Before we start, what is FTP?
Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is purely the number of watts you can maintain for 60 minutes on Zwift - so your 1 hour max effort is your Zwift FTP. So, you have begun your Zwifting career… You've got your smart trainer set up in your state-of-the-art training cave... Your big screen is connected to your laptop or tablet... Now you have begun your journey into the labyrinthine world of Zwift, Watopia and beyond!
Having explored the basic ins and outs of Zwift, it’s time to go deeper into the functions it contains. A workout or training plan is essential for getting the most out of your training, and Zwift boasts hundreds of workouts - all of which are simply useless to you if you don’t know a few things about your pedalling power. You need to learn what your Training Zones are and find your Zwift Functional Threshold Power (FTP) to be able to make best use of the workout mode in Zwift. Once you have that knowledge, you will be able to use all the workouts available effectively. To gain this knowledge you need a baseline test, a baseline number, or FTP. All Training Zones originate from this number. To get the number you need an FTP Test. Zwift FTP Tests are excellent and affordable tests that anyone can do. The simplest, and arguably the most accurate, is to pedal as hard as you can for 1 hour. However this can be difficult and pacing often goes wrong. It is also not ideal if you don’t have a lot of time, as it takes an hour plus time to warm up. Zwift will calculate your FTP as you ride in the game and sometimes updates it automatically, but in this blog I will explain how to use the easier and shorter FTP Tests in Zwift to quickly find your FTP, and how to perform the tests correctly to enhance your cycling and bring scientific intervals into your training.
How is a Zwift FTP Test performed?
An FTP Test can be performed in a few different ways. Aforementioned was the 1 hour max effort, which is difficult even for professional cyclists. Much shorter and more easily repeatable FTP Tests exist and here are the best two: The 20 Minute Test and The Ramp Test (or Ramps Test, depending on where you look). The 20 Minute Test is as simple as it sounds - you ride for 20 minutes. It is a full-on 20 minute effort, at the end of which your average power will be put into an algorithm which will calculate your Zwift FTP. FTP is usually a few percent lower than your 20 minute power average. The second way to find your Zwift FTP is with The Ramp Test. This is a little more difficult, however Zwift makes it simple with the ERG mode. It is an FTP Test to exhaustion; unlike the 20 minute test where you set your own 20 minute effort, this time your smart trainer will set the power target for you. Each minute, the effort will increase in intervals of power - from the moment you have started it will become harder and harder. You must ride until you can no longer pedal as the resistance is too great. Once you stop, the test is over.
The Ramp Test could last longer than 20 minutes, but this is unlikely - it usually lasts around 10-15 minutes before you reach “volitional exhaustion”. If you have watched fitness programmes on television you have probably seen athletes and presenters undergoing the Ramp Test with peak flow masks on and blood lactate being measured. It is certainly preferred by scientists but it is very tough, both physically and mentally. The Ramp Test will give you a broader idea of all your power zones as you are being pushed into your maximal aerobic effort. The final minute is one of the hardest things you will experience, and that final minute power average is what ultimately gives you your FTP score. If you want to give yourself extra information and feedback, do a Zwift FTP Test with a Heart Rate (HR) monitor so you can have even more data to base your training on. Heart rate readings are less stable than power but give a very good indication of your fitness and enable you to track workouts very well.
Those are the two main ways to test for FTP. Zwift also offers a ‘Ramp Test Lite’ for riders who are lighter or just starting out, and if you are unsure or it is your first ever test then this would be a good starting place (although we will discuss exactly which test is better for who a little later on).
Now we will discuss how to best perform each Zwift FTP test.
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20 Minute Test
This is probably the easier of the two. That does not mean to say it is easy - it isn’t; it really isn’t. When you select this from the ‘Workouts’ section in Zwift (under FTP Tests, you will see that there isn’t just a 20 minute timer. Zwift is kind - this FTP Test comes ready prepared with the full warmup and guide into the effort itself. It is important to do this when you get started, as a warmup always improves performance (provided it is done correctly) and the guided Zwift warmup has been put together for exactly that purpose. Once you have warmed up, the test begins. During the first half of the test you don’t want to go too hard, or you will pay for it in the final 5 minute section of the test. It is a test which you can pace due to its length. The first 10 minutes should be hard, but not so hard that you feel really uncomfortable. Ride at a pace you think is a little too easy but still hard. Then, as you enter the final 10 minutes, gently squeeze more out of your legs until the final 5 minute section where you really need to dig in. In the final minute give it everything you have to the finish! If you pace it like this you should achieve a higher power than going out hard and burning out early. Keeping a comfortable cadence and breathing rhythmically will help you to manage the effort. It cannot be stressed enough, you do not want to have used up too much energy too soon - you will pay for it at the end and your overall score will suffer. This test is hard, but you ultimately set the pace so we believe it is the best test for beginners and those new to Zwift FTP testing.
The Ramp Test requires much less thought, but a lot more focus. You will want to relax at the start of the test to ensure you have as much power for the final minute as possible. Remember, the longer you can push on in this test, the better your result will be. Again, it is important to follow the guided warmup to ensure you are ready for maximal effort. The test begins after the warmup and it will start easy. It will lull you into a false sense of security, then it will change quickly - faster than you feel you can keep up with. This test is all about hanging on. If you really want a full out test and you are quite experienced, this is the best test. You must be sure to be fresh and willing to suffer! The final minutes of the test are where it really counts and where it really hurts. You have to be ready to go to a dark place of pain, but if you do that you will not be disappointed. It is plain and simple pain.
1.Don't test yourself when you are tired.
Be smart, test when you have planned for it.
2.Fuel your body correctly
Athletes are like sports cars, we don’t need less or more fuel, we just need a premium type. Fuel up with the best food you can and it will work wonders on your performance.
3. Ride the day before
Activate the muscles the day before. 10 minutes of 60% effort followed by three 10 second sprints of 90% effort should more than suffice. Then take it easy in between. There may even be a pre-race ride programmed into Zwift workouts, so check all the settings for the latest updates.
4. Warm up
Zwift provides this for you, so make sure you do it properly!
5. Pace your effort
As this article has said time and again, don’t start off too fast and burn out quickly. Pacing is key.
6. Enjoy it!
Zwift is supposed to be fun, so the Zwift FTP Test should be an extension of that. Enjoy it. Enjoy learning about your body’s limits, then use that learning to further your cycling with your new-found FTP and Training Zones.
Why use an HR monitor?
Using a Heart Rate (HR) monitor is very useful for several reasons. It can give you even more info on your physiology, and can guide your efforts when used in conjunction with power and knowing your Maximum/Functional Threshold. It can also tell you when you need to stop training! Excessively high or low heart rates can be indicators of an underlying problem with your health. If your power is the input, then your heart rate is the output - so you can always see how you are responding to your efforts, especially once you have learned your power and heart rate training zones. Using an HR monitor in The Ramp Test will give you a broader understanding of your Heart Rate Zones, as Zwift will automatically calculate these.
What to do with your results?
After you have completed your FTP test, you now have the information required to follow a training plan and use Zwift workouts effectively. When you do a workout in Zwift your FTP will automatically be set and the game will adjust the zones of the efforts to fit with this, so you will always do your own personalised training sessions.
So now you've got all the knowledge you need to go and smash your Zwift FTP Test. Choose the Ramp Test or 20 Minute Test, have a good meal, stay hydrated and get ready to go to a dark place before realising your potential! Ride on!
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Blog by Tim Torrie
Tim Torrie is a semi-professional cyclist racing for TBW 23 Stuart Hall Cycling Academy p/b Trainsharp. Tim has raced at an international level since he was a junior and has raced in the top flight of the Zwift world for the past 3 years. Tim knows his way around Zwift and loves to see new riders getting on the platform. He hopes these blogs will help users get the most out of the fantastic software that is Zwift. Keep your eyes peeled for Tim in national races and time trials in the UK this year!