FTP: Functional Threshold Power or what I like to call, Fuck This Part.
I was dreading doing the test, like most people.
A few weeks prior I was supposed to do an FTP test but I chickened out and raced on Zwift instead. I thought I’d “test my power” during a race as opposed to going all out, alone, for twenty minutes. It doesn’t just physically fucking suck; it’s a mental fuckery too.
Then Adam called me out for not doing one. “How are you going to know what you’re capable of if you don’t do an FTP test?” He asked. “You’re right,” I said, “but they suck.” “They do, but you have to know where you’re at,” he told me. “I want you to do it next Tuesday.” “Ugh, fine.”
I scheduled it in TrainingPeaks and tapered a little over the weekend to prepare.
Wtf is an FTP test?
Measured in watts (you need a power meter), FTP is the average power a cyclist can hold for an hour. FTP is either expressed in watts or watts divided by the cyclist’s weight in kilograms (a.k.a-watts per kilo). Essentially, FTP is the nominal value based on the idea that you’d need more power, and less if you lose weight, to go faster.
In theory, you can increase your watts per kilo in a few ways: get stronger (add power), lose weight, or a combination of both. Ideally, you want power to go up, weight to decrease, and heart rate to lower. All three are difficult to do at the same time. Finally, you should test this every four weeks or so.
Usually, you’ll go all-out for twenty solid minutes. Afterward, you take the average and multiply it by .95, which is to account for not doing a full hour. That number represents the watts you can hold for an hour. I don’t think I’ve ever held my FTP for 60 minutes.
Before the dreaded FTP test
I treat FTP tests like a race. I taper enough for my legs to feel springy, I get a good night’s rest, I have gels at hand, and I mentally prepare.
The weekend prior to my FTP test, I did mostly Zone 2 riding, so not totally easy but I could definitely hold a conversation the whole time. Monday, I only did yoga and kept walking around to a minimum (my daily step goal is 10,000). I made sure to get to bed by 8:30 PM so I could wake up at 4:30 AM with 8 hours of sleep.
When the alarm rang, I knew what was happening. I wasn’t thrilled. I fiddled and farted around as long as I could, drawing out my morning cups of coffee, making my lunch for the day, stretching, yadda yadda. I had a banana with peanut butter for some quick carbs and protein. Typically, I skip the morning snack unless it’s a really hard workout, like an FTP test. I also grabbed a gel to suck down before the 20-minute hell.
Adam suggested riding up the Alpe Du Zwift for 20 minutes for the test. I didn’t want to have to time myself or figure out the average. Instead, I did the long, structured FTP test workout in Zwift.
It gives you a proper warm-up, averages your watts, and tracks the time for you so all you have to do is the hard part.
The Fuck This Part Test
I finished the warm-up on Zwift, my little avatar drinking its bottle. I had ten minutes before go-time. I sucked down my SIS gel, took a puff from my inhaler (because at this point I was already struggling to breathe), and told myself, “It’s just a number. It’s data. It doesn’t reflect who you are as a person. It’s not a judgment.” You know, all the bullshit slogans you read when you scroll through Instagram.
I knew I was going to tie some judgment behind it. I had a number I wanted and I knew if I didn’t hit it, I’d be bummed. Comparing FTP numbers is really like comparing dick sizes. The guys who are overly confident like to brag until shows them up. But when it comes down to it, it’s not just how large the number is, but how strategic you are in a race. And if I’m a sprinter (which I’m far from), my 20-minute FTP Test is going to suck, but watch me sprint to the finish and win (I don’t).
I researched prior to the FTP test for realistic numbers for improvement. It was something like 4-7% improvement. Doing the math put me at 212. I also knew you had to take 95% of the averaged number to account for it only be twenty minutes and not an hour. I pretty much had to hold 225 watts for twenty minutes to get that number.
How to make it through a fuck-this-part Test
Actually having a number I wanted to hit gave me a goal other than going as hard as possible for twenty minutes. I figured if I had the energy or power I’d push harder.
I broke it into 5-minute sections. For the first five minutes, I started conservative, sticking around 220 watts. I watched the watts and the average watts waver constantly. I tried catching up to other avatars as I pedaled inside my house.
My legs were feeling pretty okay five minutes in. They were warm but it wasn’t painstaking. I decided to increase to 225 watts. Realizing I still had fifteen minutes to go, I reminded myself of the other racers who have been training. I started talking to myself about the pain and accepting it; that it’d go away eventually.
And while it continued to hurt, it wasn’t as much of a mental fuckery as it typically is. I’d been trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This was testing my ability to handle uncomfortable feelings.
“It hurts. Accept it. Keep pushing.”
I was halfway through, sweat pouring, even with a fan and window open. I needed to increase my watts if I wanted to reach my number. I pushed it to 230 watts. More pain. More uncomfortable-ness.
“The pain will pass.”
I knew I was lying to myself but I wanted to believe it. My legs were burning. The kind of burn you get when you repeat some sort of movement over and over again and your body wants it to stop.
15 minutes done. I only had five minutes left. I kept repeating the same shit over and over again. “The pain will pass.” “You’re almost done.” “Only five minutes left.” “Accept that this uncomfortable.” “Sit in the discomfort.” “Breathe.” “There are riders out there, stronger than you. Go.”
I tried quieting my mind and solely focus on the number. I watched it waver up and down, like a leaf on the end of twig in the wind – just waiting for it to settle or fly away.
I tried pushing my watts up to 235. It’d go down to 220 back up to 235 and back down. It’s like when you’re holding a plank: your arms start quivering and the quiver runs down your back. Your body is about to collapse, but somehow you convince it to keep holding on.
You’re thinking, “fuck this” with two minutes left. You can’t stop, you have to keep going. I guess you could stop and lower your FTP, but you didn’t start an FTP test to piss out on the last two minutes.
One minute left. Zwift tells me to give as much as I can. “Pretty sure I’ve been doing that!”
Done. My new FTP number flashes in red, or maybe it was green: 211
“Great. I suck.”
I was relieved to be done but discouraged. I reminded myself it was data. That’s all. No judgment. Information only. It didn’t mean I was weak or a shitty person.
So, stop stalling and test your FTP. There are a ton of different ways to test it. You have options. Don’t worry about the number afterward. It’s just a number. There’s no secret meaning behind it. You place the value on the number – no one else does. Instead of worrying about it, make a plan to improve it. You don’t suck.
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