Functional Threshold Power – English version

A lot is being said lately about different kinds of power, muscular endurance, lactate, thresholds, VO2max, etc. These are very popular terms, mainly when talking about sports where endurance is of medium and long duration. But when it comes down to it, we are not exactly sure what to do with this information.

Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is a term most commonly used in cycling. First, it was defined as constant power needed to cycle 60 to 90 minutes (not average, but constant – a big difference!).

Cycling coaches agreed that there was no need to have a long test in order to determine the FTP and 20 minutes was enough. The WATT difference (yes, that is the most important information) is under 2%, so this can be taken into account.

Based on this test, you can use a number of different combinations for your training; the problem is you need to have a power meter and the conditions have to be the same. The numbers are close enough even without the power meter, but there are several other factors that will influence the training (cadence, power of each revolution, seated/standing position, etc.).

And since cycling is considered the most advanced sport as far as sports medicine and training systems are concerned, FTP can be applied to all sports in the same way, right?

WRONG!

In cycling, muscular endurance is of longer duration (more than 20 minutes), while in Kettlebell Lifting, muscular endurance is of medium duration, which means a big difference in FTP.

There is no power meter in Kettlebell Lifting – and there is no need for one – because the number of repetitions per minute with a certain weight can be calculated (this is our power output)!

This solves the first problem. In Kettlebell Lifting, the goal is to keep a constant pace during the whole 10-minute time period. Of course we can speed up in the last minute, IF we have enough strength left. So then, FTP in Kettlebell Lifting is measured for a 10-minute period, right?

WRONG!

10 minutes is not enough to achieve a steady state (a state where our body feels comfortable at a certain pace and our breathing is controlled), so the series has to be prolonged. To what? 20 minutes?

WRONG!

It is enough to keep the pace for 12 minutes, which a 30% increase in time with regard to the 10-minute set used in competitions. What does he mean by 30%, you may ask; my numbers must be off, right?

WRONG!

When competing, Kettlebell lifters perform for 9 minutes and then pick up the pace in the last minute. Our goal is to know our individual pace down to every detail! This includes the number of repetitions per minute, the number of breaths we take between the repetitions, the amount of time we rest in the rack position, how long we stay in lockout, when to make a short pause in each minute, and so on.

This means the test has to be 12 minutes long, and with a kettlebell that allows us to maintain the SAME pace during the entire 12-minute set (give or take one repetition, but not more than that!) and the intensity has to be just before it gets too tough. Does that sound hard?

YES! And so it is, it’s very hard. The first sign of trouble usually appears after about four minutes, the second in the seventh minute, and the third after about ten minutes. You then find that after 12 minutes you could go on and while there’s nothing wrong with making a 16- or 20-minute long set, you won’t be able to pick up the pace. If you are, the test was not done properly. 12 minutes is the right amount of time!

The average power output is obtained by dividing the number of repetitions by 12.

What does this result mean? It means we can do a 10-minute set with the same weight and the same pace anytime. ANYTIME! This is an incredibly important information, if not the most important, for you and your coach.

What can you do with this information? This brings us back to the beginning. We have the information, but we don’t know what to do with it. Train with a quicker pace? Use heavier Kettlebells? Use lighter Kettlebells and pick up the pace?

While I cannot reveal this publicly (not yet, at least), I can explain a few other things.

Apart from strength, explosiveness, technique, and muscular and cardio-vascular endurance, there is another very important element that has to be taken into account in Kettlebell Lifting, and that is something called psycho-physical stress.

This was my biggest problem, I just couldn’t handle it psychologically. When I went over my old trainings and notes, the feelings I had before and after (do you also keep notes of that?), it was clear to me that the psycho-physical stress was my greatest obstacle. I was unable to finish, not because I couldn’t handle the set, but because I knew what was coming and I knew the rest between the sets would not be long enough to recover my strength.

Does that mean I wasn’t ready? A difficult question to answer, but in that particular case I’d have to say I definitely wasn’t. A more accurate question would be: was I physically ready or psychologically ready?

The table below is a good way to answer that.

Interpretation:

* the coloured fields are the training energy zones which are our indication of the heart beat, i.e. power output;

* the training effect curve indicates which energy zone is most effective (between 85 and 90% of FTP!);

* the maximum duration curve indicates the amount of time for each energy zone. This is different for different sports. In Kettlebell Lifting, the goal is 12 minutes, so the data has to be interpreted differently (if you read the article, I’m sure you will figure out how);

* the curve you see gradually rising from the bottom left corner refers to our psycho-physical reaction to the workout. It is obvious that the more intense the training, the more tired we get and the less time we are likely to endure.

So, this “camel’s hump” I see in the middle of the graph, is this what I’m looking for? Is this the intensity I should use for my training? Isn’t that too little?

WRONG!

If it doesn’t feel intense enough, your FTP calculation is wrong.

Here’s a tip or an example of how to train that should clarify it for you. If you do TWO 8-minute sets TWICE a week with an 85% FTP, with a 4-minute rest in between, you can’t go wrong. But it has to be twice each week, with 8-minute sets every time, and you shouldn’t rest for more than 4 minutes. Even if or when it gets too easy (which will happen VERY SOON), you have to continue with the SAME weight! After four weeks, do your FTP testing again and you will be amazed at the results!

Let me just say (in terms of power output, not actual numbers) that I started to apply these principles in February and my FTP increased from 176 kg/min to 224 kg/min! Roughly this means a 25% increase in six months, which is A LOT considering I have been training for four years, while it is also true that I have greatly improved my overall physical fitness and the technique, so I don’t lose energy on unnecessary moves.

So, how well do you know your numbers?

Here’s a 12-minute set performed by one of the best Kettlebell Lifting coaches and athletes that will inspire you:

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