Maximal Lactate Steady State Testing

The FasCat Maximal Lactate Steady State Protocol

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away we had a physiology lab and used the gold standard maximal lactate steady state (MLSS) protocol to determine athletes’ Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and corresponding Heart Rates.  By measuring steady state blood lactate concentrations and identifying workloads that elicit greater than 1mMol blood lactate concentrations changes we know the maximal sustainable power outputs that cyclists can sustain for a 40k time trial or 1 hour maximally.
Definition:

The maximal lactate steady state (MLSS) is defined as the highest blood lactate concentration (MLSSc) and work load (MLSSw) that can be maintained overtime without a continual blood lactate accumulation. [1, 2, 4]There have been numerous studies describing and proving the relationship between MLSS and endurance sports performance. [3, 8]  At FasCat we use the concentration of blood lactate at the MLSS to determine the power output at MLSS.  We then use the average power output and heart rates to prescribe training intensities and set benchmarks of athlete’s training progress.

Description:

To determine the MLSSw, we use a single day MLSS assessment protocol originally described by Palmer et al in the 1999 Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise journal.   This protocol was validated five years later by Kuphal et al in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness [9].

After interviewing the athlete and monitoring his or her warm-up via RPE, HR & wattage, we select 3 workloads in 10 watt increments to measure blood lactate, average power output and average heart rate.  The athlete holds each workload for ten minutes and blood lactate is sampled at 4 & 10 minutes during each ten minute stage.

During the ten minute stages we are looking for increases in blood lactate > than 1mMol.   If lactate remains “steady (increase of less than 1mMol) we move onto the next nine minute stage.  When we see > 1 mMol blood lactate increase, the maximal lactate steady state has been exceeded and therefore the previous stage and average power is the athlete’s MLSSw aka Functional Threshold Power.   In other words, the MLSS occurs at the greatest power output that does not elicit a greater than 1mMol rise in blood lactate concentration between the 4 and 10 minute samples for each stage/workload.

This power output is the point in exercise metabolism that defines the maximal lactate steady state and is the greatest wattage athletes can sustain while their lactate levels remain constant, aka a steady state.

MLSS identifies the balance between Lactate accumulation & clearance:

By measuring how an athlete’s blood lactate responds to certain workloads over time, we are able to pinpoint the greatest wattage and average heart rates the athlete can sustain as it relates to their endurance cycling performance.   For example the MLSSw we determine is equivalent to the average power the athlete could sustain in a 40K time trial in the days following the testing.

MLSS protocols are more appropriate for power based training to other methods of Lactate Threshold Testing such, L4 mMol & Dmax:

Other lactate threshold protocols do not measure blood lactateresponse to workloads over time.  Just because one identifies the wattage where an athlete hits L4 (4mMol) doesn’t mean they cansustain that workload as it relates to their endurance cycling performance.  In other words the athlete may be making more blood lactate than they are clearing which is not sustainable for long.  In such a case the athlete’s MLSSc would be < 4mMol.

Conversely, at L4 or the Dmax, the athlete may be clearing more lactate than they are making and capable of sustaining greater workloads.  In this case the athlete’s MLSSc would be > 4mMol.  This is why traditional exercise graded tests report ‘threshold’ power that does not synch up with their power data.

In the scientific literature MLSSc among athletes has been found to range between 2-8mMol/L and that blood lacate concentrations are independent of perforance [4].   In cycling it is the work load at MLSSc that determines endurance cycling performance [7].   Cyclist A with an MLSSc @ 3mMol may have a greater power output than Cyclist B who’s MLSSc is 4mMol or even 6mMol.  Therefore methods of determining power and heart rates at “threshold’ via using 4mMol are not as accurate inaccurate as an MLSS protocol that pinpoints that power output.

MLSS Testing is superior to a 20 min Field Test:

While a 20 minute field test is a good estimation of an athlete’s threshold power, it is not an accurate representation of the point at which an athlete’s body balances blood lactate accumulation and clearance.  In our experience, athletes are able to ‘bury’ themselves to exhaustion to set the highest average power output.   After all that is the goal.  However, data from the 20 minute Field test in the graph to the left shows how blood lactate concentrations increase from 4.4 mMol to 11.6 mMol at the end of the 20 minute test.  This athlete’s 20 minute Field Test power was 7.5% greater than his MLSS power (240w vs 222w) and his MLSSc was 2.75mMol vs. 7.67mMol for the 20 minute Field Test.


Bentley et. al studied the relationship between  20 & 90 minute Time Trials to lactate threshold in the 2001 Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise publication “Peak power output, the lactate threshold, and time trial performance in cyclists”. Not surpisingly they found that maximal power output changes depending on the length of the time trial.

As a result, functional threshold power set from a 20 minute Field Test in our experiences are too high and overshoot the important physiological breakpoint between the balance of lactate production and clearance.  In other words, athletes train too hard using power based training intensities set with a 20 minute field test.

References:

1.     Billat VL, Dilmay F, Anlonini MT, et al. A method for determining the maximal steady state of blood lactate concentration from two levels of submaximal exercise.  Eur J Appl Physiol 1994; 69: 196-202

2.     Billat VL, Sirvent P, Py G, Koralsztein JP, & Mercier J. The Concept of Maximal Lactate Steady State. A bridge between biochemistry, physiology, and sport science.  Med Sci Sports Exerc 2003; 33 (6):407 – 426

3.     Billat VL use of blood lactate measurements for prediction of exercise performance and for control of training. Sports Med 1996; 22: 157-75

4.     Beneke R. Methodological aspects of maximal lactate steady state: implications for performance testing. Eur J Appl Physiol 2003 Marc; 89 (1): 95-9

5.     Beneke R, Hütler M Leihauser R, Maximal lactate steady-state independent of performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000 Sep; 32 1335-9

6.     Bergman BC, Wolfel EE, Butterfield GE, et al. Active Muscle and whole body lactate kinetics after endurance training in men.  J Appl Physiol 1999; 87: 1684-96

7.     Bacon L, Kern M. Evaluating a test protocol for predicting maximum lactate steady state. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 1999; 39: 300-8

8.     Coyle EF, Coggan AR, Hopper MK, et al.  Determinants of endurance in well-trained cyclists, J Appl Physiol 1988; 64(6): 2622-30

9.     Kuphal KE, Potteiger JA, Frey BB, Hise MP. Validation of a single-day maximal lactate steady state assessment protocol. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2004 June; 44(2):132-40

10.  Myburgh KH, Viljoen A, Tereblanches S.  Plasma lactate concentrations for self-selected maximal effort lasting 1 hour.  Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001; 33:152-6

11.  Lajoie C, Laureneelle L, Trudeau F.  Physiological responses to cycling for 60 minutes at maximal lactate steady state. Can J Appl Physiol 2000 Aug; 25 (4): 250-61

12.  MacIntosh BR, Esau S, Svedahl K.  The lactate minimum test for cycling estimation of the maximal lactate steady state. Can J Appl Physiol 2002 Jun; 27 (3): 232-49

13.  Palmer, AS, Potteiger JA, Nau LK, Tong RJ. A 1-day maximal lactate steady state assessment protocol for trained runners.  Med Sci Sports Exerc 1999 Sep; 31(9) 1336-41

14.  Bentley DJ, McNaughton LR, Thompson D, Vleck VE, Batterham AM. Peak power output, the lactate threshold, and time trial performance in cyclist. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001 Dec; 33(12) 2077-81

15.  Morris DM, Shafer RS Comparison of power outputs during time trialing and power outputs eliciting metabolic variables in cycle ergometry.  Int J Sports Nutr Exerc Metab 2010; 20(2):115-21

Copyright 2017 , 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 or a FasCat Coach about this maximal lactate steady state protocol or any laboratory testing, please call 720.406.7444, or fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation.  Additionally, check out the Training Plans for only $49 that Frank and the FasCat Coaches have designed for DIY athletes.

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sweet spot training

How To Sweet Spot During a Group Ride

Nearly 12 years ago,  I wrote the original sweet spot article and it is nice to hear how many athletes have added it to their training and benefited. Sweet Spot Training is incredibly effective! Since then I’ve written the “How to Sweet Spot” and “How Much Sweet Spot” training tips based on questions I’d get from athletes, friends, journalists and other coaches.  In the How To Sweet Spot article example #2 was “Group Ride Sweet Spot” but here now that technique deserves it’s own training tip. Why? Because group rides in the sweet spot are an incredibly beneficial form of training. I’ve been coaching athletes how to train in the sweet spot on group rides for years an I’d like to describe that here so you know how to as well.

What is Sweet Spot Training?

It’s zone and a training technique – both combined together.  In the graph below, the sweet spot is located between high zone 3 and low zone 4: between 84% to 97% of your FTP (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.

You can buy our $49 Six Week Sweet Spot Training Plan with the Sweet Spot Group Rides that are described in this training tip.  It’s designed for the athlete that have 4 – 8 hours to train per week with periodization. Or choose an intermediate or advanced plan if you have 8+ hours/week to train.

Our $49 Six Weeks to the Sweet Spot Training Plan has weekly Sweet Spot Group Ride prescriptions. Figure courtesy of Dr. Andy Coggan, Ph.D

How to ride in the Sweet Spot on Group Ride

From the How To Sweet Spot tip its example # 2: “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.”  Let’s break that down with several of considerations.

The “hard” group ride:

One of the best training techniques that’s been around long before sweet spot training is to train with stronger riders. Girls go ride with the boys, Cat 3’s ride the the P1/2’s, and old guys with the young guns.  By doing so, you are forced to keep up and in order to stay in the group you are probably riding in your sweet spot!  When the group’s pace pushes you just right (in the sweet spot), this is one of the best sensations you can experience on a training ride.  I mean you can literally feel yourself getting faster (haha).  How can you tell? Two ways: by feel and with your HR and powermeter data, primarily post ride.  During the ride, ask yourself, “am I riding 84-97% of my race pace? Just under threshold?” If the answer is yes, you are riding in the sweet spot. A quick glance at your wattage will often confirm whether or not you are in the sweet spot.

Back home in front of the computer, analyze the durations during the ride when it was ‘on’ and look for heart rates and/or normalized power (> 10 minutes) between 84-97% of your Functional Threshold HR and Power (FTP).  That is the sweet spot.  I like to calculate how much time was spent in the sweet spot with a manual analysis of normalized power for the sections of the group ride where it was ‘on’.  For example, in the file below you can see once the group got going there were 5 sections where the athlete rode in the sweet spot for a total of 64 minutes in sections of 24 > 9 > 9 >10 > 12 minutes.  That is a great training day, the athlete had fun an would not have been able to conjure up that amount of sweet spot volume of on their own.  Plus the athlete got some skills practice by riding in a group, drafting, holding wheels and maneuvering in the bunch.

Go with the Flow

Often times when an athlete implements this technique (training with stronger riders) he or she is at the mercy of the group’s pace.  Sometimes the group may go too hard and the athlete is dropped and other times maybe the group doesn’t go that hard.  In these cases, I’ll encourage riders to simply go with the flow because the pro’s outweigh the cons.  Many public group rides follow a route and a script.  In other words, the group rides the same route and goes hard for this section, slower thru that one and then its game on for the final section.  I like these group rides for athletes because you can coach them thru the group ride by introducing strategy and tactics before the ride and then analyze the data and quantify the amount of sweet spot training they achieve.

The “medium” group ride

What if you are riding with a group that may not push you near as much as the hard group ride?  For example a team ride where most everyone is equal in ability and power output. In this case there are two ways to ride in the sweet spot:

  1. Take longer pulls on the front
  2. Ride out in the wind

Approach these rides by taking longer than normal pulls on the front (in the sweet spot).  Then rather than dropping all the way back to the very back of the group, only drop back a few wheels so that you can take a pull sooner (like 1-3 minutes) with less coasting from sitting in.  When you take sweet spot pulls that are truly in the sweet spot and don’t go harder (use your powermeter to double check during the ride to not pull too hard) you can drop back for 1-3 minutes, catch a breather and hit the front again for another long sweet spot pull.  Depending on your ability level and the dynamics of the group ride, you may be able to take  sweet spot pulls over and over again for 1, 2 even 3 hours or longer.

What if you can’t make it back up to front after you’ve recovered? Then simply slot out to the right of the wheel in front of you to catch more wind and less draft*.  Modulate your draft and the speed of the group will put you right up in the sweet spot. Check your powermeter during and data after.   Experiment and adjust. This is where windy days in crosswinds tend to promote good sweet spot training. Plus skills.  The next time it’s gusting sideways for your group ride, relish that you’ll probably get in more sweet spot training because of the cross winds.

*slot out to the right towards the edge of the road and never to the left where cars from behind are coming.  Sharing the road goes both ways and the group is already presumably two abreast.  Making the group 3 riders wide is not safe nor good group ride etiquette.

“Train Dumb, Race Smart”:

Leave your ego at the coffee shop when using these two sweet spot techniques because it’ll be easy for your teammates to attack you from behind.  Plus when you arrive at a hill where the group goes for it or a ‘game on’ section you may not be able to respond. Riding hard in the sweet spot on the front of a group ride is an old school training technique that has been around much longer than sweet spot training.  Your teammates or the riders behind you in your draft have have been sitting in while you’ve been slogging away getting good training in.  Yes, you know you’ll be attacked, and potentially dropped (this is the ‘dumb’) but the ‘smart’ is that you are getting good training in to use later on in the year when it matters the most: at the races. An there you’ll be sitting in (the ‘smart’). Don’t be a group ride hero sitting in all the time attacking your teammates – take longer pulls and ride out in the wind.  You’ll be a much faster and better teammate when it comes time to race.

Group Ride Sweet Spot Metrics: TSS, CTL & Normalized Power and Time Spent in the Sweet Spot:

Back in front of ye ‘ol computer post ride, you’ll want to confirm that you were riding in the sweet spot first and 2nd, measure how much.   Confirming is easy: normalized power and heart rates between 84 – 97% of your FTP.  To quantify and measure the total ‘sweet spot load” (as described above) I mark up the data file manually and add up the time in minutes.  This will give you a single number (64 minutes) to try and achieve or eclipse the next week and the next.  For this athlete’s training (data above), I’ll recommend the same group ride with a goal of 75 minutes of sweet spot this coming weekend and then 90 the next.

Upon opening up a power file, Training Stress Score (TSS) is my goto metric when answering the question “how much sweet spot did the athlete achieve?” When I introduced sweet spot training in 2005, it was a training technique I was using to generate large TSS’s day after day.  Because remember, we were using our own data to develop the Performance Manager Chart (aka TSTWKT).  Thus we learned and showed (with power data) that sweet spot training is wonderful for generating large TSS’s that raises an athlete’s CTL ,that leads to higher power output (we measured that too).  And circling back to the topic of sweet spot training on a group ride, I was doing that to.   I just haven’t thought to write the training tip until now!

From the data above, this athlete achieved a TSS of 240 in 4 hours ands was able to back that up with a 260 TSS ride the next day.  In doing so he raised his CTL from 789 to 86 over the weekend.

Summary

Sweet spot training during a group ride is a terrific training technique for building a huge aerobic engine. Winter/Spring for the roadies and mountain bikers and Spring/Summer for the cyclocrossers. The bigger the base you build (as measure by your CTL) , the faster (more powerful) you can be. In summary there are three primary ways to ride in the sweet spot during a group ride:

  1. Join a group ride with stronger riders that push you up into the sweet spot
  2. Take longer “Sweet Spot Pulls”
  3. Ride out in the wind for less draft and more watts (sweet spot)

As a side note one of my favorite sweet spot training rides is one where I ride with the younger guns and train dumb to race smart, using all three techniques above.  I regularly achieve TSS’s of ~150 in less than 2 hours of riding. For all three use your powermeter and heart rate to verify during the ride that you are in fact in the sweet spot and post ride when you analyze your data.

Lastly, I have designed a Six Weeks to the Sweet Spot” Training Plan for $49 with the Sweet Spot Group Rides described above.  Choose between a basic, intermediate or advanced plan depending on your ability level, age and how much time you have to train to raise your threshold power as much as 5-20% (depending on several factors).

Copyright 2017 , 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 or a FasCat Coach about sweet spottin’ on your group rides, please call 720.406.7444, or 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!

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sweet spot training

How to Sweet Spot

by Frank Overton

Buongiorno! It has been over 10 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 (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.

Buy a $49 Sweet Spot Training Plan HERE.  Designed for the athlete that has 4 – 8 hours to train per week with periodization. Or choose an intermediate or advanced plan if you have 8+ hours/week to train.

Buy our $49 Six Weeks to the Sweet Spot Training Plan

Figure courtesy of Dr. Andy Coggan, Ph.D

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 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.

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 were “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 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 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 a 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 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.

Buy a Sweet Spot Training Plan here for $49.  We have three different plans based on a number of hours you have to train per week. You may raise your threshold power as much as 5-20% (depending on several factors).

Copyright 2017 , 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 or a FasCat Coach about the how much sweet spot training will make you faster, please call 720.406.7444, or 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!

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Sweet Spot Training: Advanced Aerobic Endurance

by Frank Overton

In January of 2005 I was working with 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 monthly training tips dramatically. Privately we coined the term Sweet Spot training described below. After we had developed the concept, below is the Sweet Spot “world wide release”.

My ‘o my, is it June already? Is the race season already half over? Good grief that means we have to think about your end of the season goals and what that means for your training. Now that you’ve smashed the competition with your best peak performances ever, what’s next for your training?

Buy our $49 Six Weeks to the Sweet Spot Training Plan

Planning for your second season’s peak
Periodization, by definition, means planning for peak performances at certain predetermined races. Most athletes and coaches can successfully nail 2 periods of peak performance each season. Now that you have achieved your first peak performance it’s time to both mentally reward yourself and begin working towards achieving an even higher peak in the second phase of the racing calendar.

The first step in this process is to take a step back and some time off the bike. It may seem paradoxical to do so in the middle of the nice weather, but it’s critical to fully regenerate both physically and mentally. I suggest taking a mid-season break for 3-5 days and forget you are a bike racer. I define this break exactly as I have before at the end of the season only shorter and with less irrational exuberance. You know what I mean!! Let your mind go from the day to day toils of training and relax. After you start jonesing to train and race, you’re ready to tackle the second half of the season.

Sweet Spot Training
After a well thought out and strategically executed taper, your overall aerobic endurance has been dramatically reduced. You sacrificed many months of work in exchange for optimal “form” or fitness. Now that your peak is over, and the form is gone; its time to re-build and I recommend starting with a 2-3 week aerobic endurance phase. The length of this phase will be contingent upon the proximity of your next “A” race(s). The more time you have the longer I suggest focusing on increasing your aerobic endurance. This phase is much like the base training that occurs over the winter months, but now that you are in mid-season shape take it up a notch.

The Evolution of “Sweet Spot” Training
Back in January, I wrote about building your “base” by riding tempo. Now the same concept applies to your training as you begin to re-load your aerobic arsenal. Out of that January Toolbox, several esteemed coaches, colleagues, and sports scientists began calling this approach to aerobic endurance as “sweet spot” training.

The underlying principle of sweet spot training is a balanced amount of intensity and volume that produces a maximal increase in an athlete’s functional threshold power (FTP). In the figure below, the “sweet spot” occurs between a high level/zone 2 and level/zone 4. It is within these ranges that you will build your base the most and simultaneously increase your power at threshold. More bang for your buck, and thus the nickname, “sweet spot”.


Figure courtesy of Dr. Andy Coggan, Ph.D

Given that you are in mid-season race shape, sweet spot training is more specific to your racing now than level/zone 2 was back in the winter. When was the last time you raced at a zone 2 pace? Wait don’t answer that! My point is that sweet spot training specifically addresses the physiological requirements during the majority of your racing. It is not, however, a substitute for VO2max, anaerobic or neuromuscular intervals. We’ll talk about that later on in the summer. For now you are working on building an aerobic engine capable of comfortably handling the large majority of power demands in your races. By doing so, you are setting yourself up well for when the smack goes down during the crucial make or break moments in a race.

How do I find my sweet spot? 
Easy there tiger; this is an all ages website! If you have a powermeter, you are in luck. If you are using CyclingPeaks software you are in the “money”. Even without a powermeter, sweet spot training defines what has worked all along with the old skool approach. Powermeter users just now have data to prove it! Fartleks, motorpacing, “brisk” group rides, and level 3 & 4 intervals all count. And who could forget the ultimate sweet spot training: racing.

Essentially any type of training that accumulates lots of Training Stress Score (TSS), kilojoules, time, hours, and miles falls within the parameters of sweet spot training. Most athletes enjoy the freedom that comes from such a wide range of training options because this is what we do best. During your sweet spot training, use as many tools and ways to quantify your workload as possible because the rules of classic periodization still apply.

At the end of the day TSS is the ultimate way to measure your training workload. In much the same way a physician prescribes a precise amount of medicine, a coach, sports scientist, or experienced athlete can plan out exactly the right amount of daily training with TSS. Here is an example 4 week mesocycle using a powermeter, TSS, and your sweet spot:

These are arbitrary numbers and will vary highly depending on how much time you have to train and how hard you ride. The table is mainly put forth to illustrate how you can use sweet spot training with a powermeter in an example mesocycle. No matter what training tools you have, everyone can plan out their weekly hours as a starting point. And if you have a powermeter you have no excuse; for goodness sakes download your files and quantify your training!!

“Pro” Applicability
For years I never knew what the pros were talking about when they spoke of finding their legs, or honing their form. When you read about the Pro Tour Euro dogs quoted as using a race, a block of races, or a stage race to find their legs, they are hitting their sweet spot by doing some steady or higher intensity work at race pace. Right now at the Tour de Suisse and last week at the Dauphine, all the GC contenders, sprinters, and domestiques are honing their form with event specific sweet spot training before the Tour de France. If we all could only be so lucky! However, a Tour de France camp or summer stage race will yield similar aerobic endurance gains relative to you, of course. Even multiple back to back long rides will go a long way towards building your aerobic engine this summer.

Consistency is Key
With the long days of summer upon us, get out there and ride your bike consistently on a day to day basis. Even if you can only ride for an hour on Monday go a little harder than you would normally. Strategically use compact spirited group rides and training races Monday thru Friday and incorporate longer rides on the weekend. Hit your sweet spot and in no time you will be well poised with an aerobic engine as good or better than the beginning of your race season. Once you’ve accomplished this, you’ll be able to sit back with all the hay in the barn and enjoy thinking about which races you want to slay in the second half of this season.

I have designed a “Six Weeks to the Sweet Spot” Training Plan available HERE for $49.  If you have 6-10 hours to train per week you can raise your threshold power as much as 5-20% (depending on several factors).

Copyright 2016 , FasCat Coaching

Frank is a full time USA Cycling Elite level certified coach, owner, and founder of FasCat Coaching, a cycling coaching company in Boulder, CO.  To talk with a FasCat Coach about implementing sweet spot into your training, please call 720.406.7444, or fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation

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sweet spot training

How Much Sweet Spot Training Should You Do?

How much sweet spot training should you incorporate into your daily workouts?

by Frank Overton January 2014
For the competitive cyclist, sweet spot training is a balanced amount of intensity and volume that produces a maximal increase in an athlete’s functional threshold power (FTP). In the figure below, the “sweet spot” occurs between a high level/zone 2 and level/zone 4 or 83-97% of one’s FTP. It is within these ranges that you will build your base the most and simultaneously increase your power at threshold. More bang for your buck, and thus the nickname, “sweet spot.”

Buy a $49 Sweet Spot Training Plan HERE.  We have two sweet spot plans, parts 1 & 2, designed for the athletes that have 4- 8 hours, 8 – 12 hours and 12+ hours per week to train. A Premium TrainingPeaks account is included + mobile app and email support.


Purchase our six-weeks to Sweet Spot Training Plan by clicking HERE!


How do I find my sweet spot? 

The first step in finding your sweet spot is determining your Functional Threshold Power. This can be done with either a 60-minute maximal field test, a 20-minute maximal field test or a Maximal Lactate Steady State test (MLSS).  Armed with your newly found FTP, your sweet spot training level is 83 to 97% of your FTP.

For further reading on the types of sweet spot training you can do, read our post Sweet Spot Part Deux.

Now that you’ve established your FTP, how much sweet spot should your daily workouts contain? That depends primarily on 3 characteristics:

  1. Your ability level
  2. Time of year
  3. The type of event you are training for

Cyclists of all ages and abilities should be able to complete a basic 3 x 5 minutes on 5 minutes OFF sweet spot interval workout.  To calculate the total sweet spot workload, simply multiply the number of intervals x the duration: 3 x 5 minutes = 15 total minutes at a sweet spot workload.  So 15 minutes is the lower limit and 3 hours is the upper UPPER limit our coaches have an incredibly motivated, professional, & well-conditioned cyclists complete.  In the chart below you’ll find example durations in minutes the Fascat Coaches are having their athletes train in the sweet spot:

When athletes are building a hemi-powered pre-season aerobic engine (raising their chronic training load or “CTL”), the more sweet spot the better. Sweet spot training is incredibly time efficient and produces rides with larger Intensity Factors (IFs) and TSS’s than with less intense rides.

As such, sweet spot training is a valuable tool for raising an athlete’s training load measured by their CTL. Our coaches prescribe sweet spot volume and monitor the athletes training to determine how much more sweet spot volume is beneficial.  It’s an experimental process to prescribe the volume, analyze the data and listen to the athlete report “how that felt”.  Then the coach will add more or less using periodization and TSS (Training Stress Score).

For example, a 3 x 10 min (30 minutes total workload) would progress to 4 x 9 min (36 minutes total) and then onto 3 x 15 min (45 minutes total).However, once the season begins, our coaches use the power demands of the athlete’s goal event to dictate sweet spot training volume.  Road cyclists and mountain bikers tend to ride in the sweet spot more because we know from their power files that they race those durations in their sweet spot wattages.  Conversely, since cyclocross races are a maximum of 60 minutes, a cyclocross athlete will ride less sweet spot once the season has begun.

Sweet Spot for Road and Criterium Racing
15 to 240 minutes, total workload – a broad range depending on ability level and the distance/duration of their competitions.  In the early part of the offseason, we have athletes start with a basic interval workout and increase their total duration by increasing the duration and number of sweet spot intervals.  During the season our coaches will prescribe sweet spot workouts specific to the amount of time they’ll race at sweet spot in their goal events.

Sweet Spot for Mountain Bikers
Sweet spot should be a Mountain bikers’ bread and butter training, especially as the race durations exceed traditional 2-hour cross country durations.  Pro’s that race for 5 hours should prepare by riding in their sweet spot for as close to those durations as they can. Amateur riders should use sweet spot intervals to progress with as much sweet spot workload as they can and then use the knowledge of their limits on race day.  For example, if a category 2 mountain biker can only perform 90 minutes of sweet spot intervals in training, they should pace a 5-hour race so that they do not exceed 90 – 110 minutes of sweet spot intensity.

Amateur riders should use sweet spot intervals to progress with as much sweet spot workload as they can and then use the knowledge of their limits on race day.  For example, if a category 2 mountain biker can only perform 90 minutes of sweet spot intervals in training, they should pace a 5-hour race so that they do not exceed 90 – 110 minutes of sweet spot intensity.

Sweet Spot for Triathletes

The biggest consideration for how much sweet spot triathletes should incorporate on a daily basis is whether or not they have a run workout afterward or if they are managing their fatigue downstream.  The bike leg distance also dictates how much sweet spot athletes need to incorporate in their training.  70.3 competitors actually race more in sweet spot than Ironman competitors so they’ll utilize more sweet spot training.  The power demands of an Ironman are closer to tempo than they are to sweet spot and as such need to incorporate more tempo than they do sweet spot into their training.

70.3 competitors actually race more in sweet spot than Ironman competitors so they’ll utilize more sweet spot training.  The power demands of an Ironman are closer to tempo than they are to sweet spot and as such need to incorporate more tempo than they do sweet spot into their training.

Sweet Spot for Cyclocross Athletes
Like roadies and mountain bikers, when ‘crossers are building a hemi-powered pres-season aerobic engine, the more sweet spot the better.  However, once the season begins, since a cross race will only be an hour, not as much sweet spot will be warranted.  Unless the athlete is rebuilding CTL during a non-competitive phase such as a mid-season November training camp.  See Sven Nys training program.Overall, the amount of sweet spot an athlete can and should perform in their daily workouts depends on the distance and duration of their goal event(s).  Additionally, the chart above will help athletes and coaches find a range to prescribe sweet spot workouts.

Unless the athlete is rebuilding CTL during a non-competitive phase such as a mid-season November training camp.  See Sven Nys training program.Overall, the amount of sweet spot an athlete can and should perform in their daily workouts depends on the distance and duration of their goal event(s).  Additionally, the chart above will help athletes and coaches find a range to prescribe sweet spot workouts.

I have designed a “Six Weeks to the Sweet Spot” Training Plan available HERE for $49.  If you have 6-10 hours to train per week you can raise your threshold power as much as 5-20% (depending on several factors).

Copyright 2016 , FasCat Coaching

Frank Overton 1/22/14   Frank is the founder, owner and head coach of FasCat Coaching, a boutique brand coaching company in Boulder, CO.  Overton and FasCat Coaches have been prescribing sweet spot training since 2005.   To talk with a FasCat Coach about setting up your Sweet Spot Training call 720.406.7444, or fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation.

 

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