One item that I considered putting as a goal for 2017 and decided against officially putting it on my bucket list is to hit a particular # on my FTP test. For me, that number is 200. I’m still working on that, and I imagine there are many of you who may also be working on bike power, so I want to share my FTP testing tips!
For those of you unfamiliar with bike power training, FTP stands for functional power threshold, and is a benchmark for how much power you can put out for an hour. Since doing a 1-hour maximal effort test is a lot, most training facilities usually test in a 20 minute max effort and then calculate. That’s the same way my training gym, Well-Fit, does it. Your normalized or average power output for 20 minutes is 5% more than the hour, so if you output an average of 100 watts in 20 minutes, your FTP is calculated as 95 watts.
At the start of my Ironman training in 2015, I hit 180 on my FTP and I’d love to hit that 200 mark. Remember, this is all relative to your body weight. A heavier person is always going to output more than a lighter person. So really my goal is more about maximizing my power-to-weight ratio if I’m also trying to lose weight.
So I hadn’t tested at all since before my 2015 Ironman Wisconsin, and in December I wanted to see where I was. My gym had scheduled our group FTP test to be at the end of one of those weeks where I’d had multiple weeknight holiday parties and was also getting over some food poisoning or stomach bug. Regardless, I hadn’t worked out much in the two weeks prior. I did the test and boy, was it harder than I remembered! I forgot what it’s like to push hard for 20 minutes. You’re supposed to feel like you want to vomit (some people do!) if you’re pushing yourself hard enough. I couldn’t really bring myself to go that hard, not just in my legs but also in my head. So at the end of the 20 minutes my score was lower, both lower than my prior 180 and lower than what I’d reasonably expected I’d do.
So I set my goal to get back to 180, and then shoot for higher.
Patience, young grasshopper
I faithfully did most of my bike workouts after that FTP test. My new score, 162, felt really easy since I’d been training with 180 for almost two years. I started inching my ftp on workouts up (since most computrainer workouts use FTP as a guide for your resistance), and felt good. Maybe that 162 was just a bad day. I hadn’t even tried to push that hard.
So when Wellfit offered another FTP test again a few weeks later, I jumped at the chance to try again. I rested well the night before, and made sure I was ready to ride at the start of the warm-up. I’d changed my strategy, too. Don’t aim for 180, but I set my eyes on a 170-ish goal, just to prove I was stronger.
Well, that didn’t go so well
I started our strong for the first 8 minutes or so, and then started to struggle after that. I tried to just keep my #s where they are at, and that was hard. For some reason I kept stopping mid-ride, same as before. At least once I’d catch my breath again, I’d go harder. I know it’s better to keep riding, rather than stop, so your numbers decrease more slowly. So why am I stopping? I can run a 5k, heck I can run marathons.
At the end of that second FTP test I was even lower! I felt like I’d worked harder, which is good, but I’m still bummed about an even lower score.
This week I got my next opportunity to test my FTP. I had considered testing on Monday, as I was coaching an FTP test then. But I remembered that I’d been out of town and off my bike for 5 days, so I chose to do a warm-up and test primer instead of actually going all-out.
Tuesday I got my chance. An evening test, so I was up and awake and ready to go. I was certainly nervous… would I keep up the trend, or would I turn things around and actually improve on my FTP? I kept it low-key, and just wanted to try to get back to a reasonable 170-180 for my final goal for the test.
And I followed the general testing protocol of start out reasonable and work to go a little higher every five minutes. And things went well. I didn’t blow up after 5 minutes, nor 10, nor 15. Between 5 and 15 minutes I just wanted to get to 178, then 180. And at 15 minutes, when you’re supposed to go balls-out, I was still worried at losing any watts. I inched up on the effort slightly. And with two minutes to go, I went all-out.
I ended at 183 FTP. WTF?!
FTP Testing Tips – Get your Max FTP!
First, I trained diligently for about 6 weeks since my prior test. Several times a week, and giving what I could at each workout. I tried to make sure that there were workouts where I was holding FTP (as it was then) for 8 or 10 minutes at a time, so I can remember how that feels, and to lessen the shock when it comes time to test.
Two, I kept in mind Power-to-Weight ratios. I weigh as low as I ever have, and I would like to drop some more lbs, so I start tracking this ratio too. I reframed my mind that if I could hit the same P-t-W as I did back in February 2015, I’d still be a stronger cyclist. I never expected to actually hit that FTP or exceed it! As a reference, in Feb 2015 my power-to-weight ratio was 2..33 and now it’s 2.58. According to certain guidelines, I’m now in the “middle of the pack” for cycling with that power-to-weight ratio!
Three, I shaked up the test! At my December and January tests, I used the same computrainer, so I wanted to make sure I got a different one just to break up any bad mojo associated with that particular machine. I also did an evening test instead of in the morning, and for me I think this made a big difference. I had also meant to put together a motivating playlist and listen to it during the test, but I didn’t get to this.
Four, I’ve been focusing on strength work, and particularly adding in some extra strength moves to improve cycling strength. More lunges, more squats.
Five, I set reasonable goals. I wasn’t trying to bite off 200 watts. I just want to get back to my 180-ish FTP. I know my other tests were poor tests, rather than accurate results of a lower fitness level. I had been able to keep up a higher FTP during workouts, so I was guessing and hoping that I just needed to do a strong test.Tips for a strong FTP Test #cycling #triathleteintraining Click To Tweet
Want more information about bike training? Check out these posts:
If you’re a cyclist or triathlete, do you train with power? How do you approach FTP tests? For Runners – what do you do to psych yourself up for a strong 5K?