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    Michael L. Aaronson, MD
    Kidney Doctor and High Blood Pressure Specialist
    7401 O Street Lincoln, NE 68510
    Phone: 402-484-5600

    Monday, May 27, 2019

    What is FTP in Biking? How Can it be Used as a Guide to Improve Fitness?

    Dr. Aaronson bikes in Rouvy. Notice that he is riding at 80% of his FTP, functional threshold power. Read more to learn about Functional threshold power.


    After biking in Zwift for some time, I decided I wanted to maximize my fitness goals. There are so many options out there for fitness enthusiasts. Let's discuss my preferred setup to maximize fitness and minimize boredom.



    Read more: Bike Quietly and Save Space With Power Pedals. Use Biofeedback to Workout (note: this setup works with Rouvy, Zwift, and TrainerRoad).

    Most of the apps out there, whether you use ANT+ or bluetooth, iOS or Android, Mac or Windows, to connect to a stationary bicycle, prefer using power as a means of moving you forward or to achieve your training goals. Why? Power is real time and there is no delayed response. We used heart rate measurements as a method but found this takes time to respond. Also, patients on beta blockers may not be able to achieve a specific heart rate because the medicine slows them down too much. Cadence, or pedalling rate, was used in the past, but now many coaches have their favored range during a workout.  Power avoids all these issues and has become the gold standard in computer based biking. The problem with its use is the cost of entry. My suggested setup above I think is preferred for those who might have trouble sitting on a trainer, prefer a recliner based setup, and want to do this cost effectively. That said, over time if you wish, you can always upgrade or go straight to a top of the line device.

    The way most applications use power is via functional threshold power or FTP. Each individual person has their own FTP which can be thought of as the maximum average power you can ride for an hour. FTP is measured in watts.

    For perspective, an LED lightbulb requires 19 watts of energy and is equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent bulb.

    LED lightbulb requires 19 watts of energy to illuminate.
    When I started I chose an FTP of 100 watts. My results were suboptimal because my actual FTP was in fact higher. What is the solution? The best way to determine your true FTP when about to undergo a training program or just riding in general is to subject yourself to an FTP test. You want to know your actual functional threshold power. That way when you train you can bike at different levels of power based on your true, not guesstimated FTP, which will help your performance in the long run.

    Let's simplify: if your FTP is 100, your maximum power generation is 100 watts over the hour before you get tired. For training purposes you might bike at 80 watts or 50 watts.  If you are biking at 50 watts you are at 50% of your FTP. Over time as you get stronger your FTP might improve.

    What I found is I needed both scenery (Zwift and Rouvy) to avoid boredom and a great training program to improve my fitness, that is FTP score over time. TrainerRoad is one such program. Using 2 ANT+ USB stick adapters, I was able to simultaneously run Zwift or Rouvy for scenery, and TrainerRoad to know how much power I should strive to achieve minute to minute, to maximize my workout and improve my fitness.

    Run Zwift and TrainerRoad at the same time. A couple of salient points to mention here: when using this method (whether Zwift or Rouvy) up top and TrainerRoad minimized below, you follow TrainerRoad's suggestions. So even though Zwift may want you to race or to qualify for a 30 day personal record or PR, you ignore it in order to maintain in this case a target of 140 watts for 2 minutes and 35 more seconds. Note how I am 10 watts higher than suggested. I need to decrease my cadence or pedalling rate (currently at 89), or shift down. TrainerRoad gives you onscreen recommendations throughout the workout that are invaluable. Those who have used the program will know what to do here. ;-)
    Next: The left side of TrainerRoad provides you with the training you will do that day and the name of the workout you are performing above. On the right side is a magnified version, which allows for a closer look to assess how you are doing.
    For those with heart rate monitors, that information is recorded. I prefer the use of those so you don't hurt yourself. In other words, monitoring heart rate, at least for the patient population I see, does in fact matter. It may not improve your experience in the game, but you don't want your heart rate to go too high. It's still a helpful metric in my opinion. Ask your doctor for advice before starting any exercise program.
    Note that I'm riding at 25 miles per hour in Zwift. That number will change depending on the course you have chosen to ride. On the upper right side of the screen you can see that the rider is biking downhill at a gradient of minus 1.2 percent. Perhaps that's why the speed is so fast? But that's in the game. My focus for fitness using my cost effective setup is achieving in this moment 140 watts of power using TrainerRoad. If you understand this key point, you've got the must not miss teaching pearl that many spend thousands of hours and dollars trying to understand.

    TrainerRoad's onscreen coaching tips are very helpful for those who want to improve their cycling experience. In conjunction with Zwift or Rouvy, the workout is fun and is not at all boring.

    Dr. Aaronson is using Rouvy, another visual based biking program. With his FTP set at 100, he is biking at 145 watts (upper left), with an FTP of 145%, putting him in zone 6. Notice that his heart rate is 123, putting him in zone 2. His cadence is 83.
    Of interest, since I was able to sustain this FTP, the program automatically increased my FTP for me. I realized I needed a better way to "train." I wanted to ride at my sweet spot to maximize my training. I wanted to have more control over my workouts. After much research, I came across TrainerRoad.

    Why did I choose TrainerRoad over the others? It works. There is nothing to figure out. There are so many training plans to choose from! There are over 1,000 workouts that can be tailored to improve your fitness. Ignore all the science if you wish and pick the program that works for you. My suggestion: strive to achieve their recommended percentage of FTP targets throughout the workout. It is that easy. If you want more information regarding fitness, check out the TrainerRoad blog.

    In conclusion: For those of you who have decided to upgrade from the simple pedometer as a way to stay healthy using an indoor bike setup that provides power through FTP, the above information can effectively provide the tools you need to improve your fitness. You might want to consider this approach.