The Failed FTP test….or is it really a fail?

I’m a competitive person, and as competitive with myself as I am with anyone.  This means that come test time I am totally focused on going further, faster and stronger than my previous attempts.  Now this isn’t necessarily a good thing, not every result needs to be a PB, and there is no such thing as a failed test session.  Sometimes you just have to step back and say “It is what it is”.

I had a perfect example of this yesterday when I performed an FTP test, 7 weeks after my previous one…..which I might add I wasn’t that happy with anyway.  My previous test gave me an FTP value of 271 watts at 72KG, based on the results of yesterday’s test I only achieved 267 watts at 71KG.  Now I know there is a glaringly obvious fact staring us in the face….I’m 1KG lighter, but I will come to that in a bit.  The thing that jumped out at me is I’m 4 watts less than 7 weeks ago.

One major caveat here, I only started using a Power Meter on 1 April 2016, so there is a very small sample to work with when looking at historical data.  And this probably has some significant implications for the reliability of the Performance Management Chart which I will discuss in a later post.  I’m using the Polar Keo Power Pedals (left & right power) and transmitting to a Polar v650 head-unit.

Just so you know, I am training for the Zofingen Duathlon (ITU World Long Distance Duathlon Champs), the distances being 10km run + 150km bike + 30km run.  People have told me to expect it to feel like an Ironman.  The cycle course in particular is a brute, with 3 significant climbs on each of the 3 laps, totaling 1800m of elevation gain.  From what I understand there are a few short sharp pinches and plenty of long gradual climbing.


Analysing the power file from the first test on 28/4/16 shows a nicely paced effort.  VI was 1.0 so there was next to no peaks and troughs in the power output (this is far easier to achieve on a trainer than on the road).  There was no decoupling, in fact I probably didn’t push hard enough as the value was -1.07%, and there was an increase in output over the final 2 minutes (this is why I thought I would knock the next one out of the park, by going a bit harder from the start and really emptying the tank).  Average Cadence was 89rpm and Average HR was 164bpm, with 342Kj burnt.


Quadrant Analysis of that effort showed 55% in Q2, which denotes High Force but Low Velocity.  Much of the distribution in this quadrant was higher up the scale, and this was a bit of a concern to me.  This is largely a Fast-Twitch fibre recruiting zone, and living here for long periods isn’t really that easy.  So I was keen to improve on this, as I still need to have some legs to run off the bike well.


A week after the FTP test I performed a Fatigue Profile to pinpoint where my weaknesses lie, and what I need to focus on to build my FTP value while trying to achieve a higher cadence in all zones.  Using Peaks Coaching’s Fatigue Profile calculator  , which is an excellent tool BTW, I could see that I really had to work on my peak power in all the short duration bins, however my endurance through these was pretty good.  I hadn’t done a lot of Zofingen Duathlon race specific training in the long duration bins hence they are all Below Average.  So I did a bunch of sessions that were targeted on increasing force to the pedal, as well as bringing my cadence up a bit….there was a good amount of suffering going on.

Fatigue profile1.png

So how did it all go?  As you know, not quite what I was hoping for, but test results can’t be taken just on the number that is generated.  It isn’t until you delve deeper into data and understand how the result came about that you start to see that things aren’t all doom and gloom.

Analysis of the second FTP test shows some interesting things.  I cut it 1 second short!! Wow, I was clearly ready to end it there.  I’m as disappointed in that fact as any.  VI was 1.0 again, all good.  I had a wee HR fart where it shot up to 210 for 7 minutes of the test, this is just something that it does occasionally, but it’s not a huge concern for me, or the Cardiologist I saw a few years ago about it.  This did skew the HR graph though, so decoupling can’t be assessed accuratley, however the average HR for when it was behaving was 168bpm, so a bit higher than the previous one.  I was able to lift my watts for the final minute this time, so that’s still happening, again something to work on.  Average Cadence was 92rpm.  339Kj burnt through the effort, 3 less than the previous one so maybe there’s the difference with the 1 second I cut short.


Quadrant Analysis of the second FTP test showed a shift of 7.4% more in Q1, and 5.2% less in Q4, so there was a large shift to a higher cadence and higher force, but this time it’s distributed a lot lower on the scale, and scattered in a much more concentrated area.  To me this suggests that cadence has improved and power distribution is more even, which has a positive impact on overall efficiency.


This table below should help to visualise those differences

Quad graph.png

So it was pleasing for me to see that there had been some positive changes from this 6 week period, albeit not exactly what I was hoping for.  I have always known cadence to be a bit of a limiter for me (as well as force), but being able to turn a gear at a high cadence must be mastered before increasing the force that is applied to the pedal.  So this progression is still in line.

My Fatigue Profile has started moving in the right direction, with higher Peak Powers for many of the bins, and I’m starting to move away from that High Endurance bias, and more to one that suits a course with plenty of short sharp climbs such as the ones I will encounter in Zofingen.  I am about to shift to a race specific Build Phase so the 90 and 240min power will improve too.

Fatigue profile2.png

I came across a really good post in the Trainer Road Blog discussing how FTP changes with cadence, and it is well worth a read.  It helped me to understand some of the physiological changes that are taking place.  There are a couple of good points to identify in it…

“As riders become more aerobically fit, i.e. develop a more sufficient oxygen-reliant endurance base, spinning quickly (e.g. 95rpm) keeps the force output low thereby keeping the muscle stress and fuel consumption low as well since these endurance fibers are fully up to the task of repeating their oxygen-reliant contractions almost indefinitely…….Riders lacking this aerobic fitness, and more importantly (at least at the outset) lacking efficiency, misguidedly and probably unintentionally shift their riding stress onto the anaerobic system, the power fibers, by turning a bigger gear slowly. This leads to a shift in fuel preference, a shift toward sugar, because these power fiberscan’t use oxygen, they can only use sugar. Add to this fuel shift the stress & actual damage brought on by these slower, more forceful, more taxing pedal revolutions and you have a recipe for fatigue”

So it suggests that sure it’s probably easier initially to sit and grind away at a big gear, and in the early stages you will go pretty fast.  But eventually your fuel sources (sugar) are going to run dry and you will be left struggling.  Developing a lighter, more efficient spin will prolong your endurance and make your riding more enjoyable.  Learning how to spin a gear in all zones is probably a good speed skill to develop.

The trade off for increasing your cadence is that the force generated and applied to the pedal is less because the workload has been taken away from your powerful muscles and is now being driven by your cardiovascular system, hence the slight increase in average Heart Rate you saw in my results.

The issue of power:weight ratio needs to be discussed too, as this is where a lot of people come unstuck.  I will leave you with one thing to consider…..body weight on 28/4/16 was 72kg, FTP was calculated as 271w, therefore power:weight ratio was 3.76w/kg.  Bodyweight on 16/6/16 was 71kg, FTP was calculated as 267w, therefore power:weight ratio is 3.76w/kg.

So was it really a fail?  Let’s recap…

Yes, my FTP is less.  But average cadence has increased, Quadrant Analysis is more suited to the event I’m training for, power:weight ratio hasn’t changed.  I’ll call it a relative success for now, but I am determined to make that next FTP value to be higher than what it currently is.

You may have noticed there are a couple of things I have omitted from the discussion, and those are the timing of the test and the state of fatigue going into it.  I will discuss these in the next post as I have some interesting thoughts around those.

If you are interested in employing a Triathlon Coach for your next key event feel free to get in touch with Foot Traffic Coaching.  We have various levels of Training Plans and have the experience to help guide you to your goals.  We also have a free public Facebook Group (Traffic Jam) where we discuss all things endurance sports.  Don’t forget to like our Foot Traffic Endurance Sport Coaching Facebook page so you can keep up to date with what’s happening with our athletes around the world.


How to nail an Ironman run…don’t nail the Ironman bike.

Edited 16/12/2015 – The athlete this article refers to was awarded ‘Athlete of the Week’ on the IM Talk Podcast this week.  How cool!  Here’s the link to their podcast.

We all know how important the Ironman run is. It is here that the race is defined. It the part of the day that hopes and dreams can be solidified or lost for good. Of course you are going to make the finish, but will you do it in the time you hope, with all your marbles intact and ready to come back fired up to strike in the next race. For so many, infact probably the majority, the run leg of an Ironman becomes a point in the race where you are just hanging on for survival. Very few athletes are able to press on and build their effort through the run leg, and the reality is that even the fastest runners on the day are slowing down as each KM goes by. The athlete who slows down the least is the one who runs the best, and this may also be the person who runs the best when they are feeling the worst.

But the success of your Ironman run leg is determined by what you were doing to yourself many hours earlier, when you were on the bike leg. And the first few KM’s are as important as the closing part of the bike leg. Making a conscious effort to stick to a predetermined intensity, and being disciplined enough to do just this is the recipe to Ironman run success. A power meter makes this job so much easier.  It can be done with an understanding of your perceived effort and Heart Rate, and a bit of practice in the lead up to an event, but the power meter makes it easier to manage and the post-race analysis of the bike leg a lot more interesting and fun.

It is a well known assumption that a TSS score of 280 points is the recipe to Ironman success. Exceed this and you run the risk that you pushed too hard, go under it too much and you are probably not pushing hard enough and will take too long than you need to on the bike. Taking this knowledge forward you can very easily prepare a power plan for an Ironman bike leg. But your method of getting to this 280 point value is as important as simply achieving it. You don’t want to get there having surged over and under your target watts value over the course of the ride, so a power variability of 3-5% (1.03-1.05) is about the target to hit, and less variability is better again. A greater variable effort is more fatiguing than an even steady output. The athlete who can keep variability low is more focused on the process of racing rather than external factors such as course, conditions, other athletes. This is where the benefits will be found later in the run.

We also know that coming off an Ironman bike leg at about 71-73% of FTP range is ideal for most well trained age group athletes. This is assuming their FTP has been accurately calculated, and they have trained at such intensities.

The other thing is to make sure fueling is consistent and the athlete has the right amount going in for the work they are doing. This helps to deliver the athlete to the start of the run with the least amount of physiological fatigue. The success of this can be determined by viewing the decoupling measure (pw:hr) over the course of the ride. Any thing under 5% can be considered a successful delivery of effort and a very efficient athlete. The amount of decoupling is also dependant on power variability, so it is important to get that mix right.

I recently had an athlete achieve their IM run goal of going under 4hrs. They went 3:58, so that box was ticked. There was a bit of a wobble during the mid-portion of the race (who doesn’t have that happen, but they pulled it back together and finished strong) owing to their fantastic aerobic capacity and strong-mindedness. During the process of getting this run time they took 40mins off their best IM bike split, and took nearly 60mins off their previous best IM time….so it was a very successful day. For me the greatest success came in the way the bike leg was managed.


Have a look at this pic of their bike leg summary. You will see all the key milestones were reached – 285TSS, 2.38% decoupling, only 1% variability (can’t get much better than that over 180km), 72% of FTP. I can tell you that this athlete is one of the most meticulous I have worked with, and this is reflected in the way the bike plan was adhered to, especially on a day the conditions played a major role, and a lot of people blew their races with poorly managed performances on the bike.

This didn’t come by mistake. We had discussed at length as to what would be the optimal power plan for the race, and even had a few scenarios incase things out of our control caused a sudden change in plans. With this athlete being on our Custom Coaching Data+ plan we utilised some online power prediction software, and changed the plan as the weather forecast changed in the days leading up to the race. A bike vs car crash 2 weeks prior didn’t even have any significant negative effect, in fact it probably even helped the taper as there was no training for a few days post accident.  We even fine tuned the training sessions in the few days before the event to make sure race-day was hit with the optimal balance of fitness, freshness and mental readiness.

It was awesome for me to see these goals get achieved, and I’m looking forward for what might come next….after a well deserved break from training for starters as this has been a long focused campaign.

For more information on our Custom Coaching and Custom Coaching Data+ services please email or check our website you can also find out some information on our subscription coaching memberships, and the training plans you will gain access to here. We have a free 14 day trial membership for you to take some time to check it out.