FTP Friday – Age-related limitation & degradation of FTP in Power Zone Training

As we dust off this well-beaten FTP horse, let’s address the unanswered questions about limitations to FTP improvement.

Although I have made some pretty hard-nosed comments about folks striving to improve, it is obvious that an asymptote to performance exists for all of us. There is a point, no matter how hard we work on the optimally-planned regimen, that we will no longer improve.

Age carries a real, undeniable progressive loss of capacity, but the amount of loss and the rate of loss are dependent upon the individual’s tenacity and freedom from illness/injury. Since a great proportion of Peloton riders have serious personal investment in health, fitness, & longevity, we should instead look first at the psychological framework which has been constructed around “elderly “ athleticism. For generations, the acceptance of senescence has infiltrated society and created the stigma of “crazy”, etc for older folks who pursue highly-intense athletic activity. Jack Lalanne was thought to be a nut, but time has proven that mostly wrong!

It is becoming more common for athletes in older divisions to be more plentiful, with performances that belie their age. At Peloton, we have the same opportunity to push these boundaries with the help of elite coaches and great equipment, as well as a supportive community.

So, there is an upper limit to FTP, VO2 Max, etc that is partially defined by genetics and also by the pre-existing health/fitness profile of each rider. The third component, and not popular, is the motivation to push as hard as necessary to achieve those gains (applies at any age).

The “true” 60-minute FTP Test has been largely replaced by the 20-minute version used here. An 8-minute variation as well as a “step-test” (similar to the GXP Graduated Exercise Protocol for treadmill testing) are also used to estimate FTP. The hour test was unpopular with even pro racers; nobody wanted to do it, did it poorly, etc. Regardless, any of the tests is HARD.

Improvement on the Test, once the early ramp-up of the novice is over, becomes a trial by fire that poses a severe psychological hurdle. This “moment “ is what prompted me to write all those old FTP posts. If we can focus on a plan, our mind has something to hold onto when the agony of exertion sets in. This is important at any age, but even more so as our “old-age beliefs” try to have us settle for less. Matt talks about training to focus, this plan of attack can be the object of that focus. Ultimately, this is why I was a prison-warden about FTP. We can be pretty much whatever we want to be.

I sincerely believe that only a fraction of folks here have hit their FTP ceiling, with the aforementioned factors interfering in that quest. Whether it is one’s quest is another matter. The MANY questions I’ve gotten from folks wondering why they didn’t score better seems to indicate that a LOT of us want more.

Let’s deal with the elephant-in-the-room: weight loss and power/weight ratio. Positive change in BODY COMPOSITION (not merely weight loss) is supremely beneficial at any age, but vital as we age. The resistance training we perform (upper body too!) increases bone density and increases muscle mass which are both associated with healthy quality of life in older age. Fat loss in the presence of muscle gain does not always produce “weight loss”, but your wardrobe probably needs replaced!

Power/weight ratio is important for the actual moving of your body through space, whether outside on the bike, running, jumping, or simply getting out of that low-seated chair. A predictor of mortality is the simple test of getting to one’s feet without the use of the hands when lying on the floor! Power/weight ratio improvement, with no change in FTP is GREAT! A decrease in FTP must be measured against any weight loss to decide if the weight loss was too quick (loss of muscle mass simultaneously). Minor loss variations in FTP are less important than the big health markers: blood pressure, etc.

Summary: unless you’re sure you’ve hit your peak, or if you’ve decided you don’t want to retest, you probably can test better. Studies show gains in strength are possible even into our 90’s, with MRI confirmation of increased muscle density. One favorite study measured quadriceps via MRI before & after training a 90 year-old who had trouble getting out of a chair.

Go get it!

This article is part of an ongoing series on Power Zone Training. You can find the other entries below in suggested reading order:
#1 – What is Power Zone Training?
#2 – FTP Test Strategies & Lessons
#3 – Power Zone Training – My Zones Are Too Easy!
#4 – Living with new zones & more FTP test
#5 – Post FTP-Test New Zone Struggles (Mental & Physical)
#6 – Decreases in FTP
#7 – Power Zone Training – My Zones Are Too Easy!

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Lee Aldridge
Lee Aldridge is a former cycling time trialist and current competitive rower. These articles are reposted with permission from Lee's Facebook group posts.

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