Improve your cycling – Know your FTP. Yes, it does matter!

September 28, 2020 // Liza Smith

As many of you will know, I am an Indoor Cycling Instructor and over the last 3 years I have developed my skills and knowledge to become a Power Trainer.

I am lucky to have done courses with two of the best Power Training Providers in UK Indoor Cycling; ICG and Stages. What they have taught me has been invaluable and allowed me to completely overhaul my classes and really help my students see true and robust improvement.

Their success is measured by the result of their quarterly FTP test and any decent cyclist that’s been around for a while and truly cares about their performance knows their number.

So, what is it?
FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power. It is a number. That number is representative of Watts, a measure of power.

What does it mean?
Your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is the highest average watt output that you can sustain for an hour.

Why should I care?
FTP is the gold standard in the cycling world. Once you know your FTP you have a bullet proof, quantitive way to measure your improvement. It will also allow your set your training zones accurately, meaning you make your training more targeted and meaningful.

“But I know I’m getting better” I hear you say. “I beat my friend up box hill last week and I never do that” or maybe “I beat my strava time on that time trail segment” These are all good indicators that yes, you may be getting better but other factors may have been involved and they are not scientific. FTP is. Number goes up, you have improved… Fact!

Ok, sounds good, I want to start caring… how do I do it?
Welcome to the grim world of FTP Testing. We love it but we really, really hate it (for the 20 minutes we’re in it!).
You can do the test inside or out, depending on the equipment you have. Purists will tell you outdoor testing is best as you can generate more power when you are outside, than you can indoors.
You will need a bike (obviously) and either power meter or a smart trainer. Some indoor bikes in the gym also have testing capability.

The Test
You need a good warm up protocol as the test demands a lot from you so you have to fully prep both the body and the mind to be ready.
A full test warm up can be anything as long as (brace yourselves, this is how I do it) a 20 min easy ride, 6 to 10 mins of 1 min max effort intervals followed by 1 min recovery riding, another 5 min easy ride, 5 min max effort and finally a 10 minute easy ride. This may seem extreme but it works. Some people do less… I’m not sure if anyone does more!?

Once warmed up, it is straight into the test and it couldn’t be any simpler… ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes. Make sure you record the 20 minute test as a separate lap/segment on your device as we don’y want the data from your warm up confusing the results. You must stay seated for the 20 minute effort. Yes, you can push more power standing but it isn’t a sustainable position for very long periods so we need to know what you can do in the saddle. There’s no hard and fast rule for preferred cadence. The slower you go the more your legs muscle fatigue will play a part in the result. The faster you go the more stress there will be on the efficiency of your pedal stroke and cardiovascular system. The advice I was given when I attempted my first test was to ride between 80 – 95 RPM and I generally stick to this. Make sure you stay on the bike once it is over (even though everything in your being will be screaming for you to get off, make it stop – thats how you know you did it right) and cool down properly. Ideally you want to ride easy for about 15 minutes, longer if you want.

Getting your result
Once you have completed your test we need to do some maths. Look up the data on your ride and find your average power for the 20 minute test. Subtract 5% from that number and jackpot you now know your FTP.
* we have to subtract 5% to find your average power for the hour and this sum is always pretty accurate. If you want to do a one hour test you can but I personally don’t advise it. I have done it once and I meant it when I said never again!

Final thought… power to weight ratio.
As you can see, FTP doesn’t take into consideration anything about you other than what you can do on the bike. It doesn’t know how old you are, your gender or how much you weigh.
This is why I also tell my students to monitor another number which is their watts per kilogram or power to weight ratio. To find this simply divide your weight (in kilograms) by your FTP.
For some this wont be important but for for anyone that really cares about their cycling performance, and I work with a lot of people that really do, it’s important because how much you weigh relative to how much power you can generate will determine how well you perform.
In a nut shell, if you are shedding a bit of fat and therefore getting lighter and that FTP still keeps going up, you are definitely doing something right.

About Liza Smith

Hi, I’m Liza; A badass, mud-loving, bear loving Fitness Professional. I’m happiest when doing Obstacle Course Races, Mud Runs and Triathlons and whilst doing all the training that these hobbies require.

I am a continuing work in progress, always striving to be the best version of me that I can be.

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