ of 10-30 min duration. Consecutive days of training at level 4 possible, but such workouts generally only performed when sufficiently rested/recovered from prior training so as to be able to maintain intensity.

5 – V02 Max

Typical intensity of longer (3-8 min) intervals intended to increase VO2max. Strong to severe sensations of leg effort/fatigue, such that completion of more than 30-40 min total training time is difficult at best. Conversation not possible due to often ‘ragged’ breathing. Should generally be attempted only when adequately recovered from prior training – consecutive days of level 5 work not necessarily desirable even if possible. Note: At this level, the average heart rate may not be due to slowness of heart rate response and/or ceiling imposed by maximum heart rate)

6 – Anaerobic Capacity

Short (30 s to 3 min), high intensity intervals designed to increase anaerobic capacity. Heart rate generally not useful as guide to intensity due to non-steady-state nature of effort. Severe sensation of leg effort/fatigue, and conversation impossible. Consecutive days of extended level 6 training usually not attempted.

7 – Neuromuscular Power

ery short, very high intensity efforts (e.g., jumps, standing starts, short sprints) that generally place greater stress on musculoskeletal rather than metabolic systems. Power useful as guide, but only in reference to prior similar efforts, not TT pace.

Heart Rate Training

Now that you have put yourself through 20 minutes of pain it’s worth extracting LTHR data too – your Lactate Threshold Heart Rate. This is a figure that is far more reliable and useful than the old school 220 minus age formula. Joe Friel explains training with LTHR far better than I can. However, the basics for setting your HR zones can be determined from this simple table (CYCLISTS is BLUE – RUNNER is ORANGE)

1 – Active Recovery < 81%  <85%
2 – Endurance 81 – 89%  85-89%
3 – Tempo 90 – 93%  90-94%
4 – Lactate Threshold 94 – 99%  95-99%
5a – Above Threshold 100 – 102%  100 – 102%  
5b – Aerobic Capacity 103 – 106% 103 – 106%
5c – Anaerobic Capacity 106%+ 106+

Note – for running it is best to perform an FTP test while RUNNING. Follow a similar procedure as above but RUN for 30 minutes as hard as you can following a 10 minute warm up. Similarly, 95% of the average heart rate sustained while running can be used as your RUNNING FTP/LTHR value

Further Reading

The following articles provide a deeper insight in to FTP and training with a power meter