Time to exhaustion podcast episode

Understanding Time To Exhaustion (TTE) And How You Can Improve This Metric

Topics Covered In This Episode:

  • What is time to exhaustion (TTE)?
  • How does TTE relate to FTP?
  • Intensive vs. extensive training and how to decide which to focus on
  • How to measure FTP and TTE

Show Links:

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform

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Episode Transcription:

Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.

Adam Pulford (00:06):

Before we get into the show. I wanted to take a few minutes to speak on the general rational of this episode. And perhaps all my episodes here are on the train right podcast. The episode you’re about to listen to is on the topic of FTP and some other interesting aspects around it. But before you start thinking, great, another episode on FTP, or why do another show about this? I want you to ask yourself a question. Do you really know everything there is to know about FTP? Because I’ll admit I don’t. I know a lot, and I’ve had success in using concepts around FTP to help athletes achieve their goals. But I don’t know everything because there’s continued evolving science from complex physiology. So I know a lot and I’m open to learning more and I hope you are too popular metrics like FTP or CTL that I covered in my previous episode, tend to get overly focused upon and or used in ways they shouldn’t relative to other metrics.

Adam Pulford (01:16):

This is usually because they’re really important to begin with. For example, FTP is probably the best determiner of an athlete’s success in a mass start race that’s over 20, 30 minutes. So naturally one would just want to increase FTP to get better. And while that’s fine, initially, there’s other things to consider along with an athlete’s journey of performance development. Additionally, our understanding as physiologists and coaches can start to evolve over time to build upon what has worked and to improve upon what hasn’t keep in mind. Physiology is a pretty new field of science relative to other things like chemistry, physics, geology, and other ologies. And it’s a, and it’s rapidly changing with better understanding of concepts using new tools, technology data, and the people investigating in new ways and doing new things to get new answers. That’s the cool part about science. It can evolve as we learn more over time.

Adam Pulford (02:25):

However, that’s the troubling part because concepts can change slightly and we need to acknowledge our bias and to have open minds, to determine if changes indeed for the better. And if it is how to change with it, science is hard because it takes a lot of work and time to ask good questions, gather data, and try to find answers using the data. And sometimes you have to admit you’re wrong only to then reformulate a better question, gather more data, and then find more answers. It’s hard on the ego. It takes diligence to do it right. And you must walk the line of being critical while being open to new ways of doing things all at the same time, always thinking you’re right, because of some past success is probably the worst way to do science, especially in, in physiology. We’re in a great time because we have a ton of data and really cool tools to verify past concepts that really work well and confirm what others need to still improve. That said we’re in a time where some of the past training concepts have evolved to become more precise when using certain tools. And it’s easy to start training without fully knowing what really, to focus on. And it can be super confusing. Thus, we’re carrying on into part two of demystifying training metrics today on the train right podcast.

Adam Pulford (03:58):

Finally, what I provide in this episode in all others is my experience over many years of coaching with some of my opinion, however much of that comes much of that knowledge comes from scientists and coaches who have done the hard work of science before me. Those people such as the network, the vast network of CTS coaches led by Chris Carmichael, the smart folks over at training peaks, whom Dr. Andy Cogan, as well as others helped pave the way there and the w K oh five team and w K oh five future works group led by Tim Cusick without these coaches and mentors. I wouldn’t know what I know today. I hope that the content I provide in this show helps you walk the line of being critical while still being open minded to new learnings. As you go about your way on your journey to optimizing your performance.

Adam Pulford (04:57):

The concept of threshold in endurance sport has been around for some time now from a laboratory setting, historically, we were able to measure things like the onsite of blood lactate accumulation and lactate threshold. Then do some training outside based on the heart rate lactate and power data from inside and retest after a certain period. And hopefully we see some progress as the sport and technology evolved, power meters became more prevalent and we could move the lab to the field and get data and feedback more quickly and precisely from, and to the athlete. Now we use terms like functional threshold power or critical power while on, on the field per se, to train more effectively because of it. Most people know that there’s nothing shocking here, but I still see Reed here and work with athletes initially, who overly focus on the number FTP, or think that we only need to increase that number in order to improve performance while I’ll admit that increasing FTP will definitely increase your performance.

Adam Pulford (06:07):

There’s more to it than just that. And there’s situations where more FTP may not always be the answer using new tools in technology. We can investigate how an athlete can improve FTP without increasing the number itself and investigate whether you should even train FTP to elicit a change. So my goal is to help explain what functional threshold power is, what it isn’t, how to train it more holistically. If I can use that word and what other metrics to look at relative to FTP in order to make sure that you’re training, right? So let let’s get into this. We’ll start with some definitions of the metrics like we normally do, then move deeper into the concepts to help demystify or more clearly show how you can use and apply these concepts to your own training. Let’s begin with actually a new term for most listeners it’s called TTE or time to exhaustion.

Adam Pulford (07:11):

TTE is the maximum duration which a power equal to FTP can be maintained. So this is a duration or how long someone can hold their FTP. Pretty simple, right? We can actually measure this using tools like w K oh five to determine based on how the athlete makes their power. Assuming that that, you know, the athlete has tested. We have good clean and consistent data, and we have, uh, some maximum values in there, uh, based on certain field test parameters that, uh, we use as coaches TTE. Again, this is the maximum duration for which a power equal to FTP can be maintained. The reason I start with that is, uh, it’s kind of <laugh> stealing ideas from, from Tim Cusick to help more clearly describe what FTP is, because I think with this duration, we can then more clearly understand what FTP is and you can see where we’re going.

Adam Pulford (08:12):

So functional threshold power FTP is the highest average power a rider can maintain in a quasi steady state manner without fatiguing. So here’s a good example of something new when working with an athlete, I no longer tell them their current FTP, but I tell them their FTP along with their TTE, because influencing both or either will increase their performance more holistically is what I like to say. And what I mean by that is we can either increase the number or we can extend the time out. I like to say when, you know, when I’m talking to big groups, or if I’m presenting on a topic like this, I like to say that there is a time period of roughly 30 to 70 minutes that an athlete can maintain FTP four. However, when you’re working with individual athlete is really good to assign that TTE along with their FTP, because it, it helps to be more descriptive of their current physiology.

Adam Pulford (09:24):

So again, as I said, my intro FTP is one of the best determiners of performance in endurance. Cycling. FTP is highly trainable. That’s why we focus on it so much. It’s a really good bang for the buck. However, FTP, isn’t just one number. It’s a range it’s plus or minus a few Watts on any given day, because you have to understand that we come, we come to the bike or we come to a training session, uh, fatigued sometimes stressed out sometimes or motivated, more motivated than normal, more caffeinated than normal. And so we have this variable, uh, kind of freshness or this, this variability of our humanity, if you will, of our athleticism and to pin down FTP to one number, you know, our, our training, as much as you probably don’t wanna admit it, your power meter is just not that accurate. Okay. There’s, there’s a lot of, um, kind of some noise that goes on in there, but for the relative, um, aspect of what we’re trying to determine, I mean, it is very precise, precise for what we needed to be FTP. Isn’t only a number, okay. I’ve already told you this. As we evolve in our thinking in our methods, FTP is a, can be better determined as a power duration. That’s a better way to think about it. And that’s what I’m trying to drive home to you right now.

Adam Pulford (10:55):

So training for performance, using FTP and TTE, why is this so important? As I said, in my intro, many people have heard FTP and they understand some concepts around it, but many focus on the number itself. They really only want to increase it. And while, you know, that’s, that’s okay initially, uh, FTP with TTE can provide that better context around the athlete’s physiology. For example, if you were to go and do a field test and determine that your FTP to be around 200 Watts, then you wanna buy an eight week training program on training peaks to get faster. If it’s a decent program, you’ll, you’ll be feeling more fit afterwards after these eight weeks, you’ll, you’ll probably go better for longer. You’ll hold up better on group rides, maybe, you know, hold up better on longer rides and you’re feeling good. Okay. So you wanna retest your FTP.

Adam Pulford (11:53):

So you go and do that and you determine that it’s only 200 Watts again. So there’s no change. There’s no performance increase. Why didn’t the program work well, based on the very limited <laugh>, uh, amount of information that we have here in this, uh, uh, great example is we don’t, we don’t have everything, but we know that you’re holding up for longer. So depending on the type of program, it could have done a number of different things, but likely it did increase your TTE without increasing your FTP. So are you gonna get sad about that? No, because you’ve actually increased your performance. You’re able to hold your FTP for longer. When I work with an athlete and determine that an FTP is high enough or perhaps their engine is maybe not as well rounded as it, as it needs to be based on all this data of FTP TTE, and some other stuff that I look at it can help me better determine what intervals to use first and how to go about it.

Adam Pulford (13:00):

TTE is nearly just as important as your FTP as your FTP, if you really wanna make performance gains, this is because knowing your TTE can help you determine how long your FTP intervals should be. If you decide that you need FTP training. One question I kind of get a lot is why is two by 20 such in effective workout? Typically what they mean by that is, uh, 20 minutes, two by 20 minutes at zone four or threshold or FTP power. And the reason why I kind of pose this question right now is because again, it’s a popular question. It’s popular, um, topic of, of podcasts, and it kind of fits with, along with this TTE. Well, for most cyclists, it, it is a pretty decent workout. Okay. Um, for many moderately trained or even beginners, uh, they’ TTE is typically between 30 and 40 minutes.

Adam Pulford (14:09):

So doing two by 20 is right around enough time and zone to properly fatigue their system or overload the aerobic glycolytic energy system, which is what the, the, the energy system that we’re influencing here. It’s enough time and zone to overload them. And with rest, they will get better. Well trained athletes need a little bit more than two by 20 something like three by 24 by 15, one by 60 minutes. Again, getting them more, more time and zone again, <affirmative> again for Mo for a well trained athlete. Perhaps our FTP is more, uh, could be anywhere between 45 and up to 75 minutes. So again, I wanna create workouts that are gonna be at, or ideally over their TTE, if I’m going to work on, uh, lengthening their TTT out or their TTE out. So again, using interval lengths that are just like, let’s say longer is going to really help us determine, um, how best to lengthen out that TTE.

Adam Pulford (15:19):

And before we get into kind of more of that, let me recap a concept that I’ve gone over in, in previous episodes before. And that’s the concept of intensive versus extensive training with intensive training. I mean, this is just a very simplistic way of thinking about training, which is why I wanna bring it up right now, but it’s very helpful in my opinion. And also in the feedback I’ve gotten from athletes to athletes, I work with as well as athletes athletes who listen to this podcast to help think about training without all the percentages in confusing numbers and whatnot. So again, let let’s ex let’s recap what intensive and extensive training is intensive training is really when we’re trying to increase a power that you can produce for a certain duration. So this is generally when we just want to increase our power. We’re talking intensive for those one and increase their FTP power.

Adam Pulford (16:23):

In particular intensive threshold training is a great way to do this. What does that look like? Typically I use workouts like four by eight minutes or four by 10 minutes at the upper end of zone four, or even low end zone five, along with a two to one work to rest ratio, meaning I’m doing, if I’m doing an eight minute interval, that’s your work period. My recovery period or rest period will be four minutes, two to one work to rest ratio. Now let’s go back for a second. When I’m talking, the upper end of zone four were like a hundred and a hundred, 5% of your FTP in the low end of your zone. Five could be, you know, 105 to 107% of your FTP. So again, this is intensive. This is meant to, to increase your lactate to really increase, um, your FTP in the end.

Adam Pulford (17:21):

But it is intense. I mean, in terms of an RPE or a rate of perceived effort on a scale of one to 10, this is eight going on nine out of 10. This is a pretty hard workout. Okay. So some other things to consider when I’m designing an intensive training workout like this is I try to keep the total work time around their current TTE or slightly under, as this will be enough to overload them on that given day. So if an athlete’s TTE is around 32 minutes, four by eight should get it done four by eight equals 32. So what I’m talking about in time and zone is simply multiplying the number of intervals by the duration of each interval to get the total time and zone for a beginner, a moderately trained athlete. It’s okay to do less time in zone than your TTE in order to produce really good power.

Adam Pulford (18:18):

So three by eight is fine, or perhaps, uh, you know, four by seven or four by six. That would probably be the six minutes would be a very on the low end of what I would consider an FTP interval to be the, the goal here, though, again, for a beginner or a moderately trained athlete is to produce really, you know, good upper power that you can maintain throughout a whole work set, but still keep it in the, in the, in the bounds of, of, uh, influ of FTP durations. Okay. Focus on high quality power, and for well-trained athletes, you know, four by 10 and four by 12 at upper end of zone four, those are great workouts to increase FTP. Once we start going longer than 15 minutes, we start to get it into, um, what I consider to be extensive training. So let’s talk about that.

Adam Pulford (19:10):

Extensive training means I want to increase the length of time that I can hold a certain power. And when we’re talking about extending TTE, this is really extensive threshold training gave some, some workouts examples on this above, but again, when I’m prescribing workouts to extend TTE, I’m starting with at least 15 or 20 minutes of interval durations, and I’m going up to 60 minutes, meaning, uh, again three by 24 by 15 one by 60. And again, I’m aiming for enough time and zone to get them over TTE, sorry, TTE for the day, assuming that they’re, you know, fresh and ready to go for greater details on this, look up the episode of how to build FTP. And I go really in depth, including, um, exam weeks of examples of, of how to do this. So again, back to my point that most people are focused on intensive in intensive being the only way to increase their FTP.

Adam Pulford (20:15):

And the example I gave about the individual who maybe, you know, had a 200 wad FTP, and they went and bought an eight week training program and their, their FTP didn’t increase after eight weeks of training, they overlooked the aspect of duration and they overlooked the, the qualitative information, perhaps of just recall that I said that they were feeling better on longer rides, um, and holding up better, say on group rides and maybe even in the Hills without looking at TTE or extensive power development, which could be, uh, any power duration occurring after this TTE. I, I look at that for my athletes too, if you’re not looking at some of these extensive powers, you’ll be missing some key aspects around training. However, if I was working with this, this athlete and we did a field test and it determined that their FTP was 200 Watts and say that their TTE was right around 35 minutes after their first field test, what I would tell them is we’re gonna focus on your TTE and we’re going to focus on extending the time that you can hold your FTP power.

Adam Pulford (21:31):

So we’re going to use intervals of longer lengths in order to, to get improve your TTE. And let’s just say that we did that. And I ex and I got their TTE out to 55 minutes. We would’ve effectively increased our TTE by about 57%. And that’s a performance increase for sure, cuz this means that the athlete can now hold their threshold power for basically over one and a half times longer than what they could before. And when we’re talking about an aerobic sport, when we’re talking about, you know, most events that our listeners are doing, I mean, it’s over two hours. So again, it’s like, uh, to being able to hold FTP for longer, you have to start thinking about this because it’s a very effective way to train. It’s a very effective way to increase performance, and it’s gonna make you a really happy athlete.

Adam Pulford (22:28):

So how to apply this to your training already gave you some workout examples, but increasing FTP or extending TTE in themselves should not be viewed as either good or bad. I want you to start to think just differently about this turning one up versus the other one, relative to what you want out of your body for performance. And also based on the demands of the event is really what you need to be concerned about. So let’s run through some examples of how this could apply. First, if we take a, a road racer, uh, or gravel racer, um, think of, you know, a master’s level, you know, cat, you know, 1, 2, 3 master’s level, um, road racer, or somebody doing, uh, a gravel event. Okay. And they’ve done a few before. Really these events are, are two to six hours in length. So again, longer, generally I want an optimized FTP and a longer TTE.

Adam Pulford (23:34):

So again, I’m not gonna skimp on FTP power and I don’t want to overlook. I don’t wanna say, oh, you just need to be, have a lower FTP. It’s not really the goal we want optimized, but we don’t, we don’t want so much that you can’t sustain that FTP power, especially when our events are very long in nature or they have long hill climbs where you’re gonna have to ride a threshold or sub-threshold for, uh, long periods of time, like, uh, like an oat route event over in Europe, for example, or something in Colorado where you have, you know, 15 mile hook climbs, you want more extensive threshold development in your training, meaning you want those three by fifteens three by twenties, those types of intervals. That’s a time period where focusing we’re focusing on that TTE is gonna be really important. So what’s an example where TTE may not be as important, okay.

Adam Pulford (24:30):

To think about this critically when doesn’t, it matter as much, if you’re a crit racer or a mountain bike racer, and your event is anywhere between 20 and maybe upwards of 90 minutes, okay. If you’re racing like a XCO Olympic format, uh, cross country, mountain bike, race, or criterium, which could be kind of anywhere between 30 and uh, 75 minutes, something like that. And even with a, <laugh> a short track racer, that could be that 20 to 30 minute duration. Anyway, you get my point, um, shorter in duration. This is where TTE may not apply as much. So generally speaking, I want the highest FTP possible. So this is where I’m gonna really do a good job on my intensive FTP training. Um, as well as some, you know, longer VO two max training. We’re not gonna get into that just yet, but that to make it overly simplistic, I want higher FTP.

Adam Pulford (25:26):

And I, I was gonna say shorter TTE. It’s not really the goal, but I don’t care about TTE in this, in this sort of situation. I just want FTP to be very high. Um, there’s some other anaerobic capacity stuff that I look at when I’m training somebody that is doing events like this. Finally, the third example that I just kind of made up is, but I make it up because I deal or I work with clients like this. And I talk to people that may not be doing events. They don’t race, but they, you know, they want to they’re, they want fitness. They want to go fast and their FTP is no longer going up. This is where I would make the argument that focusing on TTE, maybe a, this may be a good time to focus on the TTE to build more aerobic capacity.

Adam Pulford (26:17):

And I’d also probably encourage this person to do more volume and that will lay the groundwork for a higher FTP in the future. Because again, this is an aerobic sport we want, the more aerobic capacity we can get, which really comes from a lot of, uh, sub-threshold training or IE aerobic training, um, that will allow your FTP to grow. Okay. There’s, there’s a few more things going on than that, but that would be one approach to do. And that’s another application of TTE. Conversely, there’s other tools in WK, oh five that I use to determine Y FTP may not be going up. And this is a little tricky one. I’ve talked on it before, and I’ve had other guests on here where we’ve talked about it, but it’s, it’s expressing the percentage of oxygen intake at FTP relative to VO two max. And to make it simple, if you’re consuming X amount of oxygen at maximum, there’s a certain amount of oxygen that you’re taking in at FTP and these cool models and technologies that we’re using can show us where those two numbers are. And if that percentage of FTP relative to VO, two max is already super high and it can’t grow anymore because it’s kind of hitting that, that upper end. There’s no room to grow. So then you actually need more VO two work in order to raise your ceiling, so to speak in order to let that FTP grow. So it can be a number of different things based on data, and we need that data to make more intelligent decisions. Um, but that could be some scenarios where the FTP may not be going up.

Adam Pulford (28:03):

So how do you determine FTP and TTE? Well, you can buy WK oh five for yourself. Test analyze, organize your, your data and your information, and start to apply these training concepts that I’m talking about. If you’re a nerdy, self coached athlete, you like numbers, you have good clean data. And in general, you know what you’re doing with a power meter in training, this is a good way to go. Secondly, you could work with a coach that uses w K oh five, and that will, uh, help expedite your knowledge of some of these newer tools help you to get better ideas about how to train. And it’s a pretty efficient way to do it. And I would say if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably a good candidate for that. Um, so soft plug for, um, for getting a coach that uses some of these analytical tools.

Adam Pulford (28:56):

Uh, the third one I put in there do a one by 60 minute time trial, uh, little, just kind of a little joke there. I mean, a lot of people, again, I’ve, I’ve made kind of jokes about this on previous episodes, but it is a very effective way to determine how long you can go, because you’ll either go for 60 minutes and be totally gutted and stop, right. Um, or, you know, you might only make it for 45 minutes and then there will be a precipitous fall off in your power. You’re not coming back from that. That’s a pretty good way to determine TTE, okay. Without using, you know, fancy, um, tools and in gadgets and whatnot. So again, go out, test it, explore it, and decide if, then decide where that edge is for yourself.

Adam Pulford (29:46):

So what do you do next with all this information? Well, that’s up to you to decide I’m here to give you as much knowledge as I have to help you determine how best to train in your athletic pursuits with the end goal of increasing your performance. And really when it comes down to it, when you’re deciding how to do your training, you want the best tools possible. You want the best knowledge possible in order to achieve those goals. So the summary and kind of take home message is start to think differently about your training, especially if you haven’t been making some gains in a while, because I think when you approach it a little differently, you start to ask different questions and then you’re open to deploying different strategies. Variety is a spice of life, but it’s also variety is also, uh, an element or a principle of training. Meaning variety is needed in order to make progressive performance gains in. And when you do things differently, that is variety. And sometimes you just need a slight change in order to make some big improvements. Hopefully everything that I covered today, and in terms of the concept of FTP and TTE will start to get you thinking about how you can do your training differently, provide a different stimulus to your training, organize your training in a different way and get some better results out of the deal. Thanks for listening to the trainer and podcast.

Comments 7

  1. Hi Adam,

    In your article you mention 4 x 8 mins at about 105%FTP for the intensive threshold training. You suggest at least 15 or 20 minutes of interval durations and 3 to 4 of those for the extensive training but I can’t find the approximate percentage of FTP to do them at. Any thoights please?


    1. Hey Darin!
      For intensive threshold training, it’s good to aim for 100-105% of your FTP, and 4x8min, 3x10min, or 4x10min all good example workouts for that. Be sure to have at least 4min recovery between and up to 6min to ensure hitting your target power for the threshold intervals.

      For extensive threshold training, aiming for the longer 15-20 or even 30min intervals is good, but you need to adjust your power to do that. I suggest hugging the lower end of the range, or ~90-95% of FTP to get that done. If that power is unattainable for the first workout or two, simply do what you can for 15-20min, make it feel like a 7-8 out of 10 RPE and just get through it. Over time, you’ll adapt and be able to produce better power. Keep in mind on extensive threshold development, we want longer durations at threshold, not necessarily more power. Recovery times for these longer intervals should be ~6-10min in length.

      Hope that helps!
      ~Coach AP

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  3. A lot of this makes sense but isnt FTP defined as an hour ie most people test FTP using a protocol with a shorter (or surrogate) time and then apply a small % reduction to estimate what would be achieved at an hour. Also what physiological or psychological effect does TTE correspond to? I do a fairly regular 2 hour TT and have assumed the wall at 100mins is because I have depleted muscle glycogen…but (now I think about it) on a 1 hour TT I hit a wall at about 50 mins… so it just that I optimistically always set off too fast!?

    1. Hey Neil!
      Coach Adam here – great question and I love the curiosity. That’s exactly why I created this episode: to get people thinking differently about their training and start using new tools to help improve their performance. To answer your question: FTP has traditionally been defined as the highest average power a rider can do in a quasi-steady state manner before fatiguing and usually a duration of “about an hour.” This was from Andy Coggan using 40k TT data and having strong correlations between Lactate Threshold in a lab and this “about an hour” steady power from the road that we now call FTP. Keeping mind, LT power in a lab is different than FTP out on the road. Over time, we started gathering better data to suggest that “about an hour” could be 30-70min, depending on athlete phenotype, fitness, current training block, etc. We can still use field testing to get at an estimate of FTP (say, 20min TT and taking 95% of this, similar to what you described above), however, this isn’t as good as testing all energy systems (short, medium, and longer durations field tests) and then using tools to determine TTE at FTP vs just knowing an FTP and guessing how long one can hold it. My point in the podcast is that we are in interesting times now with new metrics and athletes need to understand how we’ve made progress and start using these new metrics to train better. Here’s a link where you can read even more about TTE and how it relates to the evolution to how we got here:


      Finally, in your 2hr and 1hr TT descriptions above, pacing is huge in both of these scenarios. You will need to pace below FTP for the 2hr and around FTP for the 1hr. But, knowing your TTE along with FTP can not only help you in pacing for both, but in training for both. Let’s say that your FTP is ~300W and your TTE is 45min: If you paced at 300-310W for that hour and are fading at 50min, this could be the reason. And if you knew your TTE, you can then design an extensive threshold training program to help lengthen your TTE and perhaps prevent that fatigue @ the 50min mark. The same could be said for the 2hr TT, however you’d have to use slightly lower power and longer goals.

      In summary this should help us all start to think of not only “power training” but “power duration training” to be most effective in increasing performance.

      Hope that helps!
      ~Coach AP

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