FTP Test in Cycling – What is it and How to Improve it?

Knowing your FTP or Functional Threshold Power is vital in properly getting insight as to how effective your training and workouts are and to see long-term gains.

While some may rely on lab analysis, it can be inconvenient as this requires invasive blood sampling and may not always be accessible. A more feasible solution would be to collect data through a power meter to identify your FTP and consistently improve results based on it.

This post aims to help you understand what this metric is, how well it can benefit your training, and how to improve results to amplify your skills as a cyclist effectively.

What is Functional Threshold Power?

Essentially, FTP or Functional Threshold Power measures the highest average power a cyclist can sustain for an hour or 95% of the average within 20 minutes. It’s expressed in terms of watts per kilo and is computed by dividing the power produced over the rider’s weight.

If your FTP goes up without you gaining weight, this means you’re getting fitter. When training to improve your performance through this metric, your aim should be to increase your FTP while decreasing your weight and heart rate in producing the same power consistently.

You shouldn’t be comparing your FTP numbers with another cyclist as well as it isn’t a comparative metric. It is your numerical gauge that dictates your personal training.

Benefits of Testing for FTP

Testing your FTP is an excellent way to put a number to the quality of your performance during a ride. 

A lot of the time, we presume we’re getting better only by gauging how we did as compared to the rest of the group we ride with.

You can Determine Your Training Zone

Tracking your performance through FTP will allow you to receive accurate training zones for both power (measured in watts) and heart rate (measured in beats per minute). Having this data will help you analyze how to train smartly towards a desired goal.

It will be easier to adapt and maximize your training by learning exactly what type of training to implement, enabling quicker results.

You can Identify Your Anaerobic Threshold

An FTP test will allow you to identify at which training zone your body shifts from an aerobic to an anaerobic state of exertion

Aerobic exertion can result from activities that require motion like walking, running, and cyclin – all of which will cause you to breathe faster and increase your blood flow. This is a level which you can sustain for a prolonged period.

By contrast, anaerobic exertion can result from the same activities, but at this level, you will be breathing much harder, unable to speak in full sentences.

Why is this important? The point of transition is when lactic acid starts to collect in your bloodstream and is when your body begins to burn fat, a combination of fat and glycogen, or stored carbs. 

By being aware of this number, you’ll be able to adjust the intensity of your training by staying in the correct zone. Otherwise, you’ll be tiring yourself out sooner by staying in a particular zone too long or getting into that zone towards the last portion of your training.

You can Calculate Your Power to Weight Ratio

This ratio is arrived at by dividing the average power generated during the ftp test over your body weight, and is most probably the best indicator of cycling performance.

You can trigger a shift in this ratio either by increasing your power or decreasing your weight. But you’ll need to monitor your weight so it doesn’t drop so drastically, though, as this may affect your power negatively. 

Similarly, too much muscle buildup can result in a significant decrease in your climbing speed up mountains. Again, smart training in the correct ftp zone, would move this number up.

You can Measure Your Cardiovascular Fitness

As mentioned earlier, FTP is, first and foremost, a measure of your current fitness and cycling performance levels which will allow you to analyze and improve your training with time.

You can Analyze Your Pedaling Technique’s Effectiveness

Testing for FTP will allow you to analyze whether there are any imbalances in the distribution of left and right leg power when pedaling.

Knowing this number will help you understand your pedaling technique better, significantly improving your overall power output.

Are There Limitations?

Although an FTP test will accurately determine fitness levels, it won’t offer specificity.

If you performed a follow-up test and improved your performance, you wouldn’t be able to tell exactly what part of the training caused the improvement. If, however, you maintained your results, you can’t say for certain that another area of your fitness did become enhanced but simply wasn’t revealed through the procedures of the test.

If your follow-up test resulted in a lower result, you can’t specifically say which factor within your training needs to be improved or  maintained to cause an increase in the score.

Some cyclists will swear by the efficacy of this test while still others will have their doubts. FTP tests do leave many important questions unanswered, and it will not be able to tell you how you were able to shift your results as you move forward in your training.

How Do You Measure FTP?

There are three common ways to test for FTP.

The 60-Minute Test

You undergo this test by riding as hard as you can sustain for one hour, all while measuring your average power through a power meter.

This method can be hard to sustain, though, as riding for an extended period like an hour can lack stimulation and lead you to slack off or perhaps not even be able to finish, especially after the first try.

You can try conducting this test during an organized event, like a 25-mile or 40km. This way you can be sure you’ll be motivated enough to run the course and even deliver an excellent performance.

The 20-Minute Test

Similar to the previous test, you take this FTP test by riding as fast as you can for 20 minutes while measuring your average power output. Once you get the number, you need to multiply it by 95% to get your estimated FTP.

Once you know your average power for 20 minutes (for example 200 watts) you can multiply it by 95% to estimate your FTP.

Training Peaks

The final way of testing your FTP is through an online software called TrainingPeaks. You upload data from your daily training into their website, and it will be able to estimate your FTP from your best efforts (or peaks) during a given time period.

You can choose to test on any of the three depending on your ultimate goal. Are you looking to improve your endurance and sustain power over a longer period of time or for all-out efforts?

Testing indoors or outdoors won’t make any difference on the results. Varying conditions will, though. For instance, if you test outdoors, do it in an area with a slightly sloping hill or a long stretch of road that doesn’t have varying terrain.

Tips on How to Improve Results

If you get a disappointing number the first time, don’t stress about it. FTP results don’t exist in a bubble and will vary depending on many factors.

Here are easy, actionable tips on how to improve your FTP results. Follow these and you won’t go wrong.

Increase Your Ride Durations

You need to ride beyond 4 hours for your cardiovascular muscles to really get an exercise. Try to climb as close as you can to your threshold on the first day. You may return home with heavy legs, but you should be able to ride again just under the same threshold (around 88-93% of your FTP). This is what they refer to as the ‘sweet spot’.

Do FTP Intervals More Frequently in a Week

Try to complete 3 intervals during a week. You can start doing 40 to 60 minutes each day, then gradually increase them to 60 to 90minutes. Then on a weekend, push yourself to really achieve a 90-minute threshold workout at the end of the week, perhaps with a group of friends.

Take Enough Rest in Between Tests

Try to get as much rest between sessions to maximize the benefits. Easy endurance rides in between sessions should do just fine in helping you recover. 

Testing when exhausted or not well-rested will not reveal accurate results as your body is not at its optimal state.

Is Your FTP Any Good?

Testing your FTP in all durations is a really good way of establishing your strengths and weaknesses as a cyclist. This is especially true if you want to train for competitions that require endurance and stamina.

Some cyclists believe it is worth calculating the power-to-weight ratio, or your FTP divided by your weight (in kilos). Experts say newer cyclists will average around a ratio of 2.0 while experienced cyclists will average around 7.0.

But rather than focusing on that disappointing figure and comparing yourself to other cyclists, keep working out steadily to reach your goals. Train based on numbers.

While most cyclists will want to settle into endurance rides, you’ll achieve the best result by pushing near or above your threshold levels.

Perry
Perry
Hello, my names Perry and I've been a freelance writer for the past 5 years and a cycling enthusiastic since I can remember. I love the road, but my main passion is mountain biking.