Ramp test failure: muscular vs lungs/heart rate?

Hi! I’m new to TrainerRoad and just started cycling a few months ago. I just did my second Ramp test ever yesterday.

On my first test, I kept my cadence around 90, which eventually led to a “can’t pedal any longer” feeling until I finally fell into the ERG spiral of death. My legs were burning so much (and sore for a while) because of the effort at the end was mostly muscular, and I’m not very strong. My heart and breathing increased considerably, but that’s not what made me stop. I just couldn’t move my legs at the end.

On my second one, I decided to pedal faster and kept my cadence around 100. I got to failure because I was simply breathing too hard and my heart nearly hit my max (200) for the last couple of minutes. I noticed my legs were feeling fresh about half an hour after the test and, unlike the previous attempt, no soreness the day after. This time I failed because I simply couldn’t breath any faster for any longer, I guess?

I’m still learning about my ideal cadence and pedalling, so I’m confused on what I should aim for to make the test work best for me without cheating or not doing my best.


There’s nothing wrong with 90-100rpms. You are in the right range. You’ll get stronger. Split the difference and try 95 next time.


With time your legs will get strong and lower cadence will be there. With time you will become better at using oxygen and you will be able to spin high cadence for a longer time. With time you will get better at shuttling metabolic byproducts (what people mean by lactic acid) and you will be able to go harder for longer. We all have dues to pay in the form of suffering and the reward is performance. No short cuts, just more glorious suffering doing what we all love.


Question: Muscular or cardiovascular failure on a ramp test?
Answer: Yes.


I noticed lower candence indoors… I usually have higher cadence outside, especially on high wattages (100+) but when I did ramp test I was grinding in lower 80s…

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Interesting - largely the opposite for me.

I’ll start a ramp test in the high 80s, usually, and I typically die at about 102-103. I’m a pretty constant 92-93 average outside.

Don’t sweat it. You’ll probably swing between muscular endurance VS aerobic endurance as a limiter multiple times.
The ramp test doesn’t care, and does a pretty good job as a starting point.

I’m (currently) in the camp that tends to increase cadence as I get closer to failure. It feels easier to turn the pedals and I know that my cardiovascular system has a delayed failure point.
Erg mode is a cruel reality once you exceed your abilities.


I find ERG bites into me hard if I don’t attack intervals and keep my cadence up around 100rpm. Maybe it’s because I don’t actually put out a lot of watts so a few watts is a bigger impact on me :thinking: IIRC my last ramp test was 229w down from my first of 270w. Yet every one of my mates says I’m getting stronger and I sure feel stronger/ more sustainable. I put out 250w for my last hour long TT in September (yes I’m that slow) so when the number fell below that I stopped paying attention to the ramp test. I also done non ERG sessions with long intervals around that. So I felt comfortable. I did a shorter 20mins test again non ERG and did 283w for the 20 but only after two 30s maximal sprints and a 1 min 120% block so I conservatively used an FTP of 90% of it. I upped it last week to 92 % and that feels about right (hard but doable for an hour +session) with ERG. Lol, I’ll probably fail tonight :joy:


Have you tried doing your ramp test in resistance mode?
The erg spiral of death can stop you prematurely. Resistance mode gives you the opportunity to change to a gearing that you can manage,and you wont suffer the dreaded S.O.D.

It took me a while to get used to Erg. But now I like it for workouts below Aerobic capacity, and sprints.
It takes a while to learn how to ride erg. I made the newbie mistake of increasing cadence to match watts. If you do that you will end up King of spin, and be at 180 rpm or so :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: It was @mcneese.chad who helped me out. He’s a great source of information !


9 times out of 10 my limiter is my lungs versus legs burning out. Outside I ride at a cadence of 100rpms or so and can see why I blow up my lungs outside but on the trainer my cadence is usually lower around 90rpm and my limiter is still my lungs. Maybe I should try 85rpm.

That 's interesting. Yes ,try 85 rpm. That may be your optimum cadence, depending on the type of training you are doing. You don’t mention whether your outside ride is a z2, SS, or AC. I’m assuming it’s probably z2-3.
I did an experiment yesterday doing (the endurance part) of Mokelumne and watching my HR. At 68-70 rpm it was 115 b/minute. At 100 rpm it was 120 b/m . At 120 rpm it was 134 b/m .At 140 rpm it was 148 b/m.
I felt as though I could do the 68-70 rpm for hours, but legs and lungs were trashed after 140 rpm.
Somewhere in the middle there is an optimum, and i think if you up the intensity to, say, sweetspot that 68-70 rpm would probably trash the Quads, and we’d end up with DOMS.
I will try it on my next SS session and see what happens


So from what I understand the Ramp test is just a “matter of survival”? Ie. changing the cadence to my favor in order to switch between muscular and aerobic endurance for as long as I can?

Wouldn’t this lean towards a potentially higher than actual FTP? For example, if you’re a sprinter type (very strong) you could potentially smash the pedals harder at low RPM near the end to stretch it, even though that wouldn’t be your cadence when riding your bike for hours?

And on the opposite end, wouldn’t this make the Ramp test not well suited for more endurance type riders which would get lower than actual FTP because their muscular sprinting power is not that high?

I think you’re getting a pretty good understanding of the limitations of the ramp test. Overall, it works pretty well for a lot of riders, but there are exceptions as you pointed out. There has been a lot of discussion about this in other threads where people have pointed out that it doesn’t work well for them for one reason or another (myself included). As a result, most of us just adjust their FTP manually using the ramp test as a starting point, or adjust the workout intensity for a given workout. It’s going to take some experience of doing the ramp test and then seeing how your training efforts actually feel at that level (and then tweak things as needed). The way I think about it, it’s not really trying to determine your “actual FTP” accurately. It’s really just trying to “calibrate your training plan efforts” based on where you are at the time. When I first started with TR, I think I got too fixated on the number. It helps to understand what are your training goals?

As an example, I am a 61 year old endurance rider and my point of failure on the ramp test is always due to hitting max HR (175) and breathing, so I am limited by my VO2Max and not my legs. The number I get from the ramp test always seemed too low to me because using that number I found that the SS and threshold efforts felt a bit too easy. On the other hand, on those few VO2Max workouts in my plan, the ramp test FTP number feels about right. I can complete them, but I’m about to fall off the bike at the end. Feels very much like the point of failure on the ramp test. I think this is telling me that I need to work more on my VO2Max. But then, I don’t race and don’t ever intend to be in a bunch sprint at the finish line, so I don’t worry too much about it. I do want to be a stronger endurance rider and be a better climber though, so that’s my focus.


Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. I was a little confused, thinking that I might be doing something wrong. Just did my first ever VO2max interval workout and that was a whole different story than the SS ones.

I guess I’ll get better at it as I gain experience, and learn to “play by ear”.

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Hey Bruce, I’m so glad to see your post because I’m new to TR. I am a 61 year old endurance rider and runner. My max HR is 175 based on my killer hill workouts outside this summer, five to ten minute climbs all out to the point where my heart felt like it was jumping out of my chest and I was close to fainting. Training in my 60’s requires more attention to recovery, etc. Love to connect directly. How does that happen in TR?

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I took a poll on this a while back.

I think something can be learned to inform training based on why you fail the ramp test… but I don’t know what it is yet!

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Hi jdudley45,
Sure, I sent you a direct message. Click on your profile icon and select the Messages tab.

Great, I would like some of your feedback. I wanna do it all over text or do you want to talk on the phone? Just started using TR & I want to minimize the learning curve as quickly as possible. Let me know what works best for you. Thanks Bruce.

Do you want to do it all over text? Or a phone call?