For many cyclists, it’s hard to know when to reset your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is used to determine your power training zones. However, having an accurate FTP is vital to hitting your workouts at the right intensity. If your FTP is inaccurate, you’ll find yourself either training too hard or not hard enough. Here are the answers to your most pressing FTP and zone-setting questions.
When should I reset my FTP?
One common mistake many athletes make is not updating their power training zones regularly. FTP should be retested at least every thirty days, or after any significant event that limits training time — like an injury or time away from the sport.
Many factors can impact your power training zones, such as:
- improved fitness
- a busy work schedule
- time away from training
How do I set my FTP?
The traditional method of establishing your power-based training zones is to complete a functional threshold power (FTP) test. I’ve always used Friel’s 30-minute test to accurately measure FTP. This is accomplished by riding as hard as you can for 30 minutes and then finding your average power (measured in watts) during that 30-minute duration.
Are there alternative ways to set my FTP?
If you have an aversion to the 30-minute FTP test, it may be helpful to pull data from alternative efforts, like a local TT, crit, or cyclocross race. Also, there is no rule against group FTP tests. If you have a hard time staying focused on your own, get a group of friends or team together and do a 40K TT and use the results to set your FTP. You can also go for a hard ride at the highest power you can maintain for 30 to 60 minutes.
*Disclaimer: FTP numbers from race efforts tend to be on the higher side, so if you get your numbers this way, be on the lookout for extra fatigue, which is a sign that the FTP number you’re using may be a little inflated.
What if my new FTP is lower than normal?
If your FTP looks like it’s dropping, don’t panic — this can be caused by many things, many of which will resolve themselves before your next test. If your numbers look low, repeat the test in a week or two to eliminate any complicating factors like stress, nutrition, or hydration status. If your FTP still appears to be sliding after a re-test, then it’s time to adjust your zones. Results like this often indicate that it’s time to back off!
What if my new FTP is higher than normal?
Seeing your FTP increase is gratifying, but it’s important to look over your recent data to see if it supports your progress. For example, if you test at 250 watts, you should see in your past workouts that you have plenty of time in that range during the intervals leading up to your FTP test. If the data supports it, go ahead and raise that number — you’re making progress! But if it looks like a one-time thing, hold off until your next test. Just remember that prematurely raising your FTP can generate too much fatigue and put you at risk of injury.
Whatever the outcome, don’t let your ego dictate your power training zones. Look at your FTP as a tool to keep you training at the right level, not a rating of your ability as an athlete. Test regularly and use FTP as a benchmark to gauge your current state of fitness. Hard work does pay off!