There are a number of ways to measure your FTP (functional threshold power) with many professionals, training platforms and keyboard coaches extolling the merits of each one. They all of course have their advantages and disadvantages, so which one is for you? Below I’ve outlined the four most popular FTP tests, going from shortest duration to longest.
Ramp Test: This is one of the shortest and (in my opinion) least painful ways of gauging your FTP. It also seems to be the flavour of the month, I think most likely because it’s the only test you can perform on the trainer in ERG mode without having to worry about pacing. It’s also “easier” and “less hurty” than the more traditional FTP tests.
You simply warm-up, then your trainer increases the power each minute until you can’t pedal any more! You take 75% of that final minute average power as your FTP. The entire warm-up, test and cool-down only takes around 25 minutes on the trainer. You can’t perform this one outside.
Five or eight minute power: This test as well as the two below can be done inside or outside. Be sure to warm up fully beforehand and then go all out for five or eight minutes, trying to keep the power level constant. This is arguably the easiest test to perform if you need to ride outside as you only need a fairly short, safe stretch of road (a quiet road with a slight incline and no junctions is best). For the 5-minute test, take 85% of your average. For the 8-minute test, use 90% of your final average power as your new FTP.
Twenty minute power: The undisputed OG of FTP tests! Warm up, then go ALL OUT for 20 minutes, trying to maintain a steady number all the way through. It’s tough, it hurts and it takes some mental fortitude. Pacing plays a big role in the 20 minute test, if you get it wrong you’ll implode before the end and “fail” the test. I’m a fan of this test as it not only gives you a reliable FTP number, it also trains your pacing strategy. Your 20-min power x 95% = FTP. If you’re a fan of testing outside, the classic 10-mile time trial course will do the job!
Full hour: In theory, this is the ONLY real test of your FTP. One full hour at full gas. Of course, it’s not always practical to ride at full tilt for an hour – either on the road or on the turbo. If you’ve got access to a 25 mile / 40km time trial course that would do the trick nicely. Whatever you average for the hour is your FTP. Simple!
So which test is best? The answer is – quite simply – it depends…
Different riders will get different results with each method. Riders with strong short-term or sprint power may get a slightly inflated FTP with a ramp test compared to a 20-minute test. It’s about picking a method that suits your style and equipment you have access to, then consistently repeating it!
To accurately and reliably measure improvement, it’s important to pick JUST ONE of the testing protocols and stick with it. The FTP number in itself is irrelevant, measuring change to that number is what it’s all about. Each time you test, use the same test. It doesn’t matter whether you perform a ramp test or an all-out hour of power, as long as you perform the same test under the same conditions using the same power measurement device each time. That way you’ll get a reliable measure of improvement.