THE SECRET TO FITNESS
It’s amazing how the lingo of cycling has grown each year to the point that a conversation between two riders can sound like “foreign code” to the non-cyclist. “What’s your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) nowadays?” How many TSS points did you accumulate over that FTP test? Do you do the 20 min FTP test or the 2X8 min version?
FTP is the power (watts) that you can theoretically hold for about one hour and the intensity gauge for interval training. Some of us can hold our FTP beyond one hour, some less. A lot of this depends on your experience, technique, skill and VO2. VO2?? Where does VO2 fit in with all this FTP talk? VO2 is your rate of oxygen consumption. To explain, we’ll use a recent case study of two middle-age cyclists with the same FTP to demonstrate what your “FTP does not tell you.”
Many on-line programs suggest that FTP is all the testing you need to do for performance monitoring and program design. However, in our opinion, you are missing out n some valuable information that is critical for INDIVIDUAL training plans. Knowledge is Power! As you may have noticed above, the FTP of the two riders is the same, one rider is slightly heavier but that is minor. But, look at their VO2 and VE scores. Cyclist 1 has a strong VO2 at 57 (average men are 45 ml/kg/min) and a large VE rate (184 L/min). Cyclist 2 has an average VO2 (44) and a shallower VE rate. Can you see that, although their FTPs are the same, these cyclists should be trained differently?
Furthermore, observe the difference in RPM (84 vs 72) and HRmax for Cyclist 1 and 2 respectively. More evidence to suggest individual training plans.
Practically, Cyclist 2 complains that he cannot ride at a high rpm (85-90) as many programs suggest. His legs and lungs always seem to pre-maturely fatigue while following the higher rpm guidelines. Conversely, Cyclist 1 can do long climbs hearing his lungs roar at a higher rpm without blowing up. For cases like this, we recommend that Cyclist 2 ride at lower RPMs, use his strength and learn to control his breathing while watching his Power meter. He does not have the physiology of an elite endurance athlete, so why train like it? On the other hand, Cyclist 1 needs to use his VO2 and lungs to his advantage.
While the cycling world seems to be fixated on Power meter metrics, it is not the bible for training program design. A direct look at your Physiology through a 15 min VO2 test can change and potentially improve your training this season. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will discuss the relationship of RPM and energy cost and what physiologically is ideal for you.