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What Is An FTP Test And Should You Do One?

pain cave at the altitude centre

The FTP test is poorly understood and has a pretty mean reputation but it’s a valuable test that you shouldn’t ignore.

It’s one of the most useful fitness readings for cyclists of any level and it’s pretty easy to measure, but it does involve a very gruelling 20-minute test! No pain no gain, though, right?!

Incorporating an FTP test into your training regime can give you an idea of your power output, a vital measurement alongside weight and heart rate in assessing fitness progress. Ideally, you’d want to observe increases in power coupled with lower weights and slowing heart rates. 

So What Does FTP Stand For?

Functional Threshold Power

    Functional Threshold Power

    It’s expressed as the average wattage (power) that you can sustain over a specific time period, usually 60 minutes. You can also divide this figure by your body weight to give you your FTP in watts/kg. The more power you can output for every kg of body weight, the better.

    • Untrained cyclists are expected to record an FTP of around 2 watts/kg
    • Recreational cyclists might record an FTP rating of 2.5-3.0 watts/kg
    • Well trained Club cyclists would have one of 3.5 – 4.5 watts/kg
    • Professional cyclists: 4.25 watts/kg +
    • World-class pros might achieve FTP ratings of beyond 6.0 watts/kg! [1]

    At the end of the day though, your FTP is your FTP, so your goal is to improve your own result and fitness rather than compare yourself to anyone else.

    How To Do An FTP Test

    The most commonly used test protocol was designed by professional cyclist and physiologist Dr Andrew Coggan in his 2010 book Training and Racing with a Power Meter. On the basis that many beginner athletes will find it tricky to reliably sustain a high but even output over a whole hour, it measures power over a 20 minute period instead of a 60 minute period and then takes 95% of this FTP figure to re-proportion it to a 60 minute period.  

    Also, a 20 minute test period makes it more practical to take an FTP test outside on an actual road, though you’ll still need a relatively long stretch of safe and interrupted tarmac to do it properly and for the test conditions to be as similar as possible each time. 

    If you’re wondering how to do an FTP test, the fundamental test protocol is as follows:

    • 20 minutes of easy warm-up
    • 3 x 1-minute harder wind-ups at around 100rpm with 1 minute approx in-between
    • 5 minutes rest of easy pedalling
    • 5 minutes intense pedalling
    • 10 minutes easy pedalling rest
    • Begin the test: 20-minute of all-out effort where you maintain the highest average power possible for the entire duration
    • Cooldown until the hour mark

    95% of your power rating over the 20-minute test window is considered your FTP. You can then divide this by your weight to find your w/kg measurement. 

    Whilst the protocol typically lasts 1 hour, the 20-minute test itself is both tricky and brutal – it takes some practice to push yourself hard but not too hard that you can’t go the distance of the test. Seriously, by the last 5 minutes, your tank should be emptying rapidly and by the last 30 seconds or so, your legs will be screaming for you to stop!

    That is the point though – there’s no point in measuring your max power output without you maximising your power output, naturally!

    altitude training post test - Using Wattbikes to Measure FTP

    Using Training Apps and Bikes to Measure FTP

    Sophisticated training bikes and apps have made the testing procedure simpler. A Wattbike FTP test is pre-programmed and allows you to input variables like wind resistance. It’ll also measure other variables like pedalling technique to suss out any imbalance in your leg output as well as giving you all the usual measurements e.g. V02 max, max heart rate, average heart rate, etc. 

    Similarly, the in-app Zwift FTP test also runs on the standard benchmark 1-hour test protocol and you can combine the test with the app’s game environments which are pretty useful for keeping your motivation high in the brutal closing minutes of the 20-minute test period. 

    Why is an FTP Test Useful?

    Alison, Veloqi Founder and Cycling Coach shared that while the FTP test is a highly contested subject in the cycling world, it is a relevant test of fitness for many of us. For self-training and personal fitness regimes, FTP results give you a solid means of tracking your month-month progress using a pretty robust and empirical measure.

    We may time ourselves on our familiar routes to see if we can beat our own personal best or record other time trial data from our exercise bike but FTP data can detect progress in both muscle output and cardiovascular fitness. Training apps also provide advanced FTP test results that include other valuable data on your pedal technique and asymmetry in leg output. 

    FTP data can also be used to create ‘training zones’. Depending on your FTP, you can tune your workout to target certain aspects of your fitness. A low FTP compared to your usual measurement could indicate you need to concentrate more on endurance or even active recovery. A high FTP might mean concentrating on V02 max sessions or sessions designed to further improve anaerobic capacity. 

    The FTP training zones suggested by Dr Andrew Coggan are as below: 

    Zone Percentage
    of FTP
    Training Strategy
    1 <55% Active recovery 
    2 56-75% Easier endurance training
    3 76-90% High-tempo endurance rides
    4 91-105% All-out 10 – 30-minute interval training for increasing FTP
    6 106-120% 3 – 8 minute V02 max sessions
    7 121-150% 30s – 8-minute sessions for anaerobic capacity

    Should You Do One?!

    The short answer is – Yes! 

    FTP tests are gruelling but they’re a superb way of measuring your power, a vital measurement in assessing your training progress and tuning your strategy going forward. 

    Coach Alison shared that FTP tests are just one of the many tests that can be done, and that it depends on what you’re training for. She went on to say…

    if you are training for a time trial, 10 to 25, or even 50 miles it’s relevant. Also useful for crit racers, and long track TTs. If you are training for a hilly century audax then there are better tests. But even then it can be used to see if there are gaps in your fitness.

    Alison, Veloqi

    With a bit of thought and planning, you can use your FTP rating to make fitness gains that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Power meters and training apps/bikes such as Wattbike and Zwift have made the FTP test relatively simple and it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, knowing where you are in your fitness journey is always important. 

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    [1] The Validity of Functional Threshold Power and Maximal Oxygen Uptake for Cycling Performance in Moderately Trained Cyclists, https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4663/7/10/217/htm

    1 Comment

    1. February 14, 2020 / 17:23

      I’m not a professional cycler and just enjoy a weekly spin class, so I had never heard of a FTP until you explained it. Your post has been truly enlightening. The test sounds intense, but something I would consider doing now I understand it. Thanks!

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