Functional Threshold Power: What Is It and How Do We Train With It?

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Functional Threshold Power: What Is It and How Do We Train With It?

Functional Threshold Power is better known as FTP.  What is it? What do we do with it?  Why is it so important to my cycling?

Athletes almost always have these questions when they begin training with power.  When an athlete begins their training plans to prepare for next season's goal races, gran fondos and centuries, they need to address this metric.  They're looking for the best and quickest ways to improve their performances, but many seem to be having trouble with the training concepts behind FTP.  Questions have predominated about what it is, why we use it and how we calculate it for a long time.

In this latest edition of the Tailwind Coaching Podcast, I attempt to dispel some of the myths behind FTP: how we test it, why we need to know it and how we use it.

After the jump, look into functional threshold power a little more and learn how you can use it to enhance your training.

A Quarq Cinqo can help you establish a proper functional threshold power number

What is functional threshold power?

If you're training with a power meter, you'll need to be well acquainted with FTP.  FTP is the measurement by which we set our interval intensities and by which we determine what energy systems we're training.  To put it simply, FTP is the king of measurements when it comes to evaluating and setting your training goals.

FTP or functional threshold power is a measure of how much power your body can put out for one hour.  It's a measure of the capacity of your body to develop and lay down aerobic based power (you can see more about how your body produces aerobic power in this post.)  Suffice to say, this is a significant measure of how well tuned your body is, and for cycling, this is one of the keys to high performance.

Cycling is an aerobic sport at its root, so a high FTP number is desirable.  It means that you can put out more power without going into the “red zone” of anaerobic metabolism that has such a finite limitation (whether it's lactate accumulation, fuel limitation or neuromuscular fatigue and failure.)  So by that theory, raising FTP should be one of the keys to any training program.

Functional threshold power is also an important metric from the standpoint of setting your training zones.  These zones give you a range of power outputs to work within in order to elicit specific physiological adaptations in your body.  Expressed as a percentage of FTP, you'll probably hear or see things like “Zone 5, 105%-120% FTP.”  This simply means that in order to elicit VO2 max type changes, you'll want to be training at a power output equal to 105%-120% of your functional threshold power.

You can see that an incorrect FTP number set on your Garmin can have disastrous results.  Set your FTP too low and you'll end up doing too little work at too low an intensity to improve.  Set it too high and you'll be training well above your aerobic capacity way too often.

Check out the podcast for some further tips and goals about functional threshold power and how to use it efficiently.  You can also listen to the companion podcast, “Efficient FTP” to get some more tips on how to squeeze more performance out of the power you're producing right now.

About the Author:

After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Exercise and Sport Science/Pharmacology, I continued my education with a doctorate of Chiropractic from New York Chiropractic College. As I progressed through my education, I was able to apply the concepts I learned in the lab to my own daily workouts and goals. At the time, I was following some of the principles of traditional coaching and getting mediocre results. Frustrated, I realized that if I could apply all my physiology, chemistry, nutrition and training knowledge, I could “build a better mousetrap” not just for my own training, but for other athletes. With this goal in mind, I started Tailwind Coaching, to help cyclists [with busy lives and limited training time] become stronger, faster, fitter and healthier. And while I may not be a ex-ProTour rider, an Olympic Coach or even a prolific race winner, I am something that most coaches are not: a regular guy just like you who has a job, a family and a desire to be a stronger cyclist.