Today was the first day of TrainerRoad’s Sweet Spot Base High Volume 2, which means… FTP Test! I knew that I was in for a bit of a bump, but was amazed to see a HUGE 17.6% increase in FTP. Pretty awesome. Since I’ve started using TrainerRoad about 7 weeks ago, I’ve shifted my FTP from 2.32 w/kg to 2.90 w/kg. That accounts for a whopping 24.9% increase.
Obviously I’m thrilled with this, but how did I do it? And how can you rock your test? Here’s how.
I decided this year I’d spend a lot of my focus on improving my cycling ability. This decision was made early on for a number of reasons (not the least of which is that I’ve financially invested the most in my cycling performance, so gotta make those dollars count). It’s been a fun couple of months as a result. I’m really enjoying my time on the bike. But had I not committed to this focus – 6 rides a week making up slightly over 50% of my training load, most of which being on the indoor trainer – I’d be nowhere near where I am right now. The reality is that we only have so much time and so much attention. Making gains in three disciplines is difficult in the best conditions. Focusing on one as the “major” allows me to structure my workout weeks to make sure that I’m targeting my season goals, and still also improve the other two disciplines (and feel ok with not making MASSIVE gains in those too).
Training with Power.
My Garmin Vector 2S pedals are not without their quirks, but to suggest that I could push myself as hard as I have been without knowing my power instantly is just wrong. RPE is not nearly as effective as watts. And I’ve learned that HR is more or less meaningless. Power has allowed me to use TrainerRoad, which I obviously adore as I write 90% of my blog posts about how great it is. You should use it too. Seriously, it’s fantastic. The structured plans are well designed and actually do produce great results – I’m the case in point. And the season is really just getting started for me. But power itself, training by power, its like having a lie detector attached to your feet. If you aren’t working, you are told that immediately. And I mean immediately. An incredible motivator, being told to work harder.
It is no secret that I spend a lot of time on the indoor trainer. I’m a cold-weather wuss, and I’m also not a huge fan of the number of cyclists that have been attacked or hit in the last year. The number is large, and intimidating. In my area, there haven’t been too many issues (that I’m aware of). But, I’m not sure that I’m ok with the idea that every time I go out I might not come back (this is depressing – lets turn this around). So indoor training is the solution, and its a fantastic one. I can still ride outside any time I like and have a great time doing it. I’ll still ride a fair bit outside this year too. But with the high-quality workouts that I can get on the trainer, my best bet for a strong performance on race day is to get fit inside. The indoor rides have prescribed workouts that have set power targets that serve a very specific purpose. It’s hard to see the downside here.
Riding indoors is hot. Not the sexy kind either. My basement stinks up something awful when I ride. But after my outdoor ride on Sunday I thought this might be working against me in a big way. When I went out Sunday I came home to an alert from TrainingPeaks that my FTP had changed – an increase of about 8 watts. This didn’t make any sense to me because I wasn’t FTP testing at all. I was out for a 2 hour spin, and while I was working I was not working at an IF of 1.0 or higher. I was just out bobbing around enjoying the ride on my new set of Blade Carbon Wheels (which was awesome, btw).
This alert had me confused. So I started doing a bit of research and stumbled on this fantastic article. I cannot recommend reading it enough, as it makes a lot of sense in my situation. For me, I had previously used one 20 inch box fan – something cheap from Canadian Tire. But due to my limited imagination, I was using it in a pretty poor way. I had it sitting on the ground pointed up towards my legs in front of my wheel. Yesterday I decided to add a second, but this time – with a slightly more active imagination – I decided to hang it from the ceiling so it would blow immediately into my face and torso. Today’s test was the first time I used it and it worked perfectly. I can’t believe I didn’t do something like this before.
An incredible improvement in comfort, and coolness. The coolness is important becausae it means I sweat less, which keeps my blood from getting thicker (yes, really), which helps my cardio system work to task instead of to pump thick blood around. To put some numbers on this, my LTHR went from 151 (as per last test) to 144. A 7 BPM drop with a massive increase in watts. That’s both fitness and coolness, but I’m sure that it is mostly coolness. So, get another fan. Yes, really.
Turbo Trainer Resistance.
Given the ride I had on Sunday outdoor, it appeared originally that my outdoor FTP was much higher than my indoor FTP – given that an 8 watt increase when not testing was warranted, logically when testing I should expect a bigger change. The article I noted above talks a lot about different kind of turbo trainers. Mine is a rear-wheel resistance fluid trainer made by Kinetic. It works pretty well for my needs right now, though I do note the direct drive ones look pretty freaking cool.
The problem is that when your cranks are between 11 and 1 o’clock (and 5 and 7 o’clock), producing meaningful power is more or less impossible. This is not specific to my trainer – it’s cycling in genera. The fluid rear wheel resistance trainers in particular have a particularly large problem with this though. They tend to produce a type of resistance that causes your rear wheel to slow dramatically when not producing power. That means through that portion of the stroke, the rear wheel is decelerating, and your downward portion of the stroke increases the acceleration. If you could imagine a Sine wave, that’s kind of how I imagine the rear wheel’s speed. Up and down. More desirable is a wave that is, well, completely flat and not a wave at all. Similar to how one would expect the wheel to spin outdoor.
In my case, I tried to assist in resolving this problem by reducing the amount of resistance on the rear wheel. So I backed off about 3/4 turn on the tension adjuster. I’m actually not sure how much of a benefit this had but I’m sure it made a difference. I’ll play with this in the future, so that my rear wheel has enough tension to not slip, but not so much that it affects my cadence. The best solution is to ride outdoors, but there’s many disadvantages there too. Ideally, I’d have a really nice direct drive trainer, like a TacX Neo or similar, but the price tag on that is just too high to justify when I’m still making massive gains on my Kinetic.
FTP tests are about doing the work, and there’s no secret here. Obviously at 2.9 w/kg I’ve got a lot of room for improvement, but also at 2.9 w/kg I have sufficient experience to say that you just gotta learn to be comfortable when you’re hurting. Suffer. Learn to love it. That just takes time. I’m still learning, and the more I learn, the higher that number will go.
So that’s it! It doesn’t sound complicated because it isn’t. Put the time in, commit, keep cool, understand your stroke, and WORK! You’ll crush your FTP test.