Video: Does functional threshold power matter for amateur cyclists?

Posted on: June 4th, 2018

Functional threshold power cyclists

As amateur cyclists, should we be training to improve generally? Or should we focus on specific areas instead? And do current training methods make us better ‘generally’ anyway?


Functional threshold power and amateur cyclists


Cycling coaching tends to settle on certain concepts and then move on from them over time.

About 20 years ago, for example, training zones were often dictated exclusively by heart rate.

Then power metres were developed and it was all about training in zones dictated by Watts.

Most coaches currently work out their client’s zones using their functional threshold power.

This, put simply, is the highest level you can ride at for a full hour. Once that’s assessed – in testing your coach will put you through – your training zones are worked out from your FTP as a base.

It sounds simple and you can see why it makes sense; using your current ability as a baseline from which to train to improve.

However, the cycling world is now beginning to have a debate around the usefulness of FTP.

This clip by GCN, with Prof Louis Passfield, goes through some of the issues. And it’s well worth a look.

It tests two types of riders; an off-road cyclist with explosive power and a former leading UK pro cyclist.

When the test results from both are analysed off FTP, the capabilities of the rider with explosive power is very much under estimated.

In a nutshell, this experiment and discussion does not conclude that FTP is meaningless.

But it does show that for some riders – who compete in certain types of events – working to improve a particular talent would be wiser than focusing on FTP.

For example, if you are a racing cyclist competing in A3 or A4 events – indeed even in short A1 races – your ability to ride hard for close to an hour, or even more, may never win you a race.


Special cycling talents

But if you can get to a finish in relatively good condition and you are a good sprinter, you may do quite well through the season.

Similarly, if you have a very good climbing effort for five to 10 minutes, you may be able to use this to get clear in a breakaway. And then later you may use it again to ride away from that breakaway.

So by developing these specific abilities; you may do considerably better in races than many riders with far more impressive FTPs.

These concepts are explored in a lot more detail in this clip.

But the logic is clear. If you are not riding races and go on for hours and hours; developing that one talent you have may be a much more effective race-winner than training to become ‘a better cyclist generally’.


Functional threshold power, does it matter?