ftp test

Your First FTP Test: What to Expect

BY PCG COACHES: HUNTER ALLEN & RICK SCHULTZ

Your first FTP test is no joke, and for many of us, the test is a skill that takes time to develop.

While we do several tests to better understand each PCG athlete, let’s not forget three crucial reasons that FTP testing with a power meter took over the cycling industry:

  • Replaces the need for professional testing in a laboratory
  • Allows for athletes to set and dial-in their own individual training zones
  • Allows athletes to understand not only where they have been, but where they are and where they are going.

There are numerous articles regarding How to Perform a FTP test, but not much on (a) prepping for or (b) what to expect from your first FTP test.

This is surprising since these are the two questions I always get from new clients.  In this short article, I will share many of the points discussed. At the end of this article, I will also include the FTP test protocol.

First, Functional Threshold Power is defined as “the highest power that a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing for approximately one hour. When power exceeds FTP, fatigue will occur much sooner, whereas power just below FTP can be maintained considerably longer.” 

There is no mention of “time” in this definition. Dr. Andrew R. Coggan and Hunter defined this back in 2002, although 60 minutes is “about” your FTP. Your FTP could be at 51 minutes, or at 59 minutes, but for simplicity’s sake, 60minutes is a great goal to push towards. This also is a goal of many cyclists, to ride less than 60minutes for a 40k time trial, and many millions of cyclists have ridden 40k TT’s.

Now, a 60-minute time trial is NOT easy, nor is it easy to find a road that is continuous even for a 30-minute out and back. You also want a road that is either flat or a gradual climb in order to minimize the reduction in power output on your downhills. It’s important that you do the test also ON the bike that you are training and competing on. So, if you are a triathlete, then do this on your Tri bike. Indoor testing is fine, but know that your numbers are your “indoor FTP” numbers, and might not be the same as outdoor! If you are racing outdoors, then you will want to do an outdoor test as well, so that your training zones and pacing numbers will be correct for outdoors.

Because of the 60-minute difficulty, Hunter came up with a “short-cut” to the 60-minute test and that’s by doing a 20-minute test. This has become very popular and is widely used around the world as the “standard” FTP Test. BUT, it’s NOT a true FTP test. It’s a short-cut. Remember this. It can however be used as a “point of triangulation” to find your true FTP. It’s very important that you do the 5-minute ALL OUT effort prior to the 20minute to help pre-fatigue your muscles and achieve a more accurate test. MOST PEOPLE FORGET THIS STEP.

Once your FTP is calculated, it is easy to determine your training zones as %FTP. A training plan can then be created based on the athlete’s goals and workouts can be created based on the %FTP value. Workouts can be either (a) created ‘manually’ or (b) via a more ‘automated method’ such as our customized TrainingPeaks structured workouts (Workout Builder) and/or Workout Creator in Zwift where the power required to perform effort is dynamically calculated based upon the athlete’s FTP.

BEFORE YOU TAKE THE TEST

Table 1: The Hunter Allen 20-minute FTP test with 5-minute blowout

You will need a power meter and a head unit to display your power and time.

Before you start the test–don’t forget to ZERO YOUR POWERMETER!

You have the option of taking the test either outdoors or indoors. We suggest that you take the test in the environment that you will do most of your training in. For example, if you are riding indoors now because it’s winter, then you need to test indoors. Once you go back outside and ride outdoors, then test outdoors! This is important because you can have different numbers inside vs. outside. Also test ON the bicycle you are training on, and if you are racing on a different bike then you really need to consider training on it exclusively as well. We have seen some triathletes that will train on their road bike, test on their road bike and then do their races in an extreme aerodynamic position on their tri bike and then wonder why their numbers are lower.

If possible, it would be great to have a coach with you! We have done virtual Zoom meetings with our clients during their testing days to help motivate and push them all the way to the finish line. On several occasions we have had athletes ready to give up with less than 5 minutes to go. With a coach by their side or on the screen motivating them, they completed the full 20-minutes and were very pleased with the results. We are convinced that if they would have done the test on their own, their numbers wouldn’t have been as high or worse, they would have quit prior to the end.

Again, be forewarned, this is a VERY HARD test.

With that said, it is important to note that you will likely need to take the FTP test 3 times. More specifically, once a week for 3 weeks. Why? Most “first-timers” push way too hard and blow up halfway through. The second time they usually hold-back too much ending up with energy left to spare. The third time is usually the charm.

Often, this is referred to as a “20-minute FTP Time Trial.” Don’t let that title fool you. This is NOT a SPEED test. This IS a POWER test. So, for this test, it’s OK to place your hands on the tops of the bars. It’s OK to sit up to allow your diaphragm to work easier getting air in and out of your lungs. In fact, sitting up is preferred. Remember, it’s NOT about SPEED, it’s ALL about consistently generating as much POWER as you can for the entire test, whether that be 60 minutes or 20 minutes. (That being said, it’s still important to be on the bike you race on)

SEE Table 1. FTP TEST PROTOCOL. For those that will be taking the FTP test for the first time, your effort is based on a scale from 1-10 of PERCEIVED LEVEL OF EFFORT where 1 is EASY and 10 is MAXIMUM+. For the second time, you will have FTP data that you can display and track to for this test.

TAKING THE FTP TEST 

After a good warm up, get yourself mentally ready, take a few deep breaths and get yourself up to speed and ready for the 5-Minute “ALL-OUT” effort. The 5-minute effort is “ALL-OUT”, meaning you start hard, go as hard as you can and in the last minute you die 1000 deaths and are producing maybe only 85% of your estimated FTP. You blow up. You explode. YOU ARE EMPTY. That’s the goal. There is no pacing. You are trying to completely empty your anaerobic work capacity (AWC) with a massive effort that destroys you. Recover for 5minutes at Level 2. THEN start your 20-minute effort. Do NOT rest for more than 5-minutes, you will recover TOO much of your AWC and that will skew your 20-minute numbers. If you are saying, “…but, but…I’ll be tired then…”. Yes, you will and that’s exactly why now your 20-minute power number minus 5% will be closer to what you can hold for an hour.

Now, after that 5-minutes at endurance pace, start your 20-minutes effort. Click the “lap” button to record the effort and ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes and 5 seconds! Yes, go 5 seconds longer than 20 minutes, this will ensure that if you do not get right up to power in the beginning of the effort, you’ll have a true 20-minutes. Remember to click the “lap” button at the end of the 20 minutes as well.   This means, that you will have to “HOLD BACK” for the first 2-3 minutes as you will invariably start too hard. PACE YOURSELF!!! Build up after that third minute and then begin pushing the limits.

When the timer gets to 20 minutes and 5 seconds, press the “lap” button and take note of your AVERAGE POWER. Since this was your best effort, your AVERAGE POWER will be your AVERAGE POWER. For a 20-minute test, take this number and multiply by 0.95 as this is generally the average (5% off) for most people and will be close to your one-hour power. Reminder: this is a “short-cut”. It’s a close approximation, it’s an estimate, it’s in the ballpark. If you really want to know your FTP, then put on your big boy/big girl pants and go for the full 60minutes.

Again, we recommend doing the FTP test 3 times (only if this is your first time ever doing the test, just until you get the hang of it) , once per week for 3 weeks. From this point on, you will create your power zones and start training as a % of FTP. But, not to worry because in 6 to 8 weeks you get to do this test all over again! The workout shown above is an actual shortcut 20-minute FTP test.

Hunter Allen is the Founder and CEO of Peaks Coaching Group. He co-authored the book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” with Dr. Andrew Coggan and Dr. Stephen McGregor and co-developed the TrainingPeaks WKO software. Rick Schultz is a PCG Certified Coach, USAC Level 2 Cycling Coach and holds multiple certifications in bike fitting.

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