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Functional Threshold, What, Thomas?

These coaching notes are based around the monthly challenges and are really just a tool to be used alongside your own training. Whilst hopefully providing some guidance and an informative read we also want to inspire the Waldy community to try something new and explore the different forms of cycling and cycle training to achieve their goals. Whether those goals are strength, fitness or just fun.

A question found its way back to me after my first 'Webster's Wisdom' and hopefully I can try and address those questions below in a helpful way.

Why does effort level matter?

Most articles you read on websites on cycle coaching refer to a series of different effort measurement tools. Whether that is Perceived Effort, Heart rate or Power levels. These are really important tools for cycle coaching and training; research has shown that training in different effort levels will stimulate different responses in the body and ensure you are getting the most time efficient output for your input.

We are not all pro-riders so I know this can all sound a little serious but actually the results you can see as a casual or amateur rider, just by paying a little attention to your effort levels, can drastically improve performance, reduce recovery time and reduce the risk of overtraining and importantly undertraining.

There are three main tools available to every rider to measure effort with an increasing degree of accuracy.

Perceived Effort (PE)

Perceived effort is the most basic measurement tool. It is based on the perception of the rider so it is not very accurate as it is purely based on your perception at that point of time. Most coaching guides will say to measure out of ten, so one would be a warm up and 10 would be an all-out effort. It can easily be effected by your mood, energy levels, diet etc and so it is a good guide but it is not easy to compare relative efforts and hence not easy to see if you are getting stronger or fitter.

Heart Rate (HR)

Heart rate is a measurement of your body's respond to exercise and hence is a better measure than perceived effort. Unfortunately your heart rate can also be effected by internal and external factors such as tiredness and caffeine levels and so, again, is not always a true reflection of your effort level.


The pinnacle of measurement tools for the casual and amateur cyclist, a new power meter may set you back a cool £500 from Sigma. If, like me, you like to be a little frugal and don’t mind something a bit scuffed around the edges then you can typically pick up single-sided power meter from Ebay for around £150-200.

Power meters use a strain gauge to measure your actual effort level. They need a head unit (Wahoo, Polar or Garmin etc) to display the power readings whist you are riding. Power meters are affected by external temperature and should be calibrated before each ride (a five second job).

The benefit of power meters is that they are an actual measure of your effort and therefore are not affected by how tired you feel or how many espressos or cinnamon buns you have consumed.

It takes away the subjective nature of perceived effort and internal factors that affect heart rate.

When combined with a HR monitor you can see your heart rate vs power for similar efforts and, over time, you can see if you are getting fitter, i.e. HR numbers going down with power numbers going up.

Typically, power levels are given as a percentage of your Functional Threshold Power or %FTP. FTP is the max average power you can hold for an hour and can be estimated from a 20 mins test.

So what to use? PE, HR or Power?

The table below gives guidance for PE, HR and Power levels for each effort zone. Sometimes Level 5 and 6 are combined as level 5 or called 5a and 5b in coaching sessions. So whether you ride to PE, HR or Power you should make sure you are working in the right zone.

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