Ah the dreaded FTP test! Lets start with what they are – an FTP test is a measure of your functional threshold power and can be used to determine increase/decrease in fitness but more importantly for training plans so you can be more efficient in your workouts and get the most from them. If you use an app, like Zwift, for training it will colour the intervals of a workout so you can see at a glance and they are as follows:
- Grey – zone 1/recovery
- Blue – zone 2/endurance
- Green – zone 3/tempo
- Yellow – zone 4/threshold
- Red – zone 5/vo2 max, which is basically the maximum rate that the heart/lungs/muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise
You know those workouts with all the red are the hard ones!
But there are different versions of FTP tests out there just to add a little confusion and what one should you use? Well I use Zwift and with that you have the option of the following:
Long FTP – starts with a warm up followed by three sets of short ramp ups to 130% and in between two easier leg spins a 5 minute effort before starting your 20 minute effort before finishing with the cool down. The power is measured by the average power from your 20 minute effort and then 5% is deducted for a more realistic result.
Short FTP – starts by getting your warmed up and slowly ramping in two sets of intervals up to 130% of your FTP, the first ramp being shorter and the second slightly longer but only from seconds to minutes. This is then followed by a lower effort leg spin and then your 20 minute effort and cool down. The power is measured by the average power from your 20 minute effort and then 5% is deducted for a more realistic result.
Ramp Test – 5 minute free ride and then you pedal at 1 minute intervals, increasing effort by 20 watts per minute basically until you cannot pedal any longer. The power is measured by your best 1 minute power and then 25% is deducted for a more realistic result.
Ramp Test Lite – basically the above but for those who weight under 60kg or who are newer to riding and has a slightly different structure with a longer warm up period and each 1 minute interval increases by 10 watts. The power is measured by your best 1 minute power and then 25% is deducted for a more realistic result.
I completed the long FTP for my first test and since then always stuck to the short but more recently I was advised by many to try the ramp test. I was also seeing a lot of commentary about the ramp test online with what seemed to be two camps – those who felt it was more efficient and less stressful on the body and those who still remained keen on the 20 minute effort. Anyhow, I had just completed a 6 week FTP Builder training plan and to measure the improvement I needed to complete a test and figured I would try the ramp test. Now I know I cannot do a direct comparison as the last was in a different format but it does still give a good marker.
I have always dreaded the FTP test so was actually keen to see how I felt after the ramp test and if it was the same. Yes it is a very intense short workout but the recovery is absolutely so much quicker! I was surprised how it started so low and so easy to getting a little tougher and then within 90 seconds I would say moving to oh no don’t think I can hold on much longer to not being able to move the pedals. It is definitely a test where cadence is key – find a good rhythm and try and stick with it – the second your cadence drops too much you will almost certainly not be able to continue! I actually laughed when I got a text box asking if I was done and I definitely was so was happy to click the ‘I’m toast’ button and it then gives your result.
The downside of an increase in FTP? All the new workouts are based on your higher FTP levels so in turn are tougher! Let’s finish on a fun fact to end on a lighter note though – my first FTP test (the long one) almost killed me and I was so ruined by the end of it I couldn’t unclip so stood up and lent forward and lost my balance and fell off my turbo. Yep I basically fell off a stationary bike!
Other top tips from me:
- take a couple of days complete rest before completing your FTP – it is threshold after all so if you are fatigued then you will be putting your body under further unnecessary stress and this will affect the result also
- make sure you are hydrated
- keep up the cadence as it really does help
- stay seated – these tests are designed to record power from a seated effort and although you will be able to get more power from standing you will also fatigue quicker and this will not help the result
- remember it is all relative – we are all different heights, weight and have different strengths and weaknesses so don’t compare your FTP result with someone else as it is personal to you
- lastly (and not really a tip from me but from a close friend) is that races help – I know a few people who race online and you will have a message displayed on screen if your FTP increases during the race so it is not just the tests that measure the power output and some do not test well but perform better when racing so that is also an option and helps increase the power too.