FTP Tests

hypster Posts: 1,229
First of all some background. I'm a 63 year old recreational cyclist who has been riding for over 30 years. I complete several 100 mile sportives a year and have completed the Marmotte twice, the most recent being 2014. I've never really raced as such (I do on Zwift) but have done several triathlons as well in the past. I've given that up now but still swim and jog a couple of times a week in addition to cycling at least 3 times a week.

I joined Zwift around 18 months ago and did a 20 minute FTP test as a basis for training on there. Some months later I had a detached retina which required four operations and resulted in a very fragmented training and riding regime for about 8 months. As I am over that now I decided to do another FTP test to see where I was fitness wise as a basis for training going forwards. Zwift have just introduced a new FTP ramp test so I thought I would do that rather than the usual 20 minute test.

What I wanted to explore was a comparison between the two types of FTP test and maybe get some feedback from others who may know more about these sort of things than I do.

The 20 minute test does drag out the agony for longer but it is at a lower level and actually feels manageable if you know what I mean. Don't get me wrong, it is very tough but you go as hard as you think you can go. You can also start at a slightly lower level and build the effort through the 20 minute test which is known as negative splits i.e. you get faster in the second half than the first.

The ramp test starts off very easy but builds to a crescendo of maximum pain. I haven't hit my maximum heart rate for a number of years and so don't even know what it is now. It used to be 200bpm when I was in my 40s and first got a heart rate monitor and was regularly pushing to the absolute limit. Now I feel like my effective maximum is around 180bpm but it may be slightly more or less than this.

In the ramp test I did yesterday I got to 280W and my heart rate was 176pm. I felt like I was reaching my limit and so pushed through the final 15 seconds of that interval to 300W. I didn't feel like I wanted to push my heart as far as it could go so backed off the test at that point. That's the ultimate problem in my mind with the ramp test. You need the confidence that you can push yourself to the absolute limit of your heart and sustain it for as long as possible. The pain is bearable if you have that confidence but I didn't want to face the possibility of finding out if my heart could take it or not. Although I've never had any instance of heart problems, I don't know if it is advisable to take my heart to its max at my time of life.

With the 20 minute FTP test you are only effectively at your lactate threshold heart rate. With the FTP ramp test you are hitting your maximum heart rate and holding it for as long as you can stand. The ramp test is supposedly easier but I'm not so sure. What do others think?


  • I tried Zwift's ramp test a few days after it was released and found it problematic, because it uses ERG mode to change resistance on your turbo trainer, but the power range that different turbo trainers can do in ERG mode depends upon the gear you are using and the cadence.

    I was using 34/18 (middle of cassette) on my Elite Direto, which has a range of something like 80-484W, providing your cadence stays in the ballpark of approx 75-95rpm.

    However, ~20mins into the ramp test, my cadence dropped below 65rpm and over the next ~10mins it went as low as a bonkers 43rpm... But I carried on pedalling even though I was only getting ~320W resistance, when I should have been getting 500W+ through ERG mode.

    ERG mode was then terminated by Zwift between 30-31mins, before turning back on for the final two intervals of the test, but I was only averaging ~52rpm for those final 2mins and ERG was only giving 330-370W of resistance.

    As it happened, despite the ERG issues, by luck I had managed a new best 20mins power average.

    If Zwift refined their ramp test, so it automatically stops the test if you go below a critical cadence according to what turbo you use, then I think it is a useful tool... But as it was back on March 2nd, I think I'd rather just do a manual test up Alpe Du Zwift, either a steady effort or a "negative split" power addition every ~5mins by changing which cassette sprocket I'm using.
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  • whyamihere
    whyamihere Posts: 7,699
    I like the Zwift ramp test. I did it for the first time a few days ago, in erg mode on my Kickr 18. The check I use for the rough accuracy of FTP tests is to do a set of intervals at the new FTP the next day, when I'm mostly, but not entirely, recovered. If I can just about complete the workout, or feel that I could physically complete it but I don't have my head in the game (which is unfortunately common), then I can be fairly certain the FTP estimate is about right. The Zwift ramp test FTP felt about right. I've also done the TrainerRoad ramp test a few times, which also gave good results, but I do most of my training in Zwift, and was essentially only using TR for the ramp test.

    I've also had 20 minute FTP tests which generate a number which feels about right, but I'm less of a fan of those because they require essentially guessing how hard to go at the start of the interval to get the right steady state effort. This generally worked ok, but I was never confident that I'd got it right. The ramp tests are nicer (not better, nicer) because you just go until you crack.
  • cougie
    cougie Posts: 22,512
    Zwift will also monitor your HR in races and suggest a higher FTP if you've hit higher levels for 20mins in a race. That might be a nicer way to do it.
  • hypster
    hypster Posts: 1,229
    cougie wrote:
    Zwift will also monitor your HR in races and suggest a higher FTP if you've hit higher levels for 20mins in a race. That might be a nicer way to do it.

    I didn't state in my original post that I did the 20 minute FTP test on Zwift two weeks after I joined and got a figure of 247W. In over a dozen races since then Zwift has never updated my FTP after a race so I'm guessing I never actually exceeded that figure for long enough. Drafting plays a part in the races as well and if you're not in a group you're probably not going to be pushing to FTP either.

    I take your point though but I would say you would probably have to take the position that you were going to approach a race from an FTP test point of view. It might be worth considering and would divert your mind somewhat from the pain of just sitting there grinding away on your own for 20 minutes.
  • For too many reasons to mention, FTP is a terrible basis for prescribing load.

    This does not mean training plans cannot be helpful.

    In the grand scheme, you are trying to optimize training load at the following levels:

    ==> Workout (intensity, duration)
    ==> Microcycle (frequency)
    ==> Block (progression)
    ==> Phase (zone priority)

    Training plans can be helpful in this process by prioritizing zone distribution and microcycle workouts/sequence within each block.

    FTP tests are terrible predictors of LT.

    LT is a terrible predictor of VO2 max.

    And it doesn't matter anyway because intervals should be performed at maximum sustainable intensity anyway.

    You'd be much better off simply performing intervals and (1) add/extend/split as needed to ensure properly challenging or maintain quality and (2) adjust subsequent workout power as needed to be at MSI.

    This results in self-regulating intensity and progression and performance also provides insight into training status that can be used to adjust workout intensity, duration and frequency.