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What is FTP and How Can Cyclists Improve It?

Indoor cycling is an excellent way to stay in shape (and a fun way to do it!), but understanding your FTP could be the key to making progress if your goal is to improve your performance.

What is FTP?

Elderly man on his indoor bike watching his computer.

FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power, and it’s one of the most common training metrics used in cycling. Your FTP is the highest average power you can sustain for about an hour without fatiguing, expressed in watts per kilogram.1 You can use a power meter to measure your FTP, a device fitted to your bike that measures your power output.

As a cyclist, it’s important to measure your FTP because it measures your overall fitness and tells you how much cycling work you can sustain for long periods. It can also help you gauge the difficulty of your rides by indicating how hard you were working while cycling.

One reason you might want to measure your FTP is if you’re training for an event. In this case, you could measure your FTP every week or two to track your progress. Ideally, your FTP will increase without your weight increasing. If so, you’re likely improving your fitness level!

On the other hand, FTP might not be the best way to measure progress if your goal is to improve your performance while cycling quickly over short distances.

How to measure FTP

Woman on her indoor bike looking at her phone and phone analytics.

The most direct way to measure your FTP is to bike as hard as possible for one hour. The average power produced for the hour is your FTP. Although this method is straightforward, it’s challenging to ride as hard as you can for that long, and not everyone has an hour to spend biking!

One of the most well-known ways to calculate your FTP is with the 20-minute FTP test. To complete this test, you cycle for 20 minutes as hard as possible. To determine your FTP, you calculate 95% of your average power (multiply it by 0.95) during the 20 minutes. Unfortunately, the downside to this test is that it can be tough to pace yourself for 20 minutes without cycling too hard during the first portion of it. So, in the end, it may not provide an accurate measurement of your FTP.

Instead, an easier (and more convenient) alternative is an eight-minute FTP test. With this test, you ride as hard as you can for eight minutes. While you cycle, try to avoid sudden surges and maintain a steady but intense pace. Once the eight minutes is up, rest for ten minutes, and then complete another eight-minute round of the same thing. Once you’ve completed your second round, you can determine your FTP by calculating 90% of the average power of the two eight-minute rounds.

What are the benefits of knowing your FTP?

A group of cyclists riding on a paved bike path.

You might be wondering, “Why should I know what my FTP is anyway?” Although subjecting yourself to the tests described above may not be the most exciting thing, there are several reasons you might want to find out.

First, knowing your FTP can give you context for your rides and help you scale your workouts to your current fitness level. With an accurate measure of your FTP and a structured training plan, you’ll be better able to target your specific fitness goals and tailor your workouts to achieve the gains that are most important to you. 

Alternatively, if you’re training for a long-distance cycling event or just trying to improve your long-distance cycling performance, knowing your FTP can help you develop a pacing plan. That way, you can conserve your energy while you cycle for long periods, have fun on those long-distance rides, and actually finish the rides, too!

Plus, knowing your FTP can help you find your balance between overtraining and undertraining. Undertraining won’t provide the gains you’re after, but overtraining could result in injury. Finding the sweet spot is essential to improving your cycling performance and fitness level without setbacks.

Ways to improve your FTP and overall cycling fitness

If improving your FTP and fitness is something you strive for, you can use Power Zones to address your unique cycling goals strategically. The Power Zones listed below are based on Dr. Andrew Coggan’s research, who is a cycling scientist and co-author of Training and Racing with a Power Meter.2

ZonePercentage of FTPDescription
1<55%Easy cycling (active recovery rides)
256-75%Long, endurance rides
376-90%Tempo rides (to improve endurance and improve FTP)
491-105%8 to 30-minute intervals (to improve FTP)
5106-120%3 to 8-minute VO2 Max intervals
6121-150%30 second to 3-minute intervals (to improve speed, strength, muscle mass, and burn calories)
7N/AHard sprints for less than 30 seconds

Whether you build your own training plan or a trainer does it for you, spending time in each of these seven zones can help you target the different energy systems your body uses while cycling. Instead of just cycling aimlessly, if you want to improve your FTP, try spending more time training in zones 3 and 4. Riding in each zone will help your body adapt as you train, improving your FTP, endurance, speed, muscle mass, and more! The hardest part is balancing the time you spend in each zone to make your cycling training as effective as possible without increasing the risk of overtraining or injury. 

You can also use Vingo to complete fun and dynamic indoor training sessions that help you achieve your fitness and cycling goals. And the best part? You don’t have to be hypercompetitive with your cycling to enjoy gains! Vingo’s judgment-free fitness community makes it fun and easy to achieve your goals with:

  • Exciting virtual worlds that feature varying terrain and routes.
  • An avatar you can personalize with clothes and gear.
  • And a free and accessible way to exercise on any indoor bike.

Other ways to measure your cycling performance

Cyclist riding up a hill.

Measuring your FTP is not the only indicator of your overall cycling performance. Other common ways to measure your progress and performance include:

  • Tracking your heart rate data over time (including your resting heart rate)
  • Making a note of how you feel after each workout
  • Comparing your progress with friends’ and asking for feedback
  • Timing yourself while hill climbing

Key Takeaways:

While FTP isn’t an end-all-be-all measurement of your cycling performance, monitoring it can be a helpful way to make progress and reach your cycling goals.

Tired of hypercompetitive fitness apps?

Enjoy Vingo’s judgment-free community!
marker Explore new worlds on many different terrains
marker Personalize your avatar with cool clothes and gears
marker Experience Vingo anywhere on any exercise bike or treadmill

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References:

  1. Borszcz, F., Tramontin, A., Bossi, A., Carminatti, L., & Costa, V. (2018). Functional Threshold Power in Cyclists: Validity of the Concept and Physiological Responses. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(10), 737–742. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0044-101546 
  2. Allen, H., Ph.D., A. C. R., & Ph.D., M. S. (2019). Training and Racing with a Power Meter (3rd ed.). VeloPress. 

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