Hi everyone! I am new to trainerroad. I am an exercise scientist fresh out of grad school with more of a clinical background than a performance background. Nonetheless, I have been diving into the literature as well as watching the ask a cycling coach podcast to gain insights on training methodologies and theories behind training intensity distributions.
As a time crunched cyclist myself, I have seen some very positive and quick progress following a sweet spot base training plan. In the past, I was all in on 80/20 polarized training. I can’t say I really understood how the philosophy translated into success for athletes other than proof of concepts. The more I keep digging into it, the more I realize that Dr. Phil Maffetone and others essentially argue that training below the first ventilatory threshold (or LT1, which requires high volume) may lead to increases in fat utilization during exercise. This is observed when runners in particular are able to see there pace times go down but they run at the same heart rates. For cyclists, it seems the concepts would be the same. Same heart rate, more power is able to be achieved at that same heart rate provided you somehow either estimate or ensure you are below LT1. My question for a potential hypothesis is this:
If you took a sweet spot plan vs a polarized plan and put them head to head, wouldn’t you expect increases in power for the same given heart rate simply because both groups became fitter? Is it because of increases in “metabolic efficiency” which relates to the amount of fat utilization during exercise. I suppose using trained and experienced cyclists would help to eliminate the issue of novice riders getting fitter regardless of training. For novices, any type of structured training is bound to get them fitter.
I think of interest to a ton of people is what ultimately raises power more for a given heart rate? Ultra endurance cyclists come to mind in this scenario. If very high volume pointed and focused training below LT1 ultimately resulted in them having a crazy wattage/ heart rate increase (lets say 50 watts) over a 4 months span, could we say this is the “best” training approach? That is what Dr. Maffetone would suggest. I am seeing top Iron Man athletes such as Lionel Sanders adapt similar training philosophies. His training is shifting to high volume and below LT1. Conversely, if you took people and put them through a sweet spot style training plan, what would their aerobic threshold heart rate do? Would the aerobic threshold (LT1) watt capability rise due to increases in fat utilization, an increase in lactate tolerance, FTP ceiling increases, or a combination of everything? For me, I think it could be a combination of metabolic and cardiac adaptations. I can’t wrap my head around how Maffetone style training seems to suggests huge metabolic changes are the primary driving force behind dropping pace times in runners at the same heart rate. For example, stroke volume increases allow for more watts at same heart rates with training and this is because athletes can supply more O2 per heart beat as they get fitter. Cardiac and plasma volume adaptations are huge driving factors behind increases in VO2 Max and FTP. I would say even more so that metabolic adaptations in some cases.
This topic sounds like a fantastic 2+ hour trainerroad podcast topic and perhaps someone can help point me towards some studies that have explored these questions or if trainerroad already has a podcast on it. Anyways, that ends the thoughts I have bouncing around in my head. I had to get out in writing. Haha!