Functional Threshold Power (FTP)- What a mouthful!  Well, at least it’s a pretty cool sounding mouthful.  You may hear cyclists speak about this often.  If you’ve training by using FTP, you’re a believer.  If not, you’re missing out on one of the most influential and unknown aspects of training and output for beginner triathletes.

FTP is the maximum power output you can hold for 1 hr of effort.  It is measured in watts.  If you want an example as demonstrated in a French commercial, enjoy:

Wattage is power.  Various devices measure power output for cyclists.  Power meters can be built into the hubs of bikes, integrated into the cycling trainer, or integrated into the crank of the bicycle.  The number represents the amount of effort you are generating as evidenced by the power output.  Most would ask why speed wouldn’t be enough.  Great question!

Speed would be sufficient for effort output if all other factors were equal.  If we always rode on straight and level roads, road the exact same bikes, and had no wind to contend with or cyclists to draft off.  You may accomplish this on an indoor trainer, but the variables when on the road are very different each ride.

Power numbers take everything into account as they measure your output of effort regardless of the environment.

When I ask my athletes what is the single most influential factor in them improving their speed in a triathlon, most would point to the power meter.  I’d like to think they’d point at me as their coach, but let’s not be delusional.

One of the first tests I perform on each of my athletes, other than the VO2 test, is an FTP test.  Once I know that athlete’s FTP, I can customize my workouts for them with a combination of TrainerRoad, TrainingPeaks, and supporting videos, such as Sufferfest and Cylco-Core.  These tools give the athlete a workout which is specific to their ability and needs.  Each workout is then designed exactly for the rider and helps achieve the optimal effort for that workout.  This video, from Sufferfest, is funny and adequately describes what progress you’ll see when cycling training is tailored to your specific needs:


When working with TrainerRoad and a power meter, your output will look like this:

Trainer Road gives you the power target, you match it.  Want to try it on steroids?  Get a Wahoo Kickr.  It will adapt the power output for you seamlessly so all you need to do is pedal.  No cheating, no coasting, you buck up or drop out.

What does this all mean?  Yeah it’s complicated, but not really.  We pay thousands on bikes and gear to enhance speed.  We go on diets and spend hundreds on nutrition.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s all important, but what is most important is in your engine.  Yes YOUR ENGINE!  Build a stronger and more efficient engine and those 17 mph grueling rides will become the walk in the park efforts of the past.  You will not only easily stay with the “A Crowd,” but you’ll have them scratching their carbon fiber helmets wondering why they’re barely hanging onto your wheel during the group ride.  You’ll also spend your time in triathlons checking out the amazing bikes and, cough cough… legs as you zoom by those who may have faster swim splits or who started earlier.

When race day comes along, your coach should also give you a target FTP  for that race.  For Ironmans as an example, you should have a target wattage of 70% of your FTP.  This will help you bike efficiency without destroying your legs before the run.  It will also keep you to task and remove a lot of variability from your ride.

We could talk  more about TSS or Intensity Factor, but the numbers in the middle are the power numbers you will need to hit a certain time goal.  Those numbers also should be around 68-78% FTP, for IM distance as an example, or as outlined below for the various distances:

If this all sounds really complicated, that’s ok.  It is.  But, believe me, if you have the right tools and knowledge, and you apply them, you will get faster period.  It will also take a different type of focus and effort.

I might also add that a good coach has the experience and necessary tools to guide you along this learning curve.

Happy trails!