FTP Testing for Cycling
We all need to test, read below and find out why!
FINDING AEROBIC THRESHOLD-AKA the dreaded FTP TEST
2019 season is officially here! Ready or not, if you have athletic goals for yourself this year, the time for action is now! EVOQ athletes are well into their strength program and low level endurance training is about to become more specific. When basic aerobic development is a priority, the need for very specific testing of Lactate Threshold isn’t that critical. However, as the winter gets colder, and trainer rides become a realty, if you want to do any sweet spot, tempo, OR polarized training, it’s critical to get more specific data, so you know precisely how much you are really demanding of your body in each session. Coaches refer to this as a training dose, and if you are a power user, think TSS/hour and Intensity Factor
WHY TO TEST
Adaptation is dependent on the quantity and quality of a training stimulus. What I mean by this is every different type of effort at a set intensity, will have a unique effect on how quickly or slowly the body will respond to the training session, and what/if any adaptation will occur.
A simple example of 2 athletes: both “think” their ftp is somewhere in the 290-300 range. One athlete is planning on testing, and the other will just estimate.
Athlete 1 sets out to do an EXTENSIVE sweet spot block over the course of 2 weeks. They want that 300 ftp so they just use 300 as their benchmark for sweet spot. Since this is a pretty aggressive block, we choose to use a relatively conservative 92%of ftp for their SS zones, which gives the target of 272 watts for each effort. Every workout should be designed to extend the amount of time working at the desired intensity NOT increase the power. The plan would be something like this:
Well the the first workout is fine, and maybe even the second goes pretty well, but by the 3rd effort on Sunday you feel trashed. You cant get your legs to do the work and you turn for home early with only a couple 20’ sections BELOW target. RED FLAG! This means their estimated threshold was just a bit too high, and their aerobic conditioning wasn’t quite where they thought it was AKA WRONG FTP
Athlete 2 is coached by <shameless plug> EVOQ, and does their true aerobic test before beginning the same block of sweet spot. Well, to their surprise and initial disappointment, their ftp is actually 270, not 300.
Coach: “AWESOME WORK! Now we know and have some great data to use as a benchmark going forward!
Athlete 2: “I MISSED MY TARGET I MUST BE SLOW!”
Coach: “YOU ARE FINE. STAY THE COURSE!”
After talking this HYPER MOTIVATED athlete off the edge he sets out to accomplish the same program, at a nice round 250 watts. It’s hard, but they gets through the entire thing, and even sneaks out a couple extra minutes on the 1×90’ day! AWESOME! Coach is very pleased, the athlete feels good, and can FEEL they are getting stronger, because they did!
Athlete 1 over the course of 2 weeks got somewhere in the range of 2.5 hours at threshold before cracking, while Athlete 2 got MORE THAN 6 HOURS OF QUALITY WORK! When you think about it like this it seems pretty obvious why Athlete 2 is going to see more gains from their 2 weeks of training, they got more than 2x as much work done!
I believe this happens all too frequently with racers. Guys will overestimate their real aerobic condition for the sake of ego and have been doing threshold workouts this entire time just wearing themselves down by working SLIGHTLY too hard. 5% off doesn’t sound like too much, but you could be setting yourself up for a winter meltdown! Yea you will most likely get a little bit better if you are working a bit harder than you are supposed to, but IT’S NOT SUSTAINABLE, and that’s the point.
It really benefits an athlete to check the ego at the door and work at a range that make sense for YOU at the time.
WHEN TO TEST
From my experience, the most accurate answer would be IT DEPENDS. I say this a lot because I really believe in taking an individualistic approach to each athlete depending on the nearly endless number of variables that could influence a rider’s performance over a full season, however for me, typically there are 3 times a season that formal testing is very beneficial.
1) . After season break and 6-8 weeks of general “baseline” fitness building
After a break in training, 6-8 weeks general fitness building is a great place to start to set a baseline. This is a great time of year for athletes to take some ownership over their riding schedule. It’s important to still get 4 sessions on the bike a week, but there can be a lot of flexibility in the content of training this time of year. I like to tell my athletes this is the time of year to make mental “motivation deposits” into the fitness account. There will no doubt be times in the important part of the season that the critical training session will NOT be any fun. You might want to skip it, or move it to a different day, but if you have built up some mental durability by being less regimented when there are no races or performance specific targets in the near future you will be able to tell yourself to HTFU an get the work done with less stress.
A second benefit to to programming a test this time of year comes with the impending season change. Since the days are short and cold, most of us will be spending a significant amount of time on the Trainer. Riding a trainer uses slightly different pedal stroke and without the natural cooling effects of riding outdoors through the wind, 99 percent of athletes will have a different aerobic threshold inside than outside. If an athlete is going to be spending any significant duration of time riding indoors, their test should be performed on the trainer.
2) AFTER 12-16 weeks of winter Base/Build/Weights
You need to see where your hard work has gotten you! Between 2-4 months of aerobic base building has been a staple in the diet of cyclist for a long time. You build biological durability during these times, and hopefully have also been working on your core strength, stronglifts, and erector spinae muscles off the bike!
The past few seasons, I have experimented with HIIT/polarized and sweet spot approach for aerobic improvement and with the right cocktail of work/rest intensity, I’ve found both to be effective, but the bottom line is IT DEPENDS on the individual, and the types of focus they find to be the most valuable in their training. If this is your First offseason,
This is my favorite time of year to test because you don’t have any season fatigue in your mind or legs, and it really tells the tale of the details of your off season program. How good was the work you actually put in? Did you get the time riding? Did you really get enough PROPER ENDURANCE RIDES ? How many elements of recovery did you address? Sleep, Supplementation, Carbohydrate intake?
3) When there is a drastic temperature/altitude change, OR after a mid season break/detrain period
Spring and early summer campaign has been a success, and you have reached your mid season break! If you have been racing and training consistently your fitness has evolved significantly. I find that a 1:1 ratio of days during your break should be used to get the body used to riding again. So let’s say you take a 7 day break, with 1-2 easy rides throughout this period, you should allow 7 days of work and then do a fitness test, or race where you have an opportunity to really go for it for the full hour(more on this soon). Similarly with your winter baseline test, the conditions will have changed quite a bit between january and june. Most parts of the country have seen 40-50 degree temperature upswing, or perhaps you are now doing a block of races/training at altitude.
These conditions are not to be underestimated! Our body’s spend the majority of our calories burned actually just trying to dissipate the heat that builds up in our muscles when we are working at 100 percent capacity(ftp) The same reason your legs feel amazing when you do a ride on that random 50 degree day, is the reason you feel like garbage when it’s 95 degrees.
Again the point of testing is not to get the biggest number possible, but merely to understand the kind of fatigue dose you are asking your body to recover from. More precise dose= more consistent result.
A COUPLE NOTES
If an athlete is racing consistently you can pull data from racing to do minor zone tweaks between these 3 season tests as fitness evolves. It’s overkill to think you need to test every 6 weeks as long as there are solid 100% efforts scattered throughout the athlete’s training diet.
WKO4 has a lot of really cool tools you can use even if you are new to training science that will help you zero in on what intervals would be best suited to your physiology and between tests would be a great time to play with these tools.
Lastely, if an athlete is off target for efforts even inconsistently and you have good current data in respect to their aerobic threshold, I would argue the work/rest ratio for the given athlete at a given time of year has not been properly dialed, and it would be good to keep trying new patterns of work/rest. I find this especially important for people who are relatively new to training consistently.
HOW TO PROPERLY EXECUTE A TEST
THIS IS SOMETHING 90% OF COACHES AND ATHLETES GET WRONG. Cyclists don’t really realize how lucky we are to have such precise tool of measuring workload with the power meter, but it only works if you use it correctly. In an effort to make testing easier, there have been a number of ways exercise scientists, coaches, and athletes have devised to try and create foolproof test. 20’ test, 30’ test, 2x 8’ test, the list goes on.
To be honest, some of these tests WILL get the same result for SOME athletes, but there are more people who fall outside than inside this and I have not found it to be the norm. All arounders, sprintes, or anyone that has any bit of anaerobic power contribution (AKA most of us because otherwise we would be Professional athletes) will have skewed results, or at least inconsistent results with these other ways of testing. It’s amazing how the legs can fall apart in the last 15’ of a test longer than 30 minutes.
If you really want to do a shorter test, ok fine, I dont recommend it but it’s better to underestimate, and pick a power that you KNOW FOR SURE you can do for 60’. There will be plenty of opportunities throughout the year to do drool inducing soul crushing hard workouts that leave you gutted and feeling empty inside. Actually from our experience an hour test is EASIER than a short 20/30’ test if you do it correctly!
SUCK IT UP AND RIDE HARD FOR AN HOUR
I let newer guys test for 45’ if it’s their first time, but otherwise, it’s 60’. Now this doesn’t mean you have to peg it like it’s the World Championship TT right out of the gate! In fact, it’s advisable to finish strong. I start around 90-95 percent for the first 20’ and try to finish by going harder and harder until the hour mark. The result of the best 55 or 60’ will be as accurate as you could possibly get without going into a lab.
Hour testing isn’t going to kill you, and in fact it will do the opposite. If you properly plan and execute a solid hour effort your racing and training ability will thank you. This kind of effort builds mental fortitude, as well as a mega training stimulus for your program, whatever time of year.
I would love to offer 2 different FREE 1 week TESTING PROTOCOLS! One for a sweet spot style of training, and another for the Polarized approach. Get in touch with me and I will send them your way. No strings attached!
Accuracy is the name of the game. IF you want to be the FASTEST version of yourself, dont estimate when you can test! A PROPER aerobic test for 60’ roughly 3 times a year at the season turning points will help you really zero in, and training will be MUCH more effective and SUSTAINABLE than if you are estimating based of what you HOPE your FTP is!
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MY PERSONAL REST WEEK TEST PROTOCOL FOR SWEET SPOT OR POLARIZED TRAINING, FILL OUT THE FORM BELOW AND I WILL GIVE IT TO YOU FOR FREE!
I love talking about training, and if you found any of this info helpful, let me know! If you want to offer a different perspective I would love to hear that too. After all, there is more than 1 way to feed a cat.