Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test: Twenty Minutes of Pain
Recently a friend asked me, “What is this FTP Test that seems to frighten competitive cyclists?” I thought about how to properly express that it’s doesn’t frightens us, yet every time I see it on my training calendar it instills a certain sense of impending doom.
FTP is defined as:
“Functional threshold power (FTP) is a key metric for cycling performance. Defined as the maximum average power a cyclist can maintain over a one-hour effort, functional threshold power is particularly important for time trial specialists and for short-course and Olympic distance triathletes who need to know how to pace their effort over thirty-to-sixty minutes.”
Loosely defined, FTP is how hard you can pedal for a sustained output over 20 minutes.
I’ve had the pleasure of competing in many different sports over my lifetime and while they all have metrics, tests, and competitive outputs, I’ve yet to find one as daunting as the FTP Test in cycling.
The test generally consists of a 15–20 minute warm up period, then a 5 minute all out effort, 5 minute easy spin, 20 minutes of threshold, and a 10 minute warm down.
For me, the FTP test is a true test of mental and physical performance and focus.
Here’s a mental narrative of my FTP tests:
20 minute Warmup — easy music, heart rate up around 110–120bpm, getting legs warmed and mentally prepared — “This is going to be a good test”
5 minute All Out — legs fired up, breathing slow and deep — “This hurts, but now my legs are firing and I know what to feel.”
5 minute relax/spin — mentally focused now, game plan in effect, “start slowly and build up to lactate threshold, don’t forget at some point your legs will go numb and your brain will be doing the driving, don’t pass out.”
20 minute FTP test —
First 5 minutes, “OK, this is good, all systems smooth, push down, pull up, perfect circles, breathing deeply, relaxed upper body. The pain is there, but still OK.”
5–10 minutes, “Half way there, breathing is harder, remember to fill upper lobes of lungs, reposition hands, relax upper body, don’t look at the clock, don’t look at the watts, feel the power, the last 10 minutes are the ones that count, don’t quit.”
10–12 minutes, “OK, this really hurts, can’t breathe, snot draining out mixed with sweat, getting light headed, concentrate on pedal stroke, relax upper body, are those tears or just sweat?, keep power normalized, each pedal stroke counts, visualize perfect circles, knees in, shift hands to relax upper body, was that only 2 FUCKING minutes?”
12–14 minutes, “Here comes the tunnel vision, the blood is leaving my brain to rush to my organs, quads, and glutes. Don’t forget to breathe, fill your lungs, you will not fall off if you keep your legs moving, legs are now numb, vision becoming blurry, command your legs not the other way around, focus, not enough air to blow snot out of nose, let it run down”
14–16 minutes, “i think i’m dying, this is what it feels like to have the blood slowly leave your brain, heart rate 180 bpm, don’t look again, keep pedaling as if you can still feel your legs, anyone can do anything for 10 seconds (thanks Jeff Shoemake), was that only 10 seconds?, no energy to actually spit, let it run out”
16–18 minutes, “time was created by man and in another universe every moment is like a thousand years of intense pain, where’s that teeth chattering Pinheaded bastard, he’s clawing at my brain and body, i can’t justify continuing on, i can just quit and do this tomorrow, i can’t see light anymore, the tunnel is closing in and becoming a pin point somewhere on the horizon”
18–20 minutes, “time to finish this, no amount of pain will get me to stop now, push through it all, breathe as much as possible, anyone can do anything for 10 seconds, now just do that another 19 times, 10 more seconds, 10 more seconds, 10 more seconds…”
It’s a glorious result and all is well, let’s do another one next month!