With the advent of trainer season, it’s time to see if your summer riding has paid off, or if all those end-of-season IPAs put a dent in your fitness. Either way, the functional threshold power (FTP) test is the numerical key to effective power-based trainer workouts. Once you have this number that most virtual trainer programs will require, you’ll be able to train, do virtual races appropriate for your level, or even create your own workouts. Your FTP, given in watts, is the theoretical highest level of power you could hold steadily for an hour. Thankfully, FTP is rarely tested by actually riding at this level for an hour. Instead, various tests are commonly used to estimate what your FTP would be were you to do an hour test. Of the numerous methods for testing FTP (you may remember classic hits, such as the 20-minute power test and the eight- minute power test), the ramp test is currently the most en vogue. For this test, you need to hit incrementally higher power targets every minute, resulting in a power graph that looks like an upward ramp. It’s only brutally hard for a few minutes, making it the FTP test of choice for many cyclists.
With the right level of planning, you can go into your test with the confidence that your FTP number will be an appropriate measurement of your ability.
Proper rest in preparation for a ramp test is integral for accurate FTP measurement. You may be tempted to go into the test with the freshest of legs, but your FTP test shouldn’t be a once-in-a-lifetime effort that you won’t be able to recreate. The results of this test will set your FTP and training zones for the next training block. If you spend a week preparing for it, there’s a possibility you will find your subsequent workouts too hard as a result. Still, you should feel energized and ready for the equivalent of a hard workout. Don’t do the test the day after you’ve pushed yourself to your limit on a ride as the fatigue will affect your performance. Be sure to get a full night’s sleep and try to do the test at a time when you would be regularly exercising.
Nutrition is not a huge issue during a ramp test as it’s a short enough effort that you won’t blow through all your glycogen or sugar stores. Regardless, it’s good to have a bit of simple carbs right before the test if only for the benefit of the psychological association between sports drinks and pushing yourself. If you plan on doing a 20-minute FTP test, a gel or a small snack in after the warmup segments will keep you perked up for the 20-minute interval. Eat meals at a regular time the day of the test. Don’t experiment with unfamiliar foods or caffeine doses on the day of the test; you never know how your body will react to a change.
Proper equipment adjustment
Set up your trainer the way you will have it for all of your workouts. If you have a smart trainer or power meter, all you need to do is make sure your hardware is communicating properly with your training software of choice. If you’re using estimated power, your power reading is based on the speed of your wheel, measured with a speed sensor, on your specific trainer. It’s important to take note of your PSI and how the point of contact with the wheel is adjusted (for example, how tightly the barrel is touching the wheel on a fluid trainer). It will be important to replicate the PSI and point of contact as precisely as you can in your subsequent trainer sessions so your FTP-based workouts are reading power as accurately and consistently as possible.
It’s important to go into your FTP test with a positive outlook. Many professional athletes say that mental strength is half the battle. Spend a few minutes before the test envisioning yourself pushing hard and feeling powerful. Being able to push yourself to your absolute limit on a ramp test, or maintaining a high, steady power level throughout a 20-minute test requires a huge amount of focus. Cue up a good playlist with your favourite music. (Make sure the tracks are dialed. You don’t want to be skipping songs during the test.) Kick your significant other or children out of the room and put your phone on silent. Minimize any outside distractions that could potentially distract you from giving 100 per cent of your focus to the task at hand.
Now that you have the basics covered, it’s time to figure out what works best for you. Do you like having the room pre-chilled before your ride? Does a specific electrolyte drink give you that extra kick? Maybe you like to think about something that makes you really angry as your ramp test enters its final minutes. Take note of these little things and replicate what works the next time you do you FTP test. Remember, even if the results aren’t what you were hoping for, you at least have a benchmark that you can use for comparison after a month or two of training.