FTP TEST: Lessons learned so far
I hope that this post helps others, as I see many comments from members who are afraid of the FTP Test, as well as those interested in developing a strategy to score well.
First, it does NOT matter what my numbers are, as they are only mine and have no reference to your own scores, etc.
FEAR of the FTP TEST:
It’s natural to fear the unknown, and also natural to be apprehensive about repeating an experience that you know to be “difficult “. As Bruce Lee once said, “ One must jump into the water to learn to swim!” For us, this means that we get on the bike and do the test. For first-time testers, it’s OK to have a “poor” performance, as the test is also about our LEARNING to manage our energy expenditure and to be more efficient on the bike.
Once we’ve done the test and ridden some workouts with the zones prescribed by our score, we may then approach the re-test with both better fitness AND a better understanding of how to ride the test. You can actually score somewhat better by simply becoming a better rider (smoother, more efficient, etc) and having a plan for spending your energy wisely during the 20 min test.
By now, most folks are saying, “ Yeah, but that test is f***ing hard!” Yes, anything that asks for our full effort will be hard. Unfortunately, there is no other precise way to set the training regimen (that is individualized to us) without this benchmark. Look at it this way: we paid a lot for this bike and we really want to get the results we invested in. Power Zone training is a very scientific and logical method for anyone to improve their fitness.
*I’m a science guy. I’ve operated the heart/lung machine for open-heart surgery for 38 years. You could say I know a thing or two about cardio-respiratory fitness. I’m 61 years old, and have done some sort of training all my life. I am impressed with how Matt & Denis have laid this out for us. I’ve included a picture showing my 3 FTP Tests so that you may see how the progression works. I’ll refer to the picture as I talk about test strategies. (Thanks for bearing with me through the boring bio…)
FTP TEST STRATEGIES
When taking our first test, we have little idea how to pace ourselves, how much to increase our output over the course of the test, and deeply fear the crash & burn of going out too hard. That’s why I urge anyone on the fence about starting Power Zone training to simply “jump in the water” and try the test. There are no Peloton Police who will punish you for what you feel is a bad result. Quite the opposite: the Power Zone Pack is comprised of folks who are extremely supportive and will cheer you on to better performances!
For newbies, start out at a moderate pace, what they describe as Zone 3, where you can keep going but don’t want to have a conversation because you need to breathe. Each 5 minutes, they’ll ask you to mildly increase your output. If you feel OK, go ahead & increase the resistance by a point or two. If you’re struggling, keep it where it is for another few minutes. You’ll eventually want to increase the resistance some as you near the end, so be prepared to empty the tank close to the finish. If you are comfortable pedaling out of the saddle, the last minute or two is great for bumping up your output while standing. You can see the finishing sprint, all done standing, in the picture of my 3 FTP Tests. Even if you have no “sprint” left in you, be empowered that you are almost done & should be congratulated for completing something that most couch-riders would never attempt!
RETAKING FTP TEST
Since those of us who have already taken the test & finished some PZ training rides have our zones in place, this gives us a bit better framework from which to plan our attack on the re-test. You’ll notice one easy way to increase your output (with no extra effort) by looking at the picture of my 3 tests. See the beginning of the ride? In the first two tests, I didn’t start out at my target output, instead pedaling up to my target. This slow start, while listening to Matt, contributed low output to my score. Note how I got out of the starting gate on the 3rd test by getting up to speed just before the countdown timer progresses to the test start. FIRST FREE WATTS!
Next, I recommend that you either start at your current FTP value (conservative) or at the corresponding average output for your FTP (more daring, which is how I started test #3.). Having a lower output during the early portion of the test will require you to “catch up” later on, meaning you’ll have to go even harder if you want to improve your score! This tactic is critical, because playing catch-up can burn you out before the test ends if you’re not ready to sustain that output. The math of “averages “ upholds the fact that trying to catch up will require a lot from you.
Finally, don’t cruise through the third five-minute block and hold too much back. While a big sprint at the end certainly adds to your average, it doesn’t add as much as you’d think, because the duration is short. So, spend a bit more of your energy as you approach the end: the longer duration of moderately-increased output will have a better overall effect on your score.
In the last minute (approximately), if you wish to sprint, I recommend you give the resistance knob another quick crank & stand up. Use your body weight to assist in producing big output to the finish.
Oh, yeah… it helps if you’ve been doing the PZ rides faithfully and are well-rested & hydrated for your test!
I sincerely hope that these thoughts provide you with food for thought as you approach the FTP TEST. I took the time to write this because of the great contribution this group, the instructors, and the bike have made in my training.
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 (This article)
#3 – Living with new zones & more FTP test
#4 – Post FTP-Test New Zone Struggles (Mental & Physical)
#5 – Decreases in FTP