Four Tips for Acing Your Next FTP Test

If progress is important to you then measuring and monitoring your performance is critical. We know, for instance, that in the first six months an athlete works with a CTS Coach, the athlete’s Functional Threshold Power (FTP) typically increases by 10%. Increased power isn’t the only way we measure success, but it is certainly an indicator that your training is headed in the right direction.

The coaches and I have used the CTS Field Test (a variation of an FTP test) for 20-plus years and it’s been featured in books and magazines. Tens of thousands of athletes use it to establish their training ranges and measure their progress. Because it’s so widely used, we get plenty of inquiries about how to “do it right”, so here are some tips to ace your next field test.

Before I get there, let’s address another question we get from athletes: Why is the CTS Field Test 2x8minute time trials separated by 10 minutes of easy spinning recovery, rather than one 20-minute time trial? I covered this question in more detail in “The Time-Crunched Cyclist, 3rd Edition”, (read excerpt on this question here) but the short answer is that the 2x8min test has been shown to provide accurate and reliable data that correlates with an athlete’s lab-measured lactate threshold power and/or heart rate values (Klika et al., J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Feb;21(1):265-9).

Your field test power will be about 10% higher than your lab-tested LT power, and we incorporate that factor into the calculations for CTS Training Intensity Ranges. I’ve also found that a wider range of athletes can successfully execute the 2x8min test, and repeating the time trial twice offers a glimpse of how an athlete recovers between hard efforts.

Now, on to tips for acing your FTP test.

Start hard. Ramp up over first 15-30sec, but at that point you should be “on it”.

Since the prospect of an all out 8-minute effort can be intimidating, some athletes sandbag the beginning of the time trial to save energy for the second half. In extreme cases of this, we actually see power files that gradually slope upward over the course of 8 minutes. Don’t do that; your average power will most likely end up lower than it would have been otherwise. Why? Because you’re starting out at a less-than-max power, but one that still generates plenty of lactate.

By the time you get to the back half of the effort, that lactate will prevent you from reaching power outputs high enough to outweigh or cancel out the weak beginning. The image below is an example of an athlete who tried to ramp up throughout the efforts. Compare the heart rate line (red) from this image to the ones later in the article. In this image, heart rate climbs quite significantly throughout the effort, whereas the heartrate increases rapidly and then levels off more in the other images.

Finish Hard

In the final minute of each effort, it’s better to fade than accelerate.

People want to see a flat line on a graph, but when an athlete aces the field test we typically see their power fade or fade and then level off toward the end of the efforts. That means you’ve really pushed yourself and that you’re over threshold, generating a lot of lactate, and fighting to process it fast enough to maintain a high power output.

If you’re able to find a final kick that keeps your power/pace from falling, that’s great. But if you have enough gas left in the tank to actually increase power through the final minute, you weren’t going hard enough in the bulk of the effort.

The image below is an example of a power file where the athlete increased power through the final minute of each effort (yellow line). His coach’s conclusion was that his 277 and 279watt values were actually lower than what he could have done. Within two weeks of training, this conclusion proved to be true and we increased his training ranges. Back-calculating from his corrected ranges, his field test would have been more accurate at about 286-288watts.

Peak at End

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Get a good warmup before an FTP Test

Some athletes erroneously think that the CTS Field Test utilizes two 8min time trials because the first one is a warmup and the second is the one that counts. That’s not it. You want to conduct a good warmup before the first 8min TT effort. One of the more successful routines is to ride for 15-30 minutes, and then do 1min FastPedal (high-cadence, low-resistance spinning), ride moderately for 1min, then do 2x1min PowerIntervals separated by 1min easy spinning recovery. Ride easy for three minutes and then start the first field test effort.

Two identical time trials does not equal a perfect FTP Test

It is rare for an athlete to legitimately execute two identical FTP test efforts. When we see a graph with two very nice, flat wattage lines, with minimal fluctuations in cadence or dropping off or ramping up at the end, it’s more likely that the athlete used their power meter to pace the field test rather than just record it. The image below is indicative of an athlete who most likely paced the field test, aiming for a predetermined output. That’s great in an interval workout, but not in a performance test.

Steady Eddy

Steady and conservative isn’t what we’re after here. We don’t want to see you hold back on the first time trial so you can match the output on the second one. That doesn’t tell us as much as seeing how your performance changes over the course of a raw, unpaced FTP test.

The image below isn’t perfect (it probably fades off a bit to severely), but you can see that the athlete’s heart rate rises quickly and then levels off, and that the power output (while still variable) starts to level off in the back half of each interval. Over time, this athlete’s field tests will likely “tighten up”, in that the peaks and valleys won’t be as dramatic, and he probably won’t start out quite as hard.

Peak and Fade

If you have questions about your recent or upcoming field test, consider taking advantage of our free Coach Consultations.  Also, keep in mind, that even though I talked primarily about power today, the CTS Field Test and subsequent training ranges are equally effective using heart rate only. (See article: Is Heart Rate Training Still Relevant?)

Chris Carmichael
Founder and Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 3

  1. Pingback: FTP Tests: How to perform 20-Minute, 8-Minute, and Ramp Tests - Chris Carmichael

  2. Great article! Last week I did the field test following the process outlined in the TCC book. I did the test on my indoor trainer which provided the power numbers. The first test power graph was a u shaped curve. The second effort power graph started out high, dropped a bit and then stayed, more or less, in a straight line. Interesting that my average power for the second test was 5 watts higher and avg hr 3 beats higher. Definitely a learning process regarding doing the field test and these tips are great.

    BTW- after talking to another cyclist, who has been a CTS athlete for 6-7 years, I decided that even at the age of 63 I could benefit from coaching and I signed up for a twelve month plan yesterday. I imagine I will get plenty of opportunities to learn how to do a good field test :)!

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