Sweet Spot TSS Rides
Sweet Spot TSS Rides are our way of prescribing a dose of training based on duration and intensity. Since TSS is calculated from the formula duration times intensity factor^(squared) it is more precise than prescribing training by duration, mileage and even kiloJoules. Sweet Spot TSS rides enable athletes to achieve just the right amount of training in a flexible ride format.
Sixteen years ago I was working with a group of coaches and sport scientists developing a new power based impulse-response performance model. While we were keeping a lid on it publicly, its revelations influenced my coaching philosophy dramatically. Privately we coined the term Sweet Spot training and after we had developed the concept, I published the first sweet spot training tip on PezCyclingNews in July of 2005.
Since then a lot (and I mean A LOT) of athletes and coaches have used sweet spot training to increase threshold power while simultaneously building a large aerobic engines capable of great endurance. Over the years I have evolved my coaching methodology by utilizing sweet spot TSS rides which I'll describe the evolution and rational for in this training tip.
Sweet Spot Definition
The underlying principle of sweet spot training is a balanced amount of intensity and volume that produces a maximal increase in an athlete’s threshold power. The sweet spot occurs between high zone 2 and low zone 4: 84 - 97% of FTP. This is the zone where athletes build the most aerobic endurance and simultaneously increase their power at threshold. More bang for one’s buck and thus the nickname, "sweet spot".
Figure Courtesy of Dr. Andy Coggan, Ph.D
Sweet Spot OG & the Evolution
The OG way I prescribed sweet spot was to have athletes ride high zone 2 - low zone 4 for as long as they could before the power in their legs started to fade. This was hard work and many athletes did not like this type of workout prescription. Since I had to assign a duration to the ride (3 hours, for example) many athletes went to failure and could not complete the workout. I would say, ‘nice work, you did as much sweet spot as your legs would allow, therefore it was a successful workout’
That was 2005 and over the next three years I recommended training techniques that would help athletes achieve large doses of sweet spot with a favorable ratio of mental energy expended. I summarized those eight techniques in the 2008 “How to Sweet Spot” training tip.
Group Ride Sweet Spot
Since group riding was such an effective way to achieve a large dose of sweet spot, I followed up with the “How to Sweet Spot During a Group Ride” training tip. By then the cycling community was asking, “how much sweet spot should I do?” so I attempted to explain and summarize that in the, naturally, "How Much Sweet Spot Should You Do” training tip that we later podcasted about in 2018.
How Much Sweet Spot One Should do is Individual and like Goldilocks
The tricky part about assigning a value to a single workout is that there isn’t a set or right answer until one gets out there and starts sweet spotting. The amount is highly, highly individual plus one has to start off with a small amount and gradually increase with proper rest and periodization - all part of the training plan design. This is where coaching and custom training plan design is incredibly beneficial for two reasons: #1 custom training plan design that takes into account an athlete’s goals, the amount of time they have to reach those goals, their ability level, age, recovery, lifestyle, and climate (region). #2 analyzing the individual power files to monitor how tired the athlete was/wasn’t and adjusting sweet spot training volumes downstream. Taking these two into consideration for each individual athlete allows for what I call the goldilocks approach to sweet spot: sweet spot too much, sweet spot too little, sweet spot just right.
Sweet Spot as a Numerical Value
Therefore, I began to think about sweet spot spot training numerically because in developing the Performance Manager Chart we were essentially using sweet spot to achieve a high TSS to increase CTL. To build CTL and test form (TSB) aka an increase in POW-WAH!The amount of sweet spot training an athlete should do is similar to the way an anesthesiologist successfully keeps a patient asleep during surgery. Too much anesthesia and the patient will die, too little and they will wake up.
Sweet Spot is Like Anesthesia
Athlete’s on the right side of the model first over reach and then overtrain, similar to dying during surgery from too much anesthesia. Coaches that carefully monitor their athlete’s power data and feedback will catch this before the athletes cross the line from over reaching to overtraining. Thus dialing back on the drip drip prescription of sweet spot just like an anesthesiologist.
Conversely on the other side of the bell curve, not enough training stress and the athlete will underperform or wake up during surgery. Poor performance is manifested in an athlete not riding to their potential and/or having an FTP that is historically lower than previous times of better form. Again, coaches that carefully monitor their athlete’s power data and feedback will catch this and be able to prescribe more sweet spot much like an anesthesiologist increases the drip to keep the patient blissfully asleep.
How Much Sweet Spot Should You Do, Part Deux
Circling all the way back to ‘how much sweet spot training should you do’ I have found over the years Training Stress Score to be the best metric for prescribing sweet spot and achieving optimal performances. I can titrate the amount of sweet spot in a training plan for an athlete from 200 TSS to 225 TSS or conversely down if the athlete is getting a little crispy from 150 to 125 TSS, for example. The day to day workout goes like this:
150 TSS: Zones 2 - Sweet Spot “Ride as much sweet spot as you can until you achieve a TSS of 150: this should take 2 - 3 hours depending on how long you are able to sustain the sweet spot wattages. If and when your legs and power begin to fade keep riding in zone 2 until you have achieved 150 TSS.”
TSS Rides are Sweet Spot "Flexible"
Note how the athlete is instructed to ride between 2 and 3 hours and between Zone 2 and the high end of sweet spot. Not exclusively sweet spot between 84-97% like the OG method. This flexibility accounts for rider fatigue during the workout and from the training load he or she is carrying. Plus provides the freedom (& hopefully the enjoyment) for a wide array of training rides - from a group ride, to various length climbs, to a solo session outdoors or on zwift simply working hard, riding fast and putting the time in the saddle. This also circles back to “How to Sweet Spot” because all 8 of those training techniques fall into the sweet spot TSS ride with an exact dose of training just like a doctor.
Single Day Sweet Spot Rides Week to Week
In a sweet spot training plan or for building CTL for a coached athlete I’ll typically prescribe TSS twice a week with a 25 TSS per week progression. Start with a 100 TSS ride on the weekend which takes roughly 90 -120 minutes and increase the ride length and TSS dosage all the way up to how much time the athlete has to ride and/or the amount of TSS their event will be. #LongLiveLongRides
Weekend Ride Week 1 = 100 TSS
Weekend Ride Week 2 = 125 TSS
Weekend Ride Week 3 = 150 TSS
Weekend Ride Week 4 = 175 TSS* (would be a rest week)
Weekend Ride Week 5 = 200 TSS
Weekend Ride Week 6 = 225 TSS
Weekend Ride Week 7 = 250 TSS
Weekend Ride Week 8 = 275 TSS ** (another rest week)
Weekend Ride Week 9 = 300 TSS
The key and the biggest technique I point out to athletes is to not exceed one’s sweet spot. Aka zones 4, 5, & 6. While group rides are great for training as are climbs - this is where I see athlete’s exceed their sweet spot zones and fatigue prematurely during these long 200-300 TSS rides. However, with discipline athletes can achieve hours (not minutes) of sweet spot and consequently circle all the way back to sweet spot’s benefit: to increase their threshold and be able to have great endurance. Particularly important for fondos and gravel events.
How Much Sweet Spot Should You Do?
That is for you to get out there, do some sweet spot rides with TSS and find out.