20-Minute FTP Test: Coaching Play by Play

Training with power is one of the best ways to set benchmarks, determine workout intensities, and measure improvement. Functional threshold power (FTP) is commonly defined as the highest average power you can sustain for an hour. It is measured in watts. Your FTP is used to determine training zones when using a power meter.

The most accurate determinant of FTP is a 60-minute effort. But the challenges—and suffering required—of riding at this hard intensity for this duration are not only out of the question for the average recreational cyclist; even experienced and elite cyclists cringe at the thought of an hour-long assessment. The fact is, most people don’t have the physical stamina or the mental toughness to sustain such an effort over 60 minutes.

The good news is that cycling scientists have discovered a 20-minute test can closely estimate FTP. Because cyclists can produce a higher average output over 20 minutes than they can for a full 60 minutes, we must subtract 5% from the results of a 20-minute test to estimate FTP.

The 20-minute test should not be the very first FTP assessment a new rider performs. They should first attempt one of the shorter assessments, such as a 3- to 5-minute high-intensity effort or a ramp test such as the maximal aerobic power (MAP) test. While somewhat less accurate, this is sufficient to establish early training zones until riders are physically and mentally ready for a 20-minute FTP field test.

When you are ready to start leading 20-minute FTP tests, we’ve got everything you need in this Coaching Play by Play. It contains information on who should do them, how to prepare your riders for FTP tests, what elements you should control during the test so it is reliably repeatable, the protocol to follow, and minute-by-minute motivational cues to coach your riders through this challenging event. 

This particular profile doesn’t contain the music playlists. We will follow up in a few days with a post with tips on using music for field testing that will include two large playlists with hundreds of song suggestions plus three different FTP profile playlists.

Following that, our series will cover what to do after your FTP test is complete, including creating training zones, answering riders frequently asked questions, and helping them improve their FTP.

In short, you will have everything you need to know to teach FTP field tests in total confidence! 

Note: For those who don’t have power, don’t dismiss this profile! You can still train your riders to prepare for a 20-minute field test (if possible, use heart rate monitors to estimate lactate threshold) and gain the physical and mental benefits of this amazing challenging workout. Simply drop the references to wattage and coach with perceived exertion. The motivational cues still apply!

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