Getting started with FTP and Indoor Cycling

So tomorrow marks a new aspect to my career - I am starting as an indoor cycling instructor and one of the main measures I will utilise for the sessions is this little blog is to explain what it is.

As I LOVE it and think it is a great resource for training.

What is FTP?

Functional Threshold Power

FTP is determined as the maximum average power that can be sustained by the individual for one hour. This is measured in Watts. To discover your FTP you will need to do a test, in can be estimated, but ultimately a test is the only true way to find out your individual power output. There are a number of tests that can be completed and the most common is a 20min test, which offers you a result of 95% of your FTP. There are questions around its accuracy, however in general, unless you are looking for micro improvements at an elite level, it is a good test to do.... 20mins is a long time, so there are a number of other options to get an approximate number.

So why use FTP?

So much to say, but I have narrowed it down to 3 excellent reasons (in my humble opinion):

1. Progress

Like any good experiment, we need to take a measure at the start and a measure at the we can draw a helpful conclusion. From a training perspective, we want to know that the effort we are putting in, is moving us in the right direction of our goals.

FTP is a great way to track and see improvements over time. We can set ourselves a chance to re-measure our FTP at a time that sits well within our training blocks or leading to a race.

2. Zones

Ability to work in Zones...for classes this is an amazing tool. Everyone's FTP is unique and therefore it makes the experience personal. But in addition to this we can make the workouts more structured and specific to certain outcomes. It also means we can make the sessions sustainable, not always a 'total hammer-fest' but in line with the body's physiology and allow the body to adapt in a more optimal manner, both within the session and outside of it.

3. Focus

Indoor cycling can get a little mundane, especially as the days get shorter, colder and we end up inside more and more. FTP can help motivation, it means there is something to improve on, work with and design sessions around. It might be an easier to break up a session and stay focused (a bit like a swim set in a pool) vs just sitting on your bike and attempting to work through intervals alone.

Considerations when working with FTP:

- Use the recovery. When you are in a recovery section, be as determined to reduce your effort, as you are to increase it. Let the body recover, so you can get the most out of the harder pushes.

- If you are exhausted one day and decide to still ride, then choose the lower end to the zones or back off.. pushing your body when it is tired does not aid in improvement and could set you back. But, in saying that, you can still allow your FTP % to be a marker and drop down from what is being asked to still have a good session.

- Don't fixate, compare or judge your FTP to anyone else's. Power output is determined on so many aspects, weight, muscle mass, age, training history, body proportions, energy levels, emotions, physiological bio-markers and so much more. Use the measure for yourself and let your own goals lead your sessions, no one else's.

What are the Zones?

These are the typical zones utilised and this table is an excellent example of how they can be used in training. For example, when moving into the darker red colours (6 & 7), the maximum time that can be spent there is 2mins, where we can spend days in the blue zones (lifetime). So when designing sessions, timing to be in the zones can be considered, including rest to counter the efforts.

Coggan Classic Levels Example

If you haven't done a test, that is OK we can estimate it.. and if you are not working specifically on cycling goals, the estimate can be a good measure. But, if you are a cyclist and have a FTP number, utilising this in sessions could offer you a great opportunity to improve and develop it further.

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