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How to Perform an FTP Test
Today we’re going to talk about how to get your FTP, or functional threshold power, and there are at least 5 ways to estimate your FTP, a 20 minute test, 2-8 minute tests, the ramp test or 2 – Tests of 6 minutes. The last and most optimal way to do this test is very difficult, as it would be your exit within an hour. Since this would require an enormous amount of preparation, most athletes use one of these other four methods and not many people use the hour method. Functional threshold power is really how many watts you can sustain over the course of an hour. Think of it as a test of time. A time trial is ready, offering everything you have to endure the fastest time.
Now before we get into how to do it, let’s talk about why you need to do these tests and what you should be measuring during the test.
To train properly, like being in the right zones, you need to have a baseline to figure out those zones. The zones are different in intensity, from a recovery zone to what I call the synapse interval zone. By doing an FTP test, you’ll be able to use a little math to figure out what your zone ranges are.
What are we measuring? Ideally, you should measure heart rate and power, with power being the most important metric for training. Power is measured in watts and gives you an instant readout of where you are on all your rides. Heart rate can be used, but it lags and you’ll most likely start out too hard to get your heart rate where it should be and then back off when it’s too high. Your heart rate can also be affected by your training load and can sometimes be too low or too high, which could also put you in the wrong training zone. It’s good to have your heart rate so that when you power train, you can look at your baseline FTP heart rate and see or possibly predict when you need to rest a little more from the bike so your body can recover. The bottom line is that it is important to measure power and heart rate during the FTP test.
Let’s now discuss some of the different testing options mentioned above. The first is the most common is the 20-minute test. I would recommend this test for the expert and elite cyclist. More specifically, road and gravel racers, as they keep the power down consistently during their events.
The two-minute 8-minute effort test would be suitable for athletes who may be more explosive such as cyclocross and/or mountain bikers. This test would be a better representation of what is happening in their career and how they will train.
The ramp test is just as it sounds, after a warm up the power increases every minute until failure, this may be the least painful test of the bunch as it’s only hard for the last few minutes, but it’s still effective.
We can also do two 6 minute efforts. I use this test with my beginner and athletic athletes in all cycling disciplines. I can still get a good total effort number with these types of tests and not scare the athletes. I have seen great improvement with this level of athletes using this form of testing for all the skeptics.
Again, the hour test will give you a very accurate number, but pushing yourself around the threshold for an hour can definitely take its toll, and just thinking about it can make you skip it.
What should you do before taking the test? The first thing you should plan before the test is to have about 2-3 days of rest or very low intensity walks before the test to get a good result. You also shouldn’t be on the bike for a bunch of hours before the test. You want your body to be rested and ready just as you would for a big run. You also don’t want to take too much time early on when you start deconditioning. Be sure to hydrate and eat properly the day before and on the day of the test. Again, treat this test as an ‘A’ race.
Test day has arrived, hopefully you’ve prepared like a race. You will have to give everything you have, leave your body with nothing!
Before starting the test I would recommend you to do some dynamic movements. Once you jump on the bike, you should warm up for about 20 minutes to get more muscle fibers recruited and blood moving throughout your body to help prevent injury. During this warm-up, you’ll want to include 2-3 above-threshold efforts for 30-90 seconds. This will ensure that more muscle fibers are recruited and ready for that hard effort. I’ll usually do a 30-45 second effort around 7 minutes, a 45-60 second effort around 10 minutes, and a final effort around 13 minutes. After that I pedal and make sure the legs are ready to go by giving them a little jolt here and there.
Once the time comes, it’s time to give it everything you’ve got. If it’s your first time testing, you want to push, but not to start. If you feel good after a couple of minutes, start pushing harder and harder. You want to think of this test as one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. If you do it right you will bury yourself completely. On a side note, make sure you are recording your power and heart rate, you don’t want to go through the pain only to realize you didn’t record anything!
After completing the FTP test, you should pedal to recover for 15 to 30 minutes, do a recovery beat, roll and massage your legs, and then stretch well.
Once you have your test results, use the average power and heart rate to plug them into the math equations. This will mark your ranks for each particular zone. If you don’t know where to go from here, in a future article I’ll go over how to do that and look at a common area line as well as the line I use. Now get ready to take your own FTP test!
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