Functional Threshold Power: What it Is and Why it Matters

If you are fortunate enough teach in facility with bikes that have power meters, you might be wondering about how to use this tool most effectively in your classes. The first step is to establish a benchmark value to help define intensity and structure class profiles. The most commonly used benchmark for power training is functional threshold power (FTP). FTP represents your maximum sustainable power for a period of about an hour.

Physiologically, FTP occurs at approximately the same effort as other thresholds you might be familiar with, like lactate threshold (LT) or anaerobic threshold (AnT). Tested in a laboratory, LT and AnT will occur at slightly different points, but for practical training purposes, we can think of LT, AnT, and FTP as occurring at the same level of effort—around the point where your body’s energy system shifts from primarily aerobic to primarily anaerobic. It’s also a powerful predictor of performance, and one we can train to improve.

How does this effort feel? it’s at the point where you’re on the borderline of challenging but sustainable and hard and unsustainable. Breathing is deep and rhythmic, but not ragged, muscles are working hard, but not burning. Working just a little bit harder pushes you over that threshold into an effort where where breathing become labored, muscle fatigue begins to set in, and eventually you are forced to back off and recover.

There are several methods you can use to measure or estimate FTP, which we’ll cover in more detail in the next post on power training. Once our riders have an idea of their FTP, we can begin to use that value to define training zones and design profiles that help our students work at the right intensity to become stronger and more efficient.

The table below defines power-based training zones commonly used by cycling coaches for power-based training.


  1. Ok let me be the first to leave a reply to the topic in hand, rather than just a THANK YOU!

    In my experience as a rider and now instructor I have found it beneficial to become knowledgeable about the how’s and why’s of riding IF I want to be effective and utilize energy. In doing so I have earned respect and credibility among my members. Some of my members are fellas who take part in the Iron Man event which is a local event in our area. I have to know what I am talking about. I also have a great deal of members who are in the medical profession some are Doctors. I need to be on top of my game, as should we all, hey.
    Teaching topics such as FTP has helped my members take their training to greater heights that they could imagine. I am encouraged when some one comes in as a total BEGINNER never having a desire to ride on the roads then not only takes up that challenge is now doing 50k rides wwith others, blokes. (Yes it was, a woman). That is down to correct training. Good position on the bike and correct pedal stroke. We train on the Wattbike so it is of the utmost to inform the riders how to use these bikes correctly to get the best results. The information at hand here, on this site, I use to reiterate past teaching sessions. I am even thinking about doing a quiz regarding this and other teachings we get from this site.

    1. Hi Joy, I would love to know where your studio is in Australia. are you Melbourne based? Would love to do a class with a fellow ICA member….glad to hear it is going great.
      I love this book and so glad you mentioned it. It is a key read for some of the big cycling coaches around my part of town in Melbourne too and is the book they recommend for anyone starting to use power for training. My friend is starting training for the summer road championships in 6 months and all her training will be based on this. Only today discussed with her getting our riding group to really start to understand how we are riding, training etc. I can access the amazing IC7 bikes at my club and would love to get them into a session to set their FTW and then train around it. we all have Kickrs so have ability to do sessions in the high ranges then long slow rides in 1 and 2. All I do is teach to power now in my class. In many ways it has ruined my attachement to music and pedalling because I am looking for specific outcomes and thresholds for set amounts of time….its more training drill based then the cycle class “experience”. Great article …more please!

      1. Hi Imogen, I am based in NSW near Port Macquarie.
        I qualified as an instructor under Donna Ellerton of Cycle Excel (thoroughly recommend her). You may like to take a look at Endurance Films as a training tool. I use these in my studio and the members appreciate the visual aid and training that comes while you ride. Using tools such as these help to reinforce what you have taught prior. (After all who takes it all in first time around). I get what you are saying regards music etc. and agree. I also am a huge fan of Spinnervals Training DVD’s have been using them for years. My husband certainly noticed the difference in my performance when I began using these when we lived in the UK. Give me a ring sometime 0435147817 🙂

  2. I am so encouraged by the information we get from this site. Many thanks for the education and commitment you have to keeping us on top of our game. I opened my Spin Cycle Studio in Australia March 2015. I am 52 years of age, love every day doing what I am passionate about, not just riding but being an inspiration to others. If I am helping others take the reigns back in their health and that of their families I believe I have achieved a great thing. A HUGE thank you for being a part of this bigger picture, after all we are NOT ALONE in the race of life.

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