One of the biggest advantages of training and racing with power is that you are able to accurately gage your output allowing you to train at the proper intensity. To ensure that you are training in the appropriate “zone” you must first determine your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). FTP – The highest mean average power an athlete can sustain for one hour. Knowing your FTP allows you to set up Power Zones so that you can properly train your different physiological systems.

To determine your FTP you can simply race, or conduct a race like workout, for one hour making sure you output the highest average power possible. Because it can be quite difficult to consistently find cycling races that last exactly one hour and most athletes are unlikely to push themselves as hard in workout as they do in a race, several coaches have developed tests to accurately estimate FTP.  The test I think is most useful was developed by Andy Coggin and can be found in his book Training and Racing with a Power Meter. The test is conducted as follows:

Cycling Test to Determine Functional Threshold Power (FTP)

The goal of this test is to see how much power you can output for a substantial period of time. You will need to pace yourself so that you are able to output the highest possible average watts. It is best to do this on a Cyclops indoor cycle, trainer, or a road with a slight incline. If you are doing this outside make sure it is in a safe area without much traffic. At the end of the test we will need your average power for the 20 minute section of the workout.

10 Minute Warm-Up: Done at an easy pace
3 Fast Pedaling Efforts: Output about 100 rpm for 1 minute with a 1 minute easy recovery
5 Minutes Recovery: Done at an easy pace
5 Minutes All Out: Start at a high power output but not so high that you that your average watts decline. You should have a little left in reserve. If you have done this test before try and hold the average power you output during the last test.
10 Minutes Recovery: Done at an easy pace
20 Minute Time Trial: The goal is to output the highest possible power. It’s not a good test if you go out too hard and suddenly run out of energy. You will not produce your true maximal steady state power. If you have done this test before then you should try to hold the same average power you output during the previous test for at least the first 10 minutes. Make sure that you are riding at your maximum level the last 3 minutes. Don’t forget to press the lap or interval button after the completion of your test because it’s important that you get your average power for this 20 minute section.
10 Minute Cool-Down: Done at an easy pace

Once you have completed the test, record your Power for the 20 minute time trial.

_________ Average Power (20 minute Time Trial)

To accurately estimate your functional threshold power simply take 95% of your 20 minute average power (multiply your average power by 0.95)._________ FTP (95% of 20min average power)Now that you have your FTP you can set up your personal power training zones using the following guide (From Allen and Coggan, Training and Racing with a Power Meter).

Power Zones:

Zone 1 – Active Recovery (Less than 55% of FTP)
Easy spinning with minimal effort. Typically used for warm-ups, cool-downs and active recovery
Zone 2 – Aerobic Endurance (55% to 74% of FTP)
Low effort that typically increases with duration. This is typical LSD (long slow distance) intensity.
Zone 3 – Tempo (75% to 89% of FTP)
Moderate effort that can require concentration to maintain over longer periods of time. Typically involves rhythmic breathing.
Zone 4 – Threshold (90% to 104% of FTP)
Continuous sensation of moderate to hard effort that can be very taxing. Involves labored breathing therefore workouts are usually given in interval or repeat form.
Zone 5 – VO2 Max (105% to 120% of FTP)
Strong sensation of effort and fatigue intended to increase VO2 Max. Involves ragged breathing and short interval workouts.
Zone 6 – Anaerobic  Capacity (More than 120% of FTP)
Severe sensation of effort and fatigue. Maximal effort, short intervals are designed to increase aerobic capacity.

At Killer Tri we test each athlete and set up individual training zones to ensure that each athlete gets the maximum benefit from their training.  The goal of training is to improve power output so it is important to test often to monitor fitness and measure progression. We test our athletes about every 4 weeks.

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Written by Kyle Visin
Santa Barbara Triathlon Club President
USAT Level 1 Coach
Certified CycleOps Power Coach
Co-Founder of KillerTri 

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