Tests are often used to teach

I was second guessing whether I would share any information about my Functional Threshold Power test from Saturday. The result was a bit disappointing. However, I had a reader ask if I planned to give an account of it. He wanted to know of what the test consists. So, here you go!

Theoretically, the  purpose of the Functional Threshold Power test (FTP Test) is to see how much power you can maintain for one hour. Most times this test is not riding for an hour, but rather a simulated process that has you building up to a 20 minute effort.

Practically, it is a way to measure your progress throughout a training program. This was my third test since I started my training in November. Deep inside I hoped I would see as much of an improvement between tests 2 and 3 as I did test 1 and 2. However, there was a dynamic that made me wonder…

The purpose of this test was not simply to see improvement. We were planning to see how I would do if I lowered my cadence and pushed a bigger gear. This is the approach I took for my test.

Preparation

To prepare for the test I tried to get a good night sleep and ate a good breakfast. I put the test off as late in the morning as possible. Studies show that attempting something like this in the morning is not going to give you your best result. Hopefully, my body would be ramped up and ready to go. Finally, I just had to climb on the bike attached to my trainer and go.

Warm-up

If you plan to do this test, you will start by doing a warm-up. In my case I was to spin for 15 minutes with a perceived effort between 1 and 2 (on a 10 point scale). In the last three minutes I was to ramp it up to a perceived effort of 7. You can see that happening in the graph below.

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I knew during this initial spin that I might be headed for trouble. The day before it was time for my first ride of the week (it was a rest week and I had only done some short trainer spins up to that point). I’m afraid I got a little hoppy. The legs weren’t feeling very snappy as I began my spinning. My average during this section was 124 watts.

Five minute recovery

As you may notice in the graph above, my perceived effort brought me up to a wattage that matches my TT effort toward the end of the test. I could tell it as well! I could feel my quads tighten in the last minute.

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That is why you need some easy spinning to allow you to release what has built up in the muscles. Starting to spin you can see that my cadence did not vary drastically, but the wattage dropped. This was because I shifted to an easier gear. Things started to feel much better as I started to near the conclusion of the 5 minute spin.

Even though I felt as though I was spinning easily my average wattage was 127 watts – about the same as the warm-up. I’ve noticed that as your body begins to warm-up you find it easier to create wattage.

Build up

Now it was time to move to the 20 minute buildup. This takes you a step closer to the all-out Time Trial effort. My coach instructed me to do one 20 minute effort at 225 – 255 watts at a cadence of around 85 to 95 rpm. This would help make the 20 minute TT effort more realistic to being involved in an actual ride.

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As you can see, the cadence begins to drop as the heart rate goes up. The wattage stays pretty average. However, this is certainly not what I wanted to happen. The good news is that at 235 watts, I executed the section correctly. What this meant for the Time Trial effort… I would have to wait and see.

Easy spin recovery

Once again it was time to spin off the lactate acid that had built up in the muscles. Oddly, I was also feeling a bit of a cramp in my lower right calve. An easy spin before my final effort was just what I needed.

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What a relief to feel the ease of ten minutes at 115 watts! By the time I finished the 10 minutes section I was feeling pretty good. Maybe this would be possible to do the low cadence effort and still exceed the average wattage of the last test!

Time Trial Effort

And so I launched into the Time Trial Effort. This is where you go all out for 20 minutes. I got in trouble last time because I saved some for the end.  Rather than giving a steady effort I pushed, recovered, pushed, etc. Still, I ended up with a 280 watts average — 10 watts over my first test.

This time I was determined to give it all I had. For the first 10 minutes I thought I could do it. I didn’t want to push too hard and settled into an average cadence around 80 rpm. However, I slowly felt my legs begin to lose the ability to generate power. I shifted down and began to up the watts.

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So, as you can see below for the first 10 minutes I averaged nearly 300 watts. It felt good until I started to feel it slipping away. You can see the wattage begin to drop in the second 10 minutes. Even as the wattage drops the heart rate continues to remain constant or increases.

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Finally, at the end, I just had to give everything left in the tank. I pulled the watts up a bit for the last minute. When I finally let up for the cool down, I felt nauseous.  Not much more to say… I just could not hold that cadence for that long and ended up at 278 watts.

As I spun down for 10 minutes I tried to guess what my average might be. I knew I had done well in the beginning and then declined. Honest… my guess was 278 watts. Sure enough, that is what it was.

So, takeaways: 1) My optimal cadence really appears to be mid-high eighties to low nineties. We wanted to find if a low cadence would work, and I think we found it wouldn’t. 2) Even though I had hoped to see an average close to 290 watts, I did end up right near my previous test numbers.

The more I think about it, the better I feel. To hold on a day when I did not feel the best, I can’t complain too much. I’ll have some more tests to see improvement in the future and better than that… some real life opportunities to see when it really counts.