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Your First FTP (Functional Threshold Power) Test:
What to Expect

By PCG Coach Rick Shultz

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Your first FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test is no joke, and for many of us, the test is a skill that takes time to develop.

While we do several tests to better understand each PCG athlete, let’s not forget three crucial reasons that FTP testing with a power meter took over the cycling industry:

There are numerous articles regarding How to Perform a FTP Test, but not much on (a) prepping for or (b) what to expect from your first FTP test.

This is surprising since these are the two questions I always get from new clients. In this short article, I will share many of the points discussed. At the end of this article, I will also include the FTP test protocol.

First, Functional Threshold Power is defined as “the highest power that a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing for approximately one hour. When power exceeds FTP, fatigue will occur much sooner, whereas power just below FTP can be maintained considerably longer.”

Since it is difficult to find a road that has no signals, no stop signs, no traffic, etc., a more popular definition is that of the above except “20 minutes less 3-7%” is substituted for “one hour.”

Once your FTP is calculated, it is easy to determine your training zones as %FTP. A training plan can then be created based on the athlete’s goals and workouts can be created based on the %FTP value. Workouts can be either (a) created ‘manually’ or (b) via a more ‘automated method’ such as our customized TrainingPeaks structured workouts (Workout Builder) and/or Workout Creator in Zwift where the power required to perform effort is dynamically calculated based upon the athlete’s FTP.

BEFORE YOU TAKE THE TEST

FTP test graph

Table 1: The Hunter Allen 20-minute FTP test with 5-minute blowout

You will need a power meter and a head unit to display your power and time.

Before you start the test–don’t forget to ZERO YOUR POWERMETER!

You have the option of taking the test either outdoors or indoors. Some coaches say that you will get slightly different results outdoors (on your bicycle) vs indoors (on a trainer). For your first time, it helps to perform the test on a trainer with a coach supporting you either in person or as part of a screen share.

A coach will be able to keep you motivated throughout the entire test. On several occasions I have had athletes ready to give up with less than 5 minutes to go. With a coach by their side or on the screen motivating them, they completed the full 20-minutes and were very pleased with the results. I am convinced that if they would have done the test on their own, their numbers wouldn’t have been as high or worse, they would have quit prior to the end.

Again, be forewarned, this is a VERY HARD test.

With that said, it is important to note that you will likely need to take the FTP test 3 times. More specifically, once a week for 3 weeks. Why? Most “first-timers” push way too hard and blow up halfway through. The second time they usually hold-back too much ending up with energy left to spare. The third time is usually the charm.

Often, this is referred to as a “20-minute FTP Time Trial.” Don’t let that title fool you. This is NOT a SPEED test. This IS a POWER test. So, for this test, it’s OK to place your hands on the tops of the bars. It’s OK to sit up to allow your diaphragm to work easier getting air in and out of your lungs. In fact, sitting up is preferred. Remember, it’s NOT about SPEED, it’s ALL about consistently generating as much POWER as you can for the entire test, whether that be 60 minutes or 20 minutes.

SEE Table 1. FTP TEST PROTOCOL. For those that will be taking the FTP test for the first time, your effort is based on a scale from 1-10 of PERCEIVED LEVEL OF EFFORT where 1 is EASY and 10 is MAXIMUM+. For the second time, you will have FTP data that you can display and track to for this test.

TAKING THE THRESHOLD TEST:
After a good warm up, get yourself mentally ready, take a few deep breaths and get yourself up to speed. Click START on your GPS head unit and ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes. It’s not about speed, it’s all about power.

When the timer gets to 20 minutes, press stop and take note of your AVERAGE POWER. Since this was a full-out maximum run, your AVERAGE POWER will be your AVERAGE MAXIMUM POWER. For a 20-minute test, take this number and multiply by 0.95 as this is generally the average (5% off) for most people and will be close to your one-hour power.

Again, I recommend doing the FTP test 3 times, once per week for 3 weeks. From this point on, you will create your power zones and start training as a % of FTP. But, not to worry because in 6 to 8 weeks you get to do this test all over again! The workout shown above is an actual FTP test.

Rick Shultz is a PCG Certified Coach, USAC Level 2 Cycling Coach and holds multiple certifications in bike fitting.

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