Stop Obsessing Over FTP

We get it, everyone wants to know what their number is.

Whether it’s the 20 minute test, a full hour, or even some of these different ramp tests and shorter tests, we all want to see how high we can get our FTP.


Everyone’s still talking about this number; how much should you really care about it?

We’ve been there, and we want to be clear that we’re not against you raising your FTP. It’s an important metric, but it’s not everything, and it surely doesn’t paint the entire picture of how strong of a cyclist you are.

Cycling Time Trial


In our early days of training, we have both been overly anxious for our “Field Test” and always wanted to put our best foot forward; a “failed” 20 minute test was a major bummer, since now the zones weren’t just right or where we expected them to be.

While testing is important, we’ve often found that your true FTP number can be determined by race data, whereas the more specific max wattages for 1 or 2 minute intervals are harder to tease out because you won’t be going to failure early in a race or you’d totally blow up, and you won’t be fresh enough at the end of a race to put out max watts. So, definitely field test the shorter efforts, but an FTP test isn’t needed as often.


Why Does Everyone Talk About FTP?

If there isn’t a race result to compare ourselves to others with, this is an easy way for the novice cyclist to understand where they stand. Most people forget that FTP, without knowing the rider’s weight, is relatively useless. 

It would be more accurate to talk about watts per kilogram, but even that loses some validity if you’re an American cyclist...the weight portion really comes into play on long climbs which you’ll see on the west coast or certain mountainous areas, but for many of us, it’s power climbs and shorter anaerobic or max aerobic efforts that decide who gets dropped, and who marches on in the selection. Functional Reserve Capacity, which we’ll talk about later, is much more important here, as you’re riding well over your FTP to stay with the leaders.

Why Shouldn’t I Obsess Over FTP?

It’s only one metric amongst many, and while it is a strong predictor in your ability to power a bicycle, your VO2Max sets the upper limit to your rate of aerobic energy production. So why don’t we all talk about our VO2Max numbers? They are much harder to measure and get a hold of, so FTP is the thing that gets talked about. It’s easy to test and we can get a relatively accurate score; although yes, many embellish it.


Cycling is a blend of aerobic and anaerobic efforts; only looking at the aerobic side is foolish. 

When people go really hard, can you go with them, or do you blow up? 

If you stick with them, can you go again? Said differently, how’s your repeatability? This is a tough metric to quantify, and an even harder one to talk about at the coffee shop.

Now, if FTP is such an important indicator, let’s simply ask this question: do you think Mark Cavendish is a worse cyclist because his FTP is lower than Tony Martin’s? What about a rider like Greg Van Avermaet who has a monster FRC but most likely lower FTP?



No way!!! Every cyclist is different, and every cyclist can win in different ways, so why would you obsess over an indicator for something that is best suited for long European climbs or time trials, which most cyclists don’t even compete in?!


The Newest Metrics That Also Matter

WKO4 came out in 2016 and put out some new metrics that are very important. 

Functional Reserve Capacity (FRC)

From the Training Peaks site, FRC is: The total amount of work that can be done during continuous exercise above Functional Threshold Power. This metric gives insight in an athlete’s anaerobic work capacity.

Anaerobic work is really important because if you go on any group ride, you’ll see the surges for town lines sprints and the need to go all in when faster riders decide to make things difficult for the rest of us. Do you have any FRC whatsoever?


A cyclist with an FTP of 300 and an FRC of 23kj will perform MUCH better than the athlete with an FTP of 320 and an FRC of 11kj.


Here are some approximate standards provided by WKO4:

FRC Standards Cycling

Clearly, FTP isn’t everything!

Time To Exhaustion (TTE)

From Training Peaks: 

The maximum duration for which a power equal to model-derived Functional Threshold Power can be maintained.

This new metric allows for the measurement and tracking of riders’ ability to maintain power over time, estimating the time they can hold power equal to their threshold. On the Power Duration Curve, TTE can is visually represented by a vertical line just after the kink or decline in sustained power output.

While we want to see you increase your FTP, it is nearly almost as important to extend your TTE! If a cyclist with an FTP of 300W has a TTE of 30m, but another cyclist has an FTP of 270W but a TTE of 70m, I’d choose the 270 all day.

Time to Exhaustion will never be talked about at the coffee shop. But here’s how you can implement in it your training if you aren’t using WKO4. If you set a new FTP based off a 20 minute test, extend that value to 25 minutes; then 30m, then 40m. Then retest, or use new race data to see where you are at. 

When we refer to using race data, we’re talking about the histogram of power shown in 10 watts buckets. This is described in Training and Racing With A Power Meter, and is extremely effective. It’s one of Brendan’s favorite ways to make sure his FTP is accurate, and he recently lowered his FTP because of this, BUT, his TTE is at almost 70 minutes!

PMAX

From Training Peaks:

The maximal power that can be generated for a very short period of time. Units are W or W/kg. The maximum power over at least a full pedal revolution with both legs. 

Sure, this one is meant for the sprinters, or is it?

Unless you are time trialing away from your friends and sprinting against no one, having a kick at the end of the race matters. You don’t need to be Andre Greipel, but the higher maximal power that you can develop, the better off your result will be when everyone starts to gallop towards the line.

This type of training is very tiring and really taxes the neuromuscular system, so it may be best to informally train it on your hard weekend rides and when the town line sprints come. But either way, you want some sprint training.

If you say your sprint sucks or you aren’t good at it, but you never TRY to train it, go figure! It won’t get better on it’s own.

 Conclusion

Stop obsessing over one number. It’s like comparing NBA players total worth by who has the most assists. It’s a completely unclear picture. And to keep the basketball metaphor going, players talk about court awareness and the sixth senses amongst teammates...that matters in cycling too! You can have all the watts in the world, but if you don’t know when to use them, how to dole them out, or how to get in the right position, it’s useless.


Blend your training with PMAX, FRC, TTE, AND FTP! It is all important unless you are only do one specific type of riding and racing.

Brendan HouslerComment