As stated in the Part 1 video, the CP test protocol is easy to administer, removes the inherent failure points of the 20-minute FTP protocol and is modeled after the best practices lab-based stress testing but in a way that provides a more definitive end point -- which is required when you don't have the luxury of a tester telling you enough data points of HR, power, O2 consumption and blood lactate have been pulled in order to crunch results.
When you've completed the CP ramp test as outlined in the video and the subsequent Tmax test, you will then be ready to calculate your power zones (NOTE: One thing I forgot to mention in Part 1 is that you should also capture the average HR you hit for that final successful minute of the ramp test as well as the average HR during the Tmax test. The higher you can drive these HR values and the closer your get to your Max HR, the better your body is handling the building of blood lactate. If there's quite a gap between these values and your Max HR, then there's a bit of work at and above threshold left to be done.). Here are the zones. The percentages are based on your CP ramp test result:
- CP: 100%+
- SPAM: 80-85%
- MITO: 75-80%
- LIP: 65-75%
- L1/L2: <65%
So, what the hell does each abbreviation mean? Here I'll explain briefly and provide an example or two of what these workouts can look like.
CP (Critical Power) -- to stimulate Type IIb muscle fiber recruitment
Some people refer to this as SupraMax effort, or similar to L6/L7 efforts with the standard FTP zone pyramid. The difference is that instead of the zone being based off a 20-minute effort bastardized into an hour's value, this zone is based directly off the ramp test. And, given the short duration of the Tmax test before failure, I explain 100% CP as being more intense than VO2max but shy of SupraMax (which tends to be in the 1-minute range).
A couple of examples of CP-specific workouts:
1) 30-60 minutes straight of 15sec or 30sec "on/off". "On" = 100%; "off" = easy recovery
2) 12-20 x 1min at 100% with 90sec-2:00 easy spinning between
3) repeats of 50-70% of Tmax with 2x recovery time
4) 8-12 x 30sec at 150%+ with 4:30 easy between
SPAM (Sustained Power & Muscular Endurance) -- increase energy-producing Type II muscle fibers. These are bread-and-butter, VO2max-oriented efforts. Examples include:
1) 2 sets of 1-2-3-3-2-1 minutes @ 80-85% with 60-90sec recovery between; extra 5-6min easy between sets
2) 4-6 x 3-5min with 1-2min recovery between; if necessary, take an extra 5min easy halfway through the set
MITO (Mitochondria generation) -- increase mitochondria creation through glycogen depletion
These are great FTP-oriented efforts, yet are typically done above FTP (call it the 101-106% of 20min FTP range as a point of reference). The reps tend to be shorter with less rest, but you can certainly extend them and increase the rest interval. These are money for creating a great initial boost to CP. Examples include:
1) 5-8 x 5-8min @ 75-80% with 2-3min easy between; shoot for 30+ minutes of work
2) 2-3 x 10-15min @ 75-80% with 5-8min easy between
LIP (Lipolysis) -- increase fat utilization capacity and spare glycogen utilization
This is the classic "Tempo" effort -- harder than aerobic but without necessarily producing a lot of extra blood lactate. Generally highly abused which does an athlete quite the injustice; used effectively, and you can get super strong. Examples are straightforward and simple:
1) 30min straight, building to 60min straight at 65-75%
2) 25-18-12 reverse pyramid at 65-75% with 4min easy between
L1/L2 (Aerobic) -- foundational work for any endurance athlete
No magic here. But, that said, the way I have adjusted my aerobic days this year is that I let my body tell me how hard or easy to make them. Literally -- no joke -- the signals I get from my legs in the first 15-30 seconds of warm-up dictate what I do on my aerobic days. If I feel a burn and can tell my HR and BP (blood pressure) are immediately being taxed, then I keep it relaxed and keep my HR below 130. No matter what. If my legs feel great at the outset, then I'm happy to press to the top of the zone. If I feel great but have a key workout the following day, then I'll be more relaxed about it and end up being all over the zone; maybe I press to the top during hills and back off on descents, then settle into the middle on the flats, for example. I also watch HR more than watts on my aerobic days. I set a ceiling of 78% of Max HR and make sure I keep my L1/L2 days below that ceiling -- again, no matter what.
The upshot is that my legs feel SO MUCH BETTER for my key workouts. Rather than being a slave to power numbers, I take the immediate feedback from my legs during the first pedal strokes, determine the level of effort and then watch my HR to keep myself honest. By taking this approach, I've raised my watts to 3.9-4.0w/kg when I'm pushing to 75-78% HR.
Finding Threshold Power from the CP Ramp Test
In order to most accurately calculate your FTP from the CP Ramp Test, it is important to grab the data points from every minute split of the ramp. So, capture your watts and HR at the end of each minute segment. Once you're done, you can graph Power on the X-axis and Heart Rate on the Y-axis.
As you look at the data points, you will most likely see one of three line shapes: a straight line, a zigzag line with the line pointing out across the X-axis, or a somewhat straight line ending with a bend up the Y-axis.
In the case that you have a deflection point either up the Y-axis or farther across the X-axis, that deflection point fairly accurately represents your FTP. You may also see another deflection point from earlier on in the test. If so, this can represent more of an aerobic threshold HR data point. You can use this as the top of your current L1/L2 zone instead of the 65% of CP watts outlined above. As with your FTP, you can also train your aerobic threshold to improve -- in HR, in power or in both.
For the straight line graph, it's a little trickier and subjective to determine FTP. One way is to recall how you feel during your current FTP test protocol and correlate that to the CP Ramp Test at various 1min data points around the FTP value you currently use. For example, let's say in a standard 20-minute FTP test, you last averaged 250w and your average HR was 170bpm. Look on the CP Ramp Test graph at the 220-280 range of data points to see how your power and HR line up. HR is the governing factor in how long you can actually hold an effort, so see where your HR hits and then crests 170. Does it go from 168 to 170 to 171 to 172, or does it go from 168 to 170 to 175 to 177? The way your HR increases can help you determine where subjectivity can better become objectivity.
Another option is to simply pick a percentage of CP watts and play around in that range during SST or FTP-specific workouts until you hone in on where your CP-based FTP should be. I find that in the absence of a clear deflection point, athletes tend to fall in the 70-80% CP range. This may sound like a broad "swack", but it factors things in like where athletes are in their build-up, what is their power curve like (are they high power output sprinters or TT specialists, for instance), how fit are they, and so on.
While completing the CP Ramp Test to failure is the ideal way to chart your progress one test to the next, if you are more interested in focusing on just the progress of your FTP, then you stop the test once you've gone past your previous FTP by 3-4 minutes. That way, you still capture both the improvement and a couple of data points past the deflection point you need to see in order to recalculate your FTP.
Structuring a Training Plan
Now, you're probably wondering exactly how to structure a training plan that incorporates and builds through these various training zones. I've tried several different progressions and I can categorically say that the one I am using right now is by far the most effective -- for me and for my athletes who have been the willing guinea pigs in trying this protocol alongside, but a couple steps behind, me. So, this is the one I will share here with you.
I've applied all different sorts of periodization to this model. You name it, I've probably tried it. The approach I'm about to outline has been shockingly effective -- again, for me and a small number of the athletes with whom I work. So, in no way a scientific, double-blind study. That said, I've been at this training thing for nearly 45 years across swimming, triathlon and now cycling, and have been coaching for 25 years. So, I have a pretty good idea of when I hit pay dirt. I feel I have here. Your mileage may vary.
First, a note about training cycles. I typically follow a 6-week cycle plan -- 5 hard week followed by a recovery week. With the right balance of work, recovery and rest, there's no reason to default to the lazy 4-week cycle. That said, you know your body better than I do. So, if after 3 hard weeks you tend to start declining, then you need a recovery week sooner. That's perfectly fine. Adjust this to your own situation.
Obviously, the very first thing to do is conduct the CP and Tmax tests. Also, I started this protocol in mid-September, so I had plenty of time to get to where I am today. Depending on how much time you have before your key races, you will need to adjust accordingly. Cycle 2 can be considered optional if you are calendar-crunched. You can also shorten each cycle to 4-5 weeks in order to better fit them into your current progression.
Cycle 1: LIP. 2-3 days a week. Given the lower intensity of these sessions, you can do more of them with little negative effect. I oscillated between doing a 2-day block with a potential late-week third day, and doing them 3 days apart (typically on Monday and Thursday so my legs were still fresh for my Saturday long ride).
Cycle 2: LIP/MITO combo. One of each every week. In this case, do the harder MITO workout first. I would typically block these workouts on a Mon-Tues if my Tuesday warm-up signaled all systems go. Otherwise, I would push the LIP workout to Thursday. Sometimes I would combine into one workout by doing a 30min LIP effort then straight into 10-15 x 1min MITO with 30sec recovery.
Cycle 3: MITO. Once a week and make it count. To augment this, I would either do a dynamic long ride on the weekend (meaning hit all energy systems) or do a Zwift race to simulate a criterium.
Cycle 4: CP. By now, you've done enough hard work where the 100% CP intervals won't cave you in. In past iterations of this, I would do the CP workouts earlier and would need mid-workout extended recovery periods. This time around, I hit 50-60min straight of the 30sec on/off protocol without issue. Yes, it was quite uncomfortable, but my body settled in rather than buckling. At 60min, I felt I could have hit 70-75min before caving in; but no need to test it!
Cycle 5: SPAM. I start this one tomorrow! I will be curious to see how these feel now that I am doing them at the apex of my CP rather than while I'm still trying to build it up. I may find that I cave in here, but I don't think this will happen.
Lessons Learned ... So Far
One thing I would adjust next time around is when the tests are conducted. I've tested 3 times, so clearly not after every cycle. I think that is too often and unnecessary. And too masochistic. These tests are frickin hard. You have to go to a darker and darker place the more fit you become. At first, you will anticipate these tests because you know you're going to show some awesome improvement. Eventually, you will fear them; I do. I really feared my test yesterday. But I let that fear motivate me rather than consume me.
Test 1, beginning of September
- CP: 370w (5.72w/kg); HR 178
- Tmax: 3:40; HR 167
- CP: 400w (6.19w/kg); HR 183
- Tmax: 2:39; HR 174
- CP: 420w (6.43w/kg); HR 183
- Tmax: 2:36; HR 175
I was going to do another test right after the LIP cycle, but couldn't due to being sick for a few days that week. I decided to press ahead with the LIP/MITO cycle on schedule rather than push everything back a week. But, I had my guinea pig athletes test after their first LIP cycle. Not one of them improved CP watts, but they did improve Tmax. Unanimously. So, while LIP is fundamental and foundational, there's no reason to test again at the end of this first cycle. Peppering in the MITO work during the second cycle starts the adaptation process toward raising CP. Hence, the big jump from Test 1 to Test 2 for me (I had been riding prior to Test 1, so while not race ready, I was pretty fit overall).
Another quite shocking adaptation has been to that of recovery during a key workout. Whether I or my athletes are finishing a hard interval or have just completed a really hard workout/Zwift race, within 1-2 minutes we all experience a sharp, quick drop in HR into the 120-130s and we feel fine. Personally, I might be collapsing over my bike at the end of the hard work, but fairly immediately I feel fine. It's really strange. In the past, my HR would stay elevated even as I forced my watts down but it was nearly impossible to get my HR to drop below 140 during cool down after a particularly tough ride, which tells me I was pretty fried at a deep level. Yet, today, it's nothing like this. My HR drops and my watts are still recovery level but substantially higher than in the past. And, later in the day as well as the next day, I also feel a lot less latent fatigue. So far, so good.
Looking ahead, I will not re-test until late-June to early-July. Why? I've been doing this long enough to know that I've hit a barrier -- physically, mentally and emotionally. After yesterday, my CP is high enough where testing again may result in a worse result because to improve yet again will take too much investment. After this upcoming SPAM cycle, I will head back to another LIP/MITO cycle and then another MITO cycle. I will complement these with a session of 150% CP intervals or 10-second all out sprint sessions. My long rides will be outdoors, longer and include a lot of climbing. My big goals this year revolve around hill climbs and culminate with Hill Climb Nationals in mid-August. In late-June, I'll take some downtime, recharge the batteries and then gear up for the final assault into August. I will be curious to see what the first half of racing plus a nice period of "unplugging" does to this test protocol come late-June.
So, there you have it. About as transparent and informative as I can make it. If you give this a try, I hope you enjoy the change and find it as effective as I have.