I was taken aback when I read a recent post wherein a member stated that they don’t care if they increase their FTP or not, since they could do other activities better than ever. Satisfied with their current level of fitness, they implored others to not take the test (and strategies to maximize one’s score) so seriously. While I can certainly see that side of the situation, I personally feel that most of us paid a premium price and made a big commitment to achieve our personal best with this training. I understand that not all will feel this way, and that is an individual choice.
For those of us who train for continual improvement, I offer a few more thoughts about how to “budget” our energy to maximize our score:
FTP Test Strategies
If you start the FTP Test at anything less than your average output watts from your previous FTP Test, you will have to produce DOUBLE the difference in wattage (previous FTP average output MINUS your current FTP Test output in watts) in order to balance your output to EQUAL what you did before. So, if your average output from your last FTP Test = 150 watts, you pedal the first 5 minutes of your new test at 125 watts, then you will have to do the next 5 minutes at 175 watts to end up with 150 watts average over that first 10 minutes! As I said in my previous post, this game of catch-up SUCKS. Instead, if you start immediately at 150 watts, you will have an increase in FTP if you raise your output by even a few watts! I know that Matt mentions starting in zone 4, and I hope you can see the advantage to a less-drastic increase in output as the test progresses.
Your regular Power Zone training, if followed with some commitment, will provide you with enough of an increase in fitness where you can start at or above your average output from your last test. If you start here, you are guaranteed an increase in test performance by raising your output quite moderately over the 20 minutes. By not starting behind, you give yourself a better chance of really going big if you feel good after the first 10 minutes! Do the 10-minute warmup ride, rest for a minute or so (drink a bit, because drinking gets hard when you’re near death ), then start the test. Remember to get up to your desired wattage as the countdown timer is just about to start the ride!
The third 5-minute block is, in my opinion, where you determine how big of an increase you’ll get (if you started the test as I mentioned). It is here that you can begin to dig deeper and stay just under the “blow-up” level to boost your score. Because the final five minutes can be a slow build to the final push, you’ll know that you have already bettered your score EVEN if you just hold the same output as in minutes 10-15, and most of us will pour even more into it at this point! The Power Zone training should allow you to hang tough at this point & realize that you’re almost done!
The final sprint: crank the resistance a little more than you think you should & stand up! Use efficient shifts of your body weight to maximize each pedal stroke & you’ll get big output. *MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: each trainee must gauge their ability to pedal at high resistance, and set the resistance accordingly! Getting injured will prevent you from training.
Summary: don’t start too low, the catch-up will blow you up and reduce any increase you might otherwise have. Have faith in your training and build the second 10 minutes into the increase you want!
Thoughts on New FTP Zones
The cure is worse than the disease…blah, blah, blah….
An increase in your FTP will prescribe new Power Zones for your regular training. Yes, initial experiences at higher zones will be uncomfortable. These new zones, however, are do-able because your FTP scientifically says you are physiologically programmed to these levels. One thing about all organisms is the SAID Principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand). To achieve fitness improvements in the traditional metrics (VO2MAX, watt output at certain heart rates, body composition, blood hematology and chemistry, etc), we must provide the stimulus for our body to be “urged” to adapt. This means that we must continually ask our body for a little bit more, so that it continues to become more scientifically & physiologically efficient.
While some will be tempted to “stop” pushing at some point, declaring themselves “fit enough”, further improvement provides “headroom”, where our most severe effort in our other activities no longer approaches our true maximum. As a very experienced medical practitioner in heart surgery, I can say that stress levels that cause us to skyrocket to our maximum tolerance are handled far better by those whose physical condition has gotten them used to the “edge”.
So, make your choice about who/what you want to be. Follow the training plan, which has been THOROUGHLY planned by Matt & Denis. Follow a good plan for your FTP Test, allowing the combination of your fitness & your brainpower to guide you to a true maximal result. New zones, while challenging, will speed your improvement by being more accurately set to your true performance levels.
Good luck, and use your brain as much as your muscles!
This article is part of an ongoing series on Power Zone Training. You can find the other entries below:
#1 – FTP Test Strategies & Lessons
#2 – Living with new zones & more FTP test strategies (this article!)