Today we are going to talk about how to get your FTP, or functional threshold power, and there are at least 5 ways that you can estimate your FTP, a 20 minute test, 2 – 8 minute tests, the ramp test, or 2 – 6 minute tests. The last and more optimal way to do this test is very hard as it would be your output over the course of an hour. Because that would take an enormous amount of preparation, most athletes use one of these other four methods and not very many people use the hour method. Functional Threshold Power is really how many watts you can sustain over the course of an hour. Think of it as an hour Time trial. A time trial is all out, giving everything you have to put down the fastest time.
Now before we dig into how to do these, let’s talk about why you need to do these tests and what you should be measuring during the test.
In order to train properly, as in being in the correct zones, you need to have a baseline in order to figure out these zones. Zones are different based on intensity, from a recovery zone all the way up to what I call, the synapse interval zone. By doing an FTP test you will be able to use a little math to figure out what your zone ranges are.
What are we measuring? Ideally you want to measure heart rate and power, power being the more important measurement for training. Power is measured in Watts and gives you an instant readout on where you are during all of your rides. Heart Rate can be used but it lags and will more than likely have you starting out way too hard in order to get your heart rate where it should be and then backing off when it goes too high. Heart Rate can also be affected by training load, and sometimes can hang out too low or high, which could also have you in the wrong training zone. Heart rate is good to have so that when you are training with power, you can look at your baseline FTP heart Rate and see or possibly predict when you may need to take a little more rest off the bike so your body can recover. Bottom line is that it is important to measure both power and heart rate during your FTP test.
Let’s now talk about a few of the different test options mentioned earlier. The first is the most common is the 20 minute test. I would recommend this test for the expert and elite cyclist. More specifically the road and gravel racers as they keep the power down constantly during their events.
The two 8 minute effort test would be suited for athletes that may be more explosive like cyclocross and/or mountain bikers. This test would be a better representation of what is happening in their race and for how they will be training.
The ramp test is just as is sounds, after a warm up the power increases every minute until failure, this may be the least painful test of the group since it is only hard for the last few minutes, but still effective.
We also can do two 6 minute efforts. I use this test with my beginner and sport athletes in all disciplines of cycling. I can still get a good all out effort number with this type of test and not scare the athletes away. I have seen great improvement with this level of athletes using this form of testing for all the skeptics.
Again, the hour test will give you a very accurate number, but pushing yourself for an hour around threshold can definitely take its toll, and just the thought of it can make you skip it.
What should you do before you test? The first thing you should plan on before testing is having a 2-3 days off, or very low intensity rides before the test in order to get a good result. You also should not be on the bike for a ton of hours prior to the test. You want your body to be rested and ready just as you would for a big race. You also don’t want to take too much time off before as you start de-conditioning. Make sure you hydrate and eat properly the day before and the day of the test. Again treat this test like an ‘A’ race.
Test day has arrived, hopefully you have prepared for it like you would a race. You are going to have to give everything you have, leave your body with nothing left!
Before you start the test I would recommend doing some dynamic movements. Once you jump on the bike you will need to do around a 20 minute warm up to get more muscle fibers recruited and blood moving further throughout the body to help prevent injury. During that warm up you will want to include 2 to 3 above threshold efforts for 30 to 90 seconds. This will ensure that more muscle fibers are recruited and ready for that hard effort. I usually will do a 30 to 45 second effort first around 7 minutes, a 45 to 60 second effort around 10 minutes, and a final effort around 13 minutes. After that, I pedal and make sure the legs are ready to go, giving them a little shake out here and there.
Once it’s go time, it’s time to give it everything you have. If this is your first time testing you want to push, but not all out to start. If you feel alright a couple minutes in, then start to push harder and harder. You will want to think of this test as one of the hardest things you will do. If you do it properly you will completely bury yourself. As a side note, make sure that you are recording your power and heart rate, you don’t want to put yourself through the pain only to realize you didn’t record anything!
After you finish the FTP test, you should pedal for recovery for 15 to 30 minutes, get a recovery shake in, roll and massage out your legs, and then get a good stretch in.
Once you have your tests results, use the average of your power output and heart rate to insert in the math equations. This will map out your ranges for each particular zone. If you don’t know where to go from here, In a future article I will go over how to do this and look at a common zone line up as well as the line up that I use. Now get ready to do your own FTP test!