Oh Where, Oh Where Has My FTP Gone?

Hello Everyone,

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The dreaded FTP Test.  20 minutes of pure agony!

The Tour of Sufferlandria is starting next weekend.  (Help a brother out with a donation here: Aaron’s Donation Page)  With this in mind, I have to do an honest assessment of my current FTP.  God forbid I go into this tour with an FTP set too high.  I will end up crushing my legs and possibly injuring myself.  My FTP always drops over the winter.  There are many reasons why this happens with lower volume over the winter, family commitments over the holiday season, and the end of cyclocross for me just before Thanksgiving.  I’ll also add in that I’m a fairly rapid de-trainer when it comes to VO2 Max and Threshold power.  I can hold my Anaerobic abilities fairly well and my Aerobic zones stay pretty consistent throughout the year; however, my ability to work at threshold and push a high wattage at VO2 is greatly diminished.  I’ve come to accept this as a natural part of detraining over the winter.  Those lucky enough to live in moderate climates might be an exception to the rule. I have been training consistently with power for almost three years now.  I think looking at a regular Joe’s (like myself) power profile and fluctuation will make some of you feel really good about how much stronger you are than me or help other regular Joe’s understand that all of these changes are probably normal.  

I’ll put up my first chart here to see how my FTP has trended over the past 3 years.  All of this was done with different power meters.  So, there could be some fluctuations between power meters.

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FTP Chart since I started training with power back in May of 2013.

As you can see here, my power was pretty dismal in May of 2013.  My FTP test gave out a 225 watt FTP and I weighed around 198lbs.  There was a reason I was getting shelled off the back of CAT 5 Criterium races.  I managed great gains over the first two years of training.  I also fluctuate my weight down to 175 pounds(summer) and incease it up to 185 pounds(winter).  The law of diminished returns is starting to take effect now on my third year.  The gains are slowing a bit and I’m finding myself having to work much harder for improvements.

Besides the first year, you will see that my power drops significantly over the winter.  I consider this my base or bottom that I’m working from.  Over the past two years my bottom drop is getting higher and higher along with my peak wattage.  You will also notice that I usually can manage two peaks in the year with my second peak being the highest.  This second peak coincides somewhere within my cyclocross season.  I will tell you that dropping an FTP down from 309 watts to 260 watts is frustrating in the winter.  Getting exhausted at wattage that you used to easily ride is tough to embrace.  I don’t think there is any escaping this for the family man who has commitments.

The next chart I can show you my annual gains that I make from peak to peak.

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Here are my improvements on FTP each year.  As you can see, the greatest gains are made in the first two years.

The first year I did not focus on training.  I basically just rode my bike.  I gained 35 watts on my FTP that first year.  The second year I started doing some structured training but really focused on adding some longer miles over the summer.  I was able to almost negate my FTP drop over the summer and kept building up another 30 watts on FTP.  The third year I focused heavily on structured training because I knew these gains in threshold were about to get slim.  That focused training allowed me to put another 19 watts on my FTP.  This fourth year????  I am not positive where I need to go from here but I have an idea.  I’ll feel really good if I can add 10 watts to my FTP this year.  I believe I’m approaching what is known as the “Law of Diminishing Returns.”  I can keep working hard but I will be lucky to add 3-5% annually to my FTP.

Here is a chart outlining what I mean by “Diminishing Returns.”

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You can see the FTP trend line starting to flatten at the top.  It may take me years to hit that 330 watt FTP level.  National Level Masters athletes can hit 380 watts.

All of this puts things into perspective.  You look at the video from a National Level Masters Time Trail athlete like Justin Rossi and you can hear him say that 385 watts was his target wattage for the 49 minute race.  That would probably put his FTP near 370 to 380 watts.  I can’t imagine the amount of work and years of dedication it takes to hit numbers like that.  At this point I will be happy if one day I hit 330 watts for an FTP.  I can’t imagine doing a 20 minute power test and trying to hold 350 watts right now let alone 410 watts.  It seems very far away and basically unattainable.  Sure, when I first started training the gains came on fast, but now is where I really have to work to keep improving.

If I can hit 315 watts by this May/June, then I should be set to go just beyond that next cyclocross season.  I also have to consider weight at a certain point.  I have a hard time justifying dropping under 175 pounds at 6’1″.  At 175 pounds I’m feeling really thin and my clothes are starting to get baggy.  The dedication to diet down below 175 pounds is tough also.  You can ride all you want on the bike, but diet dictates everything.  Ad on top of this that I’m no spring chicken anymore at 42 years young, I will need to train smart just to improve a little bit better every year without injury.

That’s my regular Joe observations over these past few years.  Some people may be stronger, some people may be weaker.  None of that really matters to me, that’s why I put my numbers out there.  I’m only concerned about improving myself year over year injury free.  I hope you can see that it is normal for most of us to lose a certain percentage of our FTP during these winter months.  I know it is for me.  Realistically, I can only train about 8 hours a week, maybe 12 hours if I really push it.  Those are my limitations and I’m doing the best I can to work within my limitations.

 

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson

Aaron served in the military for 20 years. Multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired from the military after 20 years of service to take care of our three small children in 2013 as a Stay At Home Dad.

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