This is part one of a two part posting on the FTP or Functional Threshold Power Test. You have a power meter so now what do you do with it? You perform a test!
Why are we performing this test? Why is this FTP number important?
The next post reveals tips for your best 20 minute power test using the protocol found Power Training Uncle Andy’s (AKA Andrew Coggan PhD) “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” .
Before we get there, I want to make sure we have a basic understanding of why we are putting ourselves through…err…performing this challenging FTP test!
If you are already aware of FTP, the science behind it or other ways to express this very same concept you are welcome to skip on over to Part 2 or just read for fun or as a refresher.
This is for those who want to understand the concepts quickly before doing their 20 minute test.
Why complete a FTP (Functional Threshold Power) Test?
Simply strapping a power meter on your bike will not make you faster. We want insight as to what those numbers (the watts you produce) popping up on your bike computer screen mean to you and how to use them effectively.
Once you know your FTP you can establish training zones and keep your cycling training precise by working the right energy systems to illicit the desired training responses for each session you complete. Knowing your FTP also helps with race day pacing as you learn how to meter out your energy by staying in certain power zones. The data can also provide all kinds of insight about the rides and races you do. Collecting power data can also provide intel on the bigger picture of your progression and your season.
Ever Racing Athlete, Kecia riding her bike!
Don’t I need a fancy lab test?
Your body uses oxygen to create fuel for your muscles. It breaks down glucose into fuel that can be used to power your muscles. If you can take in more oxygen and deliver that to your muscles you can go faster.
You could go to a lab and have a test run with an oxygen mask or even have blood drawn to determine the amount of oxygen the body processes at various training intensities or when lactate begins to accumulate in your blood to set specific training zones. However, field testing (when you perform your power test) with your power meter will get us the numbers we need with out having to head over to a lab for costly inconvenient tests subject to tester interpretations.
The FTP test can provide reliable insight for your training in a convenient, repeatable and reasonable manner.
Before we discuss FTP, lets touch on VO2 max. That is the maximum potential for your body to process oxygen and is an indicator of cardiovascular fitness. It is your ability to sustain high intensity for a few minutes. In the lab setting this is expressed in milliliters of oxygen per minute per kilogram of your body weight (ml/min/kg). Most are not fully trained and do not reach their true VO2 Max in a test. Testers will peak in a lab or test at their highest trained potential on that day but a genetic ceiling does actually exist here. There is a limit to the volume of oxygen you will be able to handle.
I know you don’t like limits but there’s hope! You could also work on efficiency (a post for another day) or on raising your threshold to go faster for longer. The best indicator for endurance is the intensity level (below VO2 Max) where your body is no longer capable of supplying the oxygen required to meet the body’s energy demands. At this point the body turns to other energy sources which results in lactate accumulation in the blood. You know what it feels like. The muscles start to burn, your breath quickens and training above this level will ultimately use up energy stores and lead to failure. The higher above this “threshold” level you work the quicker these energy supplies are depleted.
Training in specific intensity zones can work energy systems and create fitness adaptations that raise this threshold closer to your VO2 max. Basically, you become fitter and you are eventually able to hold a higher intensity level for a longer period of time. With training you can get your threshold closer to your V02 max. This is great news because…
You’ll be able to go harder for longer when your threshold is closer to your VO2 max.
With a power test we can make estimates about this process in your body and tie it to a power number.
An FTP test gives us a fair approximation of the maximal sustainable power a trained athlete could hold for roughly around 60 or so minutes.
It is important to note that this is without spikes and dips in output. Testing on flat terrain or a controlled environment like your indoor trainer is key.
Once we have the FTP number we can set specific zones as a percentage of that FTP number for training.
It takes out the guesswork of, “How hard should I ride? How hard can I ride?” in training and in racing.
It provides insight into how long we could hold an intensity level simply by understanding what the percentage of FTP indicates. This insight at our fingertips during training if used with intelligence and perspective can vastly improve training and racing results.
What I’m saying is that with a higher FTP you can go harder for longer! Training with precise output removes a lot of guesswork in training and helps you get that FTP higher more effectively. Pacing intelligently is guided by knowing your FTP. Once you know your FTP, we can enter this into Training Peaks, the tool we use at Ever Racing and you’ll have a handy guide for your training intensity level zones.
Today I talk in terms of FTP but since there are so many different ways to express training zones, I also have a hand out I created for the athletes I coach that shows the various popular program’s zones and compares them all on one page to avoid confusion of the same zones or concepts being called different things.
There are countless resources for you to learn about riding with power. This post was quite simplified for our purposes. Power Meter “Uncle” Andy’s, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” by Andrew Coggan, PHD & Hunter Allen was the first cycling power book that I dog eared like crazy when I first got into this years ago so I enjoy that book a lot. Even better, drop me a note as I love to talk data.
In the meantime, get ready for that power test you are about to do! Fuel, hydrate and organize your gear.