What Is Functional Threshold Power (FTP) – And Why Is It So Important In Cycling?

Professional cyclist Jessy Carveth explains the ins and outs of FTP - and why it matters for your cycling performance

Photo of author
Written by
reviewed by Rory McAllister
Last Updated:

Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is a critical metric in understanding a cyclist’s performance.

As a professional cyclist, analyzing the data behind my fitness is a critical part of ensuring I’m performing at the peak of my potential.

Put simply, your FTP is the maximum average power output you can sustain across one hour.

It is among the most important indicators of a cyclist’s performance and is used for everything from optimizing training to assessing fitness to informing pacing strategies during a race.

However, while the word is thrown around by cyclists all the time, some of the concepts behind FTP – and the practical implications of it – are often misunderstood.

So, in this article, I’ll be walking you through the key elements of Functional Threshold Power, from how it can be harnessed to optimize your performance, how to do an FTP test for yourself, and why FTP isn’t the be-all and end-all of being a great cyclist.

Ready to take your training to the next level?

Graphic showing a cyclist riding a time-trial bike on a green background.

What is Functional Threshold Power (FTP) – And Why Does It Matter?

A vital metric in the cycling world, Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is the maximum average power output a rider can sustain for one hour. It is measured in Watts (W).

Essentially, FTP is an estimate of your metabolic steady state.

However, bear in mind that it’s not truly a measure of your anaerobic or lactate threshold (the effort level at which your body starts burning glycogen reserves without oxygen, and starts producing lactate byproducts).

Anaerobic and aerobic energy pathways are so closely intertwined that it’s impossible to truly isolate one for the other, so metrics such as FTP can only ever be an approximation of this threshold.

All that being said, FTP is still an incredibly useful metric for cyclists. There are three main practical ways in which FTP data can be harnessed:

1. Establishing Training Zones

Understanding your “Training Zones” (or “Power Zones”) is crucial in establishing and executing an effective training plan.

The table below shows the seven Training Zones in which you can train for different physiological adaptations.

Training Zone% of FTP
Zone 1 (Active Recovery)Below 55%
Zone 2 (Endurance)56-75%
Zone 3 (Tempo)76-90%
Zone 4 (Anaerobic Threshold)91-105%
Zone 5 (VO2 Max)106-120%
Zone 6 (Anaerobic Capacity)Above 121%
Zone 7 (Neuromuscular)Max Effort

Heart rate monitors can also be used to estimate your training zones based on your Functional Threshold heart rate (FThr), but this is a less precise approach.

For more information on how to use Training Zones to optimize your training, check out our Cycling Training Zones Guide here!

I accelerate away from my cycling mates on a training ride to improve my FTP.

2. Monitoring Your Fitness Progress

Your FTP is a clear indicator of your current aerobic fitness level.

For any cyclist, being able to track your progress with clear data provides a great training incentive, as it can often feel like your fitness isn’t improving – when it really is!

For professional cyclists and serious racers, regular FTP testing also allows you to monitor your preparedness for a particular race or during the off-season, allowing you to make alterations to your training as needed.

3. Race Strategy

Pro cyclists will have clear knowledge of what power outputs they can sustain for given time durations, based on their Functional Threshold Power.

This is critical to both the creation and execution of race strategies. During races, you’ll constantly see cyclists glancing at their power meters to understand how the tactics of the race are evolving and for an objective indicator of how much they’ve got left in the tank.

How To Test Your Functional Threshold Power: 3 Types of FTP Test

The three most common forms of FTP test are the 20-minute FTP test, the 8-minute FTP test, and the “Ramp” test. Many cycling training apps will also include FTP test modes.

Note that you’ll need a power meter for all three of these FTP test types to accurately record your power output.

The 20-Minute FTP Test


In this test, the cyclist warms up thoroughly and then rides as hard as possible for 20 minutes. Try to pace yourself evenly throughout the entire 20-minute duration.

The average power sustained during the 20-minute effort is then used to estimate FTP.

FTP Calculation

FTP is typically calculated as 95% of the average power from the 20-minute test. This correction factor is applied to account for the fact that sustained power over a longer duration (like an hour) would be slightly lower.

The 8-Minute FTP Test


Similar to the 20-minute test, the cyclist warms up and then rides all out for 8 minutes. The average power from the 8-minute effort is then used to estimate FTP.

FTP Calculation

FTP is often estimated as 90% of the average power from the 8-minute test. This correction factor is used to account for the shorter duration of the effort.

Ramp FTP Test


The ramp test is a time-efficient protocol that involves a gradual increase in power output.

After a warm-up, start riding at a low, easily-sustainable intensity. After one full minute, increase your power output by 20 Watts. Continue increasing your power output by 20 Watts after each completed minute, until you can no longer sustain the required power for the full 60 seconds.

The average power of the last fully completed minute is used to estimate FTP.

FTP Calculation

Take the average power output of the last full minute you managed to complete in the ramp test. Your FTP is estimated as 75% of this figure.

Which Type of FTP Test is Best?

The 20-minute and 8-minute tests are longer efforts, emphasizing sustained power. They provide a good estimate of the power a cyclist can maintain for a longer duration.

The accuracy of FTP test estimates depends on pacing during the test, which can take some time to master. Regular testing not only helps track fitness changes but can also help you master the pacing.

The ramp test, on the other hand, focuses on shorter efforts and is more time-efficient. It is often preferred for riders with time constraints or those who find sustained efforts challenging.

Essentially, if you’re able to manage consistent pacing over a longer test duration, the longer tests will provide the most accurate FTP estimate.

However, because ramp tests are quicker and less arduous, you can do them more often – which means they can actually be more helpful for regularly monitoring your FTP progress.

I personally prefer a ramp test, since I’ve always found the pacing of a longer effort challenging. If you find yourself gassed after five minutes or feeling like you had more to give at the end of a longer FTP test, give the ramp test a try!

Graphic of a cyclist climbing uphill on a white road back on a yellow background.

FTP vs Power-to-Weight Ratio

While Functional Threshold Power provides an absolute value representing a cyclist’s raw sustainable power output, it ignores relative factors that give a more complete picture.

On the other hand, the power-to-weight ratio, measured in Watts per kilogram (W/kg) takes body weight into account and provides a personalized metric that provides a more nuanced picture of cycling performance. 

The relationship between a cyclist’s body weight, their FTP, and their performance in cycling is complex.

Heavier riders often have greater outright FTP, as they typically have more muscle mass. This is advantageous in flat stages and one-day Spring Classics races, where higher speeds and sustained power are crucial.

Climbing, on the other hand, is more influenced by the power-to-weight ratio than outright power alone. Lighter riders may have a higher power-to-weight ratio, meaning they can generate more power relative to their body weight.

Power-to-weight ratio, however, can refer to anything from a short burst of a few seconds to long sustained efforts with widely different results, so isn’t useful as a comparison metric in isolation.

However, combining the two to calculate your power-to-weight ratio at your FTP output can provide a very useful, trackable metric to monitor your fitness progress, especially for climbing.

To do this, simply divide your FTP in Watts by your weight in kilograms to find your FTP power-to-weight ratio.

Graphic showing a cyclist racing on a turquoise road bike on a purple background.

What Is A Good FTP?

Comparing FTP values can be insightful for cyclists seeking benchmarks and motivation. However, it’s important to remember that FTP is just one performance indicator, and is not the be-all and end-all of being a fit cyclist.

As covered previously, different types of riders will have very different FTPs. Even amongst professionals, endurance track cyclists will likely have colossal FTPs, as may sprinters, while an elite climber’s could be much lower – but their W/kg could be much higher at their FTP.

With that in mind, as a very rough guide, here are some indicative benchmark FTP power-to-weight ratios for male and female cyclists of different abilities and experience levels:

Experience LevelTypical FTP in W/kg (Male)Typical FTP in W/kg FTP (Female)
Beginner2.4 or below2 or below

Want to see how your FTP compares to a professional female rider? Below you can see my power profile, highlighting my all-out 20-minute power output.

To estimate out my FTP, we would take 95% of my 20-minute average power output, leaving me with a Functional Threshold Power of 324 Watts.

At a weight of 64 kg, that gives me an FTP power-to-weight ratio of 5.06 W/kg.

Screenshot showing my power output profile as a graph, with my 20-minute FTP highlighted.
Jessy Carveth’s Power Output Profile

How To Improve Your FTP

Increasing FTP is a common goal among cyclists aiming to enhance their performance.  

Strategies for improving FTP include incorporating interval training workouts, focusing on both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and ensuring adequate recovery between sessions.

Nutrition and overall health also play pivotal roles in optimizing FTP. 

Consistency and patience are key, as significant improvements in FTP often come over extended periods of structured training.

The Problem with FTP and FTP Tests

While FTP is a valuable metric, it is not without its limitations. 

FTP primarily measures sustained power output, neglecting other critical factors such as sprinting ability and technical skills. 

Relying solely on FTP to gauge overall cycling prowess may lead to an incomplete assessment of your capabilities. 

FTP tests can be mentally and physically taxing, potentially influencing results based on current fatigue levels or motivation.

Even as a pro rider, I have never found enough motivation to dig as deep during a test as I do during races and have only ever put out personal best power outputs in races.

It’s important to view FTP as one of many metrics contributing to a holistic understanding of your cycling performance.

Photo of author
Jessy is a Canadian professional cyclist racing for UCI Continental Team Pro-Noctis - 200 Degrees Coffee - Hargreaves Contracting. She was a latecomer to biking, taking up the sport following her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition. However, her early promise saw her rapidly ascend the Canadian cycling ranks, before being lured across to the big leagues in Europe. Jessy is currently based in the Spanish town of Girona, a renowned training hotspot for professional cyclists.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.