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Is FTP Really Dead?

Oli Ryan won the Chico Stage Race using his high FTP

I saw some marketing info recently that said. 'FTP is Dead'. This triggered a lot of debates on the training forums - whoa! I think it was great marketing and the coaches involved with this product are very well respected and successful. I do not have any experience with this product, but think the approach they are taking will help get many athletes more up to speed in what the top coaches have been doing for many years (probably since 1990 or longer) - basing training off of an individual's specific physiologic strengths, limiters and their goal events. Ok, so what truly is FTP anyway?

Functional Power Threshold (FTP) is defined by it's creator, Dr. Andy Coggan, as: 'the highest power that a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing for approximately 1 hour. When power exceeds FTP, fatigue will occur much sooner, whereas power just below FTP can be maintained considerably longer.'

Note that this is NOT necessarily your 1 hour power or 95% of your 20 minute power. I believe that is an important point to keep in mind as we all have different power and duration relationships as individuals.

Why is FTP important? Because it is the is the single most important physiological determinant of performance in events ranging from as short as a 3 km pursuit to as long as a 3 week stage race.

So is it dead? No, not at all, but there are more things to look at to be a successful cyclist and increase your odds of success in training. What is dead and probably should have never existed is prescribing all of your workouts based solely off of a percentage of your FTP. This method came to be because using a percentage of FTP turned out to be quite good, and still is If your FTP is set correctly, for setting power targets for lower intensity training. This successful approach leaked into using a percentage of FTP for all intervals and I think that is less than ideal. One can look at Training Peaks Workout Builder to see how much traction this approach has gained through the years (work and rest periods can be based off of a % of FTP and this limits how good this tool could be in my opinion). I think many of us have used this way of prescribing workouts and it works pretty well, but pretty well is not good enough as I want the best for athletes I work with.

My personal experience as a cyclist may help shed some light on the subject. I started racing bikes in my mid 30s after many years of playing sports I was naturally good at - football, baseball, hockey - stick and ball sports. Pretty safe to say that my physique and athletic history was not ideal for endurance sports. I hired my first coach and the first step was to figure out my FTP with blood lactate testing. My FTP was not great and my coach told me to not get my hopes up for crits because I did not have the power. True, I needed to make some improvements in FTP, but we did not look at my anaerobic and neuromuscular abilities, which were good, so I had some better than average abilities and some less if we looked at the whole picture and these things should be factored in when designing a training plan and assessing what events suited me at that time. FTP improved over the first couple of seasons with training, like it does for anyone that has not trained before, but then stalled. Sound familiar? Doing the exact same training plan as your buddy?

Fast forward several years of coaches, trial and error, education and technology and I believe one needs to look at the whole athlete when thinking about training. We have 3 energy systems and we need to understand how these systems work together and what our bodies naturally prefer. We can leverage this knowledge in our training to best meet the demands of our goal events and understand our strengths and weaknesses better. Maybe it is best to encourage one system to get weaker and another stronger for best results - sacrifice some sprint power to have a higher FTP, for example.

To best do this, I think we need to test at different durations to better understand what our bodies are capable of. That is where the common 5 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 20 minute field tests come into play as they give us insight into different energy systems as well as relative strengths and weaknesses. There are also two human performance modeling software platforms available that I believe can help us gain valuable insight and spare us the commitment of going to a lab for testing. Some top pro teams use this software and I trust in it for my athletes and my own training.

WKO4 is more advanced training software from the Training Peaks (TP) family. It uses a power duration curve model and human performance modeling to give us valuable metrics we can track - modeled FTP, FRC (anaerobic abilities), PMax (sprint ability), modeled VO2, Stamina and Time to Exhaustion. The ability to analyze training files with this software is staggering and appears to be limitless. A user can create specific charts based on what they want to look at for an athlete. it can be a little intimidating at first, but I feel very comfortable using this software after the last 2.5 years of using it.

INSCYD is another software tool I am starting to use and am excited to implement this year after learning about it over the last year or so. A standard field test yields some metrics similar to WKO4 and more. Info we get from INSCYD is FTP, VO2, Anaerobic abilities (VLaMax), FatMax (fat utilization), CarbMax (carbohydrate utilization), lactate accumulation and clearance. I find this info useful as we can make informed decisions about the benefits for an individual athlete training in a glycogen depleted state, how many grams of carbs an athlete needs for a race/workout, or what types of intervals make the most sense to improve VO2 and so on. We can also use the two systems to check against each other and track progress.

I believe we have to use our human senses and observations as well as the current technology to make informed decisions and keep our human bias out of things as much as possible. I find we can accurately establish FTP, track progress/adjust training techniques and individualize training to a higher level by using the objective data (data - power files, heart rate, software metrics) and the subjective data (sensations - fatigue, motivation, perceived effort) in conjunction with each other. At this point, I believe so much data has been collected for many years allowing the human performance modeling software to replace the need to go to a lab to "look under the hood'. Proper interpretation of the data by an educated and experienced coach is still very much needed I think. I believe in using what resources are available and accurate. That said, many studies show that the subjective data is still the most important in regards to training and I do not require my athletes to undergo INSCYD testing and I do use WKO4 for analyzing power files for all athletes.

I only work with a small number of individual athletes as I believe it is important to be able to spend the time necessary to get the best out of each of the athletes that put their trust in me. As of writing this today, I have 2 potential openings for individual coaching and there is no better time to have a coach than in the off season in my opinion. I also offer WKO4 power file analysis and historical data review for an hourly fee as well as INSCYD testing for athletes that are interested in more guidance in their training, but do not feel the need for individual coaching.

INSCYD Testing will be available through November 12, 2017 for athletes that I do not coach as individuals and the cost is $350 per test. This includes analyzing the data and one hour of one on one time to go over the results together.

Please feel free contact me if you have any questions and if you are interested in INSCYD testing, historical training review or individual coaching.

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