FTP Test: What Is Functional Threshold Power

As you progress as a cyclist, you will try to find ways to become faster and more powerful. With some research or conversations with experienced cyclists, you will hear the term FTP come up.

This three-letter acronym is one of the most commonly used metrics when it comes to cycling performance.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The FTP meaning
  • What an FTP test is and how to do one
  • How you can use your FTP cycling test results
  • How good your FTP is
  • How to improve your FTP
  • The problem with FTP

Are you ready to take your cycling to the next level?

Let’s get into it!

FTP Test What Is Functional Threshold Power

The FTP Meaning

FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power, which is the highest average power you can maintain for one hour. FTP is measured in watts and is used by cyclists and coaches as a benchmark.

It is a valuable tool to find out a cyclist’s training zones and put together training plans.

To determine your FTP, you need to do an FTP test.

What An FTP Test Is And How To Do One

How To Do A 20-Minute FTP Test

If you do any indoor cycling, you may use an app such as Zwift or Sufferfest. These apps use FTP to calibrate the intensity of your workouts. Therefore, you will need to do an FTP test.

A cycling coach will also use the results of an FTP test to personalise the intensities of your workouts. In addition to this, they will use your FTP to monitor your progress. It is a method that is used by amateurs and professional cyclists all over the world.

Most cycling coaches determine the FTP of an athlete with a 20-minute FTP test. You need to fit a power meter to your bike or use a smart trainer with its own integrated power meter to do an FTP test.

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Riding a bike outside with a power meter is the best option. This is because, typically, cyclists generate more power riding outside than indoor cycling.

To ensure that you can keep tabs on your FTP, you need to make your test repeatable, so choose a route that you can go back to for future tests. Doing this will give you consistent results every time you do an FTP test.

Before you start your FTP test, do a good warmup to get your legs working. Your warmup should consist of one or two high-intensity efforts for four or five minutes. Then you need to ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes for the FTP test.

If you can, choose a road with a slight incline so your glutes and back muscles are engaged. This will give you the best results, as you will need to put in lots of power.

After you get home, it is time to look at your results for your 20-minute blast. Check your average power for your ride using Garmin Connect, Strava, TrainingPeaks or Golden Cheetah, as they will use your power meter.

Alternatively, a compatible bike computer to monitor your power output. You just need to remember to start and stop it for your 20-minute session.

Once you have your average 20-minute power, subtract 5 per cent. This figure is your FTP!

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3 Ways To Use Your FTP Cycling Test Results

1. Learn How To Pace Yourself

It is common for cyclists to go too hard on their first FTP cycling test. They will see their power gradually decrease, even if it feels like they are putting the same effort throughout.

This demonstrates the importance of using a power meter, as you don’t just rely on how your ride feels. After a few rides with your power meter, you will get a better understanding of your abilities.

For example, if you are on a group ride and approach a 20-minute climb, your riding buddies that don’t know their FTP will smash out the first couple of minutes and get tired. But, you can ride at your FTP and pace yourself, staying within your ability.

2. Keep Track Of Your Progress

Some people compare themselves to the other people they ride with and keep tabs on their segment times to monitor progress. This is fine, but it isn’t always accurate.

Several things can affect your and your buddies times. For example, how you are all feeling on a particular ride, the weather and the wind direction.

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If you do an FTP test every six weeks or so, you will get a good picture of how you are progressing as a rider. Your FTP is a personal thing, and there is no point in comparing it to anyone else’s.

When you compare yourself to other cyclists, the one with the highest power to weight ratio will likely get to the top of the hill first. Also, the cyclist with the highest power to drag ratio stands the best chance in a flat time trial.

This is an excellent point to highlight that your weight and FTP are directly proportional. By this, we mean that if your FTP increases and your weight drops, you will ride faster.

3. Your FTP Test Allows You To Determine Your Training Zones

When you use a software training program, it will call for you to enter the results of your FTP test.

Once you have done this, the program will work out your training zones for you. If you haven’t done an FTP test yet, most of these training programs make it easier with built-in FTP tests.

As you research cycling fitness in-depth, you will come across terms such as tempo and endurance rides. These indicate which training zone you are riding in.

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It is helpful to keep an eye on your training zones, no matter what intensity you are riding at. Monitoring your training zones helps you to recover effectively and stops you from overtraining.

If you keep tabs on your training zones, you won’t fall into the trap of going too hard on easy days. Therefore, you will be able to ride at your optimum performance on scheduled intense rides.

How Good Is Your FTP?

The results of your FTP test will depend on the power meter you use.

There is often a discrepancy between different power meters, but only by one or two per cent. This is one of the reasons why comparing yours with your friends is pretty pointless.

If you are desperate to know if your FTP test results are any good, you can crossreference your results on a chart. There are several charts available that show average ability across athletes when it comes to FTP.

The charts indicate the athletes’ power output in five minute, one minute, and five-second periods. By looking at your performance in these durations, you can get a good idea of your strengths and development areas as a cyclist.

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How To Improve Your FTP

Rather than just riding and hoping you will get fitter, you need to train in a way that will improve your next FTP test results.

It is common for cyclists to just pedal at their endurance pace. There is nothing wrong with this, as it builds a solid base for long rides.

But, to see some gains, you need to ride near or above your FTP. To do this, you need to ride in the overlap of training zones three and four.

Riding in this sweet spot will raise your FTP and make your training time much more productive.

The Problem With FTP

Even though using the results of an FTP test is widely used for establishing how intense you need to ride, it is not perfect.

Most cyclists will do the 20-minute FTP test we described above rather than do an hour-long time trial. The issue with a short FTP test is that it relies on assumptions about your physical makeup and how much energy you use during the test.

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If you ride above your threshold regularly, a short FTP test can overestimate how much power you can put in during longer rides.

Also, it can be influenced by several other factors. These include how well you paced yourself, how motivated you felt, how tired you were, and if you fuelled appropriately.

If you use the FTP test results to set training zones, you may end up training too hard. Therefore, the improvements you see in your FTP tests may not correlate to real-world results.

The other issue with FTP is that it isn’t appropriate to all disciplines of cycling. If you are training for a sprint event, VO2 max and anaerobic capacity are more relevant metrics than FTP.

Also, long-endurance events are influenced more by exercise economy and fat oxidation ability, which are not taken into account with an FTP test.

Doing an FTP test can help piece together how your performance is progressing. Also, as it is a universal metric, you can easily use it with multiple training platforms.

The main drawback won’t bother most riders. But cyclists who want to go into the fine details of their physiology and training data may want to use other methods

Now You Know About FTP Cycling Tests

Now you know that doing an FTP test is a suitable method for determining your training zones. Your next step is to do an FTP test to know what intensity you should be riding at. You will also be able to progress with measurable results by riding in that sweet spot.

Time To Level Up Your FTP?

Interval training can help you out there!

Check this out: Cycling Interval Training Workouts: Boost Your Speed and Power

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One of BikeTips' regular content creators, Tom lives in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on a mountain bike or snowboard. Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

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