Sweet Spot training is completing workouts that contain intervals at 88-94% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). This type of work achieves positive physiological adaptations because it is the optimal balance of difficulty (intensity) and amount (volume).
Sweet Spot training is one of the most effective and efficient ways for cyclists to improve. With the right structure and training plan, you can let Sweet Spot training take your cycling performance to the next level.
Table of Contents
- What is Sweet Spot Training?
- Who Should Use It?
- Why is Sweet Spot an Effective Training Tool?
- What about Base Fitness
- Sweet Spot Training Versus Traditional Zone 2 Training
- Interval Structure and Progressions
- How Much Should You Do?
- How to Start
- How to Make Sweet Spot Intervals Easier
- How to Fuel Your Workouts
What is Sweet Spot Training?
Sweet Spot training is a series of workouts containing intervals that are near your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). It’s hard enough that it works but easy enough so you can do it several times in a week. Compared to training in other power zones, you can prompt more meaningful aerobic adaptations in less time.
Training in different power zones means different things for your fitness. In general, the ultimate goal is to get faster by raising your FTP. Sweet Spot training is specifically aimed at improving your ability to resist fatigue at reasonably high power over a long time. As a result, this will enhance your cycling performance across the board by raising your FTP. So whether you are completing your first century or a competitive age-group triathlete this type of training is a great option.
Sweet Spot Power Zone
This power zone is just below threshold and targets power between 88% and 94% of your FTP. This is a gray area between the Tempo and Threshold zones. Riding for an extended time in this training zone, exhausts muscle fibers without too much muscle damage.
Training in this power zone is challenging but doable. A common misconception is that it should be easy to ride just below thresold for a long time. This isn’t the case because the target power is relatively high. Sweet Spot training is hard, but the benefits are massive.
Who Should Use Sweet Spot Training?
We recommend Sweet Spot training to most cyclists because it’s a good way to apply progressive, systematic training stress. What makes the best option for most cyclists? The answer has to do with how much time you can commit to training.
A properly structured training plan will include three progressive phases, Base, Build, and Speciality. Each phase seeks to improve fitness in specific ways, and they all build on one another. While the Build and Speciality are particular to the types of events you want to train for, the Base Phase is all about establishing a foundation of fitness. The bigger your base, the higher you can grow your FTP.
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There are two ways to complete Base Phase training. The first way is to ride at low intensities, often referred to as zone 2. This traditional approach, because of the low intensity, requires a lot of volume. Traditional base training can require 10-20 hours per week. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that much time to devote to training. The good news is that you can get the same benefits with Sweet Spot training in as little as 5 hours a week.
This is why we suggest Sweet Spot training for so many cyclists. Unless, you have upwards of 20 hours per week to ride slowly, at low intensity, a bit more intensity is a much better choice. It’s a win-win. You can get faster in less time.
Why is Sweet Spot an Effective Training Tool?
Sweet Spot training is useful for a variety of reasons. These types of workouts improve your fitness, both physically and mentally. They also have substantial practical value to you on the day of your big event.
Most of us are limited on time with family and professional responsibilities that reduce our training time. The reason this is so limiting in the context of traditional base training is that the improvements you are chasing only come through a tremendous amount of volume. If a cyclist is training at these low intensities without high volume, then they are doing very little to build their aerobic capacity. Sweet Spot training solves this problem by increasing your fitness in less time.
Sweet Spot training will prepare you for the discomfort that happens when you are pushing your limits. Riding in the this zone is uncomfortable but manageable. This training will prepare you mentally for your events.
By pushing yourself in training, you’ll be able to push through the discomfort when it really matters. If all of your training is at a comfortable pace, you won’t be prepared for when you have to dig deep to hang onto the group or make it through the technical section of the trail.
Gran Fondos and Racing
Whether you’re completing your first century or racing a crit, Sweet Spot training is crucial. Aside from all the physical and mental benefits, these events will require you to put out high levels of power for a long time. During any race, whether a long gravel ride or Gran Fondo, so much time is spent in this specific power zone. Through Sweet Spot training, you’ll be ready to ride at a high percentage of FTP and crush your goal event.
Build Your Base Fitness
A good base is necessary for you to reach peak fitness. From professionals to someone just starting out, building base fitness is a key to a successful season.
Why Base Training is Important
Much like a pyramid, our fitness is built in succession. The initial work serves as a foundation that will eventually support a higher peak. This is achieved through base training in which a cyclist raises their fitness level. During this phase, several transformations are happening on different levels.
As you focus your training on developing your aerobic capacity, you train your body to become more efficient at turning fuel into energy using oxygen. This transformation takes place within the mitochondria in your muscles. So, as you spend more time stressing your aerobic energy system, your body creates more mitochondria that are more efficient. The best news of all is that your mitochondria are involved in turning energy into speed at higher intensities as well as low intensities.
Building Your Base
Base fitness is synonymous with aerobic-base fitness. This type of fitness is achieved through specific training that spurs particular physiological adaptations and is the very base upon which all further training is built. The more base fitness you have, the higher you can build your FTP.
Sweet Spot training will actually change your body in ways that will make you a stronger endurance athlete. Throughout the Base Phase, you will increase the number of capillaries. That means more tiny blood vessels to deliver blood (oxygen & nutrients) to the muscles. You will also increase the strength of your mitochondria. Stronger mitochondria result in higher aerobic performance. You’ll also strengthen your heart, improve fat metabolism, and increase muscular endurance.
All of these adaptations blend to achieve a shared outcome. You get oxygen extraction at the muscle. The more O2 the muscle can utilize, the more work it can do aerobically. As a result, you can produce more power without going into the red, meaning a higher FTP. All of this makes you a faster cyclist.
Sweet Spot Training Versus Traditional Zone 2 Training
The type of gains you can achieve through Traditional Base are useful to a limited number of athletes, such as Grand Tour riders and RAAM participants. These cyclists know that in this approach to training the gains come slowly since they depend on devoting a lot of time riding easily.
Traditional Base assumes you have almost unlimited time to ride at a slow pace. Whereas TrainerRoad assumes you have a limited schedule like most non-professional cyclists, which allows you to compensate for the lack of duration with an increase in intensity.
In contrast to Traditional Base, Sweet Spot training is more all-inclusive and can get you more fit in less time. The workouts are substantially more varied, interesting, and challenging. Just two or three of these workouts each week can bring measurable and motivating fitness gains.
Higher-volume riders who can train more frequently (4-6 times per week), can add in just enough of the long, slow, traditional riding to further their gains.
Sweet Spot Interval Structure and Progressions
TrainerRoad’s training plans give you the right workout, at the correct time to make sure you are progressing the best way. You’ll start small. Over 12 weeks, you’ll proceed to longer intervals.
Every TrainerRoad workout begins with a warm-up. This prepares your body for the upcoming work. After the warm-up, you get a short period of rest before jumping in the first interval.
In this example, we are looking at Ericsson. It’s an hour-long Sweet Spot workout. Each interval is 8 minutes long. During that time, you’ll stay between 88-94% of FTP. That adds up to 32 minutes in the Sweet Spot training zone. After the interval, you’ll get a 4-minute rest. Over the hour, you’ll complete four sets. Finally, you’ll finish with a cool-down.
Each training plan follows a specific series of progressions. That means you’ll start out with shorter intervals that will help ensure that you can finish the workout while hitting your power targets. As you work through the progressions, you’ll grow your fitness and FTP. Over time, those intervals will become longer, more intense, or both. Your total time at this intensity will increase. So you may start with a workout like Ericsson, but you’ll quickly progress. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Carson is a good example of the next progression. Carson is six, 5-7 minute intervals that are between 88-94% FTP. You’ll complete 36 minutes of Sweet Spot work.
Eventually, you’ll work your way up to a workout like Eclipse. Here you’ll spend an hour in the Sweet Spot training zone with 20-minute intervals.
How Much Sweet Spot Training Should You Do?
How much Sweet Spot training you should do mostly depends on the amount of training stimulus you need to drive aerobic adaptations while balancing the need for recovery. And don’t forget about your work and family schedule as well. That said, the amount of Sweet Spot training you need is also based on training history and familiarity with it.
TrainerRoad offers three different training plan volume levels. One of the best ways to decide which training volume plan is best for you is to use Plan Builder. It accounts for your available training time, schedule, and goal event then creates the perfect plan for you.
If you are new to structured training, we typically recommend starting with a low-volume plan. Low-Volume contains three workouts per week. This plan features more than just Sweet Spot workouts to make up for the lack of volume. You’ll spend anywhere between 1-3.5 hours Sweet Spot training.
The mid-volume plan features five workouts and mixes in both endurance and threshold workouts. Typically, you’ll spend about 3.5 hours training in the Sweet Spot zone each week, with rides lasting between 60-90 minutes. These plans are best for athletes who can handle a higher training load but still want flexibility in their training schedules.
The high-volume plan contains the most Sweet Spot work. Of the six workouts each week, five will target this productive training zone with rides lasting between 60-120 minutes. These plans require extensive experience, a major commitment of time, and an exceptional ability to recover. They are best reserved for athletes who have fine-tuned their nutrition and recovery strategies, yet no longer see improvements on mid-volume plans.
How to Start Sweet Spot Training
Starting this kind of training is easy. First, you’ll need the right equipment and the latest version of the TrainerRoad app. Next, you’ll want to build a custom training plan with Plan Builder. Plan Builder accounts for how much time you have to train, your experience, and goal event, then it creates a customized plan for you. Using Plan Builder is the best and quickest way to get started.
You can also add the Base phase to your calendar manually. There are two blocks, each lasting six weeks. You’ll want to start with the first block. Additionally, you’ll need to choose between low, mid, and high volume, depending on how much you want to train each week. If you are new to indoor training, starting with a low-volume plan is a good idea. You can always adjust to a higher volume later. Just make sure to complete a Ramp Test to asses your FTP.
How to Make Sweet Spot Intervals Easier
Training at this intensity is tough but doable. However, there are some things that you can do to make your intervals a little bit easier. With the right nutrition and some equipment you have around the house, you’ll be ready to nail your workouts.
Fuel with Carbs
Sweet Spot training burns a lot of sugar, so it’s a good idea to eat a carb-rich meal 3-4 hours before your workout. Even if you’re aiming to lose weight, you need to fuel the work. During the workout, you may need to eat some carbs, especially if it’s a long one. This will help you train your gut to handle carbs at intensity, which is helpful for race day.
Aim for at least one bottle every hour and maybe more. You can even use a sports drink mix for carbs and electrolytes. Pro tip: add some ice to the bottle to help reduce your core temperature.
By far, the easiest way to make your training feel easier is to cool yourself with a good fan. Get at least one fan that moves a high volume of air and position it to cover the maximum amount of surface area on your body as possible.
Listen to Music
The right song can have a significant effect on how hard the workout feels. Your favorite, up-tempo music can help you push through. We recommend using headphones that have an IPX7 rating or higher to keep out the sweat.
Train with Your Friends
You can do your workouts with TrainerRoad’s Group Workouts. You’ll be amazed how fast the time goes by with friends there to motivate and encourage you.
How to Fuel Your Sweet Spot Workouts
While some experienced athletes can do it fasted or low-carb, fueling with carbs will pay enormous dividends for your training. There are plenty of ways that you can fuel your workouts.
Before the Workout
Ingesting some carbs beforehand is crucial for your performance. The goal is to ensure sufficient glycogen stores are in the liver and muscles for the work that you are going to do. Fortunately, you can make sure you are ready by eating a carb-rich meal about 3-4 hours before you get on the bike. Just remember that more complex carbs take longer to be absorbed. Whole grains and beans can take a couple of hours, while fruits can be eaten 20-40 minutes ahead of your workout.
During the Workout
Eating during the ride is all about fueling the muscles for the work they are doing. Because of that, you are going to want simple carbohydrates. This includes items like sports drinks, chews, and gels. Eating during Sweet Spot training is an excellent way to experiment with nutrition strategies for your big event.
After the Workout
Afterward, you’ll want to replenish the glycogen that you have used during the workout. Ingesting some protein is a good idea too. This can be as simple as a recovery drink or a regular meal. Either way, you want to ensure that you are ready to go for your next workout.
Sweet Spot training is an effective and time-efficient way to train for the vast majority of cyclists. If you are ready to take your training to the next level, try building a customized plan with Plan Builder.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.
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