What is FTP? And Why is it Useful?

Editor’s Note:

Last week, Coach Fred answered a question from reader John H. about working to recapture the power he had when he was younger. John had shown good form in recent years, riding several centuries a year. However, after a couple of injuries kept him off the bike to start the 2013 season, he’s been unable to regain that strong form. John mentioned his FTP numbers to show where he is now, and has been in the past. Several readers questioned Coach Fred about what FTP stands for. Here’s his answer.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies: 

In last week's Coach Fred section, John H. commented about his "FTP," and I've received several questions asking what the initials stand for. FTP is Functional Threshold Power.

This is usually defined as the average wattage you can maintain for a certain length of time -- usually 60 minutes.

You can determine your FTP by checking average wattage for a 40K time trial -- but that's a tough way to get the information! An easier way to determine it on a bike or an indoor trainer with a power meter is to go as hard as you can for 20 minutes.

The resulting average wattage figure will be slightly higher than your true FTP due to the shorter duration, so simply subtract 5% from the average wattage to get FTP.

FTP is useful to know because it is a good indicator of your fitness. And it's the baseline for all training zones. For instance, you can train for short, hard climbs with climbing repeats of 3-5 minutes at an average wattage about 5% higher than your FTP.

And you can peg your recovery day intensity at about 75% of your FTP to make sure you're not going too hard.

Climbing performance is determined by your body weight as well as your wattage output, so FTP is divided by your weight in kilograms to get a "watts per kilogram" figure. If you determine your FTP to be 280 watts and you weigh 70 kilograms (154 pounds), your watts per kilogram is 4.0.

This is predictive of performance at various levels of cycling. A Tour de France rider may average close to 6.0 watts per kilogram on long alpine climbs.

FTP is a valuable piece of information for all cyclists because it helps you determine how hard you can train, how easily you should go on recovery days and can also predict how you might fare against different levels of competition.

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