Advice on FTP Testing

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If you’re running a power-based training programme (such as Coach By Color) that uses percentages of Functional Threshold Power (FTP) to define training intensity then it is essential to have a periodic testing process in place. Every quarter works really nicely and gives riders an opportunity to develop physically and be rewarded (and delighted) with a new (hopefully higher) FTP number. But which test should you use and are you confident in delivering it well? Which is the best one? Let’s take a look at some of those questions below.

With a variety of FTP tests there is often confusion over which test you should use and which yields the better results. FTP tests can be fairly easily set into 2 groups, progressive ramp tests, or Critical Power (CP) tests. A ramp test (or progressive step test) is a target-based test that starts easily and gets increasingly more difficult until the target can’t be met by the rider and the rider elects to end the test. These types of tests are useful for riders who lack experience and pacing ability and I would always recommend that a newcomer to FTP testing undertake an FTP ramp test as it will allow them a learning opportunity throughout the test. Critical Power tests (or CP tests) request that the rider outputs a maximum power for a given period of time. The most commonly discussed CP test is a CP20, or 20-minute FTP tests, where a rider is asked to ride as hard as possible for a 20-minute period before applying some fairly basic mathematics to the average power output to infer an FTP. And therein lies my view on the validity of testing FTP. FTP is “the highest power that a rider can maintain for approximately 1 hour”. The only DIRECT way to test FTP is to ride (as hard as possible) for 60-minutes in a reasonably steady-state and then record the average watts for the duration as FTP. Every other test, whether it be a CP20, a 5-minute FTP test or a ramp test is an inference of FTP and can be open to influence from favoured physiological systems. Providing you compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges then any improvement in FTP (as a general benchmark) is relatively good.

So how should you choose the test that is right for you and your riders? I think that the biggest factor in choosing the right test is the timeframe available for the class and the ability of your riders. Most of your riders will be used to performing fairly hard efforts for 3-5 minutes, but they might not be able to perform that 20-minute test just yet. So, we’re going to discuss applying a 5-minute FTP within a 45-minute class and how to get the best from your riders by using the available data wisely.

First things first we have to set expectations for the ride and so the following might be useful to disclose before they start. The session will feel fairly normal in terms of structure. There will be a steady-state warm up, some accelerations, some hard efforts and some recoveries BUT there will be very little standing. Standing an be offered during “recovery” sections but there certainly won’t be any hard standing efforts. The test effort will be really tough, and 5-minutes is a long time when you’re riding as hard as you can. Prepare your riders to be mentally tough and to physically strong during that effort/

Ok, so now we’ve got to warm up. As the 5-minute test effort will be as much power as possible we’ve got to get everybody warm and all systems go before the big push.

The warm up is lengthy in preparation for the test effort and allows riders to look at the available data and learn throughout. The phases of the warm up are as follows..

Phase Time Cadence % FTP RPE
Phase 1 8-10 mins 90 RPM 50-70% FTP 3-5
Phase 2 3x1 min spin ups 1min RBI* 105 RPM 85% FTP 7
Phase 3 3-5 mins Easy spinning <40% FTP 3
Phase 4 3-5 mins 90 RPM >115% FTP 9-10
Phase 5 5 mins East spinning <40% FTP 3

*RBI = Rest between interval

During phase 4 of the warm up (hard effort) encourage riders to use their preferred cadence (80-100 RPM) and encourage them to be aware of their power output in watts throughout the effort and how that “feels” to them in terms of their ability. You might provide opportunity for them to increase resistance throughout the effort as they discover what they can do. It’s important that they understand what power output they can sustain for this time period as it will help them to ride the test effort to their best ability.

Following Phase 5 of the warm up (the recovery) it’s time for the test effort. This is going to be uncomfortable towards the end and breathless for at least a few minutes. It’ll be tough BUT if you do it right then it’s a new FTP.

Result! Now if you’re lucky enough to have an ICG indoor cycle (IC5, IC6, IC7 or IC8) then the result will be shown in the middle of the screen if you’ve used the 5-MIN FTP function which is available in “power tests” (YOU DON’T HAVE TO APPLY ANY MANUAL MATHEMATICS). If not, you’ll need to record your average watts for the 5-minute test effort by using a lap button or by recording a new workout. Understanding the average watts for the 5-minute effort is essential in inferring FTP from this test. You’ll need to take the average watts that you maintained throughout the effort and reduce this number by 15%. You can do that by multiplying the number by 0.85.

Example…

5-minute average watts = 422 Watts

422 Watts x 0.85 = 358.7 Watts

FTP = 359 Watts

Guidance and coaching is really important and will allow people to achieve their best. Think about how best to attack the test and be brave enough to challenge yourself (or your riders) with some big numbers. I’m sure you can do it.

 

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