Music for FTP Testing
Without question, music is an essential component of why indoor cycling is so successful and fun. Music preference can be extremely personal, so one instructor’s favorite playlist might be unusable for another instructor, and the songs your class prefers might be different from those 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 means pedaling so that the cadence, as measured by revolutions per minute, or rpm matches the tempo of the music, as measured by beats per minute, or bpm. 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 music 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 musical knowledge and ability (or inability) to hear the music tempo. Some certification programs (notably Spinning®) have historically focused less on beat matching than other programs. In the past few decades, 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 got certified years ago.
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. 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 ride to the beat because they are successful without doing it; I did it for many years. For some, beat matching adds an extra layer of complication and time commitment when choosing music. It can also limit your music choices. (That is, unless you are an ICA Member where we provide you tons of music playlists broken down by tempo. This post gives you over 7,000 songs broken down by tempo…that could save you hundreds of hours of searching for music!).
While this topic can be controversial and demands a separate discussion and education 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? 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 (D&B). 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 exploded over the past few years—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 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 they may try to grab the pulse of 64 rpm instead.)
While I used to not be beat-focused, that changed around 2008. 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. Without exaggeration, it sometimes is the very thing that helps me finish a 20-minute FTP test!
Admittedly, transitioning to a beat-driven instructor narrowed my song choices and initially, I had to 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 curating these songs over the past decade and a half.
The rest of this post is primarily directed at those of you who (mostly) ride to the beat and may need guidance on how to select songs for your FTP tests. Nevertheless, even if you aren’t beat-oriented, you will still appreciate the bucket playlists below…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.
A Treasure Trove of Seven Bucket Playlists for FTP Tests
Below you will find seven Spotify bucket playlists for your FTP testing, plus a PDF of my own iTunes playlist that contains some songs you can’t find on Spotify. Two contain high-energy songs for FTP testing in the 85–97 rpm range. One contains electronic genres and the other is more mainstream genres of rock/indie/alternative/hip-hop. The two playlists total over 610 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. (Why? Because the necessary higher resistance calls on more force-producing muscle fibers which fatigue faster.)
Finally, there are three full 60-minute FTP profile playlists that follow the protocol outlined in our FTP testing profile. You can mix or match these songs in your next FTP tests.
In the summer of 2022, I started teaching at a club that has the Stages Studio system. Riders’ metrics are projected on a screen at the front of the room. We do a short 3-minute or 5-minute FTP test at the beginning of most of our classes. While I prefer the accuracy of a 20-minute test, it’s not an option for some older or less fit riders or in some facilities. A shorter test makes it easier to provide more riders with an estimated threshold number to use as a baseline for each class; this allows them to work at appropriate levels of intensity personalized to their abilities.
I’ve been curating high-energy 3- to 4-minute songs to use for these short FTP tests and have added this bucket playlist to the collection below. As of this writing, there are 153 songs.
Cadence range for FTP testing and what kind of music works for this rpm
The guidelines for FTP field testing are to conduct your 20-minute test in the mid-80 to mid-90 rpm range while allowing for individual preference and strength to pedal a little faster or slower. We avoid higher resistance which would engage more fast-twitch, glycolytic muscle fibers on the lower end of the cadence range, and also avoid higher cadences to limit the possibility of an elevated heart rate response on the higher cadence range. (Of course, experienced cyclists skilled at riding at 100 rpm can certainly do so if it’s their preference). See this FTP profile for more information on optimal cadence.
If you ride to the beat of the music, these suggestions for cadence mean that you’ll need to find songs in the range of 85 to 95 rpm. In an FTP test, where the goal is to put out your best power performance, you don’t need to be strict about riding exactly on the beat. Tell your class that the music you’ve selected will help guide them in their cadence choice, but they have permission to pedal slightly faster or slower.
In an FTP test, it’s important to focus without distraction in order to successfully push oneself to the desired intensity for 20 full minutes. As the coach, your musical choices can help or hinder your riders’ mental focus. Many mainstream tracks are shorter songs filled with lyrics. When there are six or seven 3- or 4-minute songs strung together, especially those with lyrics, the constant change can be distracting—there is so little space for a mind-body focus.
Not that there is anything wrong with lyrics—they can be motivating at times. However, for a 20-minute continual driving effort, a blend of songs with lyrics combined with electronic tracks without lyrics provides the best of all worlds. In other words, mix your playlist up. When I create my field test playlists, I tend to use shorter songs to round out a couple of longer, rhythmic downtempo or driving DnB songs with few or no lyrics. I prefer to end with a shorter, hard-driving familiar song with lyrics to help my riders pound it out to the finish. At this point, it’s not as much about focus—you know you’re almost there so you want to squeeze out every last drop.
First up are two Spotify playlists with high-energy songs for cadences from the low 80s to the upper 90s rpm. One contains electronic songs, the other contains rock, alternative, indie, and hip-hop songs. I will explain each one in more detail and highlight a few of my favorites.