No matter what distance triathlon you’re training for, Sweet Spot training can be a useful addition. The key is timing it correctly to your training phases so it’s optimized for your race distance.
If you’ve perused our training articles, you’ve probably seen us talk a lot about Sweet Spot. It’s the main staple of most bike training plans because it maximizes intensity & volume for a greater training benefit in a shorter amount of time. Plus, Sweet Spot is not so hard that you can’t recover & get in a solid workout the next day. But in triathlon, the key is to tailor Sweet Spot training to your race distance.
Periodization is the secret sauce to any training plan. Hit the right efforts at the right time so you come into your target race primed and ready to set that new PR! Set up a solid aerobic base, then build up to race-specific intensity and duration work as your race nears. For triathletes, that means you can do Sweet Spot work as you progress through your base season to help increase your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and build your Chronic Training Load (CTL). Sweet Spot intervals are great to work in on trainer rides during the week and let you save those long Zone 2 rides for the weekend. Then let your race distance dictate how much Sweet Spot to incorporate into your training.
If you’re focusing on a Sprint this season, Sweet Spot should be your bread & butter on the bike! Build up to it as you begin your base endurance phase, then apply it liberally as you build up to your race. Training just below your threshold right up until the week of your race will help you increase your FTP and bike speed. Just make sure you’re getting some threshold work in during the race prep phase as well since that’s the effort you’ll be racing at!
Olympic Distance Triathlon
In bike racing, the 40Km time trial is the ultimate race of truth. In triathlon, it’s the warm up for a fast 10Km run! Sweet Spot is key for building your aerobic base and getting race-ready for this distance. Sweet Spot to threshold is where you’ll be racing at since the bike leg in this race is still relatively short. If you are off the bike in an hour or less, you’ll be close to threshold and the classic 3 x 20min Sweet Spot workout is a staple training ride that will get you ready for race day.
Like the olympic distance, training for a 70.3 should have a lot of Sweet Spot riding during the base, build, and race prep phases. Sweet Spot repeats on 50-60 mile rides are great training for racing at this distance. And if you are doing a hilly course, you can incorporate Sweet Spot hill repeats into your training for fitness and a race simulation. If you are projecting a finish time of 3 hours or longer, the lower end of Sweet Spot or even into Tempo is when you’ll want to target your race effort, but Sweet Spot workouts are still valuable for increasing your FTP. For those athletes off the bike in less than 3 hours, Sweet Spot is an ideal target for race day.
Sweet Spot training is not as race-specific to a full distance ironman because you’re on the bike for so long, therefore your race pace is necessarily lower. But Sweet Spot can still be used to help build your base, especially if you’re doing a lot of early season training indoors. Replace those 2 hour Z2 trainer rides with Sweet Spot intervals in 60-90 minutes and you’ll be building your CTL and boosting your FTP with time leftover to focus on other important things like Yoga and recovery. But as you move into your race specific work, transition those Sweet Spot trainer rides to longer Tempo and Zone 2 rides. Because of the longer time on these training rides, the intensity needs to drop to allow your body proper recovery. Tempo repeats on 3-4 hour rides move you into the race prep phase where you can progress to race simulation rides as you set up to taper.
Testing for Sweet Spot
Sweet Spot is 83 – 97% of your FTP and 90 – 99 % of your Threshold Heart Rate, so to train (or race!) at those efforts, you need to know your FTP. We’re fans of the 20 minute Field Test for finding your FTP on the bike- it’s not too long and can be replicated fairly easily. However, it’s still very taxing on the body AND mind to do a 20 minute all-out effort on the bike so it’s best to test wisely through your base and build season. That gives you more time to ride at efforts specific to your race distance and won’t burn you out with the mental stress of testing. If you’re training by heart rate, you probably won’t need to re-test much once you’ve got your base fitness built up, you’ll just notice that your favorite training rides are getting faster! If you train with power, testing every 6 weeks or so is a good way to check in on your fitness and ensure that you’re training at the proper target. And naturally, you’ll want to update that FTP in your training devices and software for maximum benefit!
I have several “Six Weeks to Sweet Spot” Training for Triathletes Plans available HERE for $49. They include Sweet Spot rides (when appropriate for your race distance and training phase!) as well as swims and runs that can be downloaded to your Garmin and/or smart trainer so you can always train at the right effort at the right time!
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Coach Nadia is USA Triathlon, USA Cycling, and TrainingPeaks certified and a Senior Associate Coach with FasCat. 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.