The objective of an FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test is to get an accurate indication of your current fitness level. As you progress through your training plan, your fitness will improve. Since your FTP is used to adjust the intensity of your power-based training to your needs, it’s extremely important that you have an accurate measurement of your FTP at all times.
How Your FTP Can Be Used to Customize Your Training
To put it simply, interval workouts are workouts that contain specified durations and intensities throughout the course of the workout. Depending on the goals of the athlete, the intervals in each workout will vary in intensity, duration and proximity. For example, cyclocross and criterium racers are much more likely to have a lot of very intense intervals that last for a short amount of time with very little rest between them. Conversely, time trialists and triathletes will regularly perform workouts with lower intensity intervals that last for extended periods of time and have longer rest intervals between them.
The difficulty with creating interval workouts for different people is how to make sure the intensity of each interval is just right for that person. While completing a 20-minute interval at 250 watts may be very difficult for a beginner cyclist, it’s most likely very manageable for an elite-level cyclist.
Instead of using fixed power numbers to decide the intensity of each interval, the key is to set the intensity of each interval as a percentage of power output. The reference point we can use to decide these percentages is your FTP. Since your FTP will improve with training and decrease with time off, it is a great indicator of your current fitness levels, and thus a great reference point to use when structuring your workouts.
Each interval of every TrainerRoad workout is created as a percentage of FTP; our app does all the adjusting for you. This allows people of varying abilities to do the same workout at the intensity appropriate to their needs while still getting the same benefits from the workout.
When You Should Take An FTP Test
Knowing now that your FTP is the benchmark used to customize the intensity of your workouts, it’s a logical assumption that if your FTP isn’t accurate your workouts won’t be either. Having an accurately assessed FTP is a prerequisite to effective training.
That being said, FTP tests are hard. They are a test of your maximum abilities, and as a result, they take a toll on your body. It may seem like a good idea to test your FTP as much as possible so your training remains accurate, but this would tire you out and probably make you dread training like never before. In the end, it would nullify the progression of your training towards peak fitness.
Now to get to the big question: how often should you take an FTP test? We recommend every four to six weeks depending on the training plan you’re undertaking. This usually allows your body enough time to adapt to your training and make measurable improvements. If you follow our training plans, we have strategically prescribed FTP tests within each plan to make sure that you are testing at proper intervals.
Improvements You Can Expect
As you progress through your training plan, you will move from a Base Phase of training into a Build Phase and eventually into a Specialty Phase of training. Interestingly enough, it’s not uncommon for athletes to see an increase in their FTP during their Base Phase.
However, the majority of the improvement should come during the Build Phase. These workouts are aimed at raising your FTP and do so through a lot of hard work. It’s taxing, but it generally pays off with the most improvement out of all the training phases.
During the Specialty Phase, it’s not uncommon to still see improvements in FTP. These improvements will most likely be smaller than what you saw during the Build Phase, but that is intentional. The main goal with this final phase is to fine-tune the fitness you have already developed as you get closer to your goal event.
If you are returning to training after time off or after a season of no training, you should expect a drop in FTP. This is normal for every cyclist and nothing to worry about. As far as how much the decrease will be, that will vary with each person.
Regardless of the decline, take confidence in knowing that your training will be adjusted to your needs. It’s easy to get caught up in reaching for last year’s best numbers, but don’t entertain the temptation. It will just cause further disappointment and not build lasting fitness gains. Just assess to the best of your abilities and proper training will follow.
Listen to Certified Cycling Coaches Discuss FTP Tests
“How often you should take an FTP test?” is one topic we covered in last week’s episode of the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast. Listen to the episode’s full recording below to hear this and other questions from cyclists get answered by our certified cycling coaches.
TrainerRoad’s Ask a Cycling Coach podcast is dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. It gives you the chance to get answers to your cycling and triathlon training questions from USAC certified coaches Chad Timmerman, Jonathan Lee and special guests. Learn more about other topics we covered in the latest episode with our resources below:
- How much improvement should I expect in my FTP?
- Should you expect a decline in FTP during the off season?
- How do I raise my FTP?
- How to add swimming and running workouts to TrainerRoad training plans?
- Should masters athletes do high intensity intervals?
- How to adapt a triathlon training plan for duathlon
- How to do form sprints
- Reverse periodization
- Running as cross training for cyclists
- Nutrition planning for base training
- Weight training for cyclists
- Using a TT bike on the indoor trainer
- How do I compare heart rate zones to power zones?
- How often should I assess my FTP?
- How to shorten your training plan
- Is there such thing as too much sweet spot work?
- How to not lose weight for cyclists
- How to taper for your A-Race
If you have a question that you’d like to ask Coach Chad, submit your question here. We’ll do our best to answer them on the next podcast episode.
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