September 2, 2021

Dynamic Threshold Power™

For the better part of the last decade, the FTP or Functional Threshold Power test has been the most widely accepted test to determine a rider’s fitness level in the sport of cycling.

The FTP test has been used as a benchmark by athletes, coaches, trainers, and even fans to determine how hard an athlete can push for one hour. This easy-to-understand test has made it easy for athletes of almost any ability level to make a direct comparison between any other rider’s power output and their own. The best part about FTP is that it’s fairly easy to complete the test, and almost anyone with an indoor or outdoor bicycle and the ability to measure watts can do it on their own, or with the help of a local coach.

While FTP has played a critical part in industry-wide training development, bridging the gap for many people between effort and power output, we’ve learned that FTP is not the be-all and end-all indicator of competitive ability for an athlete’s potential performance in the sport of cycling. Team EF Coaching felt that we needed a new tool to more effectively identify an athlete’s abilities across multiple energy systems and accounting for rider fatigue. We felt this would lead to a more accurate understanding of the complete picture of what a rider can bring to the start line on race or event day.

The truth is, cycling is a sport of fitness, pain management, fatigue resistance, and using techniques to get the most out of an athlete’s abilities. Often, at the highest level of the sport we see athletes with smaller engines winning races over athletes who may score higher on an FTP test. Results in any type of competitive scenario are almost never determined by an athlete’s ability to ride a clean-cut fresh 20-minute effort with more power than their competitors. Instead, what we’ve found is that the results of races, group rides, and fondos are almost always determined in small periods of time, usually 5 minutes or less. These short-duration, maximal efforts are the defining moments of races, and most commonly come at the end of a series of efforts that build fatigue in an athlete’s body.

Limitations of FTP:

Before we get into what we’ve created, let’s discuss the current test and some of its flaws in terms of being the singular point of measurement of an athlete’s fitness level in cycling. Many athletes feel that a 20-minute effort feels a bit one-dimensional and doesn’t really relate to the sport of cycling, leaving them a bit confused about their ability and lacking clarity on the steps that they need to take to progress in competitive scenarios. Additionally, an all-out 20-minute power test can be a bit impractical outdoors on open roads for many people. Between stop signs, traffic, and an unlimited number of potential variables that could derail a test, it can be a challenge to get a clean 20-minute section of road where an athlete can lay it all down on the pedals.

Ultimately, an FTP test leans in favor of one type of rider type. And while a rider with a great FTP score can usually perform well on time trials and longer climbs, there are other metrics that the performance directors on WorldTour teams look for. As a smaller-budget team, EF Pro Cycling is truly one of the best at identifying unique abilities that can win races, beyond what everyone else looks for. The truth is that these same abilities that we look for at the top level would be amplified in amateur levels of competition if the athletes could only hone in on exactly what they need to work on. To paint this picture for you with some visual illustration, we’ve outlined what an FTP test looks like.

As you can see, this FTP test is a little bit one-dimensional. It scores an athlete’s ability to go hard for 20 minutes under ideal circumstances. While being able to go hard for 20 minutes is certainly part of cycling at almost every level, the rider that can push the hardest for 20 minutes doesn’t just win by default. Cycling is a sport of craft and of managing stress in key situations, usually built up from a series of events that bring riders to their limits. In a professional race, the stage is often set for these key moments, usually less than 5 minutes long, when the top riders know that they’re going to have to do something special if they want to win. These relatively brief moments in a race that is 4-5 hours long can make or break the day for a rider. A twenty-minute power test won’t reflect these abilities, because it is typically done when the rider is fresh. It is far more common for fatigue to play a significant role in the outcome of a race than for fresh riders to fight it out for the win.

Here’s an example from the 2021 Tour of the Alps, where EF’s Hugh Carthy did an absolutely incredible 6.32w/kg 20-minute effort but still lost 1 minute and 30 seconds to the leaders on the day. Hugh lost time in the key section where the leaders were able to go above and beyond this threshold, create a gap, and then simply maintain the gap to the line. At the highest level of the sport, most of the top riders climb at about the same pace. The surges, and selecting moments, are what create the gaps. This is why having the ability to do an exceptional 3- or 5-minute fatigued effort is what wins races.

DTP™: A new way to assess a rider’s abilities

Introducing Dynamic Threshold Power™, Team EF Coaching’s proprietary point of measurement calculated through the DTP™ fitness test. The DTP™ test is designed to give athletes more accurate assessments of their fitness level and abilities in the sport of cycling. The DTP™ test is a series of intervals performed in sequential order designed to stimulate specific results which determine fatigue resistance, explosive ability, and overall max aerobic power. With intervals ranging from endurance work to max sprints, the Dynamic Threshold Power™ test gives a coach more information from a single test than ever before.

As you can see, early in the race the rider had to endure stochastic pace, accelerations, climbs, and surges before executing the massive five-minute effort required to make the break. Producing a high-level five-minute duration at a critical moment in the race after large kilojoules of work is what made this ride a world-class performance and laid the foundation for a race win: if you don’t make the breakaway, in most cases you can’t win the race.

At the end of the race, this same rider went on to win by executing another very high-power fatigued three-minute effort. You may be able to see that nowhere in this race is there a 20-minute effort where everything is perfect. Again, winning bike races or excelling in any competitive scenario is about being able to strategically apply big power when everyone is fatigued.

So now that you’ve seen how this DTP™ concept applies to the sport at the highest level, you may be wondering how it applies to recreational riders and amateur racers. The truth is that the results will be amplified. Professional riders are good at everything – even a sprinter can put up a pretty decent 20-minute effort – but that doesn’t mean they use it all that often to win races. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a cyclist will help you build race craft and strategy around your abilities, and to become a dynamic, multi-dimensional cyclist who can perform in different types of terrain, distances, and events. The sooner you have clarity on the plays you should be making to try to win, the sooner you’ll start winning. This clarity is exactly what the DTP™ test provides for an athlete.

The DTP™ test offers a more accurate and in-depth perspective on a rider’s fitness and abilities, as well as providing clear outlines on particular strengths and weaknesses that each athlete can work towards improving.

Our coaches use DTP™ to better assess our athletes at all levels. [Schedule a consultation](/schedule-a-free-consultation) with one of our staff members to learn how you can become a part of Team EF Coaching.