You Are Not (Just) Your FTP
The much-feared, highly-anticipated power test is in your rearview mirror. Although it doesn’t mean the test isn’t still reverberating in your legs, don’t worry; you won’t have to do that again for a while! We take a look at what your calculated FTP really means, and why comparing to other people’s is pretty darn useless.
First off, it’s important to stop and take your FTP for exactly what it is; a measure of your fitness for one class, on one day, on one week, at one part of the year. It doesn’t mean your fit or fat, nor does it mean you’re a good or bad athlete. It’s a snapshot of where you’re at physically at one very particular time of the year, and it’s important to remember that FTPs don’t win bike races.
However, if you prepared right and got the most out of your body during your test, your FTP is a valuable tool to how the rest of your tempo block will go. In fact, your FTP will shape every workout you do in the Hive until you test again, so in that respect, it is a pretty big deal. All of your power zones will be calculated based on your eight and twenty minute tests, adjusted for how your body reacts to the intensity of the first eight minutes and the endurance of the second.
Just how your body puts out power can be divided up into a few specific categories that might better describe the natural way you tend to ride. The higher, shorter your power output, the more likely you are to fall into categories like Sprinter or Time Trialist. Those are much more user-friendly terms that the physiological definitions that describe the structure of power they reflect. We’ll look at three common profiles below.
Sprinter: As simple as it sounds. This is the ability to produce extremely high, explosive bursts of power, ideally under two minutes and sometimes as short at 15 to 30 seconds. This is almost purely neuromuscular power, or ‘fast twitch’ muscles. For most charts, this neuromuscular power is grouped into a longer two to three minute profile that includes anaerobic power. In the pro peloton, think Mark Cavendish or Caleb Ewan. At a ride like TNR, think of someone like Tim Pulliam; they may not be able pull on the front, but if they get to the Lighthouse, they have a great chance at winning the sprint.
A sprinter’s power chart will start extremely high in the 1, 5, 10, and 30-second areas, but decline sharply over 1 to 2 minutes; by 20 minutes, they’re often below the FTP of other riders.
Cimber or Time Trialist: On the road, we might think of these types of riders as polar opposites; the hulking Tony Martin isn’t anything like the impish Esteban Chaves. But in terms of their power output, both tend to produce relatively high and steady FTP numbers, or ‘steady state’, while lacking high-end or explosive neuromuscular ‘pop’. They’re riders that are fit enough to wear other riders down, in the case of a time trialist or rouleur, or use their power to weight ratio to make the most of steep roads, in the case of a climber. They don’t, however, have the ability to put in a race-winning sprint.
As a result, the power chart of a time trialer or climber is often nearly level. It doesn’t start very with very high numbers for 1, 5, or 30 seconds, but doesn’t necessarily decline that much even as the rider hits 20, 30, or even 40 minutes. In TC, someone like Josh Zelinski or Mike Powers is a quintessential Time Trialer, capable of long, hard, steady efforts without cracking.
All-Rounder - A jack-of-all-trades, the All-Rounder does everything well but nothing the best. Their power profile blends the upper end of the anaerobic and the lowe end of the V02 Max, giving them a window of five to fifteen minutes where they are exceedingly strong. These riders tend to have very strong power tests over 8 minutes, but adapt well to be solid sprinters or climbers, when necessary. Their power chart has a decide slope that isn’t as steep of a decline as a sprinter, nor does it hold quite as level as a time trialer. These are often riders that might be described in the pro peloton as punchers, capable of contesting sprints, hill-top finishes, and even longer mountain passes on a good day. Think of riders like Greg van Avermaet, Peter Sagan, or new World Champion Alejandro Valverde. In Traverse City, Nick Wierzba or Bridget Widrig are examples of an all-rounder, capable of mixing it up no matter the course.
Finally, a brief look at why your power number is only meaningful to you. We don’t often share our FTPs with other athletes at the Hive, but even if you sneak a peak at your pal’s card, remember, whether their number is higher or lower, it doesn’t have any measure compared to you. Aside from the importance of the power profile we just discussed, there’s an even more important number, W/kg, that has a massive impact.
Your watts per kilogram are the ultimate measure of power. The more power produced per kilogram, the great your velocity. It’s sort of like weightlifting. If a 325-pound offensive lineman benches 250 pounds, that’s not impressive; if a 145-pound runner does, well, that’s amazing. It means even more when than strength converts seamlessly into speed, and in cycling, that’s exactly what it does. The more power per kilo, especially uphill, the faster you move.
The measure of this is power-to-weight, and you can convert yours pretty easily. If a 150-pound cyclist’s FTP is 325, and you convert pounds to kilos, his w/Kg is 4.7. Depending on the length of your test, you can usually use a chart to see where a number like that would put you at different levels of the sport.
w/Kg is a great way to measure effort, too. Because it’s a number that’s calculated from your FTP, it’s easy for coaches to map out how long you may be able to hold a specific effort. For instance, pro cyclists are often prescribed workouts not in raw Watts, but by time spent at a specific w/kg. Even in races, domestiques chasing down a break or working hard on a climb might be instructed to ride at 4.6 w/Kg for twenty minutes; their team directors know exactly how long they can hold that number in service of the team.
Like FTP, it’s important not to get stuck on w/Kg too much. It’s simply a measure of one ride, on one day. It takes years of training and testing every few months to see the effects of racing, training, nutrition, and adaptation to really learn what your body is capable of. By slowing building your power output and, if you can do so healthily, losing weight, your power to weight ratio may improve and help you be a little faster and a little stronger.