How to Sweet Spot

Buongiorno! It has been 15 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, podcasts and the following "part deux" is how I have been integrating Sweet Spot into the training I prescribe for athletes. Here's how to sweet spot.

First, What is Sweet Spot?

Sweet Spot is a training intensity between high zone 3 and low zone 4: between 84% to 97% of your FTP (power at threshold). For riders who aren't using a power meter, I'd call Sweet Spot "medium hard". Sweet Spot is just below your 40k time trial race pace, but harder than a traditional tempo workout.

Sweet Spot training forces the physiological adaptations that were 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 tradeoff 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 better training, more TSS, greater CTL, higher TSB and ultimately increasing one's FTP and race specific power outputs.

Conceptually, Sweet Spot training can be applied in a variety of ways, here are a few:

Example 1:

"Sweet Spot: for 125 TSS: Zones 2 - Sweet Spot. I instruct the athlete to ride between Zone 2 and their upper sweet spot range for a TSS goal that's based on previous data. I'll prescribe TSS's for the athlete to sweet spot from values ranging from 75 - 350. Suffice it to say, this 1 - 6 workout is difficult and often times I'll design the training plan with more structure and variety using the following examples 2 - 8.

The amount of sweet spot 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 following a Fatigue Dependent Training Plan Design.

Instructions: go out and ride hard between 84 - 97% of FTP. Get after it and use the terrain to help you 'make the watts'. It is perfectly ok to coast downhill and one is not expected to ride between 84-97% of their FTP for the entire ride. Rather, ride for extended durations 8 - 60 minutes, as much as you can. Set up your bike computer to display real time TSS in real time so you can budget your effort and stay motivated. I like to challenge athletes with the American Express slogan, 'don't come home without it' if you remember the original amex tv commercials.

It is important to note that you are not trying to hold one certain wattage or range during a TSS ride. However, once the workout is downloaded and analyzed you do want to analyze Sweet Spot wattage for the duration(s) that you thought you were "Sweet Spotting". In these files the longer the athlete continuously Sweet Spots, the sooner they'll achieve the prescribed TSS.

Example 2:

"Group Ride Sweet Spot" : ride on the front in the wind, take longer more frequent pulls. Read "How to Sweet Spot during Group Rides" Do more work, be aggressive. While all this is going on, use your power meter to confirm that you are indeed Sweet Spottin' whether by average 3 sec power, lap power for the duration you are trying to work in the sweet spot, real time TSS or all the above. 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 style of training a lot. Athletes are encouraged to choose the route he or she wants and ride and climb in their sweet spot wattages from the bottom to the top of various length climbs. The athlete must keep track of their total time spent climbing or the coach can prescribe the route. It offers a lot more freedom and motivation than structured intervals say 3 x 15 minutes on. A good example is an 18-minute climb followed by a 12-minute climb and finished off with a 15-minute climb. This = 45 minutes of solid work in a stimulating format.

Example 4:

"Ride with stronger riders, Sweet Spot" Cat 3's ride with the 1/2's, girls ride with the boys, masters with the young guns. Pros motor pace. 'Nuff said. Riding with stronger riders makes you stronger - and often times it is because you are pushing Sweet Spot watts. Download and analyze 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 a whole. The TSS's achieved from sweet spotting in these races is best modelled out with the Performance Manager Chart. In 2012 FasCat Athlete, 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. 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 a Watt Monster! Note that this is not a steady state workout -- carry your momentum up and over the hills with big watts and recover on the downhills. When you download your file, the normalized power for a super hard motor-pacing 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, and Wattage:

For your ride data analysis, 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 the training tip: "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 average and normalized power was in fact between 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 at any point in the year. 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 afterward but starting with the "big base" will increase your performance. The bigger base you can build, the faster you will be.

Copyright 2021, FasCat Coaching

Frank Overton is the owner, founder and head coach at FasCat Coaching, a cycling coaching company in Boulder, CO. To talk with Frank about Sweet Spot training fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation. Additionally, check out the Sweet Spot Plans for only $49 that Frank designed!

About Frank Overton

Frank founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a full time cycling coach since 2004. His educational background includes a Masters degree in Physiology from North Carolina State University, pre-med from Hampden-Sydney College. Frank raced at a professional level on the road and mountain bike and currently competes as a "masters" level gravel and cyclocrosser. Professionally Frank comes from medical school spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology. However, to this day it is a dream come true for Frank to be able to help cyclists as a coach.

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