Cycling coach shares essential strategies for passing every FTP test

The FTP test is the best benchmark for tracking your physical condition and all the work you have done. It is a benchmark for determining if your training is working, where you want to go and how you want to get there.

If you are unfamiliar with the test, it’s a total effort of 20 minutes. The goal is to maintain the highest workload you can achieve for the entire duration, and your score is simply your average watts for 20 minutes. Of course, this is not a complete measure of its capacity. It is not a value to be compared to others. It is simply a marker of your physical condition and progress at that time. Two runners with the same FTP for their weight can have very different results in a race because there are many other factors in physical and mental performance. The FTP test is a tool for examining your own progress.

To get the most out of FTP testing, you should approach it like any physical or running test: rested and focused. You must also become good to take the test. You can do this by developing your protocol – everything you do before, during, and after the test. This minimizes the variables and reduces the anxiety that goes into them and makes your test results more accurate for comparison.

Below is my favorite mental, physical and nutritional tips for athletes to create their FTP protocol and get the most out of the test every time.

Test taking strategies

Whether you are an FTP veteran or new to the test, there is always room to improve the way you prepare, approach and execute training. Below, I’ve outlined my tips for beginner, immediate, and advanced FTP test takers.

NOVICE When attempting your first FTP test, focus on proper rest and reduction:

• Three days before the test, take a day off to recover.

• To sleep! Get as much as possible, from two nights.

• Two days before, add a 3 to 5 minute interval to a 7/10 RPE to an easy 60 minute ride. This will prepare your legs and teach your brain how an FTP effort feels.

• Take your diet seriously during these 48 hours (see Eating for the FTP test, below).

• One day outdoors, take an easy 60 minute ride at over 90 rpm.

• Use the first two minutes to find your pace, ideally with a pace between 87 and 95 rpm.

INTERMEDIATE After some testing, refine your approach by examining these critical areas:

• Write a plan for your process before and for performing the test. This includes nutrition, what time of day you’re best performing, and how you’ll use your cadence and heart rate to control effort.

• During the test, focus on controlling your mind and body to complete the test, not just to survive it. You want to experience the test, looking at how you react mentally and physically every 20 minutes.

• Think about and write down how your body reacted to the unique conditions (there are always variables) on the test.

ADVANCED High performance athletes focus on the mental aspect of the test, digging deeper into themselves to show every ounce of what they are capable of. Mental strategies include:

• Pay attention to details, minimize distractions, control what you can and stay on plan.

• Demonstrate constant dynamism, confidence and focus while adjusting effort throughout the test.

• Do your best and be patient and proud of your accomplishment, whether good or bad.

• When you feel weak, breathe out forcefully as if you are pushing all the air out of your lungs. The next breath you take will be fuller and deeper. It acts like a mental reset.


Eat for the FTP test

Nutrition is the most important aspect of preparing for the FTP test, so I consulted my colleague at CIS Fitness and our nutrition coach, Nick Reichert, for a full breakdown of the main meals before and after an FTP test, and examples of what to eat.

THE DAY BEFORE Carbohydrate-focused meals 24-48 hours before the test will ensure glycogen stores are full and prepared for peak performance. Get most of your carbohydrates from complex sources, such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, or beans. Carbohydrate-rich drinks in the form of low-fat, low-fiber fruit smoothies can provide additional carbohydrates without increasing the risk of bloating. An ideal meal is always balanced with healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and lean protein.

Sample meal: Six ounces of lean protein such as chicken breast, fish, lean cuts of beef, eggs or lightly processed tofu; 1 cup of cooked cereals such as quinoa, couscous, brown or wild rice, oats, beans or sweet potatoes; 1 cup of vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, peas or collard greens; and 1 cup of fruit, such as apples, oranges, berries or pears.

THE DAY OF Incorporate (not in addition) to your normal meals of the day, consume a meal high in carbohydrates, low in protein, low in fat and low in fiber three hours before training. Protein and fat are slow to digest and will also decrease the rate at which your carbohydrates digest. Closer to the FTP test, you may want to have a small snack (fruit, juice, sports drink, or a handful of dried cereal) to supplement glycogen stores.

Sample meal: 1/2 cup of oatmeal with milk and fruit; and toast with jam or low fat yogurt with fruit and granola.

POST-TEST Immediately after getting off the bike, eat a balanced meal with carbohydrates to replenish depleted glycogen stores and protein to aid muscle recovery.

Sample meal: Six ounces of lean protein; 1/2 cup cooked cereal, beans or sweet potatoes; 1 cup of fruit; and 1 cup of vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, peas or collard greens.


How to deal with poor FTP results

Give yourself some leeway and see this as an opportunity to improve yourself for your next FTP test. One of my athletes and a seasoned FTP tester, Nick Paglia, recently shared this great tip:

“If I was disappointed with a result, I would look at it and ask, where did I get the chance to do better? Maybe I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, or maybe my nutrition was poor the night before my test.

I believe dreams without goals only fuel disappointment. But if you look at your score in the context of the information, whether you like it or not, it can help you achieve your goal. Remember that you can be better tomorrow than you were today.

Ready to take the FTP test? Here’s how.

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About Keith Johnson

Keith Johnson

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