Last week, I took a Peloton ride, and I liked it…a lot. It wasn’t my first that I enjoyed, but this one was different. It was a 20-minute FTP test.
I took my bike down to Boulder (2.5 hours away) where my husband, Jeff, has an apartment while working on a job down there. Usually he comes up to our home in the mountains and hangs with me on weekends, but Boulder this time of year has better weather for riding so I got kitty sitters and drove down for a few days.
Despite some black clouds and an iffy weather report, we packed up the mountain bikes in the car to go try a new trail we’d read about. Maybe it would clear up. Alas, the skies opened up as soon as we started to unload the bikes, so we sighed and put them back, agreeing to go ride the Peloton bikes in the gym at his complex.
I’ve done six or seven Peloton rides there this past winter, most of them with Matt Wilper, one of the power zone instructors, and a few with Christine d’Ercole, a former bike racer and incredible motivator. I’ve never done a live class, only the on-demand ones. My husband spent the winter riding Peloton several times a week and he enjoys it (although he tells me he’s getting bored of it). He doesn’t like the ones that are too dance-y or with weights, but he doesn’t necessarily pick the more cycling-oriented ones, either. Jeff is one of those people who wants to simply get a good workout without having to think.
I had wanted to try one of the FTP tests for a while, so I told myself this would be the day.
The FTP tests on Peloton are just the 20-minute test; they suggest you begin with a separate FTP warm-up ride. Originally I was going to do that, but I started perusing the class offerings and got caught in the rabbit hole of options. I decided to try a 15-minute HIT workout with Hannah Marie Corbin with the intention of modifying it if it was too intense before an FTP test.
It turned out to be perfect. Prior to the FTP tests I teach, I usually do 5–7 minutes at an easy pace with a few leg surges, followed by a 5-minute very hard push to prepare for the higher-intensity effort, followed by 6–7 minutes at an easy pace before the actual test starts. As it turned out, this workout of six 1-minute high-intensity pushes was ideal as an FTP prep.
Hannah was great. She kept it interesting, her coaching was strong but not overboard, there was no fluff, and it was an excellent 15-minute workout that would be a great option when you want a short, hard cardio session that you will follow with weight training or core work.
I used the warm-up and the intervals to assess the power output of the bike and determine if it felt close to my Stages bike at home. I was pleasantly surprised that indeed, the wattage did feel similar. You can see in the profile below that my first interval was my “test” where I determined I was able to go harder for the next efforts. (Ignore interval #5—I think Jeff distracted me with a question!) If I was not doing an FTP test after this workout, I probably would have pushed even harder, but I kept it in check, pushing to just above what I felt my FTP was.
After the warm-up, I looked at the options for FTP tests and decided to go with Denis Morton instead of Matt Wilpers because I wanted to check out another instructor. Also, Matt played mostly hip-hop in the session I looked at, and I just wasn’t feeling it (hip-hop wouldn’t motivate me for a race-pace effort). Denis’s music choices were alternative—I decided I needed some angry motivation like the Beastie Boys to help turn the pedals.
I rode easy for another 5 minutes to mentally prepare myself. I’m not going to lie, I actually started getting nervous. What had I committed to? Did I really need to do this?
I decided to put myself in the mental and emotional shoes of my own riders and imagine how they feel when they are facing one of my tests.
Those are some hard shoes to be in!
Heck, I’ve done plenty of 20-minute FTP tests on myself with my own bike at home and my own music, but this felt different. Why? Maybe because I had planted the seed that I wanted to write about it? That laid an extra layer of responsibility to it.
I clicked the start button. It was on!
I am happy to report that the Peloton test is run like a cycling coach would run an FTP assessment with a group of cyclists. Everything was spot-on and Denis did an amazing job. He said all the right things. Personally, I think he talked too much, but that’s sort of a Peloton thing. And I get it—these are streamed classes; longer periods of silence for most people don’t work as well on a screen where the instructor might even be on another continent.
It was hard—very hard. Having earlier tested the power allowed me to target a wattage that felt close to my own FTP based on my perceived exertion.
I did have a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment. A voice in my head started to convince me I didn’t need to go through with this. I started to doubt myself, and was even looking for a way out. You can see that in minutes 10–15 on my graph below.
I mean, no one would ever know if I quit, right? It’s not like a class where anyone else would know I was there. So, yeah, what if I just chalked this up to a good enough workout and ended it right here? Fifteen minutes is plenty at this intensity, there is no reason to go any longer. C’mon, Jennifer, no need to keep going—who are you trying to impress, after all?
Argh! I was having my own little existential crisis and was very close to quitting. I knew that in order to complete the test, I had to call in the reserves; I needed help.
Then she appeared—my angel on my shoulder—and she was impassioned! She wasn’t going to let me do this to myself. First, she kicked the devil off of my other shoulder—he was the voice in my head that had been trying to get me to abandon the ride and made me feel like I wasn’t up to it.
Then, she got in my face. “JENNIFER SAGE!!” she yelled. “Wait-just-a-GD-minute!!! What do you mean ‘no one would know’?? YOU would know! Isn’t that the most important? And I WOULD KNOW! It’s 5 minutes of your life. Only 5 more minutes! You can do this, girl! You’ve done this before; you’ve pushed yourself through a world of hurt in the past. YOU GOT THIS!”
She was right.
I dug in and picked up my effort at the 15-minute mark. Yes, it hurt, but my angel was right. I’d felt this before and I knew it was something I could handle. It wasn’t “pain” as much as it was just extreme discomfort, and it would go away as soon as I stopped a few minutes later.
I’m really glad no one else was in the little gym (well, Jeff was, but he had his earphones on and was blithely riding next to me, oblivious to both my internal and external struggle), because it got a bit ugly. I was grunting and moaning, maybe even slobbering a little.
The last minute I amped it up even more and stood and squeezed out every last drop for the final 30 seconds.
Then I collapsed over my handlebars.
Within a minute or two, however, I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it had been and wondered why the heck I had even considering quitting.
That pesky devil—he was trying to sell me a lie, that’s what it was!
So yeah, I think I did a pretty good job, and it was less hard (“easier” is not the right word) with the good motivation, coaching, and music that Denis provided. My result is actually the way it should look, with an increase in effort toward the end rather than a steady decline. This is called a negative split.
The power on a Peloton bike is estimated based on algorithms, not on actual applied force to the pedal or crank. As such, it is less accurate than a bike that determines wattage with a strain gauge (usually in the crank). I’ve also heard that the bikes fall out of calibration easily, so always try to ride the same bike if you are going to compare your output from one ride to the next. (I’m going to make sure I only ride this same bike the next time I come down.)
Nevertheless, even though you’re not supposed to compare from one bike to the next, my result was only 7 watts lower than on my Stages bike at home, and who knows—since I hadn’t been training as hard the previous month, maybe it’s spot-on. (I plan to test myself again at home in a few weeks—this time by myself with my own music and my own self-coaching. I’ll let you know how close they are.)
For those who have been wondering about the Peloton power zone program and FTP testing, the good news is that it will give you an excellent example for teaching your own FTP test (although, please don’t talk as much as the Peloton instructors do when you train your own riders). You will also get some good tips for cueing.
I advise taking the test imagining yourself as one of your own riders. Feel the doubt and ask yourself how you would motivate someone to get through that lack of confidence.
The Peloton power zones are composed of seven zones, all based on the same percentages of FTP as most cycling coaching zones. I like that they didn’t try to simplify it too much by inventing their own zones or rebranding it as, for example, “Peloton Functional Power” or PFP.
I do have a bit of a disagreement with their description of the possible durations for Zones 5 and 6. They say Zone 5 is sustainable for up to 10–15 minutes and Zone 6 for up to 3–5 minutes. This is not the case. Zone 5 is the VO2 max zone, 105% to 120% of FTP. Most fit mere mortals can endure it for maybe 3–4 minutes; elite athletes up to 8 minutes. And Zone 6, your anaerobic capacity zone, is where you’ll spend 30 seconds up to maybe 2 or 3 minutes maximum. If you can spend more time in those zones, your FTP is not correct.
But other than that, everything else about the Peloton power zone program (that I’ve seen so far) seems to adhere to proper training principles, and their coaches are skilled in power training, motivational coaching, and music selection.
I know some instructors who have taken Peloton classes and did not like them; I am sure there are some rides for which I would not write a good review. Truth be told, I would probably stop and change instructors if there were any fluff moves or if the weights came out. (In that case, me quitting wouldn’t be due to a devil on my shoulder, but rather my good sense in knowing when I was wasting my time.)
But I am happy to report that the rides I’ve taken—now including Matt, Christine, Denis, and Hannah—have all been very worth my while.
You know what I’d like to see?
A female instructor teaching the power zones.
How about it, Peloton?
Your commentary is making me want to try this push me over a cliff ride. I’ve not tried Peloton but you’ve got me thinking about it.
I hope you do, Marie. Let me know if you get a chance to do so. I’d start with one of the instructors I mentioned. That doesn’t mean some of the others aren’t good as well—my husband likes some of the other ones (and he’s an avid outdoor rider).
But they are a good place to start.
I completely agree about giving Peloton a try. As an instructor who bikes at home sometimes you just want to zone out and let someone else instruct. I use the filters to select the perfect ride. I suggest Christine D’Erocole she is an outdoor cyclist and has great metric rides and cueing and form.
yes, she’s great. If I get another chance to ride soon, I’ll pick one of her classes. It may have to wait until next winter (unless I get rained out again when I go back to Boulder) because given the chance, I’ll be outdoors! =)
Jennifer such a great read about your Peleton ride.
thank you, Jason.
Compare a Peloton Ride, (with weights) and RUSH Ride.
what’s a RUSH ride?
I wouldn’t do a Peloton ride with weights. It would be a waste of my time. 😉
I am so happy to read this Jenn as I have taken online classes with peloton before and was happily surprised. If you choose the right instructor, you can get a very good ride! Thank you for the great review! Denis does talk too much🙊BTW