by Frank Overton, 10.31.07
Buongiorno! It has been over 2 years since I wrote the original sweet spot article and it is nice to hear how many athletes have added it to their training and benefited. I have lurked around on the message boards and the following “part deux” is how I have been integrating sweet spot into the training I prescribe for athletes.
First, what is Sweet Spot?
Technically, the sweet spot is located between high zone 3 and low zone 4: between 84% to 97% of your FTP/MLSS, or power at threshold. For the non powermeter user I would call it “medium hard” – below your 40k time trial race pace, but harder than a traditional tempo workout.
Figure courtesy of Dr. Andy Coggan, Ph.D
Sweet Spot training forces the physiological adaptations written about in this article and shown in the graph below:
The underlying principle of sweet spot training is a balanced amount of intensity and volume. From the table above, sweet spot elicits more adaptations than tempo but less than threshold work. The trade off is the key element because day to day an athlete can achieve more positive physiological adaptations by sweet spotting than with threshold or tempo work. The balance lies in the athlete’s ability to recover and therefore repeat and achieve similar wattages day after day with more frequency than full on threshold workouts. The end result is mo’ better training, more TSS, greater CTL, greater TSB and ultimately a higher power at threshold.
How to Sweet Spot
Conceptually sweet spot training can be applied in a variety of ways. Here is my original favorite:
Example 1: “Sweet Spot: __ hrs” I prescribe this “free form” workout for ultra motivated athletes with a kiloJoule target that’s based on previous data. Suffice it to say, this 0.5 to 3-4 hour workout is not popular (because of the degree of difficulty). Most of the following examples below have originated from creative ways to sweet spot that’s easy on the “head”. In other words, not mentally taxing.
The duration is dependent on the athlete, their training load, and their state of fatigue; Read How Much Sweet Spot to dive deeper. For example, I’ll prescribe more sweet spot following a block of rest than I would following a more difficult workout.
Instructions: Go out and ride hard. Start off the ride just below your threshold wattage around 90 – 95% of your threshold power. Get after it and as you fatigue let your wattage fall between tempo wattages. Then after further fatigue sets in, high zone 2 finishes off the workout. Basically – get after it and accept the fatigue that comes with riding hard. You are also looking to achieve a lot of kiloJoules and a large TSS once the day is done.
It is important to note that you are not trying to hold one certain wattage or range during the ride. However, once the workout is downloaded and analyzed you do want to see specific sweet spot wattage for the duration(s) that you where “sweet spotting”. In these files the longer the athlete continuously sweet spots the more close the normalized power will be to high zone 2. The shorter the sweet spot, the more I’d like to see normalized power come in at a high tempo/low threshold range.
Example 2: “Group Ride Sweet Spot” ride on the front in the wind, take longer more frequent pulls. Do more work, be aggressive. While all this is going on, use your powermeter to confirm that you are indeed sweet spottin’. Or participate in a group ride with stronger riders that force you to ride harder just to stay with the group. Also see example 4.
Example 3: “45 minutes of Sweet Spot climbing during a 3 hour ride” For those athletes in hilly or mountainous regions, I like to prescribe this ride a lot. Athletes are encouraged to choose the route he or she wants and ride in sweet spot from the bottom to the top of any climb they want. The athlete must keep track of their total time spent climbing. It offers a lot more freedom and motivation than structured intervals say 3 x 15 min On. A good example is an 18 minute climb followed by a 10 minute climb and finished off with a 15 minute climb. 45 minutes of solid work in a stimulating format.
Example 4: “Ride with stronger riders, sweet spot” Girls ride with the boys. Cat 3’s ride with the 1/2’s. Masters with the young guns. Pros motorpace. ‘Nuff said. Riding with stronger riders makes you stronger – and often times it is because you are pushing sweet spot watts. Download and double check your power file to be sure.
Example 5: “Race Sweet Spot” & even better “Stage Race Sweet Spot. Perhaps you are using a race for training and aren’t interested in the usual strategy of “sitting in and waiting for the move”. Make the race hard and go off the front early. Ride the break at sweet spot wattages. The longer the break, the bigger the training effect. Work for your teammate sweet spot. So what if you get caught or dropped! Nothing risked, nothing gained and maybe you will be so good at sweet spotting that you’ll take yourself all the way to line for the “w”. You never know till you try.
For stage race sweet spotting – it’s the cumulative effect of 3 to 5 days or more of “hard racing”. A stage race like the Tour of the Gila or Mt Hood with plenty of climbing is a great example. Even 7 days of Superweek racing will bring your form up because most of the criteriums come in at sweet spot wattage for the race as whole. In 2012 Timmy Duggan rode the front of the Tour of California sweet spottin’ nearly every stage for Peter Sagan and won USPRO 7 days later. #NationalChampionshipsSweetSpottin’
Example 6: “Mountain bike Sweet Spot” — Choose challenging terrain and focus on having fun but going fast and working hard. I do not have any mountain bike races files, but I would venture to guess that the normalized power for a 2hr mountain bike race is at the upper end of the athlete’s sweet spot wattage.
Example 7: “Motorpacing Sweet Spot” – the ultimate in my opinion. Try it – you’ll go fast. One hour once a week at sweet spot wattages (normalized for 1 hour) over rolling terrain will turn you into an animal! Note that this is not a steady state workout — juice it on the hills and recover on the downhills. When you download your file the normalized power for a super hard motorpacing session should come in at quality sweet spot wattages.
Example 8: “Structured Sweet Spot” For those athletes looking for more structure or are targeting a race with a key climb or time trial duration, a sweet spot workout can be written similar to traditional threshold workouts. Sometimes having the duration and wattage to target is reassuring for athletes. For example:
“Sweet Spot: 4 x 15 min On 10 min Off between 84 – 97% threshold power”.
Total work = 60 minutes
“Sweet Spot: 2 x 20 min On 5 min Off between 84-97% threshold power”.
Total work = 40 minutes
Sweet Spot Metrics: TSS, kJ’s, CTL & wattage
Back in front of the ‘ol computer you’ll want to measure, track, and quantify your work. This subject is a whole other article but briefly here’s what to look for until I can write “Sweet Spot Metrics”.
Wattage is the easiest way to analyze a specific sweet spot duration in a power file. Select the duration you were sweet spotting and verify the normalized power was in fact @ sweet spot wattages.
Training Stress Score (TSS) is the ultimate way to measure the benefit of sweet spot aside from directly measuring/testing your power at threshold. By sweet spotting you are looking to achieve a large TSS at the end of the day. kJ’s are good for the non WKO user, but TSS is better.
For tracking your TSS from day to day, use the Performance Manager Chart (aka TSTWKT) to watch your Chronic Training Load (CTL) rise. During a build phase where the goal is to raise your CTL, there’s nothing better than sweet spot. You can’t go sweet spotting 24/7 but you can lead off a block with plenty of sweet spot.
Finally, sweet spot training and the workouts above are a fantastic way to build a huge aerobic engine this off season. In my experience as an athlete and a coach, a large aerobic foundation should be your number one priority over the winter and in the season building towards an A race. There are several areas of your training you’ll need to address afterwards but starting with the “big base” will increase your performance. The bigger base you can build, the faster you will be.
Copyright 2015 , FasCat Coaching
Frank Overton is the owner, founder and head coach at FasCat Coaching, a cycling coaching company with a Performance Center in Boulder, CO. To talk with a FasCat Coach about the how much sweet spot training will make you faster, please call 720.406.7444, email firstname.lastname@example.org for a New Athlete Questionnaire or stop in our Performance Center at 4550 North Broadway Street in Boulder, CO.