September 20, 2017

Functional Threshold power: It Could Change The Way You Train

Jarrett Pflieger

Training with power on the bike is the best way to get an accurate gauge of your intensity level during workouts. Once you know how much power you can produce at certain training intensities, you will be able to do workouts that improve different aspects of your cycling ability, namely weakness, and make sure you stay in those zones during training.

The days of training by feeling alone are over if you want to truly do well at triathlon or in road racing. Even pure heart rate training can be misleading, as your heart rate is highly volatile and can change from day to day. If your heart rate is always changing, it is nearly impossible to know if you are training at the proper intensity levels depending on your goals. For instance, if you are a very good sprinter with strong legs, but you tend to get dropped on longer rides, you should probably incorporate longer endurance and base building sessions into your training schedule, but how do you know how hard to go in order to get the proper adaptation from your body?

In order to properly identify your bodies training zones, you should know your functional threshold power. Functional threshold power (FTP) is define as the maximum amount of average power you can sustain on the bike without extreme fatigue for one hour. Once you know your FTP, you can use it as a reference point to determine how much intensity you need over different distances for maximum physiological response depending on your goal for the workout.

To test your FTP, the first thing you need is a power measuring cycle. There are power taps you can buy for your own bike, or you can find a power measuring indoor trainer or even find a gym that has power measuring indoor cycles. To find the maximum power you could sustain over an hour, the obvious way would be to ride a 60-minute time-trial and measure your average power for that ride. Although this theoretically would be the most accurate way to measure your FTP, it is very hard for a rider to focus and be able to give everything they have for a full 60 minutes. Luckily there is a pretty accurate and much less time consuming way to test your functional threshold power.

To test your FTP, what you can do is perform a 20-minute time, record your average power for the session, then substract 5% to get an accurate estimate about what you could sustain over an hour. For example, if you averaged 300 watts for 20 minutes, multiply that by .95 to get your FTP, which would be 285.

One you know your FTP, you can use it as a reference point and increase or decrease intensity for workouts depending on how long you are riding and what you aim to accomplish during the workout.
Breaking down your specific training zones is a bit more complicated, but do research, buy some books, or find a qualified triathlon or cycling coach to help. Training too easy won’t do much for you, neither will training too hard. Knowing your functional threshold power will help you determine where you need to be for maximum workout effectiveness.

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