By Rick Schultz, MBA, DBA
How to Gain Up to 20% on Your Next Functional Threshold Power Test
Or, Let’s see what your real potential is.
Here’s a testing protocol to show you your absolute 100% potential for a 20 minute Functional Threshold Power (FTP) effort. This FTP test shouldn’t count towards an actual number to base actual training on, but just to show yourself what you’re capable of. So when completed, you can choose to deduct the official 5% of the post test results used to compare the actual 1-hour results or, let the numbers stand for bragging rights! I would certainly not count this as an official FTP test that will be used to base all of your future training workouts on, but as a fun and novel specialized 20-minute effort that will tell you what your actual true potential is.
As a USA Cycling coach, I need to see what my clients go through, so I have personally completed dozens of FTP tests as well as coached & mentored clients through their FTP tests. I’ve completed enough FTP tests that I’ve actually figured out how to “cheat!” (You get a lot of time to think when sitting on a trainer for 20 plus minutes).
But, the first thing that I need to say is that you should really conduct your FTP test(s) under same cycling conditions as your racing/training, meaning using the same cadence and same gearing as you race and train with. It’s also easier doing an FTP test on a flat or slightly uphill road or best, a trainer which is recommended for this test.
If you think about it, the one thing that makes an FTP test so hard is conducting it using cardiovascular power. Most people work full-time, and, for most of the day they are sitting at their desk working, while their bodies are relaxing. Their hearts are beating at 45 bpm, exactly the opposite of a body operating at aerobic threshold. While sitting and slouching in their chairs, these athletes muscles, especially their hip-flexors and hamstrings are being foreshortened, and this is the #1 reason to embark on a stretching program. If interested in great and easy to do stretching and flexibility programs specifically for the cyclist, head on over to my coaching site – http://bikefitnesscoaching.com/shop/ where my daughter, who is now a fully certified and licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy and myself have written several Ebooks on this topic.
Later, when they get on the bike and want to do a full-gas 20-minute FTP effort, it’s exactly the opposite of what they have been asking of their bodies for the past 10 hours. So, we need a different protocol to shift the physical load from your cardiovascular system to your large muscle groups (glutes & thighs). This will help most cyclists perform at a higher wattage output, especially if this effort is only a short 20 minutes. The main drawback is that you will be building up lactic acid in your legs faster, but, if you are only riding for 20 minutes, who cares, the lactic acid buildup effects won’t really be that much of a factor.
Ready to Start?
Here’s how you push your FTP up by 20%:
- Use the same power meter and head unit as usual. This will give you direct comparisons.
- Install the next longer length crank arm on your bike for more leverage. If you are using a:
165mm, use a 170mm or 172.5mm, then readjust the saddle
170mm, use a 175mm or 177.5mm, then readjust the saddle
172.5mm, use a 177.5mm or 180mm, then readjust the saddle.
175mm, use a 180mm, then readjust the saddle.
- Use an indoor resistance trainer such as Kurt Kinetic, Elite, Cycleops, Wahoo, etc. These trainers will give you a consistent load thereby allowing you to more easily maintain a consistent power output. It’s the power spikes that hurt the results of a full-out effort.
- Make sure to also get a trainer-only tire or your good racing/training tire will be destroyed.
- Stick to an RPM of 55-65, 60-62 works best for me. This way, you are primarily using your muscular system instead of your cardio system. Note: the first time I did this, I was not out of breath nor really tired at the end of 20 minutes, BUT, my legs did feel it the next morning. This is how you will know you did it right.
- Remember to pedal evenly and smoothly. Once you hit your target number, stare at your power meter and don’t fluctuate. Again, it’s the power spikes that hurt the results of a full-out effort.
- Do this on a day when you have fresh legs.
- Concentrate on the target number, stay seated, rotate hips forward and use your quads and glutes, control your breathing, take a drink every 5 minutes and play your favorite music-loud!
- Most importantly, low cadence and stay steady
So, if you know your current cardio-based FTP, try and target one of the following:
Again, I recommend that you do your actual FTP tests under the same conditions as you train / race. But, if you want to try something new, a different training exercise, this is a fun one that I recommend, especially now that it is the end of the racing season!
Chuck Procner says
I usually get a lot from your articles. I have a couple of follow up questions. After the “cheat” test, do you change back to the original crank length? On subsequent real FTP tests do you keep the normal cranks? What does it mean if you exceed your cheat test FTP on the next real FTP test?
bike fitness coaching says
My real FTP is 330, my ‘cheat’ went to 375. But, I in no way would train or ride like this.
This is just a one-time deal to see exactly what you are capable of. My idea was to optimize everything and in no way implies that you would continue to train like this (unless you were doing something like an hour record). When going back to normal training, put bike back in same condition as before along with your typical spinning, same cranks as before, etc.
“What does it mean if you exceed your cheat test FTP on the next real FTP test?” Probably won’t happen, but if it does, that’s your new real FTP!
I have to wonder though, if by any means (short of doping or real cheating) one could increase their 20min power output by 10-20%, why wouldn’t a rider / racer employ this for a TT? I understand that real-world conditions require power fluctuations, but athletes spend a lot of training time trying to get just a few percent increase..
I was thinking this too….if a person can crank out 10% more power at an rpm of 55-65 then why are we time trialling at 90rpm? A 10K is less than 30 minutes for a lot of riders…
Might just have to try this and see what happens!
bike fitness coaching says
Give it a try on your next 10K, might work out well,.
Please post your results as I would be interested in getting more data points.
bike fitness coaching says
The major difference is shifting the load to the muscular system vs cardio system. Most typical (un-trained) cyclists seem to be able to handle pushing with brute force than spinning and running out of breath. To test this, find a steep 30% grade dirt hill and walk up it slowly taking long strides using glutes and thighs, next, try again but taking a lot shorter steps and at jogging pace. Try and keep same speed. Notice which way will put you out of breath. Which was easier?
The main drawback is the long crank arms. If using longer crank arms, this will eventually hurt your knees.
Try a test 10K using standard equipment but pushing a bigger gear more slowly. I would be interested in your results.
WOW!!!!! So, in order to cheat, I “only” have to spend God-only-knows how much money on a new, high-tech indoor trainer, and a whole new crankset?!?!?! (Sheesh, how do people come up with stuff like this?)
bike fitness coaching says
Thanks for your feedback Paulie. This article isn’t for everyone. For those that would find this informative would already have a new high-tech indoor trainer and spare cranksets laying around. They would know what an FTP test is and probably completed many. They WOULD be interested in finding out exactly what they are capable of and may even create power based workouts based on new ideas. They know what their power profile is and train with a power meter. Like I said, this article is not for everyone and I apologize if this article offended you.
Craig Campbell says
I would not recommend increasing crank arm length more than 2.5 mm for the FTP described, even with a corresponding lowering of the seat height. A seated rider would have to flex their knees more than usual at the top of the pedal stroke, potentially causing knee injury. The small increase in crank arm length is not likely to cause injury, but a 5 mm increase is more risky for injuries. When I worked as a USCF(predecessor to USA Cycling) coach in the 80s, the national coaching director Eddie Borysewicz recommended a 2.5 mm increase in crank arm length for hill climbs and time trials, even for the men’s 100k 4 man team time trial. This increase afforded more leverage, which allowed the rider to use a slightly larger gear at the same pedaling cadence, with very little risk for knee injury. I hope this information is helpful.