FTP is short for Functional Threshold Power and is the maximum amount of watts a rider can make for one hour. FTP Testing is simple to perform with a 20 minute field test. FTP Testing will determine your wattage and heart rate zones and serve as a benchmark to measure improvement. This training tip describes FTP Testing using a 20 minute field test.
How Do I Conduct a Field Test?
In essence, a 20 minute power based field test is riding as fast and as hard as you can for exactly 20 minutes. Just like a 20 minute time trial. Record your average power output and use that number as a benchmark and to determine your wattage based zones*. When available we’ll recommend a steady grade hill free of stop signs, descents and any section of road that requires the athlete to stop pedaling. Ideally a 2-3% steady grade hill like this Strava segment. Steeper climbs tend to bog athletes’ cadence down which skews the test results. Conversely, some athletes make greater power uphill than they can on the flats. Whichever you choose, it is absolutely imperative that you ensure your test is repeatable, accurate and reliable. Apples to apples.
Here’s how: For the road cyclist and mountain biker an all out effort similar to your time trial pace of 20 minutes elicits a physiological response that has been found to be “the single greatest determinant of cycling performance in mass start cycling events” (1). We have experimented with 60 minute FTP testing and honestly not that many athletes can sustain that sort of mental effort for the full 60 minutes. If they can its a mental match we don’t want to burn. On the other hand if we know the athlete can do a 60 minute field test once a year, it is the coaches discretion to prescribe one. It is especially beneficial to compare 60 minute field test data to ~ 60 minute 40k time trial data.
When choosing the roads for your FTP testing let the terrain you have available dictate the specifics of your test (working within the 20 min range). After all, going for it from the bottom of a climb all the way to the top is more stimulating than working off your stopwatch. It may even be specific to your target event(s). For instance, a climber targeting a race with a decisive climb will want to specifically perform their test on a climb similar to the one found in the race. Heck, if you live nearby the race course, test on the race course! Conversely you may not even see a climb longer than one or two minutes where you live. That’s cool; then find a stretch of road to measure how far you can ride in 20 minutes. If this is the case, pay special attention to the wind and humidity which will affect your aerodynamics and thus time. As long as you come back to the very same piece of road and start from the very same spot, under the same test conditions, your test will be repeatable.
*We take the average 20 minute power and subtract 5 – 10% to arrive at an athlete’s 60 minute “Functional Threshold Power” or FTP. As a generally rule of thumb we use 5% for slow twitch aerobic athletes and 10% for athletes that have a well developed anaerobic system. We’ll subtract 7.5% for athletes that have good endurance and anaerobic power.
Here’s the power, heart rate and GPS dat from a well executed FTP test:
Whatever you have nearby, find a stretch of road free of stops signs, intersections and corners — anything that would slow you down. In essence: go as hard as you can! Don’t hold back one bit, go for it! Now here’s the catch: remember everything about this test and duplicate it for your next test.
Being able to compare FTP tests and controlling for all other variables except your physiology or fitness allows you and your coach to interpret the efficacy of your training. These details may seem picky but are necessary to draw accurate comparisons.
Using your FTP Testing Results to Set Your Zones:
Take your 20 minute Power and enter that into TrainingPeaks as Coach Jake demonstrates here:
Your FTP Test Results tell you if your Training is Working or Not
Test your FTP at the beginning of your training and then again after 8-12 weeks to measure your improvement. If your power goes up, guess what? Your training is working, keep going! If your power goes down or stays the same, guess what? Your training is not working and you need to change what you are doing. Its as simple as that.
Nearly of our Six Week $49 Training Plans have FTP Testing in a simple, effective and affordable training calendar that’s easy to follow so you can measure how much faster you’ve become!
FTP Testing: not once, but twice, or more
If you have a new powermeter or are beginning a training program, perform a “baseline” fFTP test for two reasons:
• To determine your wattage based training zones
• To establish a benchmark to measure future improvement
For a good FTP test ‘performance’, approach the day with a minimum of 24 hours rest and go absolutely as hard as you can during the test. If you don’t, the results will be inconclusive. Record the average power and continue with your next training cycle. Come back to the very same field test in 6-8 weeks under the same rested conditions and go for it again. By comparing the two average power outputs, you will be able to draw useful conclusions about your training. i.e. is it working? Test periodically throughout the year (we recommend no more than 3 times*) and carefully record your results in your training log. This will paint a big picture that is extremely useful when plotting out your next move and planning your next winning season.
Regular testing is THE BEST way to track performance and we do not recommend using mean maximal, mFTP or power profile charts that cull non “as hard as you can go” power outputs. By performing 20 minute FTP tests, you’ll also be able to compare this data with race data. For example, time trials where you went as hard as you could for 20 minutes or breakaways and long climbs.
• Go as hard as you can for the full 20 minutes
• Upload your data and analyze the average power output
• Make sure the FTP test is 100% repeatable to eliminate all variables except your average power output improvement
• For indoor 20 minutes tests, see our indoor cycling 20 minute tip
Finally, testing yourself is a great start, but remember the ultimate measure of performance is performance itself. So get out there in a race, go hard, and duke it out! For further reading, please read the “Determining Threshold Power” training tip on VeloNews.
E.F. Coyle, A.R. Coggan, M.K. Hopper and T.J. Walters, “Determinants of endurance in well-trained cyclists.” J Appl. Physiol 64:2622-2630, 1988
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