Power test

There was no more putting it off.  No cold, no hangover, no problem with the power meter.  Time to HTFU and get on with it.

For those of you not familiar with a power test, it is a way of estimating your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is the highest power you can maintain over 60 minutes.  This is then used as a reference point for training sessions.  For instance you can do unsustainable efforts at above FTP (e.g. short sprints or climbs), or sustainable efforts at below FTP (for endurance).  So it’s like training with heart rate, except your power doesn’t vary depending on how you feel, how much caffeine you’ve had that morning and other variables – you always know exactly how hard you are working.

Clearly training with power requires a power meter of some sort, and while those are coming down in price, they still ain’t cheap.  So I recognise they are not for all.  And not everyone wants to obsess over their “numbers” all the time.  Nonetheless, I shall continue.

I guess you could do a power test by just pedalling for an hour, after a suitable warm up.  For some reason, the most common tests don’t make you do this.  The one I use (as instructed by The Coach) goes as follows:

20 mins easy spinning
3×1 min fast pedalling (100rpm) with 1 min recoveries
5 mins easy
5 mins all-out (“punch it and hold it” say the instructions)
10 mins easy
20 mins maximum sustainable power (95% of this number is your FTP)
10-15 mins spin cool down

So the first half an hour is pretty easy, gently bringing the legs and cardiovascular system to life.  Then it starts to hurt.  If you’ve done an FTP test before, the 5 mins all-out is at about 110% of that figure.  It’s not much fun, but at least it is short.  Then a nice long easy spin to recover.

The real fun starts after 45 minutes on the turbo. At that point you know that the next 20 are going to be horrible.  It’s a mental challenge as much as anything, as a constant battle is waged in your brain between “You are strong, you can do this” and “I just want it to stop, please make it stop!”.

For me it goes roughly like this:

“OK, you’ve found your cadence and effort level, all good so far.” vs
“This is already hard and I’ve only done 10%”

“25% done, numbers are ok, just keep doing the same thing.” vs
“Only a quarter of the way through?! You have got to be kidding me. I am hurting badly already.”

“Half way through, looking solid, banked a decent average so far.  Same again is all you need to do.” vs
“Jesus Christ this is hard, how can I possibly do the same again??”

“Come on, three quarters done, keep pushing, only 5 to go” vs
“This is horrific, I really want it to stop now. Can’t we just call it quits?”

“Two to go, you’ve done all the hard work, give it everything now, empty the tank.” vs
“There’s nothing in the tank you fricking moron, I’m dying. This is just not funny.”

@19 mins
“Can do it, will do it, can do it, will do it.” vs
“My lungs aren’t big enough! My heart rate has been off the scale for the last 17 minutes.  I think I am actually going to die.  Why the f*ck am I doing this?”

“There you are, wasn’t so bad was it?” vs
“I hate you. Don’t ever make me do that again.”

So all in all, it’s a barrel of laughs.  I reckon at least three months is required between tests to recover from the trauma.


A power test, or a really hard turbo session, is always accompanied by my Chemical Brothers playlist.  It seems to be well accepted that music can reduce your perceived exertion, as set out in this article, for instance, from a few years back: http://thesportjournal.org/article/music-sport-and-exercise-update-research-and-application/

What that article goes on to say, however, is that for high intensity exercise, music doesn’t actually make any difference, because the agony is so loud it can’t be drowned out by the tunes. Essentially it appears that music distracts you from the suffering, but only up to a point.  So all that careful playlist choosing and planning is fine for your moderate workouts, but crank the resistance up on the turbo and you may as well be listening to King’s College Choir singing Christmas carols instead of Rage Against the Machine.


2 thoughts on “Power test”

  1. Tim, in your 20 minute segment did you pick a power number and then try to hang on for as long as possible; start lower and managed to raise it or went too fast too early and paid for it? It is that segment that determines the FTP, right?


    1. I had a number in mind, which I kept to for about the first 5 mins and then unfortunately faded a bit. I think it’s best to try and keep a constant level if you can. Yes it is that 20 minute segment which sets your FTP – at 95% of what you achieve.


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