FTP is alive and well

Recently I was a guest at VeloNews for their Fast Talk podcast on the subject of FTP (Functional Threshold Power) versus 4DP that the SufferFest recently began marketing. In that podcast I summarized what I stand for as:
  1. Testing must be repeatable
  2. Testing should be simple and easily executable
  3. Testing should be specific to the power demands of the racing for which the athlete has his or her goals

Essentially, FTP works and is alive and well. You can listen to the podcast here:

Having heard our discussion, I want to explain how I monitor athletes' training and performance throughout the season. I use a combination of 20-minute field tests and real-world power data from races where the athlete reports back sections and durations where they went as hard as they could. Time trials are great pieces of data. So are hill climbs. Even races where the athlete gets dropped but fights tooth and nail to hang on show fantastic data. I think one of the challenges of the sport science that was talked about during the podcast is bridging the gap between the laboratory to the real world where the power meter is and performance occurs. My usage of FTP and 20 minute testing is an attempt to blend the two together. Here's how I do that:

I have athletes test once at the onset of their base training in the off season when their CTL (Chronic Training Load) is nice and low. This is to benchmark where they are “@” in the off season and update their training zones, especially the aerobic ones. To quote Dr. Andy Coggan, 'cycling is an aerobic sport, dammit". And to put on my pocket protector here: so that their sweet spot training is “goldilocks’* which when it is will stimulate an increase in lactate transport membrane proteins.

After an offseason of sweet spot training and tempo and zone 2 (polarized training - I advocate all 3) then I’ll have the athlete test again to find out how much faster they are in watts. It’s a direct apples to apples comparison thus satisfying my KISS principle of testing.

A 9 month scenario would like this:

November: 20 minute Field Test (benchmark & set training zones)

February/March: 20 minute Field Test (measure improvement & update zones)

In between November and the second field test is what I call 'group ride season' and often times the group ride will be so good the athlete will guess what? Go as hard as they can for 20 minutes. They may even get dropped and if the athlete fought hard an gives feedback that they did then that is another 20-minute data point to add to the rider's 20-minute mean maximal power chart (old Skool WKO3).

This data point is the bridge between the lab and the results sheet because it's in the real world where the performance occurs. Training and racing is testing. There's no point to arguing about testing protocols if you are only going to perform them in a lab once or twice a year and on the trainer, ugh. The 20-minute field test happens multiple times through the season! And I used to have a lab with all the fancy expensive equipment and we still used 20-minute field tests for athletes' power-based training. We even experimented with MLSS protocols and we still circled back to the 20-minute power based field test and FTP. FTP works that well.

Group ride (and race) data validates three things:

  1. yes, we have the athlete's FTP set accurately
  2. the rider's FTP has increased.
  3. the athlete's FTP has decreased

The beauty of power data versus lab testing is you get to 'test' measure and monitor the athletes' threshold much more frequently. Like every Saturday throughout the winter! When the season starts that's when the fun really begins, especially if there is an early season time trial because guess what? Its probably going to be close to 20 minutes and that's another great data point. More data, mo' better.

March: early season race data time trial: ~20 minutes

April - August: race data exclusively, specifically looking at the sections of the race where the athlete ‘went full gas’. For example a 5-minute section of the race they were ‘making the break’ or a 20-minute climb at the end of the race. Rarely do I have athletes test during the season because it takes away from the training they could be doing more specifically and I don't want to tire them out mentally. Besides there will probably be a 20 minute time trial or hill climb on the race calendar that is a direct apples to apples comparison and update to the athlete's current fitness level aka their Functional Threshold Power.

To summarize: I have athlete’s do a 20-minute field test and the beginning and end of the base build and then monitor their FTP using full gas training and race data throughout the season. Hard 20 minute sections of data bridge the gap between the lab and real-world performance. Booyah.

*Goldilocks - the exact right amount of training and training intensity (porridge too hot, porridge too cold > porridge just right) Copyright © 2019 FasCat Coaching - all rights reserved.

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About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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