Why a field test?

Yesterday I received a comment on the blog that asked a good question. It is one that I have asked myself in the past. “Do you have to use a field test to get your FTP? Can’t you just get it from an effort?”

Tony writes…

I came across your page reading about CTS training as I’m heading into my third week of the experienced century plan. I didn’t do a field test because I was too lazy.  So I used an estimate of 280w for 8 min effort. Yesterday, in my group ride it showed how effective the CTS training is. I was chasing a much faster guy all the way and up the climb. That produced a norm 262w for 23 min. Now is my question, should I start a field test (the first real one, instead of estimate), or should I follow through the next 9 weeks with the estimate 280w power? Since my fitness has progressed significantly in these 3 weeks?

Here are my thoughts… which means it is just my untrained, humble opinion…

  • Simply, you could just keep going as you are. However, at some point you will want to settle into a repeatable test.
  • Training with wattage is not so much a matter of WHAT the number is as it is having a consistent number from which to work.
  • That is why it is good to have a repeatable test. You want to measure numbers from tests that are similar.
  • This adds consistency to your training and when you measure your future success by your initial (and subsequent tests) you will know that you are comparing apples with apples.
My normal means of torture - Cycleops Fluid 2

My normal means of torture – Cycleops Fluid 2

For those reasons, I typically do my FTP tests on a trainer. It is the most controlled environment. Granted, I can produce more wattage riding on the road and my numbers would look better on the blog! However, it isn’t a high number I’m looking for. It is a repeatable process that I can use as a consistent benchmark.

Some people do the test on the road and use the same stretch of road for the effort each time. I would probably prefer that, but the convenience of the trainer wins out. Of course, I will measure longer efforts on the road by the FTP test as well. For a 20 minute effort on the road I will check to see how 80% of that average wattage matches up with my trainer data.

So, Tony, to answer your question. Sure, you can go ahead and keep training with a 280 watts FTP. If you have been able to complete three weeks of the program with that baseline, then you are probably not missing it by much. However, when the time comes to measure your success, by what will you measure it?

One answer to that may be, “I’ll measure it by how well I am riding!” Frankly, that is a great answer. However, if you want definitive data, then you need to follow a more scientific approach. You are investing a good amount of time and effort into your training. Wouldn’t you like to know definitively how well it has paid off?

I’d be interested in knowing that you decide to do.

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About Jonathan Pait

Jonathan started riding mountain bikes in the early 1990s. After discovering the ride can start at the end of his driveway, he moved to the road in 2006. Little did he know that first pedal stroke would lead him on an adventure that has become much larger than the bicycle.