How to Sweet Spot

Originally published at: https://fascatcoaching.com/tips/how-to-sweet-spot/

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 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:

Expected Physiological Adaptations in Sweet Spot

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 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.

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

Example 1:

“Sweet Spot: __ hrs” I prescribe this “free form” workout for ultra motivated athletes with a TSS goal that’s based on previous data. Suffice it to say, this 30 minute to 4 hour workout is not popular (because of the degree of difficulty). Therefore 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 following a Fatigue Dependent Training Plan Design.

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. Set your bike computer to display TSS in real time so you can budget your effort and stay motivated.

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 closer to high zone 2 their normalized power will be. 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 power meter 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. 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 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:

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.

Copyright 2018, 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 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!

Copyright 2018, FasCat Coaching

[fbcomments url=”http://fascatdev.wpengine.com/tips/how-to-sweet-spot/ ‎ ‎ ” width=”680″ count=”off” num=”3″ countmsg=”wonderful comments!”]

2 Likes

I just purchased the Sweet Spot basic plan and I do not have a power meter, I’m under the impression that HR is good enough, but not great.

How do I go about performing the FTP test on the first day with HR only?

I have an indoor trainer with power, should I just use that for the tests?

Wellcome to the Coalition @tilkerb - with heart rate based training you simply go as hard as you can for 20 minutes and take your average power for your threshold heart rate.

Enter that # in your TrainingPeaks zones per this training tip:
https://fascatcoaching.com/tips/setting-up-training-zones/

For indoor power, I suppose you could/can but you’ll still need to use AV HR for your outdoor training. I personally would do the test from the bottom of a climb and go old skool to see how far you make it up in 20 minutes. Then go back and see how much further up the very same climb you get also in 20 minutes (starting from the same spot). That’s real measurable improvement. Kinda like a Strava PR.

2 Likes

Hi @tilkerb, thought I would drop my own personal experience in here as you are in the same place I was; having purchased a Kickr I had power on the trainer and only heart rate for outdoor rides; basically you will end up getting a power meter!

I like @FRANK’s idea on the climb. For me I did nearly all my training indoors and this really helped me understand power numbers and how it all feels. Obviously this is not ideal but I appear to be one of the few people that don’t get bothered by turbos and my power is better indoors; go figure. Plus it really fits in with the family.

2 Likes

@FRANK where do I get the sheet to do the zone calculations? I have not received an email that I could find with it.

It’s in the field test workout in TrainingPeaks, look for the paper clip icon to download the excel spreadsheet

@Adam thanks for your input. I attempted my climb today and ran into some fresh road construction that made for a nice gravel road, I kept pushing through the effort. I compared my heart rate for this and what I had recently done on the turbo and it was a few BPM faster on the turbo. I figure this is because I was able to focus on pushing rather than not falling over in the gravel.

And I agree using the turbo helps with my family, 3 year old and a 6 month old.

@FRANK That was so obvious I missed it. Is there a setup guide for HR only? I see the power based version, but I don’t have a power meter…yet. Never mind, I see what I need to do.

1 Like

Dumb Question, when it comes to Heart Rate, would the sweet spot be 84-97% of Max HR or Threshold HR? I would assume Max HR since 84% of my threshold HR is pretty pedestrian pace even for me.

1 Like

Sweet spot heart rate would be 88-97% of FTP heart rate. If 87% feels pedestrian you can ride them at 97%. That’s 10% harder. The idea is to stay below your threshold so you don’t break down your muscles too much allowing yourself to recover easier and repeat.

If still easy make sure your heart rate FTP is set correctly. Also heart rate has more variables than power.

https://fascatcoaching.com/tips/how-to-sweet-spot/

Thanks for the information, it seems my data was stale. I went back and looked at a very recent 30 minute race where I went as hard as I could and saw my Threshold HR is 164 (Max 180) for 20 minutes and an FTP of 247 (I’m slow). After using your guide and punching in the new Sweet Spot numbers it seem right on the money.

1 Like

I’ve got a question about the SS group ride work out. Due to the time of the day I have available for riding, there are no group rides that would work for me on this day. As this ride is set up on Training Peaks, nothing down loads to my Wahoo Elemnt to display the recommended watts and keep time on the segments for me.

Is there a way to set this ride up like the other rides so that the suggested segments and recommended power levels display on my Wahoo?

Thank for the great plan. It seems to work great when followed! The guys that put this together must be geniuses.

1 Like

You can create your own workout in the workout builder. Make intervals that are 8 - 20 minutes in duration in sweet spot. (88-96% of your FTP). Make enough effort to match the planned TSS.

Can also pick a sweet spot workout that you have completed and add to it.

The benefit of these freestyle efforts is so you don’t have to be glued to your computer and can have fun. Another great way is pick climbs and go bottom to top at sweet spot or long Strava segments at sweet spot.

2 Likes