Functional Threshold Power (FTP) testing on your own

Whether you’re competing in sprint triathlons or long-distance cycling races, Functional Threshold Power (aka, FTP) is the gold standard for assessing cycling performance. And, that’s no coincidence. Measuring — and, keeping track of — your FTP helps you analyze your training sessions in depth. It also helps set accurate pacing strategies for your target races; among other things. 

In this article, we’ll show you how to perform Functional Threshold Power testing on your own, with two simple, but very effective, methods. 

What is the Functional Threshold Power?

Before we get to the testing part, let’s first explain what Functional Threshold Power is. Generally speaking, FTP is the highest average wattage an athlete can sustain, for an hour.  Taking it a step further, FTP in science refers to the maximum intensity an athlete can sustain, before the slow component of VO2 takes effect. In other words, FTP is the point that approximately corresponds to your 2nd Lactate Threshold (LT2). 

The importance of Functional Threshold Power in cycling

Functional Threshold Power is one of the most important metrics in cycling, as it indicates an athlete’s level of cycling fitness; and, thus, ability to perform well — both in their training sessions, and a race. 

After undergoing an FTP assessment, using a power meter and a bike (indoors or outdoors), your coach will get your FTP value to create a safe, personalized training plan for you. With your Functional Threshold Power value at hand, your coach will provide more precise instructions regarding your training load, etc. Moreover, they’ll be able to better define your training zones.              

Training zones based on your FTP, or Functional Threshold Power value

Without a doubt, the Functional Threshold Power value is a benchmark for setting up power zones. In cycling, the most common models coaches use to define training zones are the 5-Zone model, and the 7-Zone model; both of which center on Functional Threshold Power.

The most widely-used models for defining training zones in cycling

When it comes to defining the exact percentages of the training zones, you’ll find that they often vary. And that, not only depends upon your FTP value but also on your coach and the training methods they’re using.

As mentioned, your coach will use your FTP value to set your personal cycling training zones. Training zones represent different training functions. So, each requires a different level of exertion.

To get a better understanding of the intensity required per zone, let’s have a look at these two models, in more detail:

The 5 Zones model

  • First zone: 1-54% of FTP
  • Second zone: 55-74% of FTP 
  • Third zone: 75-89% of FTP
  • Fourth zone: 90-104% of FTP
  • Fifth zone: >105% of FTP

The 7 Zones model

  • First zone: 1-54% of FTP
  • Second zone: 55-74% of FTP
  • Third zone: 75-89% of FTP
  • Fourth zone: 90-104% of FTP 
  • Fifth zone: 105-120% of FTP
  • Sixth zone: 121-150% of FTP
  • Seventh zone: >151% of FTP

You can see that the only differentiation between the two models is that in the 7-Zone model, you have a more detailed intensity distribution. By defining your zones, you and your coach can establish which systems you want to target. Ideally, your training will be periodized, so that you can zero in on certain zones that better suit your goals for the season.

How to calculate your Functional Threshold Power

To briefly repeat, before you get into training, your coach will run a Functional Threshold Power test on you, to evaluate your fitness level. FTP can be assessed relatively easily with a power meter, by either riding your bike on the road or trail or with an indoor trainer. So, you won’t have to go to a lab to find out your FTP value. 

Based on the information your power meter gathers, your coach will create a personalized training plan, focused on helping you increase your FTP. Now, as to the FTP calculation, there are several FTP tests that you can perform on your own. Below, we touch on two of the most common ones.

20min test for estimating your FTP

The goal of this test is to ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes straight, in order to calculate your average power output. This is the process you need to follow:

  • Warm-up: 10 minutes spin
  • 3×1-minute fast cadence, 1 minute easy
  • 5-minute spin, easy
  • 5-minute all-out effort – ride as hard as you can
  • 10-minute recovery
  • 20-minute all-out effort — this is the main session, ride as hard as you can
  • 5-minute cool-down

Once you know your 20-minute average power (watt), multiply it by 0.95, to find your FTP. If you and your coach already use Endogusto, you’ll automatically get the FTP value.

3min all-out effort test for calculating your FTP

Similarly, the goal of this test is to ride as hard as you can in a 3min all-out effort, while shifting to the suitable gear. In short, the process is as follows: 

  • Warm up for a 10-minute easy spin
  • 5×5 seconds all-out effort (sprint), with 1-minute easy spins between sets
  • 5 minutes easy spin
  • 3 minutes of all-out effort, without pacing. Shift to the gear that will allow you to get the highest power output, ride as hard as possible
  • 10-minute cooldown

To find your FTP value here, calculate the average power of the last 30 seconds of the 3-minute effort.

Using FTP for personalizing your training plan

Performing a Functional Threshold Power test in cycling requires absolute concentration and maximum effort. Be that as it may, its benefits are plenty. Your FTP test results will allow your coach to create a training program, tailored to your needs and goals. When training with your own personalized program, it’s only a matter of time before you improve your cycling performance and reach your athletic goals.

Functional Threshold Power (FTP) testing on your own was last modified: March 24th, 2023 by Eleni Konstantinidou