What is Functional Threshold Power?

Jacked dude running in the dark

If you’ve even casually followed Crossfit, you know Rich Froning is a certified beast of ridiculous proportions. But… you may not know that a big reason the 4-time champ was so dominant is his endurance athlete-level VO2 max, which is a fancy way of saying the dude has a big ass engine with a big ass gas tank. It’s so big, in fact, that if Rich was 150lbs, we may know him not as a Crossfit legend, but as a marathon legend.

Why is VO2 max so special?

A big gas tank means one more rep when others quit. One more rep in the gym, the bedroom, the boardroom… one more rep in life.

So how do I get there?

By increasing your FTP through FTT?

What the hell is that?

Functional Threshold Training (FTT) is a type of training that helps cyclists and other endurance athletes improve their performance by increasing their functional threshold power (FTP). FTP is the highest power output you can sustain for one hour without fatigue. Improving FTP is important because it allows you to go faster for longer periods of time, which is essential for success in endurance sports. It allows YOU to get one more rep.

The FTT program consists of structured training sessions that are designed to challenge your body and force it to adapt to the demands of endurance sports. The goal is to increase your power output while maintaining the same level of effort, which translates to faster speeds and better endurance. Studies have shown that people who engage in FTT can increase their FTP by up to 20% in just a few weeks. This is because FTT works by targeting the specific energy systems that are used during endurance exercise, which allows you to increase your power output while still maintaining your endurance capacity.

Another benefit of FTT is that it is a highly efficient form of training. Because FTT sessions are designed to be intense and challenging, they can be completed in a relatively short amount of time. This is important for people who have busy schedules and may not have hours to devote to training every day.

The FTT program typically consists of structured training sessions that are designed to challenge your body in specific ways. These sessions can include interval training, tempo sessions, and endurance sessions. Interval training involves short, intense efforts followed by periods of rest, while tempo sessions involve sustained efforts at or near FTP. Endurance sessions are longer, at lower intensity that help to build endurance and aerobic capacity.

To begin an FTT program, you should first determine your current FTP. This can be done through a variety of methods, including a functional threshold power test (FTP test) or a lactate threshold test. Once you know your FTP, you can begin designing your training program.

The training program should be designed to gradually increase power output while maintaining endurance capacity. This can be done by gradually increasing the intensity and duration of the training sessions over time. It is important to note that FTT should be approached with caution, as it is a highly intense form of training that can kick your ass.

How to maximize gains after hard FTT training:

One important aspect of FTT is recovery. Because FTT sessions are designed to be intense and challenging, it is important to allow your body time to recover between sessions. This can be done through active recovery, such as walks or yoga, or through passive recovery, such as rest days or massages.

In addition to structured training sessions, FTT also involves proper nutrition. We believe a nutrient-dense, nose-to-tail diet is key to increasing your FTP efficiently.

How to test FTP on a bike:

1. Preparation:

  • Make sure your bike is properly set up and in good working condition.
  • Find a suitable location with minimal traffic and a flat or gently rolling terrain.
  • Ensure you have a cycling computer or a power meter capable of measuring and displaying your power output.

2. Warm-up:

  • Begin with a thorough warm-up of around 15-20 minutes to raise your core body temperature and prepare your muscles for the test.
  • Gradually increase the intensity during the warm-up, incorporating some short, high-intensity efforts to activate your cardiovascular system.

3. Test Protocol:

  • Choose a duration for your FTP test. The most common duration is 20 minutes, but you can opt for longer tests such as 30 minutes if you prefer.
  • Start the test from a standing start or a rolling start, depending on your preference.
  • Aim to maintain the highest average power output you can sustain for the chosen duration. Pace yourself well to avoid starting too hard and fading towards the end.
  • Focus on maintaining a steady effort throughout the test. Avoid sudden surges or slowing down excessively.
  • Monitor your power output during the test using your cycling computer or power meter. Ideally, have the display set to show average power for the duration of the effort.
  • Pay attention to your perceived exertion and heart rate as well, as these can provide additional insights into your effort level.

4. Cool-down:

  • Once the test duration is complete, gradually reduce your intensity and pedal at an easy pace for 10-15 minutes to cool down.
  • Perform some gentle stretching exercises to aid in recovery.

5. Determining FTP:

  • After completing the FTP test, take note of your average power output for the test duration.
  • To estimate your FTP, multiply your average power by a correction factor. The commonly used correction factor is 0.95 for a 20-minute test or 0.90 for a 30-minute test.
  • For example, if your average power for a 20-minute test was 250 watts, your estimated FTP would be 250 * 0.95 = 237.5 watts.

How to test FTP(ace) while running:

1. Preparation:

  • Ensure you have a reliable sports watch or heart rate monitor that can track your heart rate during exercise.
  • Find a suitable location for the test, such as a flat or gently rolling terrain, preferably free from traffic and other distractions.
  • Make sure you are well-rested and properly hydrated before the test.

2. Warm-up:

  • Begin with a warm-up jog of 10-15 minutes to increase your core body temperature and prepare your muscles for the test.
  • Incorporate some dynamic stretches and light strides to further activate your muscles.

3. Test Protocol:

  • Choose a duration for your FTPace test. A common duration is 30 minutes, but you can adjust it based on your preference and fitness level.
  • Start the test at a comfortable pace that you can sustain for the entire duration.
  • Gradually increase your effort level to a pace that feels challenging but sustainable.
  • Monitor your heart rate throughout the test using your sports watch or heart rate monitor. Aim to maintain a steady heart rate within a specific range.
  • Take note of your average heart rate during the test, as well as your perceived exertion level.
  • Pay attention to your breathing and how hard you feel you are working.

4. Cool-down:

  • Once the test duration is complete, gradually reduce your pace and jog at an easy pace for 10-15 minutes to cool down.
  • Perform some static stretching exercises to aid in recovery.

5. Determining FTPace:

  • After the test, analyze your heart rate data and note your average heart rate during the test.
  • Your FTPace is typically estimated as the pace you can sustain at approximately 85-90% of your maximum heart rate or at a perceived exertion level of around 7-8 on a scale of 1-10.
  • Use your average heart rate during the test as a reference and adjust your training paces accordingly. You can use online calculators or training apps that provide training zones based on your FTPace or heart rate data.

It's important to note that estimating FTPace using heart rate can be influenced by factors such as fatigue, temperature, hydration, and other external variables. Therefore, it's recommended to periodically retest and adjust your training zones based on your progress and current fitness level.

FTT for Beginners:

1. Establish a Baseline:

  • Before starting any training program, it's crucial to establish a baseline by performing a field test to estimate your FTP or FTPace. Follow the instructions provided earlier to conduct a field test either for cycling or running, depending on your preference.

2. Build an Aerobic Base:

  • Begin with a phase aimed at building your aerobic endurance. Focus on longer, low-intensity workouts to enhance your cardiovascular fitness and increase your time spent at an easy pace.
  • Perform 2-3 sessions per week, consisting of steady-paced runs or rides lasting 45-60 minutes.
  • Keep your heart rate or perceived exertion at a comfortable level, allowing for conversation while maintaining a consistent effort.

3. Introduce Threshold Workouts:

  • Once you have established a solid aerobic base, gradually introduce threshold workouts to improve your FTP or FTPace.
  • Start with one threshold session per week and gradually progress to two sessions as your fitness improves.
  • Threshold workouts involve maintaining an effort level just below your FTP or FTPace for a sustained duration. These workouts can consist of intervals or continuous efforts at this intensity.
  • For beginners, a sample threshold workout could be:
  • Cycling: 3 x 8 minutes at 85-90% of FTP with 4 minutes of easy spinning in between.
  • Running: 3 x 8 minutes at 85-90% of FTPace with 4 minutes of easy jogging in between.
  • Adjust the duration and intensity based on your current fitness level, aiming for a challenging but sustainable effort.

4. Gradually Increase Intensity and Volume:

  • Over time, as your fitness improves, progressively increase the intensity and volume of your threshold workouts.
  • Gradually extend the duration of your threshold intervals or increase the number of repetitions.
  • Increase the frequency of threshold sessions to two per week while maintaining at least one or two aerobic base-building sessions.

5. Include Recovery Days:

  • Ensure you incorporate recovery days in your training schedule to allow your body to rest and adapt to the training stress.
  • On these days, focus on active recovery, such as light jogging, easy cycling, or other low-impact activities that promote blood flow without causing significant fatigue.

6. Periodically Retest and Adjust:

  • Every 6-8 weeks, retest your FTP or FTPace to monitor your progress and adjust your training zones accordingly.
  • Based on your new FTP or FTPace estimate, update your training paces or power zones for more accurate and effective training.

Advanced FTT protocol:

1. Establish a Baseline:

  • Perform a thorough field test to accurately determine your current FTP or FTPace. This will serve as a baseline to set training zones and monitor progress.

2. Periodization and Training Phases:

  • Divide your training into specific phases, such as base training, build phase, and peak phase, to optimize your performance throughout the season.
  • Each phase should have a specific focus, with an emphasis on building different aspects of fitness while progressively increasing intensity.

3. Base Training:

  • Start with a base training phase aimed at developing your aerobic capacity and endurance.
  • Include long, steady-state workouts, both in terms of time and distance, to build a strong foundation.
  • Incorporate regular long runs or rides at a comfortable pace, emphasizing consistent effort and increasing volume gradually.

4. Threshold Training:

  • Integrate threshold workouts into your training plan to improve your FTP or FTPace.
  • Include workouts such as tempo runs or rides, where you sustain an effort just below your threshold pace/power for extended durations.
  • Perform threshold intervals, such as 2 x 20 minutes at 90-95% of FTP/FTPace, with a short recovery in between.
  • As your fitness improves, increase the duration and intensity of the threshold intervals.

5. Interval Training:

  • Include high-intensity interval sessions to enhance your anaerobic capacity and overall power.
  • Perform workouts such as VO2 max intervals, hill sprints, or track intervals to push your limits and improve your ability to sustain high intensities.
  • For example, include 4-6 x 3-minute intervals at intensities near your VO2 max, with short recovery intervals in between.

6. Long Endurance Sessions:

  • Incorporate longer endurance sessions with higher intensities to simulate race conditions and improve your ability to maintain a strong effort over extended durations.
  • Perform longer threshold workouts, such as 1 x 60 minutes at 85-90% of FTP/FTPace, to challenge your aerobic system and enhance your sustainable power output.

7. Recovery and Adaptation:

  • Schedule regular recovery days and weeks to allow your body to adapt to the training stress and prevent overtraining.
  • Incorporate active recovery workouts, rest days, and lighter training weeks into your training plan.
  • Utilize techniques like massage, foam rolling, stretching, and proper nutrition to aid in recovery and optimize performance.

8. Progression and Retesting:

  • Periodically retest your FTP or FTPace to track your progress and adjust training zones accordingly.
  • Use the new FTP/FTPace values to modify the intensity and duration of your workouts as you advance in your training.

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