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How to Perform an FTP Test
Today we are going to talk about how to get your FTP, or Functional Threshold Power, and there are at least 5 ways to estimate your FTP, a 20 minute test, 2-8 minute tests, the ramp test or 2 – 6 minute trials. The final, most optimal way to do this test is very difficult as it would be your one hour ride. Because it would take a lot of preparation, most athletes use one of these other four methods, and few people use the method of the hour. Functional Threshold Power is really how many watts you can sustain over the course of an hour. Think of it as a one-hour time trial. A time trial is over, giving it your all to set the fastest time.
Now, before we dive into how to do this, let’s talk about why you should perform these tests and what you should be measuring during the test.
In order to train properly, like being in the right zones, you need to have a baseline in order to understand those zones. The zones are different in intensity, from a recovery zone to what I call, the synaptic interval zone. By doing an FTP test, you can use a little math to figure out what your zone ranges are.
What are we measuring? Ideally, you want to measure heart rate and power, with power being the most important metric for training. Power is measured in watts and gives you an instant readout of where you are during all your rides. Heart rate can be used, but it lags and will most likely require you to start way too hard in order to get your heart rate where it should be and then back off when it gets too high. Heart rate can also be affected by training load and can sometimes be too low or too high, which can also put you in the wrong training zone. Heart rate is good to have so that when you are power training you can look at your baseline FTP heart rate and see or possibly predict when you may need to rest a bit more off the bike so your body can recover. The bottom line is that it’s important to measure both power and heart rate during your FTP test.
Now let’s talk about some of the different testing options mentioned earlier. The first and most common is the 20 minute test. I would recommend this test for the expert and elite cyclist. Specifically road and gravel racers as they constantly reduce power during their events.
The 8 minute stress test would suit athletes who can be more explosive like cyclocross and/or mountain bikers. This test would be a better representation of what is going on in their race and how they will train.
The ramp test is as it is, after a warm-up the power increases every minute until failure, this is perhaps the least strenuous test of the group since it is only hard for the last few minutes, but still effective.
You can also do two efforts of 6 minutes. I use this test with my beginners and athletes in all cycling disciplines. I can still get a good number of efforts with this type of test and not scare off the athletes. I have seen great improvement with this level of athletes using this form of testing for all the doubters.
Again, the hour test will give you a very accurate number, but pushing yourself around the threshold for an hour can certainly take its toll, and just thinking about it can send you jumping.
What should you do before testing? The first thing you need to plan before the test is to have 2-3 days off or very low intensity rides before the test in order to get a good result. You also shouldn’t be on the bike for a ton of hours before the test. You want your body rested and ready like you would for a big race. You also don’t want to take too long before you start deconditioning. Make sure you are well hydrated and eating well the day before and the day of the test. Again, treat this test as an “A” run.
The day of the test has arrived, I hope you have prepared for it as you would for a race. You’re going to have to give it your all, leave your body with nothing!
Before starting the test, I recommend that you do some dynamic movements. Once you jump on the bike, you’ll need to do about 20 minutes of warming up to recruit more muscle fibers and get blood flowing further throughout your body to help prevent injury. During this warm-up, you’ll want to include 2-3 over-the-threshold efforts for 30-90 seconds. This will ensure that more muscle fibers are recruited and ready for that intense effort. I will generally do a 30-45 second effort first about 7 minutes, a 45-60 second effort about 10 minutes and a final effort about 13 minutes. After that I pedal and make sure the legs are ready to go, shaking them a little here and there.
Once it’s time to go, it’s time to give it your all. If it’s your first time testing, you want to push, but not everything to start with. If you feel good after a few minutes, start pushing harder and harder. You will want to consider this test as one of the hardest things you will ever do. If you do it right, you will completely bury yourself. As a side note, make sure you log your power and heart rate, you don’t want to hurt yourself to find out you haven’t logged anything!
After you complete the FTP test, you should pedal to recover for 15-30 minutes, do a recovery shake, roll and massage your legs, and then do a good stretch.
Once you have your test results, use the average of your power output and heart rate to feed them into the math equations. This will map your ranges for each particular area. If you’re not sure where to go from here, in a future post I’ll explain how to do this and look at a common area line as well as the line I’m using. Get ready now to do your own FTP test!
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