Q: Is my FTP different for climbs vs. flats?
Technically no, your FTP is your FTP whether you are climbing, descending or time trialing. When climbing a hill, you may see differences in your body’s ability to express 100% of your FTP, however, the experience is not enough to necessitate a different FTP.
Here's what can be causing the shift in your RPE relative to your FTP when climbing.
Anyone remember Newton's first law? As a refresher, this law states that an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion. When riding on flat ground, we tend to be moving much faster than we would when climbing and as a result, we carry more rotational inertia in the wheels of our bike. As a result, our bikes have a greater tendency to want to stay in motion if we were to stop pedaling. When you climb, not only is gravity fighting against you, but there is also much less rotational inertia in the system. As a result, you are required to output force for a greater portion of the pedal stroke in order to stay upright and moving forward. Since everything is moving more slowly, it is easier to maintain this constant pressure compared to when you are chasing the inertia of your wheels. As a result, there can be a decrease in perceived effort relative to your power output.
This factor is a bit harder to quantify since it can vary so greatly from person to person. Often times when approaching a climb, an athlete can be filled with a burst of motivation to work hard and crush the climb. This motivation is seldom present when grinding out long hard miles on the flats, or when completing an FTP test, so it can have an effect on the perceived effort of a climb.
This factor relates to the fact that some people are able to output power more efficiently with the increased hip angle that occurs when climbing steep pitches. This physical difference is relatively minor, and can usually be tied to flexibility limitations. Through training on the flats and on the trainer, the body will adapt steadily until that limitation no longer exists and you are able to perform efficiently at the "flat-land" hip angle.
Takeaway: While climbing may make it seem easier to produce watts, your FTP is the same regardless of grade and you should abide by your power targets whether you are climbing or riding the flats.
Q: Does my FTP equal my max one hour power?
You may have heard your FTP called your "Hour Power", however that is not entirely true for most athletes. When it comes to putting out maximal power for a full hour, there are other limiters at play other than FTP.
One significant factor at play is your pain tolerance and mental fortitude. Putting your body through a maximum effort for a full hour is incredibly painful and our minds often give up before our bodies would. Essentially, our minds limit us so that we cannot express our FTP as long as your body is physically able to. By following a progressive, structured training plan you’ll gain the mental fortitude and physical stamina to become increasingly apt at handling sustained efforts at your FTP estimation.
Now let's say that you've been training for years and your mind is an iron hammer. Should you test your FTP by going all out for an entire hour?
The answer, in this case, is still no. An hour-long, fully exhaustive effort will have a huge effect on your body's fatigue with a disproportionate training benefit. An effort like this would require ample recovery and can derail a well-structured, progressive training plan due to the inordinate amount of recovery required by all but the fittest cyclists. Now consider the difficulty (and dread) associated with repeating an effort this long and fatiguing every 4-6 weeks. It is just not a good idea considering there are shorter and less strenuous testing methods that will help you approximate the same end result.
Finally, FTP is used to estimate your maximal steady-state power, and this power seldom falls neatly at 1 hour in duration. Some riders can barely sustain this level of effort for 40 minutes while other, more highly conditioned athletes can do it for as long as 70 minutes. Regardless, a progressive, structured training plan can elevate your ability to sustain your FTP for longer and longer durations.
By completing your 8 or 20 Min Test, you will arrive at an actionable FTP that you can consistently base your training on moving forward. Your ability to express that FTP may vary, but it will grow closer and closer to that theoretical "hour power" the more you train
Takeaway: Your FTP may not actually represent your hour power, however, that does not change its utility as a training metric.
Q: Why did my FTP go down between phases?
So you've been working hard, you feel like you've been getting faster, but when you retested your FTP actually dropped...WHAT?!
There are a few reasons this can happen:
It is likely that you are carrying more fatigue in your legs than when you completed your initial FTP test. In these cases, your FTP actually has improved, but your fatigue is preventing you from demonstrating your gains. The best thing to do is give yourself an extra recovery day or two before trying that FTP test again
Poor Mental Preparation
Oftentimes, especially after an easy recovery week, we can feel a little "flat" both physically and mentally. Essentially, we've gotten used to the soft, comfortable rest week exercises and we've forgotten what it's like to be in the pain cave. If you think this could be the case, it might be better for you to switch your Tuesday and Thursday rides. In other words, you would test on Thursday after reminding your body what "real" training feels like.
Going into an FTP test where you feel like you've made big gains, it's easy to overestimate yourself and burn yourself out too early. This will be easy to spot because when you look at your graph, you'll see that you started out like Chris Froome, but then the power started to drop steadily until you're putting out a fraction of your initial power. On the other end of the spectrum, if your power shoots up in the last few minutes, then you had too much left in the tank and your test results would have been higher if you were to pace more evenly throughout the interval. To solve this, simply look at the graph, identify your mistake, and attempt to flatten out your effort for the next time.
Had an Off Day
Work stress, family stress, poor sleep or any number of real-life struggles can wear you out and make it harder to perform your best. In these cases, just give it a few days and give it a try on a better day for you.
Performing an FTP assessment (or any highly demanding workout, for that matter) can be especially difficult on the heels of a recovery day. And while it’s a good idea to be rested and refreshed prior to assessing your fitness, many riders benefit from a “priming workout” the day prior. Adequately recovered riders often use these on the day preceding a race in the Specialty phase for the very same reason: to prepare the mind and body for the abuse to follow, and to do it without hampering freshness.
Takeaway: There are a variety of reasons why you may have had a bad FTP test, so don't freak out. Reflect on your performance and see what aspects were lacking and work to improve next time.
Q: How often should I test my FTP?
FTP is the benchmark that we use to customize your workouts to your current fitness level. As you train and get faster, your FTP increases, and it is important that the FTP set in TrainerRoad represents that increase. This is why testing is so important: it allows you to quantify your improvements and scale your workouts appropriately. That being said, FTP testing is hard on you both physically and mentally. Anytime you push yourself to your physical limits, you put considerable stress on your body. So what's the right balance?
We recommend testing 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.
Another thing to consider is that you don’t have to wait for a scheduled assessment to alter your FTP. Small, weekly adjustments to the Workout Intensity or even your FTP are encouraged if you’re feeling under-challenged during each workout.
Ideally, you'll utilize some combination of both formal testing and manual increases to maintain an appropriate FTP as this is probably the most thorough way to measure progress. By using both, you'll constantly be pushing yourself in addition to having repeatable, measurable tests to get some hard numbers.
Takeaway: Test every 4-6 weeks, but don't be afraid to bump up the numbers if your workouts are too easy.
Q: Is my FTP too low?
Completing an ideal FTP test can be a very elusive challenge. Go too hard and you blow up. Go too easy and you wind up with a too-low FTP. Either way, you end up with an FTP that is lower than your true capabilities. Here are a few pointers to help you find out if your FTP is set too low.
Rest intervals are too easy
The TrainerRoad interval workouts are designed to push you to the point where you need those rest intervals. If you come to the rest intervals but you don't feel as though you need the recovery time, then your FTP may be set too low.
Over-unders are not exhausting
An over-under workout forces you to play jump-rope with your FTP line in an exercise of pain and suffering. These workouts are known for pushing you to the limit both physically and mentally. If you are completing the over-under sets with minimal emotional trauma, then your FTP may be set too low.
Long threshold intervals are too easy
If you can sustain 40 total minutes at FTP, even done over the course of several intervals, with minimal rest and minimal feelings of despair, then your FTP may be set too low.
Takeaway: Interval training should be hard, so if you are never struggling with completing your workouts, then your FTP may be too low.
Q: Should I test in my aero position?
When you test your FTP, the goal is to find the point where your muscles start producing more byproduct than they can effectively process. In order to most closely estimate that value, we need to eliminate bottlenecks so that the true limiter is your body’s ability to work aerobically and process lactate. This means proper air flow, humidity, temperature and also body positioning. The only way to determine your true FTP is if you test in the position that allows you to reach your maximum potential - this may or may not be your aero position.
But I'll race in my aero position...
You do race in your aero position, and through structured, progressive training you will gradually and consistently bridge any gaps between your FTP in an upright position and your ability to express your FTP while in an aero position. Over time, you may even begin performing your FTP reassessments in your aero position, but this is all part of the process we call “aero adaptation”. Much like other physiological and even mental adaptations to training, adapting to your aero position is also a progressive process.