Improve your cycling – Know your FTP. Yes, it does matter!
As many of you will know, I am an Indoor Cycling Instructor and over the last 3 years I have developed my skills and knowledge to become a Power Trainer.
I am lucky to have done courses with two of the best Power Training Providers in UK Indoor Cycling; ICG and Stages. What they have taught me has been invaluable and allowed me to completely overhaul my classes and really help my students see true and robust improvement.
Their success is measured by the result of their quarterly FTP test and any decent cyclist that’s been around for a while and truly cares about their performance knows their number.
So, what is it? FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power. It is a number. That number is representative of Watts, a measure of power.
What does it mean? Your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is the highest average watt output that you can sustain for an hour.
Why should I care? FTP is the gold standard in the cycling world. Once you know your FTP you have a bullet proof, quantitive way to measure your improvement. It will also allow your set your training zones accurately, meaning you make your training more targeted and meaningful.
“But I know I’m getting better” I hear you say. “I beat my friend up box hill last week and I never do that” or maybe “I beat my strava time on that time trail segment” These are all good indicators that yes, you may be getting better but other factors may have been involved and they are not scientific. FTP is. Number goes up, you have improved… Fact!
Ok, sounds good, I want to start caring… how do I do it? Welcome to the grim world of FTP Testing. We love it but we really, really hate it (for the 20 minutes we’re in it!). You can do the test inside or out, depending on the equipment you have. Purists will tell you outdoor testing is best as you can generate more power when you are outside, than you can indoors. You will need a bike (obviously) and either power meter or a smart trainer. Some indoor bikes in the gym also have testing capability.
The Test You need a good warm up protocol as the test demands a lot from you so you have to fully prep both the body and the mind to be ready. A full test warm up can be anything as long as (brace yourselves, this is how I do it) a 20 min easy ride, 6 to 10 mins of 1 min max effort intervals followed by 1 min recovery riding, another 5 min easy ride, 5 min max effort and finally a 10 minute easy ride. This may seem extreme but it works. Some people do less… I’m not sure if anyone does more!?
Once warmed up, it is straight into the test and it couldn’t be any simpler… ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes. Make sure you record the 20 minute test as a separate lap/segment on your device as we don’y want the data from your warm up confusing the results. You must stay seated for the 20 minute effort. Yes, you can push more power standing but it isn’t a sustainable position for very long periods so we need to know what you can do in the saddle. There’s no hard and fast rule for preferred cadence. The slower you go the more your legs muscle fatigue will play a part in the result. The faster you go the more stress there will be on the efficiency of your pedal stroke and cardiovascular system. The advice I was given when I attempted my first test was to ride between 80 – 95 RPM and I generally stick to this. Make sure you stay on the bike once it is over (even though everything in your being will be screaming for you to get off, make it stop – thats how you know you did it right) and cool down properly. Ideally you want to ride easy for about 15 minutes, longer if you want.
Getting your result Once you have completed your test we need to do some maths. Look up the data on your ride and find your average power for the 20 minute test. Subtract 5% from that number and jackpot you now know your FTP. * we have to subtract 5% to find your average power for the hour and this sum is always pretty accurate. If you want to do a one hour test you can but I personally don’t advise it. I have done it once and I meant it when I said never again!
Final thought… power to weight ratio. As you can see, FTP doesn’t take into consideration anything about you other than what you can do on the bike. It doesn’t know how old you are, your gender or how much you weigh. This is why I also tell my students to monitor another number which is their watts per kilogram or power to weight ratio. To find this simply divide your weight (in kilograms) by your FTP. For some this wont be important but for for anyone that really cares about their cycling performance, and I work with a lot of people that really do, it’s important because how much you weigh relative to how much power you can generate will determine how well you perform. In a nut shell, if you are shedding a bit of fat and therefore getting lighter and that FTP still keeps going up, you are definitely doing something right.
Body Comp Stats Weight: 76kg (-2.2kg) Body Fat %: 29 (-+2.6) Muscle %: 33.4 (+0.3)
Mon: 12.15pm Total Body Conditioning
You know the drill as well as I do now… Monday = Row, Bike, Ski. This week we had a little twist, meaning we also did a little bit of running. We worked in 5 minute intervals on each piece of equipment with each interval starting with a 400m run. No rest, so a full on and intense 35 minutes of pure engine work. Safe to say, I loved it!
Mon: 1pm 10 min Pull Up EMOM + 10 min Push Up EMOM
Getting back to working on a couple of basic upper body strength/gymnastic moves. 3 reps every minute on the minute. Pull Ups are banded and strict. Push Ups are full, which means chest and thighs to the floor.
Mon: 5.30pm CrossFit Class
Two technical movements in focus today; the Handstand Push Up and the Pistol Squat. Both things I suck at so it was good to have a bit of time to strip them back and work on some accessory movements that will help me progress. The workout was a 21-15-9 of Handstand Push Up, Box Jump Over and Pistol Squat. My progressions were DB Push Press and supported Pistol Squats.
Tue: 12.30pm Pool Swim
I decided to go back to basics in the pool. I had 400 meters to do so I did 50m every 2 minutes and used each interval to focus on a different thing; breathing, stroke pull, kick etc.
Wed: 6.45am Indoor Cycle Class
Week 2 of my 2020 programme so one last shot at ‘The Threshold’. Found it a little harder early in the morning but still got it done. I put the Coach By Colour on just to keep me honest!
Wed: 7.45pm 1 mile Run
This was meant to be a 5k zone 2 run but by the time I got out of the spin studio I only had 10 minutes left before the car park charges kicked in so I decided to just do a mile as something is better than nothing.
Wed: 12.15pm Total Body Conditioning
I was late to class which meant I had to just jump in as the workout had started. It was a partner workout but I had to throw down solo which meant I lost the rest part of a You Go – I Go. It was also the amazing Pamlaaa’s 40th birthday so she got to write the workout but she shared this honour with those that were there on time. It became an AMRAP; 40 reps of Burpee, Cal Row, Box Step Over, Cal Bike, Plate Cluster, Cal Ski Erg, Slamball and Devil Press.
Wed: 1pm CrossFit Class
A little bit of everything today with a 15 minute AMRAP of 40 Double Under, 30 Sit Up, 20 12.5kg DB Hang Clean & Jerk, 10 Jumping Pull Up. As usual the Pull Ups were the hardest bit so hopefully with some more focus and work these will start to get easier.
Thu: 9:30am Indoor Cycle Class
Because this was the first of my classes to start back in the new year it is always the first to experience the next week in my programme. This week was week 3, Feel the Burn. A conditioning class aimed at building endurance.
Thu: 1pm Pool Swim
800m to get done today. Still lots of rest as my breathing is still very laboured but I actually did a little bit extra and ended up with 850m. I’m really hoping it starts to get easier soon and I can start to put together more distance without needing to stop.
Thu: 6.30pm Coach By Colour Indoor Cycle Class
Second shot at ‘Feel The Burn’. Using the Coach By Colour system I managed to control the session better and get exactly the results I wanted from the session. Boom!
Thu: 7.30pm RPM Indoor Cycle Class
Swapped my instructor bike for a participant bike and once again did a double session to get a bit more time in the saddle.
Fri: 1pm CrossFit Class
I had planned to do the TBC class but swapped to the CrossFit Class as the workout was burpees and skipping, yum! As a class we also got to choose the gymnastic skill we wanted to focus on for the skill part of the session and between us we asked for Pull Ups and Handstands. Head Coach Toby took us through some really useful accessory drills we can do in our own time to help us improve both of these things. The workout was a short and sharp 7 min AMRAP of 2 Burpee, 30 Single Under, 4 Burpee, 30 Single Under, 6 Burpee etc etc etc. It was as spicy as expected but I really liked it.
Sat: 8am CrossFit Iron Duke Charity Row for Rowans
Once again our amazing CrossFit community, led by Team Cooley, came together to try and do a little bit of good and give something back. This was our third charity event and this time it was the ‘Row for Rowans’, the 2 million meter challenge. 20 teams of 4 rowing 100k each. Our team comprised of me, the Boy (my husband Carl for those that aren’t familiar with my blog yet) and two more of the lunchtime crew Claire and Olly. We split the 100k into 1k intervals and smashed the 25k each in just under 7 hours. We started at 8am and the last team to hit the finish line did so roughly 8 hours later. It was a long but brilliant day and currently, at the time of writing this post, our fundraising efforts are just shy of £8k for the amazing Rowans Hospice. I am so proud to be a part of this crazy, caring crew!