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Functional Threshold Power Training For Cycling

Updated on July 2, 2012
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer, he ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

What Is Functional Threshold Power (FTP)?

It has been known for many years that lactate threshold “LT”- the exercise intensity at which lactate begins to accumulate within the bloodstream, is a powerful prediction of endurance cycling ability. While the factors which determine lactate threshold are complex it effectively shows the point at which a percentage of an athlete’s maximal aerobic oxygen intake has been reached- showing the ability of the body to meet energy demands with energy supply.

A crank based power measurement system

A SRAM crankset featuring a SRM power measuring system
A SRAM crankset featuring a SRM power measuring system | Source

Defining FTP- how can we measure funtional threshold power?

In many cases functional threshold power is the maximal power output that a cyclist can maintain over an hour.

FTP is measured in Watts

Why is FTP important in terms of cycling?

If you can express lactate threshold as a cycling power output it is possible to analyse cycling performance in events ranging from a local 10 mile time trial, all the way up to the three-week long Tour De France race.

Power Based Training Zones to consider for your cycling progression

Due to a distinct relationship between power output and duration that the power can be sustained (adapted from Andrew Coggan) and workout ideas for power based training.

How can you measure your power output on a bike?

There are a number of ways that you can measure your power output on a bike.

If money is no object you could purchase a highly sophisticated and technologically advanced power measurement device in the form of a Power Meter.

Examples of power measurement devices for cycling include hub based measurement systems such as the SRM system. CyclOps' PowerTap system is a rear bicycle hub based power meter. Alternately recent developments have been made in pedal based power measurement systems.

Usually these systems have a console of some kind for real-time visual monitoring of power output.

Jet Black Fluid Trainer Power Graph

Power Graph from the box of a Jet Black Fluid Trainer
Power Graph from the box of a Jet Black Fluid Trainer

Power measurement for cyclists with little extra financial output

Alternately- for those on a budget

Many indoor cycling turbo trainer's now have the option of showing power output or extrapolating speed data to take a measurement of cycling power.

The grpah to the right shows the power relationship compared to riding speed for a Jet Black Fluid Trainer. Riding at over 25 mph gives a power output of just over 300 watts. Yes this is not the most accurate system however it gives additional information for the cyclist to utilise within their training program.

Power Training levels (adapted from Coggan)

(click column header to sort results)
Average Power (% of FTP)  
Average HR  
Active Recovery
Easy spinning.Typical use for active recovery between interval efforts, or on easy receover days
Pace that can be sustained for 'all day' riding. Symbolic of classic LSD- Long Slow Distance training. Generally low level of fatigue build up. Frequent (daily) training sessions of moderate duration (Greater than 2 hours duration) at level 2 are usually possible if adequate recovery is integrated intp training schedual.
Increased pace training involving higher pace group rides, chaingang workouts which incurrs a a higher level of fatigue than that experienced in level 2. Required concentration from the rider to ensure completion of workload. Higher requirment for recovery from level 2 workouts. Consecutive daily level 3 workouts are possible if diet is addressed and sessions are not of excessive duration.
Lactate Threshold
Effort around 40 km/ 25 mile Time Trial effort. Mentally very taxing which leads to difficulty in performing long intervals. Interval training of generally blocks of 10-30 minute duration. Workouts on consecutive days generally only performed when sufficient rest from prior training training achieved.
VO2 Max Development
Moderate intervals of up to 8 minutes used for development of VO2 max. Effort feels hard and means cyclist may have difficulty achieving more than 30- 40 minutes of total training time at effort level. These sessions require adequate recovery and therefore consecutive days of training are often not possible (or desirable)nversation not possible due to often 'ragged' breathing. Should generally be attempted only when adequately recovered from prior training - consecutive days of level 5 work not necessarily desirable even if possible.
Anaerobic Capacity
Short (30 s to 3 min), high intensity intervals designed to increase anaerobic capacity. Heart rate generally not useful as guide to intensity due to non-steady-state nature of effort. Severe sensation of leg effort/fatigue, and conversation impossible. Consecutive days of extended level 6 training usually not attempted.
Neuromuscular adaptation and Power development
Short, high intensity efforts which place more stress on the musculoskeletal system rather than metabolic stress. Efforts often involve jumps, short sprints and race pace efforts.

Have you trained based on Functional Threshold Power?

How did you get on?

Did you find it helped improve performance?


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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 6 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Richard. LT Threshold WAS the the predictor people based their training around for many years however over time cycling has changed and now power is a very important factor within training.

    • profile image

      Richard La China (lachina) 6 years ago

      Aerobic threshold, economy, and lactate threshold are all things that can be improved with training. In fact, LT training is the most popular method of improving an athlete’s high intensity performance. LT is also the best predictor of endurance performance—someone with a high LT is more likely to win a race.

      I just particiapted in a Vo2Max / LT test here's what I learned...

      Richard La China