Fitness testing is an essential part of improving as a cyclist as it allows you to quantify where you are, set training zones for your workouts (either through heart rate or power), and track your progress over time. If you are new to riding with power, where do you begin?
Power testing to determine your FTP, or functional threshold power, are the most common testing procedure when it comes to determining power zones. What exactly is FTP? Well, FTP is the power an individual can sustain for an hour. Easy to figure out then, right? Just head out the door or downstairs to your trainer and set your pedals on fire for 60 minutes! While performing a 60-minute effort may be the most direct way to figure out your FTP, it is not always the go-to method. For many reasons: motivation, route options (not everyone can find an hour stretch of road without interruptions!), and with warm-up efforts and cool down, not everyone has the time for it, and most importantly it doesn’t give you the full picture of your skills as a rider.
Over the years many different testing protocols have been developed by sports scientists, coaches, and training platforms. With so many tests out there it can easily get confusing. Let’s take a closer look at the most common FTP tests available.
The more complete the test, the more you know about yourself and the more effectively you can train. SYSTM’s 4DP™ Full Frontal fitness test is the only test that gives you a complete power profile, rider type, and primary weakness in a single testing session. The Half Monty test is the only ramp test in the world that gives you your FTP, MAP, and LTHR. Both tests are based on rigorous testing (both in a lab setting and in the app), data analysis, and refinement by our world-class Sports Science team.
The other tests available only find a single element of your power profile: FTP (Functional Threshold Power – roughly the maximum average power you can sustain for efforts lasting around an hour). The MAP Ramp Test gives you MAP or Maximal Aerobic Power. MAP is correlated with your power at VO2 Max. These tests include:
- 20-minute maximal effort – often overestimates FTP
- 2 x 8-minute maximal effort – often over and underestimates FTP
- Multi-Day Power Profiling – time-consuming and uncertainty with changing conditions (rider physiology: sleep, nutrition, stress, etc.)
- 60-minute maximal effort
If you were to complete all of the above testing protocols, you would ultimately end up with that many FTP values as well! Just as each test has its own testing protocols, they also have their own calculations for how to determine FTP. What does this mean? It means you cannot just take your FTP value from one test and use that value for the same zones in another application.
Which test is right for you? Full Frontal or Half Monty? Let’s compare:
The 4DP™ Full Frontal test lasts 1 hour and is the most complete rider profile picture. What does this mean? It means that it can give you a full picture of your strengths, weaknesses, FTP, neuromuscular power, MAP (maximal aerobic power), and AC (anaerobic power.) While the test itself is taxing: 2 x 5-second sprint efforts, 1 x 5-minute maximal power test, 1 x 20-minute maximal power test, and a final 1-minute maximal power test (*all separated by 5-minute recovery blocks) the results are worth it.
With Full Frontal, in addition to getting the complete power profile of FTP, MAP, AC, and NM power values you’ll also get THR (threshold heart rate) and your rider type from Full Frontal and your relative strengths and weaknesses. Since Full Frontal requires four maximal efforts, it is a more challenging test, it requires proper pacing to get accurate results, and you’ll need to be well-rested and motivated to get the best and most accurate results from Full Frontal. That’s why we don’t recommend performing Full Frontal more often than every 12-16 weeks, and only following a proper rest/recovery period.
Think you’re up for the challenge? You might wonder when you should perform a Full Frontal fitness test. Neal Henderson, Head of Wahoo Sports Science, states, “there is significant value in performing Full Frontal relatively early in the season to ensure all of your training targets are accurate. We do have a combined Half Monty and Full Frontal testing week that is a good way to schedule and complete both tests prior to beginning any new training plan. Usually, I recommend starting a plan with up-to-date Full Frontal values, then testing Half Monty about 6-weeks later (mid-plan) and then performing another Full Frontal after 12-weeks.”
The Half-Monty was created for SYSTM to reinvent the standard “ramp test.” The Half-Monty consists of a traditional ramp test, followed by a 20-minute submaximal heart rate constrained
For a newer athlete, we typically recommend Half Monty as the first test to complete, as it’ll help give you a better idea of power targets to use for the 5-minute and 20-minute efforts during Full Frontal when you do it. Keep in mind that if you start with Half Monty, you’ll receive estimated values for AC and NM power targets if you haven’t performed a Full Frontal test before.
Half Monty is an easier first time test, as it really doesn’t require as good of a feel of pacing to do it correctly, though it does require using a heart rate monitor in addition to ideally a smart trainer and switching between erg mode (for the warm-up and ramp to max portion, and level mode for the sub-maximal effort that is constrained by heart rate.) Half Monty gives accurate FTP and MAP power values, as well as Threshold Heart Rate (THR), and can still give accurate results even if you’re not completely rested/tapered for the test.
While Full Frontal errs on the side of longer waiting periods between each test, the Half Monty is comparatively less stressful and could be performed every 6-8 weeks.
With over 25 years of experience coaching endurance athletes, Neal Henderson is head of The Sufferfest Sports Science Division and founder / CEO of APEX Coaching and Consulting in Boulder, Colorado. He served as the Director of the Sports Science Department at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM), during which time he worked with hundreds of elite athletes to develop cutting-edge training and testing methods.
A former professional triathlete, Neal is an Elite USA Triathlon and USA Cycling certified coach with numerous awards to his name. Most recently, he was named the 2017 USA Triathlon Coach of Year.
Neal served on multiple coaching committees for both USA Cycling and USA Triathlon and has coached some of the biggest names in endurance sports, including Taylor Phinney, Flora Duffy, Cameron Dye and Taylor Knibb. He is the only coach in history to have ever trained athletes to the World Hour Record for both elite Men (Rohan Dennis) and elite women (Evelyn Stevens).