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FTP / Cadence / Power Advice for Beginner

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FTP / Cadence / Power Advice for Beginner

Old 02-19-19, 11:04 AM
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helouwn
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FTP / Cadence / Power Advice for Beginner

I've been a long time lurker here, but finding answers through search has always alleviated the need to post. I have run into a problem to which I haven't found an answer.


For years (since some fairly rough knee injuries), I have been more of a resistance trainer than a cardio trainer. About a year ago, I started my quest to fix that with a rower. Recently, due to motivation issues with the solitary nature of rowing, I purchased a Wahoo Kickr Core and signed up for zwift. At this point, it's probably worth mentioning that I don't know much about cycling. I started with the zwift interval workouts and enjoyed them. I got the point of wanting to track my fitness level in a more concrete way. After some reading, it appears to me that FTP is a decent way to do that (assuming I use the same power meter and bike consistently). So I took the FTP test on zwift. It came back at 124, which surprised me a bit (given the kind of rowing workouts I was doing, I've now learned I shouldn't be). It also showed my average cadence during the test was 67 (I've now learned that's low). My average HR during the 20 minute test after the warm up was 172 (my max is 184).


After the first test, I tried it again the next day at a higher cadence (closer to the 90 number I keep seeing as "good"), and I couldn't finish. I just don't have the lungs for it. I think my issue is that my legs are disproportionately stronger than my lungs (please tell me if I'm wrong).


My goal now is to both raise my FTP and cadence (hopefully leading to "better" cardio fitness). What sort of training program should I embark upon? What sort of things should I be focusing on? The zwift FTP builder is a four week course that involves an hour a day (that's the short one). With an hour in the gym strength training four days a week, an hour on the bike everyday is just too much of a commitment (want to actually have an achievable plan).


In case it matters:

41 years old

5'7" (170 cm)

152 lbs (70 kg)

~9% body fat.


Thanks in advance. And sorry for the long post! Tried to edit it down and didn't know enough to know what wasn't important.


Will
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Old 02-19-19, 11:13 AM
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There are a lot of ways to skin the FTP cat. It's a steady build and you need to stress and recover, stress and recover. I had great luck with a plan that was 2 days of 2x20' at 90-95% of FTP plus some endurance and a group ride on the weekend. Or if you like the Zwift, take a look at the 6 week plan. It's only 4 days a week. And consider easing off the strength work during that time. Maybe 3 days a week.

Also, don't be surprised that you couldn't finish the test the next day. They are by definition all out efforts and you need to be fresh for them.

As for cadence, it's not a terrible idea to get comfortable at higher revs but we tend to self select what's comfortable to us. I think the idea of "optimal cadence" is overblown, especially on a power test.

Last edited by caloso; 02-19-19 at 11:31 AM.
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Old 02-19-19, 11:45 AM
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It sounds like you spend time lifting in the gym. You know how for the first few months, anybody who shows up regularly and puts in the work is going to enjoy some newbie gains, regardless of what program they're following? That's the story with cycling too. Ride a lot and you'll build a base of cardiovascular fitness. You can ride outdoors without a PM or even HRM, you'll continue to improve, the power numbers will show it when you get on the trainer.

I'm not saying there isn't value to structured workouts. I'm saying if your lungs can't keep up yet, anything you do will help fix that.
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Old 02-19-19, 12:57 PM
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I agree with Seattle Forrest. At this point, just riding will do the trick. Do whatever sounds fun to you and you will see the numbers climb up. In a few months you might consider getting more specificity, but for now just ride.
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Old 02-19-19, 01:20 PM
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Given your age and background, I'd check into the calibration of your trainer. As, 124w is really low for someone who's done anything. You've already rowed and done some things. Given your heart rate, maybe you meant to type 224 or it is an error.

But, you're off to a good start. Measure it the same way every time and make sure your setup is consistent. Then, pick a plan based on what you want to do. Apply the percentages and do the plan.

If you've had knee issues in the past, I would certainly be a spinner instead of a grinder. Meaning, definitely 90rpm plus as your goal. On some hammer rides it makes my knees hurt watching mid 30's, 40's, and even 50 year olds grind away at like 80 rpm all the time.

The other posters are correct also, focus on time and miles for now with some enjoyment. Then, get into specific training later.

Rowing is an outstanding cross training activity for cycling. Along with speed skating and cross country skiing. Rowing will add more upper body bulk though, if you care.

I'd advocate for finding a local group at an intro level "c-group" to do a ride with to learn to be in a group. Then sign up for a fun fondo so you have a little carrot to chase. And have fun!
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Old 02-19-19, 02:02 PM
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Thanks for the feedback and encouragement. This is a great community.

I guess I'll keep riding and give it another month before worrying about the numbers again. In the meantime, I'll try to focus on being more of a "spinner" than "grinder." I assume grinding is just my body preferring what it is best at - my legs are better at pushing more resistance in high gears than my lungs are at tolerating spinning faster in low gears. It may be time to actively resist that and train in lower gears at a higher cadence. During the FTP test, the bike stayed in the highest gear (anything less left me feeling like I was about to die after three minutes). In normal training workouts, I use Erg mode and let the trainer control resistance.

As to calibration, I did a spin down after ten minutes of warm up, prior to the FTP test (manual says to pedal up to 24 mph and let it spin down to 10 mph in the Wahoo utility app). It looks like 124 watts really is the real number.
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Old 02-19-19, 02:44 PM
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I haven't done a Zwift FTP test, but I've done the TrainerRoad ramp test and The Sufferfest 4DP test and found them to be consistent in calculating my FTP despite them being structured differently. I mention them because they both offer cadence and style drills that may be useful for beginners, and The Sufferfest's even includes it as part of their one-week plan to prepare for their test. I did a 7-day trial of Zwift and didn't see anything equivalent (though I didn't spend much time looking). It may be worthwhile to try a different platform just to pick up some training basics. TR has a full 30-day money-back guarantee, while SF has a 7-day free trial.
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Old 02-19-19, 03:21 PM
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How fresh are you going into the test?

Power is torque and cadence, not just torque. Before people use a PM I think a lot of us feel like mashing hard on the pedals is the way to make a bike go fast. It seems intuitive and obvious. Most people but turning the cranks quickly with a bit less force is the way to go.

After a while, when your lungs keep up, you'll find that spinning at a high cadence will/should be less fatiguing and let you keep going longer.
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Old 02-19-19, 06:47 PM
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Originally Posted by helouwn View Post
I guess I'll keep riding and give it another month before worrying about the numbers again. In the meantime, I'll try to focus on being more of a "spinner" than "grinder." [...]
As to calibration, I did a spin down after ten minutes of warm up, prior to the FTP test (manual says to pedal up to 24 mph and let it spin down to 10 mph in the Wahoo utility app). It looks like 124 watts really is the real number.
If your FTP really is 124 watts, I wouldn't recommend "spinning" at all. At this stage, that'll screw you up. Just ride, and put more time in. Ignore cadence. Artificially raising your cadence wno't help you raise your power, and low power is your biggest issue. That's icing on the cake. You don't yet have a cake.
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Old 02-20-19, 05:10 AM
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With an FTP of 124 and weighing 70 kg, your watts/kg figure is 1.8 = W/kg is a number you'll see show up in a lot of places in Zwift, it is essentially your threshold power to weight ratio. If you look at the group rides on Zwift (Zwift Events is a good place to look) you'll group rides and group training rides that will say w/kg 2 or 1.5 - 2 or something like that. Those would be good rides to join in on to build up your base cycling fitness to start increasing your FTP. The group workouts have a feature where if you keep pedaling you will always stay with the gorup - not like races on Zwift where you will be dropped like a hot potato!

The group called The Pack has some fun ones, where at the end of ride there is optional climb, often called the King of the Mountain after party - doing hills on Zwift is a great way to increase, especially doing them after a normal length ride!

If you enjoy training and using the power meter in the Core, there are a couple of really good books on training with power. "Training and Racing With a Power Meter" by Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan is the bible and very racing oriented - but if you want to also use a power meter on an outside bike, it is full of good info. My favorite is "The Time Crunched Cyclist" by Chris Carmichael and Jim Rutberg. They have a shorter FTP test equivalent but then give you training plans for beginners and well as racers. I have put their training plans into Zwift and prefer them to most of the Zwift training plans.

Hope that helps, John P.
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Old 02-20-19, 06:33 AM
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What the number is at this point isn't a big issue. Use it to train against and you will get a feel pretty quick if it's too high or too low. Re-test frequently. At least once a month or even sooner if you feel like the perceived exertion at your current FTP is significantly easier. A test is a good workout so nothing is lost substituting test for intervals. Starting out is fun! If you have never done any structured training you can see some very rapid changes!
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Old 02-20-19, 07:43 AM
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There's "Fit" and there is being "Bike Fit". You can never judge a book by it's cover, some of the most unlikely people are animals on a bike. You look at them and think there is no way they put out that much power, or are that fast.

You just need more time in the saddle. Just start by alternating your rides on Zwift between climbing (focus on power not speed) and then relatively flat courses (focus on speed and cadence). Time on the saddle is important as well. Try to get outdoors and spend 2-3 hours on the bike at one time, maybe twice a week if you can (in addition to your Zwift workouts).
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Old 02-20-19, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
It sounds like you spend time lifting in the gym. You know how for the first few months, anybody who shows up regularly and puts in the work is going to enjoy some newbie gains, regardless of what program they're following? That's the story with cycling too. Ride a lot and you'll build a base of cardiovascular fitness. You can ride outdoors without a PM or even HRM, you'll continue to improve, the power numbers will show it when you get on the trainer.

I'm not saying there isn't value to structured workouts. I'm saying if your lungs can't keep up yet, anything you do will help fix that.
I agree with this. There really isn't much point for a beginner to do an FTP test anyway. Your "newbie gains" are fast enough that the number you get is likely to be obsolete within a week or two anyway.
Spend 2-3 months just riding for 0.5 to 1 hour several times a week. Then do the test again.
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Old 02-20-19, 08:06 AM
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All the advice you have gotten (above) is very good. Basically, keep riding lots and you will see quick improvement. I have to wonder if part of your "problem" is your pedal stroke. A trainer should reveal pedal stroke issues pretty quickly. Basically, there should be no "dead spots." Instead, you should feel like you are pedaling in circles with tension on the pedals much of the way around the circle. Are you using clipless pedals?

Also, I have to wonder about your being in your biggest gear. I'm not sure about your trainer/zwift set up, but on the road you would only want to be in your biggest gear on fast downhills. I can't help but wonder if the funny gear/low cadence is actually throwing your calibration off (on some trainers, this would be a problem, but I don't know about yours). Regardless of the calibration question, turning a monster gear at 60rpm is not going to be very practical for cycling on real roads.

Instead of jumping from 60rpm-90rpm, I might suggest doing some "cadence drills" where for 1min you switch into an easier gear and try for 70-80rpm, then back to your self-selected cadence for a few min. Repeat for an hour. Keep the power numbers the same, or similar, throughout the workout. Just settle into a power number at which you are working, but can still sustain comfortably for an hour.
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Old 02-20-19, 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by helouwn View Post
Recently, due to motivation issues with the solitary nature of rowing, I purchased a Wahoo Kickr Core and signed up for zwift. At this point, it's probably worth mentioning that I don't know much about cycling. I started with the zwift interval workouts and enjoyed them. I got the point of wanting to track my fitness level in a more concrete way. After some reading, it appears to me that FTP is a decent way to do that (assuming I use the same power meter and bike consistently). So I took the FTP test on zwift. It came back at 124, which surprised me a bit (given the kind of rowing workouts I was doing, I've now learned I shouldn't be).
I don't think anyone has asked this yet... how much time did you have on the bike/trainer before doing the FTP test? Are we talking months and months, or weeks, or days... ?

It's been maybe 8-9 years since I got really into cycling and I didn't have any way of quantifying my progress other than average speed for a long time, but I definitely recall that trying to ride at a high cadence felt very uncomfortable and I wasn't able to sustain any real effort for much longer than a handful of minutes for a long time, and this was coming from running and swimming all the time so I was in shape to begin with. I'd literally say it took a few thousand miles of riding before I started to feel comfortable riding at higher efforts, and it's only recently (45,000+ miles later) that I feel like I really understand how my body responds to training stress and what I can/cannot do.

Not saying you have to wait a few years before you test your FTP, just that there really is no replacement for riding a LOT initially and how that will massively improve your baseline fitness. Once that's accomplished, then you can start parsing through the numbers and structured plans etc. Just my opinion.
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Old 02-20-19, 12:49 PM
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First, I don't recommend Zwift's FTP builder plan for all of the points shown in this video:

On that note, I've used Zwift, Xert, Trainerroad, Today's plan, CTS plans, and HRV guided algorithmic plans... but never an actual coach.

Since you already have the tools, a road bike and kickr Core (pretty nice by the way!) I'd highly recommend Trainerroad and its SweetSpot base plans. These seem well balanced and work specifically to improve FTP while providing plenty of drills. I often have Trainerroad control my trainer while using zwift so I get a fabulous workout and have entertainment.

As to the notes people are saying about your FTP and the tests you did, considering your heart rate nearly hit maximum during the test (unless it's a ramp test you likely won't hit maximum) the FTP number is likely quite correct and knowing that, with the proper plans, is a fantastic starting point to really elevate your fitness.

I recommend Trainerroad SweetSpot base plans, but honestly, you're probably best enjoying Zwift and getting some miles in for around 2 or 3 months before really hitting a training plan. You'll likely get some pretty explosive growth, then doing a plan will really cause some improvement.
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Old 02-20-19, 03:30 PM
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Originally Posted by firebird854 View Post
considering your heart rate nearly hit maximum during the test.
Assuming that is a true maximum and not something derived from a simplified formula or something.
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Old 02-20-19, 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by PepeM View Post
Assuming that is a true maximum and not something derived from a simplified formula or something.
Good point.
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Old 02-20-19, 05:07 PM
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Originally Posted by PepeM View Post
Assuming that is a true maximum and not something derived from a simplified formula or something.
I feel pretty good about my max HR measurement. It was derived on a track, with a chest strap, and another person holding the receiver, noting my HR every 100 meters during two 400 meter sprints (after a warmup and with a brief jog interval between 400 meter sprints). While I could probably get something even more accurate in a lab, that seems good enough for now.

And I totally understand rejecting the ďformula.Ē Iíve seen max HRs vary greatly from the 220-age formula (or the several deviations from that formula).
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Old 02-20-19, 05:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Dan333SP View Post
I don't think anyone has asked this yet... how much time did you have on the bike/trainer before doing the FTP test? Are we talking months and months, or weeks, or days... ?
Iíve been on a bike about three or four days a week for a month. Admittedly, not a lot. Iíve internalized the advice of several of the responses to just push forward through the ďbeginner gainsĒ until I have reached a place at which the improvement curve will be less steep. It makes a lot of sense.
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Old 02-20-19, 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by PepeM View Post
Assuming that is a true maximum and not something derived from a simplified formula or something.
Solid point.
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Old 02-20-19, 05:14 PM
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Originally Posted by jadocs View Post
There's "Fit" and there is being "Bike Fit". You can never judge a book by it's cover, some of the most unlikely people are animals on a bike. You look at them and think there is no way they put out that much power, or are that fast.
Iím learning this lesson the hard way. I thought I was ďin shape.Ē Getting on a bike and trying to ride for any extended period has demonstrated that, compared to many in the cycling community, Iím absolutely not. I keep seeing people talking about FTPs between 300 and 400, or maintaining cadences between 90 and 110. Itís amazing.
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Old 02-20-19, 06:23 PM
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Originally Posted by helouwn View Post


Iím learning this lesson the hard way. I thought I was ďin shape.Ē Getting on a bike and trying to ride for any extended period has demonstrated that, compared to many in the cycling community, Iím absolutely not. I keep seeing people talking about FTPs between 300 and 400, or maintaining cadences between 90 and 110. Itís amazing.
To be fair, people talking about FTPs over 300 are probably serious racers/pros. Your average two rides a week Joe would probably be in the 200 watt or below range, with higher weights (and thus lower w/Kg) to boot.
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Old 02-22-19, 04:18 PM
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I have been riding for 4.5 years but only started "seriously" training with a PM 1.5 years ago. I am 5'11", 250 lbs, 39 YO male and my FTP(per a 20 minute test) is 260. What doe that mean to you or anyone else? Two things: 1. Absolutely and 2. Nothing. I have a friend in his mid to late 50s, who is significantly lighter than me, with an FTP of 170. He is a little bit faster/stronger than I am. His Watt/KG is higher than mine.
I will join in with the others that have said "You have been riding for a month, don't worry about FTP and just ride" Keep putting in the effort and look at the number, but do not put too much thought in them at first. Go off perceived effort. You will begin to notice trends in your workouts and can go from there.

What are your goals? Are you planning on riding outside or is this purely for fitness? No harm either way. Pick an obtainable, maybe shorter term, goal. For example: If you want to be able to keep a faster cadence average in the 60s, try to first have an average in the 70s. then move on from there.

But really, for now, don't worry about reaching some number so you can think you have "arrived". Keep riding, pick one thing you want to improve, and enjoy what you are doing. My only real goal is to be able to keep up with my group of riding buddies. The problem i have is that every time I get stronger/faster, they do too.
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Old 02-22-19, 05:58 PM
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I'm the same kind of newbie - bike commuter, had knee problems, bought 1st road bike last July, rode around Zwift for a little bit, did the FTP test(114w), and started the 4wk FTP Builder. Midway through I rode around for 20min and Zwift updated my FTP to 124w. I still have a week left of the training plan.

I received the same advice to just ride around, but I do like the workout watt targets, seeing my numbers increase and the structure of it. I feel obligated to complete the workouts and I can show the plan to my wife and tell her I need to bike for an hour, because Zwift says so =P

I'll take a break from training plans after this one is complete next week. After the break I'll try to make a custom workout to keep me going.

36yo, 5'9" (175cm), 160 lbs. (72 kg)
Lost like 15+ lbs from bike commuting and Zwifting so far.
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