Enjoy Your Own Every 12-Week Pain Spa

Nuthin’ sez self-luvin’ quite like 20 minutes of sheer, unadulterated, pedal-driven implosion.

Taken in doses, equally-spaced, 12-weeks apart.

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  • Test your fitness — and your resolve — every 12 weeks
  • When you prepare for it, it can actually be…pleasant. Sort of.
  • On the other side of an FTP test, it feels so good, you don’t want another for…at least 3 months

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[dropcap style=”default”]FTP[/dropcap]

If you’re new to bike racing, the letters “FTP” could stand for pretty much anything. And you have to admit, seen standing around together, they’re a rather suspicious looking lot:

Freaking Thrashing Pedals

Frankenstein Tickles Pinnochio

Frozen Tomato Pickles

But…they don’t.

They stand for Functional Threshold Power. And it’s something I’ve written about here, a lot.

So, why am I writing about it, yet again?

Because I just took my first FTP test of the season, and man. As the late Bon Scott of AC/DC sang, “Lock up your daughters / lock up your wife / lock up your back door / and run for your life” because goodness, it was ugly.

Glad you weren’t here to see it.

That said, I’d love for you to have your own self-pampering FTP experience. In fact, even if you DON’T race or plan to race, don’t you just really wanna know how you stack up? Huh? Aren’t you even a teensy bit curious?

The Civility of Self-Assessment

Something as tough as a Functional Threshold Power test should have some nice comfy bits surrounding it. Not to dull the pain of literally thrashing yourself into a whimpering puddle of crybaby goo, but to remind yourself that, as a disciplined soul, you’re one of the special ones. So, here’s a little snapshot diary of the simple things I do to help make the test a little bit more — civil.

My Pre-Scream Routine

nightstand

The party starts the night before. Like any college lad knows, before an episode of wild carousing, you need to stay hydrated…

scale

First thing after waking: weigh in. I record weight in kgs, body fat percentage (shown), and muscle mass. I’ll also record the same AFTER the test. The official reason is to see if I’ve hydrated enough during the test: if I’ve lost weight, I didn’t drink enough.

chamois-cream

What do you mean you don’t ride with chamois cream? Do I have to do a post on that, too? My slippy balm of choice is a cool minty concoction called ButtonHole. (Go ahead. Snicker like a 12 year-old boy. It’s OK.) I lay it on a little thicker for a FTP test.

towel-and-fan

Front fan, placed Low. Not shown, another fan behind me, placed high. Sorta gives the impression you’re your own little tornado. That towel becomes your best friend rather soon after the carnage begins. Placing it gingerly over the front wheel is like setting a pillow — or preparing an operating room.

[callout icon=“hb-moon-bike”]The idea behind a test that seeks to understand just how much power you can dish out for an hour requires that you behave like a prop at a day spa: a towel. Believe me — you do get wrung out.[/callout]
hammer-in-the-fridge

With all the Hammer Heed™, Recoverite™, and Hammer Whey™ I take in, I have to have 2 Britta pitchers goin’ at full tilt. Last thing I do before climbing into the cockpit is mix up a recovery shake of 2 scoops Recoverite and 1 scoop Whey. Cures most of what’ll ail ‘ya.

oatmeal-fixins

Before heading to the Pain Cave in the basement, I layout the fixin’s for my favorite post-race, post-bloodletting workout meal: Magic Oatmeal. That’s my name for steel cut oatmeal dolled up to the extreme. If I don’t get everything pre-event, I’m too punch-drunk to get it right afterwards.

espresso-machine

It’s been suggested that caffeine after intense exercise helps speed the positive wonderfulness of your post-workout carbs. Well then, make mine a triple shot. I warm up the espresso machine…

aftermath

This grainy shot was weakly managed after I literally slithered off the bike. I’m literally still shaking. Somehow, I gotta make it upstairs to get the oatmeal goin’

bathroom

After the carnage, after the recovery shake, the pampering continues with a steamy shower that goes ’til it ain’t hot no more — and more protein-tinged beverageness. When you push yourself that hard, make sure you get a mix of protein, carbs, and a little glutamine to help reduce the appearance of bent-over decrepitness in the morning.

Post-Power Postscript

I was pleased with my first test of the season, albeit — I made a noob mistake: the first few minutes I was just a little too intense. Then, at the end, the last 4 minutes or so, I was a little overgeared: trying to force too much out of one cog too much. Ideally, you want your power curve to be a nice, gradual, upward slope for 20 minutes. Mine had a little waver and the front and end. Doing these things really well is a bit of an art, and it really helps you hone your time trial pacing skills.

And the coffee and oatmeal will taste absolutely divine. I promise.

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.41.26 PM

Red line is heart rate, green line is speed. The yellow line is the all-important power line, in watts. I couldn’t maintain the pace at the beginning, hence the sharp dip before finding a proper gear. Then, after a spike towards the end, a dive and a final rally. Like I said, not pretty. Cue Angus and the boys…

 

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: During race season, you can use your power or heart rate numbers to gauge fitness. What is your FTP routine like? [/icon_box]

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Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

  • legestrom

    Whats your FTP?

    • Oh, there’s a detail I could’ve shared, huh!

      I averaged 266 watts for the 20-minutes. At a factor of .95, thats an FTP of 253. I weigh 66.6kgs, for a watts per Kg of 3.8.

      That’s up from 248, the last time I tested, which was a series of 10.2 mile time trials last September. Each time trial had me around 25 minutes going full-tilt, so I used those power files as FTP tests.

    • Oh, there’s a detail I could’ve shared, huh!

      I averaged 266 watts for the 20-minutes. At a factor of .95, thats an FTP of 253. I weigh 66.6kgs, for a watts per Kg of 3.8.

      That’s up from 248, the last time I tested, which was a series of 10.2 mile time trials last September. Each time trial had me around 25 minutes going full-tilt, so I used those power files as FTP tests.

      • legestrom

        that’s a pretty strong number at this point in the season. For the Cat 4 level i’d assume that would get you some good results!

        I haven’t tested this month, but i’d guess I’m somewhere around 240 at 81kgs or 3.0 w/kg, down from 270 FTP at the end of August at the same weight. My goal is to get back to 265-270 for a race end of April. i know the general rule of 500 miles prior to serious intervals, but at what point should i jump into a rigid training schedule in order to reach a peak around race day? I’m currently at 425 miles so i’ll hit the 500 mark by next week.

        I enjoy your column / emails – lots of helpful advice in there for riders of all levels.

        • Big thanks for the complements. Means a ton to me!

          I assume by “rigid training schedule,” you’re referring to interval training.

          Ideally, you don’t want to start hard intervals until you’ve “topped your tank” with a solidly built base. Check out the post, “When is your base training done?” if you haven’t already read it. Here’s the link: http://www.startconfident.com/base-solid/

          A solid base means your heart and lungs are able to keep pace with your ability to dish out power over the length of time you intend to race. We know you’re ready to shift from base work to interval work when we can see that your heart rate isn’t significantly increasing at the tail end of a Zone 2 workout. After several workouts of “race length” where we notice a plateau, then your fitness is in a good place. Now you can start working on whatever you specifically need to improve for your goal race(s). In the upcoming 3 x 25 Training plan I’ll be offering, I call this period “Racecraft.”

          Back in the 70s and 80s, the rule of thumb was “ride for 1,000 miles.” But that was before heart and power measuring tools. We now know what a Zone 2 ride is…and how that relates to your Threshold. Of course, without a threshold test to be sure, we’re “riding in the dark.”

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