What is FTP and why is it important?

A band showing brand colours of CicloZone, an indoor cycling app

Functional Threshold Power is the mystical level of power output that forms the basis of any training session for any knowledgable cyclist anywhere in the world.

In 1989, Dr Andrew Coggan and Hunter Allen devised a training method for cycling that is still adhered to today. Although methods of power testing and benefits of cadence/RPM values have influenced these principles, the fact they are based around the way the human body produces KiloJoules of energy means this training ideology is kind of set in stone for anyone interested in using a bike to become fitter, stronger & healthier.

Energy systems

The human body creates power by utilising the function of its three energy systems: Aerobic, Lactate and Anaerobic. Understanding the way these systems create their power and their limits gives an individual the knowhow to improve these energy systems and become a more powerful human being.

The Aerobic energy system is engaged at low intensity exercise levels and uses solely oxygen to create energy without the production of lactic acid.

As you start to work harder, the body starts to burn glycogen in the form of calories as you begin to activate your lactate energy system. The body still uses oxygen, as the aerobic system starts to function at a much higher level, but now the body is using much more muscle mass. The bi-product of this is the creation of lactic acid which the circulatory system removes from the muscles in the blood, as the blood delivers the oxygen back into the muscle tissue.

As we work even harder, we will eventually reach a point at which the activity requires more oxygen than your body can supply with its current aerobic capacity and it also is producing more lactic acid than the body can remove.  At this point you have reached your lactate threshold level.

Beyond this we enter the fabled ‘red zone’ or ‘V02 max’, where we continue to work for a limited amount of time at oxygen deficit. Beyond this we find our third energy system, our Anaerobic energy system, where the body produces its power not with oxygen, but by a chemical reaction in the muscles where a phosphate cell is utilised as energy from our supply of adenosine triphosphates, turning them into adenosine diphosphates. This chemical reaction produces short bursts of real explosive power, which we recover from by replenishing the phosphate from creatine phosphates found in our blood.

Most resistance training is based on Anaerobic exercise to create muscle strength and size.

Any activity spent in the ‘red zone’, above your threshold level, is generally training your body to produce more capacity from its energy systems. However, time in the red is very much limited and recovery is needed by ‘actively recovering’ at a workout intensity below your threshold level. The balance between how long you spend in the red, to how long you need to recover is the basis of becoming a cycle trainer.

Discovering your Functional Threshold Power

Fundamental to all of this though is discovering your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) level.

Everyone has one, and everyone can easily test for it. The official definition of threshold power is ‘The maximum average amount of power an individual can maintain for the period of one hour’, We don’t of course expect indoor cyclists to undergo a 60 minute test, as it is not completely necessary and also quite painful so, within the CicloZone platform, we have a short 15 minute class with a 5 minute instructed test to determine this magical power figure. From there on in, the CicloZone app will take care of everything else.

Once you have taken the FTP test, the zones you ride in during any connected ride will be personalised to your own physical ability, ensuring you work hard enough to reach your goals but equally not too hard as to work against your long term goals.

For example your red zone 5 begins at 105% of your FTP. For a good cyclist with an FTP of 300 watts, the red zone 5 would begin at 315 watts but equally a beginner may have an FTP score of 200 watts which would mean their red zone 5 would begin at 210 watts. Just because the first cyclist is producing more power, it does not mean they are working harder than the second cyclist. The red zone 5 would feel identical and have the same physiological effect on each of the riders and the benefits are the same for each also. This means riders of differing ages, abilities and gender can ride together, achieving the same results, even competing against each other on %FTP challenges.

Using FTP within CicloZone

It is important to realise that within CicloZone, your ride is your own and you compete only with yourself.

When riding together, we are a community supporting personal goals and achievements. The only barrier to achieving your goals is you…. and if you stay focused on your ride, you will always reach your goals as long as you do your best to ‘stay in the zone’

Every CicloZone workout makes sure you work at the right intensity for you for the optimum amount of time to deliver results. Download the app at the App Store or Google Play.

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