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?
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”.
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!!
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).
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