FTP Testing

FTP Testing

images courtesy of TrainerRoad

For the purpose of this I am assuming we all have a grasp of Functional Threshold Power and what it is. To establish your FTP there are several tests out there. The most popular is a 20 min test or a ramp test, of which I have completed many and only just this week took a Ramp test, so I thought I would share my experiences with you, as like everything the more you do the better estimate of your FTP can be gained.  

I recently did an FTP ramp test and the main outcome, as always was to get an accurate estimate of my FTP. After all that is what we are all after isn’t it…. Or is it?

Let us just discuss this first point (elephant in the room) of getting the highest FTP number you can for bragging rights, it is not the way to go and could also be the worse result in my opinion. Like any test it can be manipulated to skew the results for example, slowing your cadence can often assist in obtaining a higher FTP figure, sprinting towards the end trying to squeeze a last effort out can also skew things. While these will give you a higher FTP they aren’t accurate and will not help, but hinder your training. FTP is a number, and a higher number does not equal a better/stronger cyclist. The test should mimic your riding style in the real world, so you should be looking at riding the test at a similar cadence that you would ride at normally. While you might be blowing like a steam train during the test, you should still be spinning in a close range to how you ride when you’re out out 😊. 

The aim is to gain an accurate estimate of your FTP from a test that you can consistently repeat accurately to determine/monitor your improvement during your training. The key here is to carry out a test on yourself in similar repeatable test conditions, that way any increase or improvement is exactly that, an improvement in your cycling fitness and not just a skew of the test, because you sprinted the last 30 seconds.

images courtesy of TrainerRoad

Which test shall I do? The quick answer is that it is up to you, generally the most common tests are the 20 min test and the Ramp test, so here are my thoughts on them both. 

A 20 Min FTP test is a mentally challenging test, where after a warmup you then undertake a 20min all out effort where you monitor your watts. Once completed 95% of the average watts during this 20mins effort translates to your FTP. This test whilst challenging is also affected by your pacing and like I mentioned before, the more you do of them the better i.e., you get better at pacing the effort, so you are not pushing out too much at the start and fading toward the end, or conversely going to easy at the start and having something left in the tank at the end. This test can also be carried out on the road which is useful for those that do not have access to indoor trainers. Care to be taken if doing it on the open road pick a quiet road with no traffic lights on roundabouts etc. ideally you want a 20-minute section of uninterrupted road ideally with a slight incline. If you have been to us think Castells de Castells, going up not down! 

The Ramp test is a great alternative and I have to say possible my preferred test… if there is such a thing!

The test starts at a relatively low intensity and ramps up every minute by 10-20 watts, in fact it is only the last 3 minutes of the test that becomes hard. I was chatting and enjoying most of the test, having a little sing song, all is good in the world, right?? 

This gentle start does lull you into a false sense of security, for the hard work that lies ahead. It creeps up on you like a silent assassin, so you have been warned, this is both mental and physical. The minutes pile on and the effort level rises quickly and before you know it, you are into the hard effort where you need to push on and focus; where 5 seconds feel like minutes, the legs are burning, you are gasping for air, you just must tough it out until you cannot hold on anymore. Now do not think of this as a failure that you have had to quit, think of it as a destination on how far you have pushed up that ever steepening hill. WELL DONE! 

The good news is that it is over quickly and typically the test is around 16 mins and realistically it is only the last bit that gets hard. So potentially not to taxing on the body.

The beauty of this test is that it takes away the issue of pacing, so for someone that is new to FTP tests I would go for the ramp test. The ramp test is to failure where you cannot go on anymore and when you are forced to stop…. the test is over. That said and this goes back to achieving the most accurate estimate of your FTP when do you stop? Silly question you may think but for some riders the answer is “when I can’t physically turn the pedal any more of course”. 

Majority of coaches and professional people and my humble self, believe that the test is over when you can no longer maintain the power output at the cadence you would normally ride at, so if you ride at say 85rpm and you start to drop off to say 70rpm, then the test is over and you should stop, hanging on and grinding out a few more seconds, only adds in a degree of inaccuracy to the estimate and also to the repeatability next time you do a test. Once you have stopped the test; the training package you undertake the ramp test on will take the data and pop out an estimate of your FTP. For now, I shall not bore you into how it calculates it. The important thing is you have achieved an accurate estimate of your FTP. 

Now you have a number to train too and a number for the next time you joyfully do an FTP test. 

I hope this insight is useful in terms of selecting the type of test to undertake and hopefully allows you a little understanding before carrying out a test to achieve the most accurate result.