Music for FTP Testing
Without question, music is an essential component of what makes indoor cycling so successful and fun. Music is also extremely personal, so one instructor’s favorite playlist might be unusable for another instructor, and the songs your class prefers might be very different from those a roomful of riders in another city or country would enjoy.
There has long been a division in the indoor cycling industry about whether an instructor should “teach to the beat” or not. Teaching to the beat entails pedaling so that the revolution of the pedals matches the tempo of the music; in other words, cadence in revolutions per minute (rpm) matches the beats per minute (bpm) of the song. Not riding to the beat means riders disassociate from the beat and simply pedal at whatever their chosen or prescribed cadence is, independent of the musical tempo. Those who don’t teach to the beat will use the “energy” and emotional feel of the song to invoke intensity.
Both methods are valid; there is no right or wrong way—it’s more about how you were taught in your certification and your personal preference, combined with your own musical knowledge and ability to hear musical tempo. Some certification programs (notably Spinning®) have historically focused less on beat matching than other programs. In the past few years, the trend for beat matching has been steadily growing, so newer instructors are more likely to match cadence to bpm than some longtime instructors who’ve been teaching for a decade or more.
Once you learn to ride to the beat of the music, it may be a challenge to disassociate from the beat, especially when working hard (it’s easier to do on recoveries or cool-down songs since you aren’t focused on the work—you are focused on getting your breath back). Some people who are musically inclined may find it almost impossible not to pedal to the tempo of the music. On the other hand, there are plenty of people—instructors included—who simply cannot hear the beat. It’s not uncommon.
Other instructors simply choose not to match the beat because they are successful without doing it (I did it for many years), and because it does add an extra layer of complication and time commitment when choosing music, which in turn can limit your music choices. (That is, unless you are an ICA Member where we provide you tons of music playlists broken down by tempo, making is much easier to select songs to use for a certain cadence. This post gives you thousands of songs broken down by tempo…that could save you hundreds of hours of searching for music!).
While this topic can be controversial at times and demands its own separate discussion and educational content for instructors on how to teach to the beat, I bring it up here because for instructors who do ride to the beat, it is very relevant for FTP testing. Why? Because high-energy songs that have a tempo that matches cadences from about 85 to 95 rpm—the suggested range for FTP testing—can be a challenge to find and may require being open to using genres of music outside of your normal preference.
One example is the genre of Drum ‘n’ Bass. It’s a hard-driving electronic genre that typically falls into the tempo of 170 to 178 bpm. This translates to a cadence of 85 to 89 rpm—perfect for FTP testing. The popularity of D&B has been increasing over the past few years and you’ll find many D&B remixes of rock and pop songs. If you don’t like this type of electronic music…might want to try a little harder to open your mind to it because it works so well for this purpose—and you’ll find dozens of excellent options in the playlists below.
Expanding your musical preferences is always a good thing, right? I know it has been for me!
On the other hand, if you don’t ride to the beat, you simply won’t have this problem and will have a pool of songs to choose from that is vastly larger for your higher-cadence FTP field tests than the rest of us. (Though, do keep in mind that if you play a song that has a very heavy downbeat at 128 bpm and ask your riders to pedal at 85 to 95 rpm—some of them may have a hard time doing so because their feet may want to grab the 64 rpm instead.)
While I used to not be very beat focused, that changed about seven or eight years ago. Once I discovered how amazing it feels to pedal at 90 rpm beat-for-beat to a song that is 90 bpm, my indoor cycling world changed. I find it extremely motivating, especially at harder efforts, to attach my legs to the tempo of the song, and I’ve noticed an increased ability by my riders to do so as well.
But admittedly, it has narrowed my song choices and has made me work harder to find appropriate music for this type of profile. In this post, I want to share with you the fruits of all my searching over the past few years.
The rest of this post is for those of you who (mostly) ride to the beat and may need guidance in how to select songs for your FTP tests. Although, even if you aren’t beat oriented, I have a feeling you will still love our attached playlists…and some of you may be intrigued about the reasons I provide for pedaling on the beat (or close to it) for the actual FTP test.
I have seven Spotify playlists for you for your FTP testing (plus a PDF of my own iTunes playlist that contains some songs you can’t find on Spotify.) Two are lengthy “bucket” playlists of higher-energy songs that work well for FTP testing in the range of 85–97 rpm. One contains electronic genres and the other is more mainstream genres of rock/indie/alternative/hip-hop. The two playlists total over 550 songs, but I am constantly adding to these playlists myself and I’d love to add some of your own suggestions if you care to leave them in the comments.
The 5-minute hard effort that you should do prior to a 20-minute FTP test requires high-energy songs around 5 minutes long. My preference is to use a climbing song since riders will be seated at higher cadences for the FTP test, so I’ve curated a playlist of songs for you to use for this effort as well. I avoid the slowest climbing cadences and lean towards a cadence in the high 60s to high 70s rpm.
Finally, we have three 60-minute profile playlists that follow the protocol outline in our FTP testing profile.
[EDIT] In the summer of 2022, I started teaching at a club that has the Stages Studio system. The riders’ metrics are projected on a screen at the front of the room (riders can opt out if they want). We do a short FTP test at the beginning of most of our classes. These can be 3- or 5-minute tests. While I much prefer the accuracy of a 20-minute test, being able to give riders an estimated threshold number to use a baseline for each class makes it so much easier to get the class to work at appropriate levels. How that happens and the coaching required should be the topic of another post, so for now, I’ll just talk about the music part of it.
I’ve been curating high-energy 3- to 4-minute songs to use for these short FTP tests and have created a new bucket playlist to add to the collection below. As of this writing, there are 126 songs. As usual, I am always adding more so you should see this playlist grow quite a bit.
Cadence range for FTP testing and what kind of music works for this rpm
THANK YOU! I’m not a beat driven rider, or instructor, so finding musical choices at the recommended cadence ranges for an FTP test has been super daunting for me. Superhelpful.
Thunderstruck AC/DC 134 BPM for 5 minute effort.Song is just shy of 5 minutes.
This really is a fabulous song for this. I had considered adding it but used 135 bpm as my somewhat arbitrary boundary. No reason to not pedal a little slower! If it works, if it motivates you, if it keeps you going the whole 5 minutes, great!