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FTP TEST: HOW TO RUN IT AND EXPLOIT IT CORRECTLY

Aggiornamento: 15 ago 2023

Ride Your Life training tips


The concept of FTP is today undoubtedly one of the most widespread in the world of cycling training,

but consequently also one of the most confused and misinterpreted and the execution of FTP tests is often applied incorrectly.

Road cyclist along a climb

WHAT IS FTP?

FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power.

The definition is taken from the latest edition of the book "Training and Racing with a power meter" (Allen, Coggan, McGregor):

“FTP is the highest power a cyclist can consistently maintain without causing fatigue.

Put simply, it is an estimate of the potency at the MLSS (Maximal Lactate Steady State), that is the maximum intensity at which the concentration of lactate remains constant as there is a balance between its production and its disposal.”


FTP = MAXIMUM POWER FOR 60 MINUTES?

As you can see, in its definition there is no reference to particular timing. One of the most common mistakes is in fact that of associating FTP to MMP60 (maximum sustainable average power for 60 minutes).

The ability to maintain FTP for a longer or a shorter time depends on various factors, and while for some it may coincide with 60 minutes, for others it may have (even much) shorter or longer durations.


IS FTP REALLY A VALID PARAMETER FOR DETERMINING PERFORMANCE?


We often wonder about the validity or otherwise of FTP. Is it really a reliable parameter? Can it be considered reliable to determine the lactate threshold potency?

In recent years, numerous scientific studies have been conducted on this subject, but this time, unfortunately, science does not make things easier for us. The results obtained are sometimes contradictory.

However, even if FTP does not always correspond to the actual physiological parameters of MLSS or LT (Lactate Threshold), it still represents a good benchmark for evaluating athletic performance in cycling and its changes, providing reliable and easily repeatable results.


HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR OWN FTP?


There are several methods for determining your FTP. The main and most recommended is to perform a specific test.

Let's see the main protocols available.


20-MINUTE TEST

It is undoubtedly the best known and most used and the one I recommend most to perform as it is the only one that has also been scientifically studied.

We could define it as the "original test" and this is its execution protocol:

• 20 '/ 30' heating

• 5 'at maximum intensity

• 10 'recovery

• 20 'stopwatch simulation at maximum intensity

• 10 '/ 15' cool down


8-MINUTE TEST

The principle of execution is the same as the 20-minute test but involves shorter steps of 8 minutes. The test is thus much easier to manage and this makes it recommended mainly as an indoor alternative, or for novice athletes who would have great difficulty running a 20-minute stopwatch.

Here's how to do it:

• 20'/ 30' heating

• 8 'at maximum intensity

• 10 'recovery

• 8 'stopwatch simulation at maximum intensity

• 10 '/ 15' cool down


The main limitation of this protocol is that, compared to the 20-minute test, it has considerably much less scientific support. Furthermore, on the 8-minute one, there is no unification of how to determine FTP: there are those who calculate 88% of the highest average power detected, those who apply the coefficient to the average of the two average power values, or even those who use different coefficients.

Whatever choice you make, the important thing is that you always use the same conditions and the same parameters for the comparison over time to be valid.

Road cyclists along a beautiful coastal road

RAMP TEST

By now all main indoor training software offer a protocol among their programs to perform a ramp test, that is, an INCREMENTAL TEST completely managed by the software. Here each company proposes its own specific settings, which however differ slightly from each other.

The ramp test is a valid and convenient alternative for those who want to evaluate their FTP indoors. Both the execution of the test and then the calculation of the FTP values are in fact managed by the software used. Its limit, of course, is that it is all related to totally standardized values that do not consider the trend of physiological parameters.


LIMITS OF FTP

Many cyclists consider FTP the only parameter to evaluate to define their abilities. The problem is that a single value cannot describe an athlete's entire profile and history.

• Knowing your FTP is essential, and if detected accurately, it can give a good prediction of your potential performance, but it is not enough on its own. Combining FTP with other tests and other evaluations is necessary to obtain a complete picture and have more effective benchmarks.

• Calculating FTP using the standard formula (95% of the power obtained from the 20 ' test) is not correct for everyone. It is recommended to test the values obtained or to perform cross-analysis to assess whether, in your case, it may be helpful to change the coefficient based on your abilities.

• Not keeping your FTP updated in the various analysis software can easily return wrong indications, leading to an error in the management of training programs.

You should therefore perform it quite often, approximately every 4-8 weeks.


CONCLUSIONS

The introduction of FTP has dramatically simplified and optimized the approach to using power meters, but you should be careful to consciously exploit it for the usefulness it really has.

Although scientific literature is divided, it is nevertheless indisputable that FTP represents a valid indicator of athletic performance in cycling.

The simplicity and repeatability with which the test can be performed make it an effective evaluation tool, in some cases even better than other traditional, more quoted means.

Among the various methods available to identify one's own FTP, the 20-minute test is undoubtedly the most suitable, scientifically studied, and reliable in its results. But it is essential to do it correctly, avoiding trivial mistakes that could negatively affect your entire preparation.


Is the FTP Test a Reliable, Reproducible and Functional Assessment Tool in Highly-Trained Athletes? – Eanna McGrath, Nick Mahony, Neil Fleming, Bernard Donne, 2019

“Training and racing with a power meter.” – Hunter Allen, Andrew Coggan, Stephen McGregor, 2019 Velopress

“Functional Threshold Power in Cyclists: Validity of the Concept and Physiological Responses.” – Borszcz, Tramontin, Bossi, Carminatti, Costa, 2018

“Is the Functional Threshold Power a Valid Surrogate of the Lactate Threshold?” – Valenzela, Morales, Foster, Lucia, De La Villa, 2018



Daniele Bazzana - BC Training

Athletic and Biomechanical Trainer

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