The Good, The Bad and The FTP


 

On the first Monday of June, we finally got around to putting our Dirty Wknd X Jam Ambassadors, Anna and Ben, through their FTP testing. Both were equipped with an InfoCrank earlier in the year, so have been riding with power data for a couple of months. After a series of unfortunate events (mainly Ben crashing. Twice) and overcoming the inexplicably difficult task of getting more than one London-based person to be available at the same time, we invited them to Jam Towers for a testing evening to determine their FTP values.

JC: What did you know about FTP testing before our Jam FTP evening?

A: When you mention an FTP test to a group of cyclists, everyone winces. It's not something anyone enjoys doing, but it's the best indication of whether all those miles and coaching sessions you’re doing are having the desired effect.

B: I’d been told lots about FTP tests. Given mountains of advice from different riders, as they regaled their most productive tips and how they best felt you should ride one. I was very grateful each time, but each time the only thing that really stayed with me was just how f*****g horrible it sounded...

JC: It does have a pretty bad rep! Why do you think that is?

A: Because it's really hard. The test measures your maximum power output over a certain period of time, and the only way to do that is to really, really push yourself. As well as fitness and strategy, you have to overcome the mental challenge of sustaining a subjectively high power output.

I knew that most FTP tests consist of a 10-15 minute warm up, followed by an all-out 20-minute effort. That's a long time when you're going all out. From what I’ve seen, FTP tests tend to be accompanied by very heavy breathing, lots of sweat, grunts and the famous 'pain face'.

B: The idea of riding at your limit for as long as you can is a horrendous thought. Doing anything at your maximum output for a long period of time is vile for the most part. We all know what it feels like to take a turn on the front. We also all know what it feels like when your turn last slightly longer than it should do. So, going in to my FIRST EVER FTP I had nothing but anxiety going on and couldn’t help but feel sick all day building up to it. Fun times.

JC: Sorry Ben…

B: Up until this point I had done all I could to avoid my first test with George. I’d even gone as far as to throw myself off my bike twice since being announced as one of the two Dirty Wknd X Jam Ambassadors just to avoid the beautiful bearded man shouting at me to keep going and to keep pushing harder. Unfortunately though, George, Jess and Chris had decided it was time. And with that, myself and Anna were sent to hell.

JC: Well, you have to be cruel to be kind sometimes! Anna explains more:

A: So, it's a fitness test, but it's more than that. It's commonly used across the cycling community - professional, amateur or social cyclists alike - so you can gauge where you are against your peers, or where you want to be. This makes it perfect for those working towards a specific goal.

The reason I'm training with Jam Cycling is to get stronger. The dream is to feel confident and strong enough to hold my own in a closed-circuit race. I'm only a year into my cycling journey, but I'm quite impatient, so I want my training to be structured in a way that ensures I'm making the most progress within a reasonable timescale. By doing regular FTP tests (e.g. every 6-8 weeks), I can see whether my training is improving my overall performance.

Before Jam, I cycled with friends socially out on the road, and my 'structured' training came from Watt Bike classes at my gym. This was my first taste of training for performance and the point that I started doing FTP tests. I kept the data from each of those tests and really valued seeing that number notch upwards as time went on. Setting goals and quantifying my progress increased my motivation 10-fold.

However, after Ride London in July '17 I lost a lot of that motivation. I had achieved more than I thought I would have since taking up cycling that April, and hadn't thought about what I wanted to do next. Then I discovered the Dirty Wknd X Jam Ambassador programme, and seized the opportunity to see how far I could push myself.

JC: Ben, tell everyone what we made you do.

B: On arriving the RevBoxes were positioned so that the bikes were opposite one another, as if in some twisted attempt to mirror mine and Anna’s pain. The music (selected by me, much to the disappointment of Anna) was cranked up and we settled in to the warm up. It’s at this point that the lactic acid began to build and my legs felt a little...leggy. Then George built us up. The sounds of Craig David faintly from the speakers, as he told us to move faster, pedal a little harder. On George’s command, we burst into life hitting our maximum watts for 5 seconds. Those 5 seconds felt like a lifetime. My lungs were burning and my head about to pop, as I launched in to the second attempt. My stomach was in my throat and I couldn’t catch my breath quick enough before another sprint.

As I settled back in to the saddle, I tried to breathe and steady myself with my legs barely moving. It wasn’t long until George was explaining that we only had a short relief before going again. This time he told us a power number to ride at for 3 minutes. Depending on how this felt, he would allow us more or fewer watts after 30 seconds, allowing us to push on or ease off. As the 3 minutes began, I held the number as steadily as I could, churning (I churn) out the watts before he told me to add more and then more again. The first 2 minutes passed reasonably quickly. The third did not. All of everything that I felt before was back, only this time there wasn’t an end in sight. The minute dragged, as George told me to keep going and keep adding more watts. To keep pushing and keep spinning. The collective encouragement was wonderful. However, I wanted them all to stop being so positive when all I wanted was to kill George*.

As I climbed down from the bike and settled in to what I assumed was a seat, my vision slowly came back to me. It was then George explained that we had a break before going again. Only next time it’d be for 12 minutes.

Jess passed both Anna and I a recovery shake and a banana. Once eaten and rested we returned to our thrones of death ready for what I could only assume would feel similar to being beaten up by a couple of boxers as a kid. Although that time I had picked the fight and this time the trouble found me.

And so it was as I had expected. George got us moving pretty quickly spinning our legs before telling us the number we each had to hold. I remember some exchanges in these moments, but for the life of me I can’t remember what they were. There was a video that Tim Allen took of both of us where we looked like we were probably being killed brutally. It felt like the end; here I was, dying. I knew it wouldn’t be a nice way that I’d leave this world, but I had imagined it wouldn’t happen in Battersea of all places! The minutes moved by slower than I’d ever witnessed time before. In a world where we are always complaining about time passing too quickly, I can assure you, if you do an FTP test, you’ll be wishing away the time.

When I got off of the bike I didn’t feel a thing. The lactic acid had built so much in my body that I couldn’t even think. George and Jess had completely killed me and I’m certain Anna felt similarly. It was awful! But my God it was beautiful.

JC: What did you think, Anna?

A: Jam's approach to FTP's is slightly different to what I have previously experienced. Rather than a short warm up and 20-minute effort, Jam structure their test as Ben’s described, with short bursts, a slightly longer effort, then the 12-minute all-out effort. This enables them to get more than one data point and construct a power curve, which shows how hard you can push those pedals over time.

JC: Like we said, we did it because we care! What will you do with the new-found FTP figures?

A: I’ve updated the FTP in my Zwift account, Training Peaks and on my bike computer, to reset the levels of intensity of my training. Theoretically, this will result in an increase of that FTP figure in another 6-8 weeks' time.

B: I have around 6 weeks training before I get to do it all over again. And when I do, I’ll know just how much it hurts and I’ll know just what to expect. I’ll find that extra little bit and push that little bit harder if I can. Like everyone else, the only coherent thing I took from my FTP is that it f*****g sucks and that I can’t wait to do it all over again. Madness.

*No Georges were harmed during the making of these athletes.