Tag Archives: Functional Threshold Power

Not just improvement – smashing success!

I got off work yesterday at around 3 PM. I had been setting up and managing a picnic for about 800 people since about 9 AM that morning. The BBQ was awesome and the kids loved the inflatable stuff. It was definitely a success.

It was also tiring. The whole week had been tiring. Now, after standing all day and carrying tables, chairs, and who knows what around all morning; it was time for me to take my Functional Threshold Test.

I almost called Jim to ask if it could be rescheduled. The wind of the day had kicked up my allergies and my body was just plain worn out. Could I do this?

After swinging by Sunshine Cycle Shop to check in on the Paris Mountain Time Trial results, I headed home. The Beautiful Redhead answered the phone when I called and started me a cup of coffee and laid out a Claratin for me. It was time to give this a shot.

By 4 PM I was in Marietta unloading the bike to start on my way. Already I was feeling better. I was still tired physically, but after months of planning and prepping for the events of last week I felt a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. Mentally, I was starting to feel lighter than air!

FTP test instructions

I always get confused with the order of things.

This was the first time I have tried the test on Hwy. 288. Jim told me to give the road a try and a lot of riders use the road for this purpose. I was just hoping I would keep the instructions in order. To help, I taped them to my top tube. It actually ended up being a help.

Hwys 288 and 178

The FTP test course (click image to enlarge)

I started in Marietta and used the time to the Hwy 8 intersection (Pumpkintown) for a warm up. Once through the intersection I started the 20 minutes at 245 – 275 watts section of the prep. Suddenly, my body started to feel refreshed and I wasn’t feeling tired anymore. The weather was absolutely stunning and all was right with the world!

It was neat that I made the turn and timed it perfectly to arrive back at Hwy. 8 just as I was to start the all out 20 minute effort. My mind began to dare to think I could finally cross the 300 watts threshold. Up to this point I have struggled with these tests. 286 watts is the highest I have managed. Could today be the day that changed?

To make a long story short, I just uncorked it and didn’t even look at the computer for the first five minutes. The brain was listening to the body and I did my best to go as hard as I could with 20 minutes of road ahead. After that first five minutes, I would glance down on occasion to get an idea of how I was doing. Often I would see numbers over 320 watts.

Fifteen minutes in I was really pumped! I knew I was on a good pace. The rolling terrain was working to my advantage. It allowed me to spin out to clear my legs and then helped me boost my power up on the climbs.

Then I ran out of road! I knew it was going to happen. The choice would be to take a right or left on 178. If I took a right, it would take me to the intersection of Hwy. 11. I knew if I did that, I would have to stop. However, on the other side would be some climbing. To the left… I had never turned left on 178. I didn’t know what was there.

So, with about four minutes left I took the left. I’m glad I did! Immediately, the road started a gradual climb. With about ten seconds to go I finally crested the rise, but by that time it was in the bag. All I had to do was turn around and head back to the car.

On the way I tried to guess what my time might be. The more optimistic part of me was hoping for an average of 310 watts. The “things are never that good” part of me was figuring 295 watts. Either one of those would be much better than any other FTP test I’ve attempted.

My Garmin wasn’t set up to show me the results immediately. It wasn’t until the family was seated at the table for dinner that I broke down and uploaded the file to Trainingpeaks.com. We all ate our tacos and waited for the announcement…

319 watts!*

Oh yeah! That didn’t just beat my previous numbers… it SMASHED it. Now, I don’t think I have suddenly increased my physical ability to produce wattage that much. Certainly, I have gained a lot of strength since starting training. Some of yesterday’s success can be attributed to that. However, I think some of it is also due to the fact that I am learning better how to pace myself and understand what my body is telling me.

The success is just what I needed for a shot in the arm as I work forward. There isn’t much better motivation than validation that what you are doing is working. My goals for the year are definitely seeming to be more than just wishing stars.

* I’m still waiting on the official number from my coach.

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.

screen-shot-2010-01-24-at-25334-pm

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.

screen-shot-2010-01-24-at-25429-pm

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.

screen-shot-2010-01-24-at-25451-pm

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.

screen-shot-2010-01-24-at-25513-pm

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.

screen-shot-2010-01-24-at-25538-pm

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.

screen-shot-2010-01-24-at-25758-pm

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.

Am I really Low Cadence?

Not much to say this morning. Things are pretty busy for me right now. Have an even busier weekend that includes a Functional Threshold Power test. Physically I think I’m pretty rested, but mentally I hope I’m up for it.

It is going to be different this time because Jim has me testing out the theory that my best cadence for a time trial is between 85 and 90 rpms. Last two FTP tests I’ve had were at higher cadences. The first had me putting out 270 watts average and the second one was 280 watts. However, in a normal ride I’ve averaged over 290 watts for that same period. I am putting out over 300 watts for short periods (5 – 10 minutes) when I’m not thinking about it.

We’re going to see if going at the attempt with this lower cadence approach will allow me up my average for the test. Of course, I might just be one of those people that doesn’t do well on tests. I do have a way of over-analyzing what I am doing. It ends up psyching me out.

I just need to realize that it is just a test… it is only a test. If I get 15 minutes in and croak, it just means that we have learned that I can’t actually sustain that cadence at the needed gearing to average that high of a wattage. The test won’t be a failure because it will give us information to help us better understand my physiology.

At the same time, I don’t like to think that I can’t do something that I set my mind to do. I like to think that I have the ability to compartmentalize and stick that pain in a little box to force the body to do what it hasn’t done before. I like to think there is a little bit of Jens Voight in there somewhere. “Failing” to finish the TT in the proscribed manner will have an impact on me. Hey, I’m just being honest…

I’ll let you know how it goes. Things are starting to ramp up here… next Saturday is the Paris Mountain Time Trial as well as the weekend for the POA Cycling Team camp. We are less than a month away from the Greenville Spring Training Series. It is time to start being ready. Tomorrow could be the next step.

Can you fail an FTP test?

Saturday after my functional threshold power test, I sent the data to my coach, Jim Cunningham. He was traveling in California and was unable to give me his analysis that day. However, on Sunday afternoon just before I sat down for a meal with family, the phone rang. It was Jim.

After the normal exchange of pleasantries — it was raining in Greenville and sunny in California — Jim got down to business, “I looked at your data and thought it would be best to give you a call to get your thought process during the test.” Somehow I figured that would be the case. My approach was probably a little unorthodox.

“I noticed that you had a higher cadence in the beginning with an average wattage around 260 watts,” he continued, “but then your cadence drops significantly three different times and at those points your wattage is over 300 watts.” Yep, the graphs don’t lie.  That is exactly what happened.

I explained to him that I was fearful of starting out too strong and that I took it easy in the beginning but measured my effort to keep myself close to my known FTP average. The bursts were times when I stood and dropped the cadence in order to increase the wattage to bring the average up. The times between the bursts were me attempting not to red zone too early from the harder efforts.

“I understand,” he replied. “However, typically in a TT effort you try to maintain a steady effort.” Somehow I knew he was going to say that. “I think at some point in the future we need to have you do another TT effort, but this time keep you in the 80s for your cadence. It could be that for TT efforts you will do better with a lower cadence.”

I explained to him that when I ride at a higher cadence it gives me a very good cardio workout, but I cannot sustain high wattage for very long doing so. I get much more fatigued when I am spinning at 95 to 100 rpm in order to hold a 270+ power level. Bigger gear in the 80s and I can hold that power level much longer.

On Sunday night my workout was supposed to be an hour ride with a large portion of that in a 190 to 220 watts zone. I determined I wasn’t going to look at the cadence readout on my Garmin Edge 500. I was just going to find a gear that allowed me to hold that wattage and felt comfortable to me.

At the end of the workout, I felt great! I then looked at my power file. Every interval was nearly dead on between 82 and 84 rpm. I was also better able to sustain a steady rhythm. Even when I felt as though I was spinning faster during the warm-up and cool-down, I was still only at around 86 rpm.

I realize that I need to learn to ride at a higher cadence.  However, I also think cadence is somewhat of a personal thing. There is an amount of finding what works best for you. I can see myself settling in somewhere between 85 and 90 rpm. Time will tell.

And, yes, I realize now that when it comes to a TT effort FTP test, I need to measure my effort out across the entire period instead of dipping and spiking.  As Jim said near the end of the conversation, “You shouldn’t have had that much left in the tank at the end.”

The bad news? I didn’t really do my FTP test correctly. The good news? Most likely had I done it correctly, I would have had better results. On top of that, I still increased my FTP by 10 watts. I’ll go with the good news!

Waiting on the word from my coach

My second Functional Threshold Power test occupied my mind yesterday. It was a pretty busy day without it. I was a little nervous going into the event because I knew I was a little more pressured than usual and my schedule wasn’t going as I planned. Still, the time did come and now I’m waiting on my coach for the official results.

At 7:30 AM I was at a budget planning meeting with my two business partners. Actually, it was just one. The second had gotten a bad head cold the night before and joined us later on the telephone.

That meeting lasted until a little after 11 AM. Of course, by that time the Upstate Winter Bicycle League had already started. There would be no pink cat. 4 sprinter’s vest for me.

Then to make matters worse, a toilet in the office building had plugged. There was water gathering in the carpet in one of the programmer rooms on the other side of the wall from the restroom. Since care of the building is one of my responsibilities, it was up to me to get it cleaned up.

That led to a late lunch which then led to a late start on my pre-test ride. That ride was to be a 2:15 ride with a warm up of 15 minutes at under 180 watts, a sustained wattage between 180 – 220, and then a cool down for 15 minutes under 150 watts. It was a little cool out there, but not bad.  I was well layered and only my fingers started getting a little cold by the end.

After getting off the bike and getting myself sorted out with some food, it was time to get back on the bike.  This time I would be on a trainer in my basement. This ride would be different in that I was supposed to work up to giving a solid TT effort and that would determine my Functional Threshold Power.

20 min. FTP effort (Click to enlarge)

20 min. FTP effort (Click to enlarge)

It starts off with a 10 minute warm-up with a nice little push in the last two minutes. After 5 minutes of backing off from that last effort, you start a 20 minute effort maintaining wattage between 220 – 240 watts. Then it is time to spin easy for 10 minutes. Ready? Now it is time for an all out effort for 20 minutes before finally spinning down for a final 10 minutes.

Everything was going according to plan until the first 20 minutes segment. Even though I was in my unfinished basement and the temperature was in the mid-50s, I was really starting to get warm. I knew that would lead to fatigue. So, I got off the bike, opened the door to the outside, and set up a fan. Things started to cool down quickly and I got back at the task at hand.

The meat of the test started with the 20 minute all out effort. Knowing my habit of starting out too early, I tried to start out below what I knew my Functional Threshold Power level to be.  I did this for the first 5 minutes.  My Garmin Edge 500 was telling me that the Quarq CinQo power meter was recording 260 watts. I then shifted down and stood putting out over 300 watts for a couple of minutes.

That effort moved up close to my known 270 FTP. However, I knew I could not sustain that for the next 15+ minutes.  I backed off to recover a little bit until I reached the 10 minute mark.  At that point, I upped the wattage again.  This time the watts went up to 276.  Now it was time to recover slightly for the final push to the end.

I watched as the wattage dropped during those minutes to around 274 watts.  I knew that was better than my previous test, but I was certain it did not represent where I was today. It was time to stand and push to the end. So, with about 4 minutes left, I came out of the saddle, shifted down, and then pushed to the end.

It was worth it! Yes, I felt kind of sick by that last pedal stroke, but looking at my Garmin I saw an average of 279 watts for the 20 minutes.  That is nearly a 10 watt increase over my last FTP test. That final push had raised my average by about 5 watts.  Looking at the graph, I see that it was also the portion of the ride where I put out the most wattage.

I uploaded my data to Trainingpeaks.com and my coach, Jim Cunningham, who has been in California coaching at the Olympic Training Center, will soon let me know if I did everything correctly so the test will be valid. I can’t imagine it won’t be. I will be curious to know if he expected a better performance.

Me? I’m pretty happy with it. I have had a very rough start to my training due to all the physical problems I’ve been having. It has hampered my off the bike training most of all, but has not made training on the bike as profitable as I would like either. To see any increase it encouraging. Now that I am starting to beat this pain, I hope the next segment of my training will be even better.

Who knows what my numbers will be next time? Yes, I realize that an FTP of 279 watts just puts me in the Cat. 4 level, but – hey – that is what I am! I would love to see myself over 300 before all is said and done. You’ve got to start somewhere!