The Dreaded 20 Minute FTP Test

Pigeon House

I’m sitting down in the pigeon house with sideshow bob (Anthony)

I’ve had a massive pain in the arse with exams recently and we’ve been overdue a catch up on everything A1.

Cue the scones!


We just had a little review of coaching and how people are assessing their improvements over time.

In other words how you check for adaptations in response to our training.

A favourite test to answer this question is the stone age 20- minute field test, Which you can bash out anywhere in your own time once you have your power meter (ideal world) or your heart rate monitor and a clear section of road.

How to go about it?

As a sport scientist and coach, I’ve conducted tonnes of lab-based tests designed to assess the different parameters of cycling performance.

Tests are designed to evaluate an athlete’s current fitness, and the most popular and often most relevant one of all (although not always) is a 20 minute test.

There are a tonne of more intrusive tests we could do in a lab based test setting but lets face it most people don’t want the extra expense of time and money.

Along with this after a cost-benefit analysis they may be better off sticking to their own testing anyway.


You can repeat them as much as you need to!

Most people don’t test enough – period.

A 20-minute test is essentially a full gas effort in a ‘sustained fashion’.

Your average power is then used to calculate your subsequent training zones.

20-minute power is often considered the greatest determinant of cycling performance events over the 60-minute mark.

Nobody wants to test for an hour though do they?

That’s why a 25 mile TT is your only man!


Be specific about where you test.

If you’re a time trialist do your test on a predominantly flat main road.

If you’re a climber or you’re training to go primarily uphill, test on a shallow gradient of 2-4%.

Any higher and it gets messy with cadence.

Also, if you know a climb or section of road to be roughly 20 minutes long use the terrain as a guide over using your clock…

If it’s a minute over or beneath 20 minutes that fine it’s still a perfectly usable estimation of your FTP.

I’m currently doing some research on the efficacy of using even shorter tests to set your zones but for the moment 20 minute all out is the way to go.

Things you need to take note of!

Pretty much everything needs to be noted and recorded to make testing as repeatable as you possibly can.

If it’s not repeatable- it’s not reliable, and if it’s not reliable – it’s not valid!

• Repeat the same 3 days prior to every test (easy)
• Ride the test on the same bike in the same position
• Wear the same kit
• Try get a similar day- If possible (I can already here it, ‘sure I live in fucking Ireland’)
• Always repeat the same warm up

Can I test on the turbo or watt bike?

First things first there is a difference between a road based test and a turbo test.

The differences in figures are outside the scope of this blog but here’s my 2 cents.

If you do the majority of your training on the turbo – test on the turbo and vice versa.

If you train on both, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you could test on both..

‘What a doushbag’

If you don’t have the ‘mental matches’ to burn for that carry on just be aware of the following..

If you’re not reaching your normal figures on the turbo regardless of you perceiving the effort to be a lot harder than on the road – it’s because it is a lot harder and you need to back off!

‘But Aaron it will skew my TSS’

Bugger off!

One spanner in the works to finish off!

For those of you guys not short of a few pennies and in possession of a fancy power meter, please realise that there are other areas you can test!

If you’ve just done the sprint plan your FTP might not have improved that much and you haven’t been training to improve it, so why the hell would you test it?

You can test everything from 3 seconds to 10 minutes depending on the demands of your event.

A 20-minute test is to establish your FTP and set zones and is also a great indicator of cycling performance- but don’t be afraid to record values for other durations too and watch their improvement over time.

Head down arse up,

A. Buggle

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