The 20-minute test is NOT YOUR FTP!

by Hunter Allen

Conducting an FTP test isn’t merely a measure of sheer power output; it’s a strategic protocol designed to reveal an athlete’s physiological capabilities accurately.  To truly know your FTP, then you must do a 60-minute time trial on the bike that you compete on.  This is the gold standard. The actual definition that Dr. Andrew R. Coggan and I wrote in 2002 is: The highest power a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady-state w/o fatiguing. When power exceeds FTP, fatigue will occur much sooner, whereas power just below FTP can be maintained much longer. This is roughly a 60-minute test.   A 60-minute test is not easy because it requires that you push yourself on the limit for a full hour, you must have the muscular fatigue resistance to withstand a constant power at your physiological limit, and you must be mentally prepared for the physical demands of the effort as well.   Finding a suitable course over which to do the 60-minute time trial can also be problematic, as many of us don’t have access to an hour-long steady climb or flat, safe road without stop signs or other distractions.   Therefore, I came up with a “Short-cut” to the 60-minute test.  This short cut was designed to allow the rider to get close to their 60-minute FTP number without having to do a full 60-minute effort.  It’s not perfect and is only meant as a “point of triangulation” to find your true FTP.   This test has become very common and is known as the 20-minute test.  If you decide to do this “shortcut” test, then it’s VERY important that you do the entire protocol.  Most riders will skip the initial 5-minute test that is done before the 20-minute test, and this is a mistake.  Without doing the 5-minute test, your FTP will be overestimated. 

The 20-minute “short-cut” FTP Test.

Preparation: Prior to the test, ensure adequate rest and hydration.  You should do your test at the end of a rest week, so that you are rested from the previous training block and will feel fresh and strong, so that you may do your best effort. Warm up thoroughly, gradually raising heart rate and preparing muscles for the impending effort. 

Warm-up: 20-30 minutes at Endurance pace.     During this part of the warm-up, do (3) x 1 minute fast pedaling drills.  These are at low wattages, but a cadence between 100-120rpm, so that you can get the muscles contracting and relaxing quickly, heating up the muscles but not taking away from their ability to produce high sustained forces.

Do a 5-minute “blow-out” effort after your warm-up.   This is a “hard as you can go” for 5-minutes.  Your power should start over your FTP (at least 115% if you kinda know what your FTP might be to begin with) and then your power should slowly fall throughout the 5-minute test, only rising in the last 30 seconds as you give it your all to the finish line.   The reason for this test is to exhaust your anaerobic work capacity. You need to reduce your anaerobic freshness, so that there is a touch of fatigue in the legs when you begin the 20-minute test.  This fatigue will ensure that your 20-minute average wattage is closer to what your actual 60-minute test might be.    Rest for only 5 minutes before you begin the 20-minute effort.

Begin the 20-minute test segment at a sustained effort level, aiming for the highest consistent power output possible within this timeframe.  DO NOT START TOO HARD!!!!  You will Maintain focus, pacing, and mental fortitude throughout and pick up your pace in the last 5-minutes.

Important tips:  1) Be sure you “calibrate or zero” your power meter before your test.   2) Ensure that your bike computer is set on “1 second recording rate” so that you capture the highest level of data.  3) Try to do this on a course which you can repeat every 8 weeks.   4) While doing your test, you will want to see:  power (3 sec. average), power (10 sec. average), cadence, heart rate on your bike computer screen.   

7 thoughts on “The 20-minute test is NOT YOUR FTP!

  1. No offence, but I really think that J. Friel 30 min FTP test protocol gives mostly much better results – at least for masters age group 🙂
    1. Warmup 20-30 min
    2. Time trial for 30 min, paced at max effort.
    3. Cool down.
    The average power for the entire 30 minutes is an approximation of your FTP.

    • None Taken. For many with a high Anaerobic Capacity, even 30 minutes, the number will be skewed high compared to their 60 minutes true FTP, especially if you don’t subtract the 5%. So, as long as you have a low AC, then go for it.

  2. Just to be clear – my understanding is that it’s necessary to deduct 5% from the 20min average power to arrive at FTP. Or does this ‘blow-out’ effort mean that there is no need under this protocol to deduct the 5%?

  3. NOTE: Most ‘first timers’ will go out too hard the first attempt. If this happens, STOP the test. Second attempt they go too soft. It’s the third attempt that they get it right.

  4. In the second sentence you say “To truly know your FTP, then you must do a 60-minute time trial on your mountain bike”. Why on a mountain bike? Particularly when you then say “finding a suitable course over which to do the 60-minute time trial can also be problematic, as many of us don’t have access to an hour-long steady climb or flat, safe road without stop signs or other distractions” A mountain bike on a flat road road course, why?

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