How Much of FTP is Psychological?

Okay, so I’m back at regular training (and riding) after about a decade away. Based on my FTP results lately, I’m starting to have questions about how much of FTP is influenced by psychology.

When I started training again in late June of this year, my first FTP (June 22nd) came back with a stunningly low 140 watts. In looking at the graph, it wasn’t the nice even ramping that you see in Erg mode on a smart trainer. I’m spiky and all over the place, and I blame my use of a smart trainer and Garmin Rallye pedals at the same time. Oops.

I was pretty good about sticking to my plan, and my next FTP test (August 1st), I used the system’s AI, which showed an 8.6% bump to 152 watts, using the AI estimate. Still lower than I’d like to be, but that’s part of being 50 and being out of shape. Fine. I continued training at this point, and the 152 felt about right.

September 1st, I ran another FTP update, using the AI and was up 6.6% to 162 watts. Feeling good about progress. Realistically, I know it’ll be flattening out at some point and I won’t be making 6-8% jumps each time.

Then on September 10th, everything went fucking sideways. I had a hard crash on the mountain bike that landed me in the ER, and I skipped all my rides for the first part of that week, including an FTP that was associated with the change of phases from Base 2 to Build. And then Build didn’t happen as I took off for Europe for two and a half weeks on vacation. Came home with bronchitis and was supposed to start the recovery week. I did one ride on Monday and felt too shitty to do anything.

Early this week, still suffering from the last bit of bronchitis. I’ve got a gravel event (the Filthy 50) on Saturday, and I rested as much as possible in the early part of the week. Still can’t kick the crud. Finally broke down and did my FTP test last night, on the one-month anniversary of the crash, in a fit of “goddammit I got shit to do”…

And saw a 6.8% jump in FTP, to 173 watts. Which makes zero sense, given that I just missed an entire month of training. Which leads me to the question: how much of an FTP result comes from psychological attitude? My first test I was frustrated by my inability to hold an even power output on each ramp and was beleaguered by technical issues. Subsequent ones I approached with some enthusiasm as I was excited to see results. Last night’s I was angry/frustrated about my delays in training, and saw I jump that I didn’t expect to see. So what gives?


Ramp test, 20 or8 minute test?

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Yes a lot in cycling can be pschological, also your body might have just needed a rest to get stronger. It can be a fine line between what is enough rest to get stronger and what is too much rest which will see you lose fitness. I had a forced 6 wks off the bike due to a major op and I think I came back stronger after being determined to do so and the appropriate rest.



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In my 16 year experience doing 20 minute FTP tests it’s a lot about pacing the first 2-8-ish minutes. It’s very easy to start far too hard which will always result in something less than you’re capable of. Can’t speak to ramp tests…


I joined forum just to suggest you read Alex Hutchinson’s book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. Given that the ftp tests involve riding hard and battling the near constant urge to slow down, I think this book would answer a lot of your question about it. It’s a really interesting for any endurance athlete.


Thats a bit weird. My thought process is using general rules of thumb and is as follows…

I’m of the opinion that generally speaking, a well paced 20-minute test can do a better job at estimating longer power (35-70 minutes) than a well executed ramp test.

For the 20-minute test I’d give that a multiplier of .9 to .95 (nod to FasCat). So if your 173 estimate was from a well executed 20-minutes, and you used .95, then if you had a strong anaerobic contribution its possible that a better ftp estimate is 164.

Can’t comment on AI FTP, have no experience with that and its a black box and if I understand some comments from TR, can have interactions with your PLs. Or I’ve got it backwards.

In any case, you have two was-suppose-to-be max efforts, one is a ramp test which actually is a good measure of your maximum aerobic power (MAP). There are a range of multipliers on that too, generally in the .72 to .78 range and TR uses .75 multiplier.

The ramp test is easiest test to perform coming back from being off the bike for some time, really really good way to estimate FTP given your situation in June.

The other suppose-to-be max effort is your 20-minute test, and discussed above.

Given you have two not-AI_FTP estimates, using two different max efforts, it should be clear that its really hard to compare the 140 to the 173 because they were using different estimation systems.

As to your other question, yes, there is an element of psychology involved in testing. I’ve had times where the ramp test gave good estimates, and times where I felt like gasping for air way too early, quitting well before I should have, and the ramp test gave a bad estimate (and I rejected and used an estimate based on sweet spot intervals). Similarly it can be hard to pace the 20-minute effort if you aren’t doing some practice before hand, my coach taught me to do 2x10-minute “try to find your 20-minute pace” efforts a week or two in advance.

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thought this was a good article that showed in my inbox last week

in particular the discussion of pros and cons of the different test formats.

Over 90% of the variation between individuals in performance can usually be explained based on physiological measurements (typically lactate responses). That doesn’t seem to leave a lot up to psychology (although obviously it does play some role).


I used to do the 20 minute test and it was a huge psychological battle for me. I either went out too hot and started struggling past 15 minutes or I went out too easy and then was doing an interval at the end as a last ditch effort.

Now I’ve learned to feel FTP. A long FTP interval should be a 7/8 out of 10 effort not the soul crushing effort of the 20 minute test. I do the Kolie Moore long format test. I got 35-40 minutes. At some point during the test you will get a really good feel for the point where you would go over the edge. When I’m there I’ll push it up 10 watts and test the waters. Sometimes I have to throttle back a bit. If I go out too easy, I can just keep going for another 5-10 minutes but you’ll feel the FTP.

In the end, instead of a soul crushing affair, it turns out to be a good threshold workout that you didn’t mind doing.


:smile: Awesome! Hey, was your Europe vacation at altitude, or something?

Another possibility is that you were pretty overextended at the end of your last block. Sound like you were in the last week of base so you were probably ramped up to some of your highest training stress.

Then you went to Europe for some R&R. At some point in that vacation, you probably peaked! Ha! When you came back your fitness was on the decline but still better than your pre-vacation overextended state. Or, maybe, given your illness, you were loaded to the scuppers with bronkaid & have discovered the ergogenic benefits of that wonderful combination.

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Sounds like your fitness was low enough the purposefully moving your body will result in gains. Just keep moving and don’t ask questions. Yes, being excited can help you push harder, but it’s hard to trigger that excitement on purpose whenever you want it


FTP by definition is a physiological marker, so none of it is psychological.

Testing, on the other hand, can be considerably psychological, and also to some extent dependent on ability to pace and follow instructions.


It sounds like maybe you needed more recovery time. If you strain really hard, you would typically need a minimum of 3 days before having any benefit in pushing hard again. I think more often than not, I tend to bicycle and strain way more than the optimal amount.

By taking those long breaks it seems you were able to properly recover and grow the muscles (and as you age it takes longer to recover).

Same applies in the gym, top 1-3 rep max str deadlifts/squats will be taken once every couple of weeks. Because you need about 2 weeks to recover (if you’re a professional athlete). And again, more often than not we (at least me!) tend to do it more often than optimal.

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I agree on the points with rest :slight_smile: and different testing methods above.
FWIW I’ve also had such spiky FTP tests with trainer:PM:TR communication issues and i ran the test again after fixing that.

Another thing to consider, you’re coming back and these gains are sometimes quite quick. If for example someone’s FTP was 230 before, making a jump from 140 to 170 is totally reasonable on a shorter timeframe.

Despite your procentual gains, your absolute gain now from 160 to 170 was not massive. Your workouts will only change a couple of W in goal power.

So welcome back and have a great one :grinning:

It could be your first test was under estimated from the newbie protocols, the subsequent AI was based on you activity from your plan which was then followed by a physical FTP test where you buried yourself.

So the bottom line is how are you finding threshold and Vo2 ?

Personally I’d look past events, take the bump in FTP and get plenty of recovery and quality calories to fuel your new level of workouts. Enjoy and congratulations :+1:

I’m not a pro, but I’m in a very similar situation as you are. 45 years, restarted training this summer after many years break and hit similar events (but luckily didn’t crash - hope you are better now!).

I want to throw in one other point on top of what was mentioned above: steady state and consistency.

I think we need to consider that we are in a very different situation than most here. Most TrainerRoad users are in more or less a steady-state and experienced at producing repeatable results in tough training conditions.

Starting fresh, you have a very dynamic system where maybe you haven’t fully re-learned what your body feels like for a given training stress, your body reacts more quickly than when in a saturated, steady state. You also experienced a number of hard to control events (sickness) and if I understood it correctly your testing methods were not always the same.

I think until you are in such a steady state, I would try to train and test in the same conditions as much as possible (indoor vs outdoor, same power meter, same test methods). You will get more precise results and also see less variation.

I like the distinction you drew between FTP as a physiological construct and whatever test is performed to estimate it.


I’ve actually never tested mine. So i get on a cycling thingie at the gym, and once i’m warm i do 20 minute at the max constant exertion i can? is it more optimal to go fast, or to have a high resistance? Granted, I train strength too, so I tend to be better at quick bouts. Not sure what the max power would be, as the cycling machines in my gym stop counting at 500w, and i reach that quite easily, much before my max (but that’s on a very short bout of course)

Don’t worry, if you do 500w for 20 minutes get a pro contract.