In this post, I’ll talk about how to easily test your FTP or Functional Threshold Power using a power meter. It’s quite a simple test to perform and can be done alone, making it repeatable and a way of tracking your fitness improvements over the winter and throughout the season.
Check out the video at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!
WHAT IS YOUR FTP?
FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power and is the wattage that you can sustain in a highly-motivated situation like a race, for approximately 1 hour.
It’s a way to gauge fitness for endurance athletes and acts as a good benchmark for setting your training zones and monitoring improvement is areas like aerobic fitness, lactate clearance abilities etc.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED FOR AN FTP TEST
To perform an FTP test correctly and to get accurate results, you’ll first (quite obviously) need a power meter and a head unit (like the Garmin Edge 810 or the new Edge 520, good prices at Wiggle) to record the results.
You’ll also need to find a stretch of road or trail that you can ride on for 20 minutes without an interruptions (such as gates, traffic lights, junctions etc). This can be a bit of a challenge depending on where you live, so the FTP test can also be done indoors on a turbo trainer. If choosing the latter, bear in mind that training indoors can produce lower numbers than outdoors for some people, as factors like overheating and the mental stress of hurting yet going nowhere come into play. Try to set up your indoor trainer with a fan and perhaps something to keep you entertained, like a laptop of TV.
HOW TO TEST YOUR FTP
The FTP test is really quite simple and boils down to a 3-step process of a warm-up, a 20 minute interval and a cool down.
Your warm up wants to be about 10-15 minutes in length, which is enough to warm the muscles and progress through the training zones, but short enough not to put any excess fatigue onto yourself before you start the main interval or test. In your warm-up, start out at your current zones 1-2, and then slowly progress to riding in zones 3-4, with perhaps a short amount of time in zone 5. Once 15 minutes of this steady ramp is up, it’s then time to start the test interval.
Begin the FTP test interval at a high but sustainable pace, keeping in mind that you’ll be riding at this intensity for another 20 minutes. This intensity should feel manageable to begin with, but expect it to feel very hard indeed in the final 5 minutes. Keep your pedalling smooth and don’t surge too much during the test. You should also not try to aim for a specific number, as the purpose of the test is to find out what your FTP is, not to guess and try to fix the result.
FIND YOUR FTP RESULT
Once the test is over, cool down by riding easily for a further 10-15 minutes, returning the heart rate to a low exercising rate. It’s then time to return home and upload the file that you recorded.
Once the file is imported and opened using your analysis software of choice (e.g. Strava, TrainingPeaks etc) then isolate the 20 minute test interval you performed. Take the normalised or weighted average power number for this 20 minute test and multiply it by 0.95 (or 95%) to get your current FTP.
WHAT TO DO WITH THIS FTP NUMBER?
Now that you have an accurate and up-to-date FTP number, you can compare this wattage to a previous test to see how you have improved.
This will tell you if your training is improving the key aspects of your fitness that we discussed earlier, as well as allowing you to reset your training zones.
This is particularly useful, so that you can train at the right intensities and improve your FTP further before your next test.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU RE-TEST?
The FTP test should ideally be repeated every 4-6 weeks in order for you to track improvements. It is a stressful test, and the key limited to how often it can be performed is really your motivation and ability to suffer, rather than complexity or time availability. Always ensure that you rest up for a few days leading into a test, so that you a ready to suffer correctly and get a true result from your efforts.