When cyclists and triathletes get together and start comparing Functional Threshold Power numbers, sometimes you can start feeling insecure about how many watts you can push. So what’s a good FTP number?
The simple answer is: a good FTP is one that you can use to train in the correct zones and improve your performance. A good FTP is one that you’ve recently done a test for, and one in which you tested accurately. (Some people either hold back on their test, do it when fatigued, or use an FTP test that is not as useful for the type of cycling they’re specialising in.)
Starting off with a low FTP does not mean you will stay that way, either, so beginners take heart!
If you’re training regularly, you should do an FTP test every 4 to 6 weeks. If you’re training in the correct power zones with the right session structure, in that span of time you could be capable of pushing more watts. If you don’t test for it, you will end up plateauing eventually because you will be riding too low an FTP.
If you’re just getting back into training after some time off, don’t expect to be capable of pushing the same power as when you were at peak fitness. This is another good reason to test, so you can use the correct zones around which to structure your training.
(Testing more frequently than every four weeks can hamper your recovery and could be counter-productive. The ramp test is a maximal effort and can take a lot out of you! Make sure you’re well-rested before the test, and recover well afterwards.)
Those new to training with power can end up with too low an FTP due to their inexperience in the ramp test, where they end up not giving everything they’ve got.
There’s a good chance you’ve set too low an FTP number if you find it difficult to ride slower or with lower effort to hit the indicated power numbers during a rest interval. Also, if over-under intervals do not exhaust you, or when long intervals at threshold feel too easy and your body isn’t begging to rest between the intervals.
FTP is a great measure of our physical fitness, but it has its limits. It is a snapshot of your current fitness level, which you can use as a training tool and to measure your progress. Measuring FTP doesn’t take the person’s skills or specialisation into consideration, or fatigue prior to the test. A sprinter might have a lower FTP compared to time trial riders because sprinters focus on short bursts of performance compared to the longer grind that time trial riders prepare for.
A lower FTP isn’t always a result of being unfit.
A good FTP is one that you’ve already tested accurately. Another sign of a good FTP is that you’ve already used it to train in the correct power zones and improved your performance because of it. Using FTP allows you to start slow and gradually increase your performance without taking massive leaps. Patience is the key to improvement, and training diligently will ensure your numbers will rise.
(Featured photo by John Cameron on Unsplash)
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