One of the most satisfying things as a cyclist is watching your progress develop, especially in the beginning. While that first climb may have left you dry-retching onto your cycling shoes, almost inevitably, you'll celebrate those longer and more intensive early rides by planning your next one. And then, the next one after that.
But assessing each ride based on how it made you feel physically or mentally isn't always the best indicator of progress, especially for outdoor cyclists. On any given day, outdoor riders must contend with environmental variables like weather and terrain. One day, they might finish more exhausted than usual or have taken longer than intended to complete their set route. It's easy to chalk this up as a bad ride because sometimes it is. These things happen. But what if a headwind made them work harder and drive more power into the pedals? That extra exhaustion could just indicate additional effort, meaning their lousy ride may actually have been one of their better ones.
The reverse is also true. An indoor cyclist might feel as if they've smashed their workout when the reality is that their instructor dialled down digital resistance or failed to push the class as hard as usual.
The problem is that judging your own effort is often subjective, lacking the consistent accuracy required to build out or adjust training plans. Getting a good read on your current fitness and performance is vital for documenting progression.
And this is where your functional threshold power or FTP comes in.
What is FTP?
Functional Threshold Power or FTP is a performance metric that calculates the amount of power a rider can sustain in watts for one hour. FTP also relates to the size and weight of individual riders. Road Biker explains, 'a bigger rider can put out more watts than a smaller rider, but that doesn't mean he's riding any faster'. It's why you'll often see FTP described as per kilogram.
There are several ways to calculate FTP. You'll need a bike and a power meter or a smart trainer. With these you can also find it by using software like Zwift. Some indoor smart bikes like the electricity-generating REGEN have built-in power meters that calculate FTP.
What's a good FTP for a beginner cyclist?
As a beginner, comparing your FTP to someone else's is understandable, but it's not as helpful as you may think. FTP is subjective, relying partly on a rider's weight.
The term beginner is also a little too loose for direct comparison because what does it mean exactly? Someone who is entirely brand-new both to exercising and cycling? Or just someone who hasn't cycled before but who already has good fitness? Or is it someone somewhere between?
The benefit of FTP for a beginner is that it provides a personal baseline of fitness, setting the marker against which you can measure future progress.
But what are some examples of FTP?
According to the Cycling Point website, beginner cyclists have an average FTP of 214 watts, with females at around 146 watts.
- David Lloyd explains this further, adding in the vital per kilogram element. An amateur cyclist will have an FTP of between 1.5 and 2.5 watts/kg, whilst more experienced cyclists could be around 3.0 – 4.5 per/kg.
- Bicycling.com says that new riders with some fitness level will be approximately 2.0. For comparison's sake, it then points out that the world's top cyclists have an FTP of around 7.0.
You can see now how comparing your FTP with someone else (even when at the same level of experience) is difficult. The above shows that there's no definitive number but that 2.0 watts/kg is roughly what most people might expect to see a beginner achieving.
If you're a beginner discouraged by your FTP, remember that you're likely to see a noticeable increase during your first year of regular training. Remember, too, that it's not necessarily about beating someone else's FTP but improving your own.
Why Beginners Shouldn't Test FTP
One interesting discussion on Reddit saw experienced riders advising beginners to spend more time in the saddle and focus on practicing road-handling skills rather than worry about FTP.
Some cyclists never measure FTP. They enjoy riding for its own sake and don't want to get bogged down in numbers and data. It's easy to get caught up in the hype, but if you're not bothered by FTP, why waste time and effort working it out when you could go for a ride instead?
If it isn't for you right now, you can always integrate FTP into your training later.
Knowing your FTP isn't necessary, especially as a beginner. Still, it can be helpful if you're a data-orientated rider looking to create or adapt a training schedule. You may not always be the greatest judge of your own performance or progress, and FTP provides a number you can aim for or aim to exceed. 2.0 watts/kg is often touted as the average FTP for beginners but don't worry if your efforts land below this because with regular training, it can go up.