“FTP Test.” That phrase alone is enough to bring the heart rate up to a mid-Zone 4, and turn my palms into clammy seal fins. For those of you who are still blissfully unaware, FTP stands for “Functional Threshold Power.” In the cycling world, it means the maximum power (in watts) that you can theoretically hold in a one hour time trial. But rather than forcing us riders to kill ourselves for a whole hour, the typical testing protocol involves inducing some fatigue through a series of shorter intervals before sending us on a ride-or-die, torturous twenty minutes of hell.
As a USA Triathlon coach, I have had plenty of experience with FTP tests among both my athletes and myself over the years. I have made numerous mistakes, some of which still cause me to cringe. However, last night I executed the textbook FTP test. My average watts remained unchanged from the first minute to the twentieth minute, making it as consistent as it gets. It resulted in an FTP only three points off my all-time best (despite that this is off-season and it should not have been that high,) and failed to send me into a gagging, crumpled heap upon finishing. Afterwards, I reflected on the factors that set this particular test up for success, and decided to share these tips and tricks.
1. Use the Fan as a Training Tool. For the few weeks going into this test, I trained without my fan. Yes, I know what you heavy sweaters are thinking… that you will have a puddle the size of a Great Dane’s piss pool under your bike. Well throw a bath towel over your handlebars and endure cleaning that nastiness for a couple weeks. Suck it up. On testing day, bring that fan back into action and set it on full-in-the-face-blast. You’ll get the same effect as training in summer heat and then racing on that first chilly, fall day. Free speed!
2. Develop a Fueling Plan. This time of year, people are targeting weight loss resolutions and cutting calories. In the day or two before your test, don’t do this. If you are intermittent fasting, revert to hearty breakfasts. Oatmeal with almond butter, protein powder and a banana did it for me. Eat at least two hours out. I also aim for a Huma gel just before my ride, and another gel during the six minute recovery spin just before the time trial. Make sure you’ve been hydrating all day. Have both water options and sports drink or electrolyte drink options within reach.
3. Change up your Music. I love my Alice in Chains and Rage Against Machine during hard workouts, but I have too many memories of crashing and burning to “Man in the Box.” Change it up on test day. Try something new. I am not normally into dance music, but on test day my bike room was hoppin’ like a gay nightclub straight outta the 90’s. Pandora was on Sandstorm radio, and I had a healthy dose of La Bouche, Faithless and CeCe Penniston to see me through this battle. I dare you to even think about throwing in the towel when “The Rhythm of the Night” is blasting in your ears. Techno not your thing? Take it gangsta style and throw in some Warren G and NWA. Or go with a hair band theme with Def Leppard and Warrant. Just change it up.
4. Dress Right. And that is usually as near-naked as possible. My go-to outfit is a retired pair of thin tri shorts (too see-through for the road,) a sports bra and a Headsweats visor because that is the only thing that will keep the sweat from rushing down my face. Don’t wear anything that may be a problem. Bib shorts can sometimes get too heavy and water-logged feeling. No need for a shirt obviously.
5. The Warm Up Sprints Might Feel Awful. And that’s OK. More often than not, I think about giving in during the warm up intervals because they feel brutally hard. It’s because we are not warmed up yet, and our mental focus is not yet ready. Hang in there. Things will improve.
6. Trust Your Instincts. If you’ve done a few of these tests already, you should be a decent judge of what you can and cannot hold. Start out about 5% easier than you think you’re capable of, and adjust after that first minute if needed. Once you find your rhythm, aim for consistency. Don’t surge. Focus on your movement pattern, and keep those watts as steady as possible.
There you have it. When done right, FTP tests are not as painful as they need to be. (Think getting run over by a Corolla vs getting run over by an Escalade.) Good luck in you next attempt, and ride on!