100 Ways to boost your FTP result WITHIN A WEEK
For the seasoned cyclist who understands training with power, that title will look a bit silly. Yet for a competitive newcomer who wants FTP-bragging rights, the same title is probably what got you here.
First up. Your FTP is what it is. There is little you can do this week to get it any higher. HOWEVER, the FTP test you perform will almost certainly be sub-maximal for several reasons, so this post is really about how to minimise those limiters.
One of the things you will need to do, in order to get a best-possible result, is to taper as if you were tapering for a race. That’s stupid for most people as it will probably take a week or so out of your real training. So I’ll suggest an element of tapering but nothing too crazy.
The list is also focussed on what you can do this week as that stops a Top 100 list becoming a list of Top 1000 training tips.
Q: Are some of the suggestions a bit stupid?
A: IMHO, Yes!..some aren’t though. Take ’em or leave them, or just be entertained by them.
With that in mind, here are a few tricks you can use to boost the effects of your already-completed training and maybe, just maybe, get that FTP PB/PR. Ultimately you have to train a lot to get a lot better. But not for this coming week you don’t…you have to maximise the training you already have done.
All the suggestions are starred:
- ⭐⭐⭐3x stars. IMHO it will work
- ⭐⭐ 2x stars. It might work
- ⭐1x star. Can’t hurt
- ❌ 1x cross. It CAN hurt if done wrong.
FTP – VERY Quick Newbie Background
FTP is the maximum power you can sustain for an hour (kinda) and it is often estimated from a 20-minute maximal test on a turbo trainer, there are other protocols.
FTP = average 20 minute watts * 0.95 OR FTP = average 30 minutes watts * 1.00
More recently, we have seen many of the training platforms and apps use mathematical modelling to get EXCELLENT estimates of your FTP from your best performances over durations other than 20 minutes. I use those to continually assess my FTP, nevertheless, at some point, these models all require you to have done maximal efforts over other durations (aka breakthrough sessions). My training has recently come full circle and I’ve started doing 20-minute maximal efforts ‘for fun’ as they give me one of those breakthrough points I need.
Target? – A long term target that YOU can achieve with committed training is 4w/kg. IE your FTP divided by your weight is greater than 4.0 So 70kg or 11 stone would need an FTP>280w or a 20-minute test result of 295w. Simple!
The great thing with this article is that I mostly do NOT need to talk about ‘kit’. Kit slows you down in a race but not so much when stationary on your smart trainer and it doesn’t really affect your power output.
Let’s go. The list is surprisingly long, please feel free to suggest additions or mock me merciliously.
How Do I increase my FTP?
Well, you either train more in and around your current FTP level for several weeks or you kinda cheat a bit and do some of these…
Normal Nutrition & Extra Supplementation
I assume you eat properly all the time. If you do then there’s not so much you need to do with your normal ‘food’ for the week before your FTP Test. ‘Carb-loading’ will make just about zero difference to you as you have all the energy you need for up to half an hour of warming up and FTP fun. The benefits here come from damage limitation from what you eat and then special things which could boost your physiology in some way.
Q: Is this snake oil?
A: Some of it probably is.
You will find people like me who swear by beetroot juice and claim that is makes me faster. But how do I know that it is the beetroot juice or tapering that has made me faster on race day?
There is a lot of science behind performance supplementation but a general problem with the whole food and supplement industry is that some science is paid for by the manufacturer and, surprise, surprise it finds the ‘right’ result.
Luckily enough, most of this ‘can’t hurt’. In the sense that it can’t hurt your performance but might hurt your wallet 😉
- ⭐⭐⭐ Avoid any large meal for at least 3 hours before your test. You will almost certainly have enough energy in your muscles and liver for your short test. If you have eaten a recent meal then you might experience discomfort and you might have blood moving to your digestive tract to digest food rather than carrying oxygen to your muscles. Counter that by eating what you know you need to eat to avoid feeling/being sick. I might have a High 5 Energy Gel with Caffeine or an isotonic drink and a banana. Studies have shown that a theoretically unnecessary carb sports drink does psychologically help.
- ⭐❌❌ Don’t drink too much. To be clear you must be sufficiently hydrated but you don’t want litres of excess liquid in your stomach sloshing around and giving you discomfort. You are PROPERLY hydrated from yesterday and from the week prior to that, right? 500ml tops if you need something. Although if you feel thirsty you should DEFINITELY have something. Sip as you ride if you want to.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Drink coffee (caffeine). It is a legal sporting stimulant that used to be banned for serious competition. Go figure! If you weigh 68 kg you require 2-5 mg caffeine per kg body weight for a 2-hour event (sorry no figures for an FTP test). You take 136-300 mg once, an hour before testing. One espresso is about 100mg IF you are lucky ie probably NOT enough. Caffeine has as many PROVEN benefits as all the illegal stimulants you may or may not have heard of BUT the effects and side-effects of caffeine are known, understood and legal. Other caffeine-taking protocols will have you taking, say, 200mg of caffeine 5 mins before a race – ignore them and do what I say. Also look at the High5 energy sachets, for example, or their excellent race-nutrition web site which, funnily enough, recommends their products. Also, bear in mind that TOO MUCH caffeine has no positive benefit and MAY stop lactate being flushed from the system...you *REALLY* do NOT want that to happen in an FTP test, follow the guidelines above. Caffeine has a ‘half-life’ and wears off after a couple of hours, so bear that in mind if you have your caffeine more than an hour before your test and if you have a very long warm-up for the test. Personally, I would take 300mg 1 hour before the test and I would take a supermarket own-brand version of PROPLUS – that’s 6 (six!) tablets. Also, I have 1-2 coffees a day and I would not change that consumption pattern at all leading up to a test or race, you do NOT have to abstain from caffeine leading up to an event. (Link: caffeine science)
- ⭐⭐ Beetroot juice (source of nitrates). Take 0.5l of beetroot juice containing approx 6.2 mmol of nitrate 2.5 hours before you start. Bike tests show this boosts power by nearly 3%. That’s rather a lot, but is it true? 😉 I think it’s true, others do not.
- ⭐⭐ CurraNZ Concentrated blackcurrant tablets. If Beet-it works for you then so might these – either instead of or complementary. Take 2 a day all week before a test or race, otherwise, take one a day throughout the year.
- ⭐Rhodiola extract may help lower lactate levels. I’ve not tried this. You can buy it in Holland & Barret – let me know your experience below if you have tried it, please.
- ⭐Try Ginger. It helps reduce the stomach distress you may have caused yourself by taking too many supplements 😉
- ⭐⭐ If you plan on doing a test in the morning then PROPERLY go to the toilet the night before and especially also in the morning. Get it all out. Coffee and routine will help.
- ⭐⭐ Don’t eat (too much) protein the day before – protein is hard to digest (eggs are not so bad). Basically, you want to consume digestible things that replenish your muscles and hydrate you AND that you are able to fully pass out of your body before your test.
- ⭐⭐❌❌ Carbs or isotonic drink take about 30 minutes to work. So they won’t help an FTP test too much unless consumed 10-20 minutes before the start! You don’t really have to worry about glucose: fructose dual carb drinks for a short test like this.
- ⭐❌ ‘Special’ carb drinks are from Maurten and SiS with their Rocket/Beta Fuel which looks at minimising GID and maximising carb absorption….again, this shouldn’t be an issue for you for an FTP test.
- ⭐❌❌Caffeine chewing gum is apparently chewed by Premier League footballers at half time during matches. This is because the caffeine is more readily absorbed in the mouth in a matter of minutes. So if you don’t have time beforehand to properly take on board caffeine then this MIGHT be a good substitute (IDK).
- ⭐ The smell of peppermint might help. don’t ask!! Just have a polo mint or two, it can’t hurt! we all like polo mints.
- ⭐⭐ Ensuring you are stocked up on these essential supplements/vitamins throughout the week might help; magnesium, iron, vitamins D, B and B12. They are all involved in energy production. You might find that athletes need more than the RDA of many vitamins, I generally take good quality multi-vitamins on a ‘just-in-case’ basis. However some vitamins, like VitA, I believe can accumulate in the liver if you take too much of them and you do NOT want that to happen.
- ⭐⭐ Following on from the previous point if you get cramps then it could be due to deficiencies. You might want to try MAGNESIUM OIL SPRAY. It’s really cheap. *IF* that stops your cramps then that is a sign that you are magnesium deficient. Whilst that directly shouldn’t impact a short, maximal test, it implies something is amiss in the energy production going on in your muscles. Again…it won’t hurt, FWIW I use this but mostly for longer races.
- ⭐❌ Minor pain relief on-the-day. If you have a niggling minor injury perhaps in your knee or ankle, then that pain might put you off trying as hard as you might. A mild painkiller might help. You should use paracetamol and not aspirin and not ibuprofen (honest!). Only afterwards take Ibruprofen to reduce inflammation.
- ⭐⭐⭐❌ So I’m told, Sodium Phosphate and Bicarbonate of soda help as their alkalinity offsets lactate acidity enabling you to push harder for longer. Individually I think they might have worked for me in running races but I have not tried them together and not for bike races or tests. The Hammer Race Day Boost product recommends a 5-day loading strategy whereas simple kitchen baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) can be taken a couple of hours before the race. Warning: You might be sick and you might suddenly develop unusual toilet-related needs.
- ⭐⭐❌ Use the week prior to the race to increase blood plasma volumes. Why? More blood=better temp regulation=faster. How? Just drinking water may NOT be as good as using electrolyte/isotonic drinks which INCREASE absorption AND increase blood plasma volumes. This takes a day or so to achieve rather than a few hours. So plan ahead. Many suppliers of electrolytes offer these: eg H2PRO, High5, OSMO Nutrition and others. Milk is good at rehydration (and protein provision)
- ❌ Lose weight. That’s not going to increase your power output but it might increase your w/kg. If you try to lose too much weight in less than a week you will probably lose either water or muscle so I’m not sure it would really help in any case!!
- ⭐ HVMN Ketone supplementation is a newly available endurance fuel. It’s an FDA Generally Regarded as Safe naturally occurring product that is WADA approved. Essentially Ketone supplementation gives you easier to access energy when you metabolise fat at high effort levels. You WILL still be using some fat as a fuel source for your FTP test, so this might help. However, the manufacturers are targetting it for > 1-hour races. For sure, it will NOT make you slower. [ google: beta-hydroxybutyrate (βHB) or acetoacetate (AcAc) or exogenous ketone]
- ⭐ A similar product to HVMN Ketone is KE4, again not yet available in the EU.
- ⭐⭐ AVAILABLE IN THE UK: Look for the powder and bars containing C8 MCT at the ketostore. I use this for longer rides and it seems to stablise my energy reserve and stop me bonking, I don’t think it makes me faster per see. I’ll probably add this to my 2021 race day HIM supplementation….not to FTP tests/
- ⭐ Maybe try Raspberry Ketones (hmmm, maybe not) they are some sort of fat burning diet thing. I did once try some of my partner’s tablets and on that one occasion, I did feel like I had a bit more energy. Take that as scientific proof if you like! Seriously though I might investigate their use a bit more as they are cheap compared to the HVMN/KE4/C8 type ketones although my understanding is that the science says “Nah”.
- ⭐⭐⭐ A specialist Pre-workout supplement like Cellulor C4 Original contains caffeine, alanine and creatine each of which should work. Check the ingredients. The last time I bought this I bought a subtly different version that didn’t have creatine and ended up having to buy an extra tub of that. Creatine works too.
- ❌❌❌ Drink alcohol the night before, have no water and have lots of red meat. You might need that beetroot juice as that is a Vaso-dilator and that could counter the effects of your red wine which is a vaso-constrictor.
Position, Mechanicals & Wearable Kit for an FTP test
Jeez, you are desperate to eke out a few watts! Here we are mostly talking about measuring more accurately, measuring more favourably and minimising drive train losses for a stationary smart trainer.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Use a power meter based somewhere before the power you produce goes into your chain. Friction in your chain & in the rear mech could consume a few watts of power. So, power meter pedals or power meter cranks are cool but a hub power meter or smart trainer might display slightly less power than you are really producing. If you are using a Wahoo KICKR (probably other models too) then you can use the Wahoo app to make the KICKR mimic your regular power meter.
- ⭐⭐⭐ If you are using a smart trainer then maybe a new chain or an 11-speed chain for your 10-speed cassette might help matters slightly (it will work).
- ⭐⭐⭐ As might a good clean and oil of your chain
- ⭐⭐ Maybe also get one of those Ceramic Speed derailleurs. Just touch them and they spin for an hour #NoFriction.
- ⭐ I sometimes put a dab of oil on my pedals where they butt up to the cleats. It’s more to aid any natural twist rather than reduce friction per se (ie injury & discomfort minimisation). I also find that tri shoes help me here too for the same reason.
- ⭐❌ I would be very surprised if changing crank lengths or shoes or insoles would make any positive difference in such a short period of time. Indeed new stuff may well injure you or subtly use muscles in a new (untrained) way.
- ⭐❌❌❌ I have read elsewhere that the next size up in your cranks will help. I’d never try that.
- ⭐⭐ Having said all of that a decent pair of bike shoes will be better than a rubbish pair. Perhaps a stiff carbon-soled shoe WILL help you transmit more power?
- ⭐⭐⭐ A fan…or two. You absolutely definitely want to be cool, it will help your heart to focus on pumping that oxygen around rather than worrying about cooling you down. (the physiology is a bit more complex than that but the bottom line is USE A FAN)
- ⭐⭐ A race-like scenario will also apparently push many people to a better result than on a turbo trainer. It is hard to find an uninterrupted 20 minute stretch of road so, instead, invite a mate around with a spare turbo.
- ⭐⭐ If you live near mountains you may well also be able to achieve higher power levels going uphill if such activity usually forms part of your training. But the point really should be that you do the test in non-competitive, controlled and repeatable conditions.
- ⭐ By the same token, something like KICKR CLIMB or a few encyclopediae under your front wheel might help too.
- ⭐ Some means of dabbing away that sweat to avoid any discomfort. A 1970’s, Macenroe-esque headband is recommended.
- ⭐ You want bits of kit that make you comfortable and the sort of thing you would normally use like padded shorts.
- ⭐ Compression gear might help. Full-length leggings MAY stop your muscles wobbling and so you either waste less energy or use your muscles better. They have other benefits too. On the occasions I’ve worn mine for cycling, I found that the seams were in just the right place to cause discomfort and chaffing…keep them for running. That said compression guards just for your quads might work. Speaking with MOXY, they are pretty sure that compression gear does something positive to muscle oxygen.
- ⭐❌ A bike fit might help. If the required changes are very small then that might help you be a little bit better but if your cycling position was fundamentally wrong then a) don’t do an FTP test just yet and b) you won’t be adapted to the new position.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Almost certainly a normal, yet upright, position will produce more power than an aero-like position, the differences could be notable. But there is little point in getting an artificially high FTP if you can’t train effectively in aero in the zones it produces.
- ⭐❌❌ Insoles. For a variety of muscular/skeletal reasons, many of us have one leg longer than the other or maybe some form of twist in the bones of the foot. Stretching and strength work won’t change your underlying anatomy much in a week. BUT if one leg is a few mm shorter than the other an extra insole will balance your legs and might give you a bit more power. Or it might distract you from the balance you have already got used to. But you should find out if your leg lengths are different as this may also eventually lead to injuries. You should also check your foot is applying power evenly over the with of the pedal spindle – sadly, some bike fits may not even cover those points.
- ⭐ Ceramic bearings in your BB. I’ve got some of these…very smooth. Do I lose less power with them? Probably a wee bit. I can’t tell though.
- ❌ Oval/elliptical chainring. These potentially eliminate dead spots and let you spend a greater proportion of each rotation in the power phase of the stroke. They may also help on a TT bike. However, they change how your muscles are recruited and so you would probably need to adapt to ovals by training with them for several hundred miles. Also, consider that several power meters (Dec 2019) are still not oval chainring compatible because they do not take sufficient readings throughout the pedal stroke to enable the correct maths to be done. If you are measuring power from a smart trainer then ovals should not affect the accuracy of the results. In my experience, if you are using ovals with a power meter that does NOT support them, your power levels will be INflated (ie recorded incorrectly…don’t do that)
- ⭐Choose a gearing that gives you a straight chainline. That will waste less power and, hopefully, make less distracting noise too. I find I perform better in the big ring…I don’t know why. Someone might argue that the big ring is mechanically more efficient but I’m not convinced that, in itself, makes a material difference.
Gadgets for a new FTP
‘Sports gadgets’ just really means a bike computer, heart rate monitors, power meter, cadence sensor and maybe even a muscle oxygen sensor. They are of some general use even to good cyclists but also provide other abilities with a sanity check or provide some reassurance that you are performing as you planned.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Use a smart trainer to control the watts – if you are using a cheaper trainer you may well be manually controlling resistance and that resistance level may subtly change, for example as your tyre warms up. A decent smart trainer will effectively ‘automate’ power/resistance control.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Use an accurate smart bike/trainer or power meter. 99% inaccuracy is what you should be looking for
- ⭐⭐ Unless you are a good cyclist, you will not know your exact power output at any given moment. A half-decent power meter will accurately give you that information and help your FTP test pacing.
- ⭐⭐But a power meter will give you INcorrect readings if not properly calibrated, so make sure you do that (I know, you knew that…it’s a list). Some smart trainers require a calibration after 20 or so minutes of use and some trainers may also allow a special ‘factory calibration’. Make sure you have done the calibration properly.
- ⭐A cadence sensor might already be a part of your smart trainer or power meter, if not buy a cadence sensor. Dialling in the ‘right’ cadence is important but you have to be able to measure it first of all. We will re-visit cadence levels in a minute but really you need to have been using one for a while to ascertain your optimal cadence levels for any given power output.
- ⭐⭐Most decent bike computers can be used to have alerts to help your efforts stay within pre-planned limits. Or you could just look at the number on your handlebar as you sweat all over it. If you are using a preset power you could set the alert to go off if your cadence is too high/low.
- ⭐ Most people need to perform an FTP test above their lactate threshold (LT2, AnT). If you are planning to consider your HR during your test you might also want to know what heart rate your threshold corresponds to. You might even want to use HR to regulate your efforts. But take into account the effect of caffeine supplementation which will probably make your HR around 5bpm higher (varies). After 5 minutes, or so, of a hard effort your heart rate should be up to and above your threshold heart rate. You can use a gadget to monitor your HR. eg Garmin HRM-DUAL should work with just about any app or bike computer.
- ❌ Humon Hex: Heart rate is affected by many factors that alter its reliability as a pacing tool. Another approach is to use a muscle oxygen sensor like Humon HEX to determine if you are performing at your race limit. I have used my Hex for a few FTP tests and, surprisingly, I don’t find them useful to help pacing in the FTP test itself. There seem to be notable enough variations in the numbers from one test to the next or from one wearing position to the next and, whilst it’s great that Hex has colour-coded zones, I tend to do much of the test in ‘red’ ie it can’t prescribe a muscle oxygen percentage to aim for. Maybe if I got the wear-position just right time after time then I could target a specific %age level. Maybe…I haven’t been able to do that yet.
- ⭐ Humon Hex: Notwithstanding the previous point, the Hex IS pretty cool to use to ensure you have warmed up properly and that WILL help. (See later)
- ⭐❌ Thermometer: It might be useful to have an optimal ambient temperature in your pain cave but it will be hard to measure the true effective external temperature if you are using a fan
- ⭐❌❌❌ Thermometer: You might also want to measure your body temperature to see if you are overheating. You might also be able to stick a thermometer in places that thermometers weren’t meant to be stuck in order to monitor your CORE temperature, however, you might then find pedalling a little tricky. I like a challenge, but…not that one. There are thermometers that you can swallow that measure your CORE temperature and that might have some value, I don’t think they are available commercially and I’ve only ever used one when I was a guinea pig in a lab experiment.
- ⭐❌ If you have a single-side pedal power meter or single-sided crank power meter then you may well be FTP testing on your weaker side or over-estimating your overall power if you are testing your stronger side. Don’t worry, your results will probably be consistent from one test to the next but be mindful that one of the drawbacks with single-sided PMs is that, over time, you might start to subconsciously favour one side leading to the development of a power imbalance.
- ❌ You can use an old turbo trainer and a speed sensor and then there are mechanisms to sometimes convert speed to power. I used to do that YEARS ago and it was accurate enough for decent training but it’s not ideal kit to fine-tune your FTP, which, after all, is the subject of this article.
- ⭐⭐ Interestingly, that pesky science stuff shows that a bike display can increase your motivation and boost your performance by 3% (three!). Apparently, even your RPE can be motivationally kept lower by gadgets
- ⭐⭐ Trick yourself by somehow making your display device read lower, there is some science here too that this can motivate some people to greater heights.
Training, Tapering & Warmup for an FTP PB / PR
This section is probably the most important. If you train hard for 6 days and test on the 7th day, I reckon many of you will be MANY watts below your best than if you had instead followed a good taper. Tapering is the art of maintaining fitness whilst reducing fatigue.
- ⭐⭐⭐❌ Warm-up properly on the day as if you pull something you won’t get a PB, nor will you get a FTP-PB if lots of other physiological stuff is not in the right gear. Here is a power-based warmup that WILL work if you follow it exactly, perhaps add a further 5-10 minutes of spinning at the end of it and before your test.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Sleep. Your body does all the repair and improvement overnight. Sleep LOTS. Want some Human Growth Hormone? You could take it illegally…or just sleep instead. I’d do the latter.
- ⭐❌ I’m guessing but do not know, I think that sleeping tablets interrupt how your body repairs at night (it affects my HRV for sure), so sleeping tablets might not be a good idea to get sleep.
- ⭐❌ sleeping tablets are muscle relaxants. I’m really not so sure that you want to have these the night before a morning test. (IDK for sure. See this, which says otherwise)
- ⭐⭐❌ Don’t train AT ALL!! A 3-day abstention (taper) should suffice for novice cyclists i.e. do nothing for 3 days. More serious cyclists will benefit from activity during a taper and will also not want to taper for a week or abstain for 3 days, thus some other recovery strategy is needed. If you are a triathlete it’s likely that your training plan has numerous times when there is a 2-3 day period of no cycling – so all you have to do is skip one of the run sessions in that 2-3 day window – having said that, your plan or coach should already have included adequate resting time for testing days.
- ⭐❌ So you plan to do the 3-day do-nothing taper mentioned earlier? If you’re not so supple then on the first of those days set aside 30-45 minutes for an intense stretch session, stretching everything on your legs and core as much and as far as you can without doing yourself an injury. Be aware of how far you stretch and this should feel like a workout in itself. 2 days to recover. On your test day, do a quicker, easier stretch and include the warmup I’ve just included.
- ⭐⭐⭐❌ Look at ‘proper’ tapers if you are of a reasonable standard and if you are REALLY keen to get that maximal FTP level you might find that short bits of speedwork leading up to the test will help you stay fresh but don’t get it wrong, overcooking your effort and undercooking your efforts are both potentially bad. Even if you are following a ‘proper’, prescribed taper there is no one taper that best suits everyone. Scientists say that a proper one week taper will make a RUNNER go 22% faster than a 1-week total abstinence taper. That’s a lot but is it true? Although note that in ‘proper’ tapers not much is done in the last 3 days so the 3-day abstinence taper is easiest to follow for very minimal performance opportunity-loss.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Do a proper taper appropriate to your CURRENT level of fitness/fatigue. A generic taper might not be best for you RIGHT NOW. Look at TSB (CTL and ATL) on numerous products eg the most accessible is STRAVISTIX/ELEVATE for STRAVA
- ⭐⭐❌ Light sports massages are supposed to help. Personally, I would NOT do atest day sports massage unless very light for warming up purposes. I’d just warm-up, as above.
- ⭐⭐❌ I use my powerdot to aid recovery. Helpfully it has a ‘recovery’ mode so, well, I use it! It’s basically a hands-free massage device that’s considerably than paying someone to massage you.
- ⭐⭐Have a more in-depth sports massage 2-3 days prior to the test, this might free up knotted muscles tissue and hence reduces internal tension/friction, increase your range of movement slightly and provide other benefits too. But remember lots of “slightly” is what we are looking for to see that FTP edge higher. Personally, I would have a sports massage on the Monday or Tuesday prior to a Saturday test.
- ⭐⭐ Look at readiness-to-train/race software like the HRV4Training, Elite HRV or bioforce apps. Use that to limit what you do on the days leading up to your race. But do NOT use on the day of the test in case the reading comes out adversely, that will put you off your performance in the test.
- ⭐ Have a nice, warm test-day shower. Get the blood flowing, especially if you are not a ‘morning person’.
- ⭐⭐ It takes your body about 10 minutes to fully start the process of converting fat to energy. Finish your warm-up 10 minutes before you start.
Pacing your FTP Test – Target Selection
Most of you will hopefully be able to dial in a target wattage to your smart trainer. But what should the target be? And then how do you execute it both in terms of cadence and power?
This chart shows changes to modelled FTP (yellow line) using XERT. The circles show breakthrough achievements and the last circle is an FTP test on that day where the modelled FTP was slightly over-achieved by the test result itself. The blue/green line indicates FORM and the test was performed when FORM was good but not optimal (shown as blue, not the ideal green).
This model was pretty much spot-on. Even if the test was performed later or earlier in the week the modelled-FTP would have adjusted to a slightly different value based on load/fatigue states. But even at the end of this test, the result was like that from many other FTP tests we’ve all done; with just that little bit more effort, it could have been 1% or 2% or 3% higher and, in the case above, that probably translated to 5w….quite a lot. Why didn’t the model predict that? Well, the model is only as good as the inputs and the execution is only as good as the athlete. So the previous breakthrough sessions used in the model were probably not maximal nor was the athlete’s effort.
But the point here is that even if you have NEVER previously done an FTP test, if you stick your recent training history into a model like Xert (there are several others) then it WILL churn out a half-decent modelled FTP for you as your initial target for the test.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Get your target FTP correct. Do the maths if you are doing the 20-minute test. 20 minutes power is absolutely NOT your FTP (and I know a few of you think it is).
- ⭐⭐⭐ Get your target FTP correct. If you are testing regularly (6-weekly) then you can aim for a bit higher than last time as you have probably had a nice block of training since then. Again, the Xert model and other similar models would give you an idea of their opinion of the progress in your FTP, if they think it’s gone up a lot then factor that into any judgement you make.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Get your target FTP correct. You probably won’t be too sure what to aim for, if so, start out liberally rather than aiming to hold an unrealistic level for the last 10 minutes.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Aim for constant power. Trust the modelled value and know that you are fresh enough and able enough to do that power. Believe that you will do it. Then just do it. When it hurts a lot keep going AT THAT LEVEL. When it hurts more, again KEEP GOING at that pace. Really, you can do it. It’s not easy, but you can do it. If you slack you won’t do it. There are always plenty of excuses, don’t get yourself in a position where you have to make them.” That’s basically what my mindset is on the days where I perform. Once I, and probably you, lose that belief or determination or concentration then it is very difficult to continue a maximal effort. Even if you lose focus between 10-15 minutes into the test, it is hard to gain all those lost watts back in the final 5 minutes as even that last 1-minute sprint where you up the watts by 20w, does not change the average wattage much at all (+1w in fact!). You get to the end and suddenly you are 5w below your previous FTP level when you could have done much better.
- ⭐ Constantly monitor how you are feeling. Look at your HR and look at your cadence (I’m assuming your power is fixed). Especially at 5 or 10 minutes into the test, re-evaluate if you think you have the right target. Change the target if you need to. Although it hurts at the half-way mark, it’s MUCH easier to do 3w more for the last 10 minutes than 6w more for the last 5 minutes – both will have the exact same effect on your average if my maths is right
- ❌ An ideal, trained cadence for many cyclists would probably be in the 90s. But that is irrelevant to you for this test. If you perform your test at a level of cadence that you do not typically use then I doubt you will PB your FTP test.
- ⭐ So look through your stats. Look at your normal cadence but also look at your normal race-day cadence. Then look at your normal cadence levels when you are producing the kind of watts that you plan for this test. You will probably find that your race-day/test-day cadence is higher than your typical training cadence and that your FTP-cadence is somewhere in between. Those probably should NOT be different and probably reflect that much of your training has been at a slightly too-low level of cadence. We can’t fix that now but for your test, you might want to target your normal FTP-cadence or somewhere slightly higher than your normal cadence but below previous race/test day levels (in my experience). Actually, I tend to start out with my cadence somewhere near 100rpm, knowing that it will fall to somewhere just below 93rpm, which seems to be my normally ideal cadence. I do that rather than starting out at 93rpm. I find that as my cadence drops below that my legs start to tire disproportionately.
- ⭐❌ I’m really pushing Xert today! They also have an ‘optimal cadence’ tool which is a free CIQ app. I’ve never used it for an FTP test though. I’m assuming it looks at your historical power/cadence relationship and, sort of, does the things automatically that I have been suggesting in the last few points.
- ⭐❌ Give some consideration for the type of cyclist you are and the type of physiology you might have. If you are a strong/muscled cyclist then you might be able to better tolerate a lower cadence than a spinner like me. Apparently lower cadences favour muscle strength and higher cadences favour stronger heart/CV people. I’ve read advice from people to target super-low cadences like 55-65 rpm, that just would NEVER work for 20 minutes for someone like me. We are all different, and that’s why I say you should better understand your normal cadence ranges.
- ⭐❌❌ Pedal ‘correctly’, with the ‘correct technique’. This will be impossible to change in less than a week but it might help spread the load to other muscle groups for short periods eg. You could try de-weighting the rising foot, or you could try making your lower back non-convex (ie flat or slightly concave) to engage the hip flexors, or you could aim for the heel down as you push. You might be able to do those in an FTP-test scenario for only 30 or 60 seconds if you have not trained yourself to do them.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Sprint the last minute – that will only make a watt or two’s difference to the average. But, I mean faster than last time! And those seconds do count. Try and sprint with 2 minutes to go and when you feel your legs going just hold off (slow down slightly) for 5-10 seconds and then sprint again all the way to the finish.
- ⭐ If you are aiming for 260w and you can manage 300w for the last minute then you might want to re-evaluate your target next time, you should have been aiming for at least a constant 263w probably more like 265w.
- ⭐ Smile every minute, it will relax you. Can’t hurt?
- ⭐ Pinch yourself hard before that final sprint or when the going gets tough. (I don’t think this will work but causing a bit of pain might give you a quick adrenaline rush) Only use this for the sprint, apparently extreme amounts of pain prior to competing in other events can give boosts because of raised blood pressure from the pain. One pinch can’t hurt tho right?
- ⭐ Slow down at the start and don’t get too excited especially if you don’t have a constant resistance/power level setting. When you get going you are burning the super easy-to-obtain energy from within your muscles. It only lasts 10s of seconds.
- ⭐⭐ If you’ve heard people talking about ‘digging deep’ and learning how to do that in a cycling/racing sense you might have thought what you heard was a “load of tosh“. Well, it wasn’t! If you’ve dug deep and held on then you will know what I mean. You have to learn to do this to keep that FTP Test Result trending ever higher.
Choose your environment wisely
- ⭐⭐ Use the same machine in a familiar environment. If you use a Watt Bike in the gym, use the one you always use.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Try to ensure an ambient temperature of 16-20 Celsius, maybe slightly cooler. 16 degrees is probably the highest optimal temperature but a slightly warmer temperature might translate to an effectively lower temperate including the wind chill of your fan, so that’s why I said 20 degrees might be alright.
- ⭐⭐ Allow plenty of time to make sure all your gadgets work and that you can perform a warmup and the test itself ‘calmly’.
- ⭐ Shave. Especially for men: shave or clip your torso hair, this might help your core stay cool just that little bit longer. Then there’s always the legs so you can pretend you are a real cyclist.
- ⭐⭐⭐ Positive mental attitude. You ARE going to do it. People underestimate the psychological side of getting a PB. I reckon there is 5-10w to be gained from the right attitude.
- ⭐ Lucky charm. Hmmm.
- ⭐ Watch your favourite GoT episode (or choose your favourite box set). Hmmm.
- ⭐ Using music with a beat that matches your cadence might help. Hmmm.
- ⭐Train at altitude (or buy your own oxygen tent). About 7,000ft above sea level should do it! Ideally, you will be **living** at altitude but training at a lower altitude! Maybe that won’t make much difference this week 😉
- ⭐ Write a key message on the back of your hand or stick it to. Read it and stick to it, even when you feel awful towards the end of the test.
- ⭐Just try a few of these tips at a time. Maybe just one. Not all of them! How do you really know if it was one specific thing that you changed that helped or was it several things?
Me? Oh, go on then: I’d have a day off beforehand, have a beetroot juice and some caffeine, warm up and I’d crank up the fan to 11. Yes, you need a fan with that setting or you will fail.
If any of those helped or if you have any further off-the-wall suggestions, please comment below.