Determining your training thresholds

Science2Move Trainingsschema's voor Wielrenners

Determining your training thresholds

One of the best (read: accurate) ways to determine your training thresholds is to visit a laboratory with expensive equipment, just like ours (De Vitaliteitspraktijk & Science2Move). You will execute an exercise test until exhaustion with a mask on your face, we will analyse the data that comes out of this test, and you will be heading home with a few values and some training tips or a complete training plan from us.

Since the thresholds are an indicator of fitness, they will change rapidly with training. Because you will have to push your body each time to keep adapting to the training, the threshold-values should be updated regularly. As your threshold goes up, the initially estimated value might not be appropriate to determine your training zones any longer. Ignoring this fact might therefore result in undertraining. The second-last thing your want (only overtraining might actually be worse), is to get to a race and realizing that your training didn’t suffice. That is why Joe Friel (author of “The Cyclist’s Training Bible”) recommends testing your threshold as often as every three to four weeks.

Although you’re most certainly welcome to our lab every three to four weeks, we get that it might be a bit too expensive. Therefore, before you get the idea that this is a really profitable marketing trick, we will provide you with a short test that will estimate your training threshold.

Lab vs. self-testing

At the beginning of the season, we accurately test your training threshold for you. During the season, we will schedule one more appointment with you for a follow-up at a key moment for your season. Of course, we will do this in consultation with you. When do you think you need a new accurate reference point?  This might for example be a few weeks from your main race: is your training still up-to-date, or should we make some last adjustments?

During the rest of your training program you can use the following test:

The second threshold test

The second threshold test, also known as the Functional Threshold test, can be used to provide you with the values needed to (re-)set your training zones. Most self-tests require a power meter to accurately determine performance indicators. Luckily for you, this test can be performed with either a heart rate monitor, or a power meter (or both of course)!

When should I do the test?

As mentioned before, it is recommended to perform the test regularly. Up to every three or four weeks. Since you want accurate values, you should not perform the test after a really hard week of exercise. This would probably result in a lower value than the actual one! Therefore, it is recommended to perform the test after a few (3-5) rest and recovery days. You will start the test fresh and will be able to give it your true best.

Where should I do the test?

Perform the test at a nice long and quiet road with no interruptions. You will perform an all-out test, so you don’t want to stop for a traffic light or get stuck behind other traffic. Take a road that won’t have any traffic lights and of which you know that you won’t get interrupted! The road should be approximately 8-16 km long, dependent on your estimated speed during the test. When you’re a fast rider, you will need less road. When you’re not that fast (yet), you may want to choose a road with some more length.

Take a flat route or a route that is slightly uphill (3%). Still, you are part of traffic when performing this test outside. Never ride with your head faced down! Keep paying attention to your environment, safety first of course! An alternative would be to perform the test on an indoor trainer. Perform the test as consistent as possible: use the same road, at approximately at the same time and use same preparation each time. Only then will the values be comparable!

What will I test?

The test that we will describe in the next paragraph estimates the Functional Threshold Power. As mentioned in earlier blogs, the FTP is the maximal mean power that one can maintain for approximately one hour. Although there is still some debate, this may be a good indicator of the second threshold. We recommend you to test your threshold at a lab once in a while for accurate values, but the second threshold test may actually give a reasonable estimate of your second threshold to quickly determine if you are still making progress.

How do I perform the test myself?

The FTP is the maximal mean power that one can maintain for approximately one hour”. In other words; the test is nothing more than a one-hour Time Trial. Before we scare you off, there is an alternative. Since a one-hour TT is extremely difficult and only few people can motivate themselves to complete such strenuous test, they came up with a simplified test. Instead of riding a simulated Time Trial against yourself for one hour, you have to do exactly the same thing for ‘just’ 20 minutes. Still not an easy task, however, a fair compromise.

A good warm-up is necessary. After all, you’ll have to ride an all-out Time Trial. Ride like you will ride a competitive 20-minute TT. Just like a real TT in competition, you shouldn’t start too hard. Divide the TT into 5-minute parts and decide after each part if you should slow down or give something extra. Do some cool-down exercises afterwards.

How do I get my values?

As mentioned previously, you can use either a heart rate monitor to estimate your Functional Threshold Heart Rate (FTHR), or a power meter to estimate your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Analyse only the 20-minute TT and just take the average power or average heart rate during these 20 minutes. Subtract 5% and.. that’s it! This will provide you with an estimate of your FTHR and/or FTP, which you might use to (re-)set your training zones!

Want to know your own VO2max or Lactate Threshold? Or do you need help with your training? Let us know via or have a look at

Friel J. The Cyclist’s Training Bible. 5 ed: VeloPress; 2018.