ICA Workshop: How to Conduct a Ramp Test and a 20-Minute Assessment to Estimate FTP

Instructors who teach with power (or who would like to teach with power), understand the importance of testing. In order to be able to provide riders with personalized power training zones, instructors have to help them determine what their functional threshold power, or FTP, is. FTP is the highest sustainable average power you can hold for a full hour. Both words in that description, “highest” and “sustainable,” must be satisfied in order for the FTP to be accurate.

You cannot ride with power without knowing your FTP. The gold standard for determining FTP is an all-out 60-minute time trial effort. But this level of intensity for this duration while staying seated is out of reach for most recreational cyclists, and especially the typical indoor cycling participant. Fortunately, there are different ways to estimate FTP that don’t require that much suffering. For example, some programs advocate a 3-minute or a 5-minute assessment. These shortened tests are a good way to at least begin the process of educating your riders about training with power; they are simple to perform (though the effort certainly isn’t “easy”), making them perfect in a group cycling class.

The FTP “guestimate” from one of these short tests gets you into the ballpark. That’s a good thing. But depending on the abilities of the riders, the result can over- or underestimate one’s true FTP. This translates to training at the incorrect target intensities. 

Therefore, it’s a good idea to start with these shorter tests, and then gradually prepare your class for one of the longer or more involved tests to determine FTP. Two of these tests are the maximal aerobic power (MAP) test, more commonly known as the ramp test, and the 20-minute FTP assessment. 

The ramp test is better for the average rider, including those who are less fit. But that doesn’t mean it’s not appropriate for very fit riders—it is. It’s simple to administer; however, there are some specific coaching tips that can make the test more accurate. It’s also common for riders to give up too early, so instructors need to be equipped with effective ways to motivate participants to push for one more step up the ramp if possible. There is also a challenge to teach riders how to increase their power in increments (say, 10 or 15 watts per step), so instructors need to know how to overcome this learning curve. Not adhering to this guideline can invalidate the test.

The 20-minute test should be what most riders and instructors aspire to complete, as it will be the most accurate estimate of FTP. But it’s not for everyone. Twenty minutes at this intensity is a lot of suffering. It may take you some time (weeks or months) to gradually prepare your class for the rigors of this test. But once they do it, the sense of accomplishment is hard to top.

Over the years here at ICA we’ve provided numerous articles and profiles on how to understand training with power and the different ways to assess FTP (see the partial list below). Now, I’ve filmed two videos on how to coach your riders through both the ramp and the 20-minute FTP tests. I also have a video on how to teach your riders what each of the zones mean and what they should feel like in a profile I call the Tour of the Training Zones. All together, these articles, profiles, and videos create an in-depth and informative workshop on how to teach with power effectively. Combine them with our articles and workshops on exercise physiology and lactate threshold, and you have everything you need to teach with power with confidence. There may be other programs on how to teach with power, but none of them provide the play-by-play coaching that helps you take on the practical challenge of leading your own FTP tests quite like we do at ICA. 

Preparing Your Riders (and Yourself) for FTP Testing 

As noted above, it’s important to prepare your riders (and yourself!) for an FTP test, especially if you are planning the 20-minute assessment. You do that first by educating yourself not just on FTP, but also on lactate threshold. To prepare your riders, you gradually get them used to longer and longer intervals, first at tempo (moderate) zone and sweet spot (just below threshold intensity), and then gradually incorporate longer durations at higher intensities. The preparation is not just physical, it’s very much mental as well. You need to know how to make sure riders don’t get bored with longer intervals…we’ve got you covered there! The following posts and profiles will be helpful to educate and prepare your riders for your first or next FTP test.

How to Incorporate Long Intervals, Part 1: Why Long Intervals Are Important
(by Jennifer Sage)

How to Incorporate Long Intervals, Part 2: Preparing for a 20-Minute FTP Test (by J. Sage)
How to Incorporate Long Intervals, Part 3: Progressive Programming (by J. Sage)

How to Incorporate Long Intervals, Part 4: Music for Long Intervals (by J. Sage)
How to Incorporate Long Intervals, Part 5: Tips to Make Long Intervals More Interesting (by J. Sage)
I’m Not a Cyclist, So Why Do I Need to Know My FTP? (by Lenita Anthony)
FTP Testing: Can You Teach One Without Knowing What It’s Like Yourself? (by Lenita Anthony)
What’s So Great About Steady State? (by Stevie Barr)
Understanding and Raising the Lactate Threshold, Part 1 (by Karyn Silenzi)
Understanding and Raising the Lactate Threshold, Part 2 by Karyn Silenzi)
The Benefits of Training at Lactate Threshold (by J. Sage)

Helpful ICA Profiles to Prepare for a 20-Minute FTP Test:
Profile: The Sweetest Sweet Spot, (by J. Sage)
Profile: That Sweet Spot (by Julianne Lafleur)
Profile: Long Cruise Intervals (by J. Sage)

Profile: Aerobic Intervals 3 X 15 minutes (by J. Sage)
Profile: Over/Under Intervals (by J. Sage)
Profile: Negative Split Intervala (by Leslie Mueller)
Profile: Lactate Threshold Intervals (by J. Sage)
Profile: Lactate Threshold Hill Repeats (by J. Sage)

Are you ready? Now it’s time to test your (and your riders’) FTP! Below is everything you need to perform the ramp (MAP) test and the 20-minute test, including how to coach and motivate your riders to stay committed and how to add the most motivating and energetic music possible. If you have a bike, you can ride along with the two videos and test your own FTP. If you don’t have a bike, that’s OK; just imagine yourself at a conference session and view them with pen and paper in hand. And if you have questions? Go ahead and ask them in the ICA Facebook group or email info@icafit.com. 

1 Comment

  1. I just rode the 20 minute ftp as prep for coaching it on Thursday. Wow. Great education, great music, it was grueling but I improved 2 Watts from my last ftp which was the 5 minute test. I think for me it was helpful to have a target wattage or range. I used my previous ftp and calculated what my average would need to be to improve by 5 and by 2 and really tried to keep it in that range. It helped with pacing as well. I’m a much stronger climber so towards the second half I dropped my cadence to low 80’s and upped the resistance to keep those watts where I wanted them to be and I think having that knowledge about where you feel strong and using your poser is really helpful, I’m glad you spoke to that during the warmup. I’m so thankful for all your effort and knowledge. I’m ready for Thursday!!

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