Sweet Spot Base versus Traditional Base plans

After riding recreationally for over a dozen years, I decided I wanted to get serious about getting faster. So, at the beginning of 2016, I started my first TrainerRoad Traditional Base plan. A year later I had increased my FTP by 150 percent!

In the following year, things did not go as well, and I saw a decline in my performance. In August of that year, I found myself in the hospital being treated for pulmonary emboli. I guess that would explain the drop in performance. It was my second bout with PE, having first been diagnosed ten years earlier.

After numerous false starts, I decided to try it again. My FTP had fallen below where it was when I started back at the beginning of 2016. So, in November of this year, I started the mid-volume sweet spot base plan. At the beginning of phase II of that plan, I took another threshold test. It was an unmitigated disaster. According to the results, my FTP had fallen by five watts! I was disappointed, but not surprised. At the beginning of the test, I wasn’t sure my body had adequately recovered from the rigors of the previous six weeks of training. The first few minutes of the workout constitutes a warm-up at less than 50 percent of my FTP. It should have felt effortless. It did not.

Ultimately I decided to postpone the start of the second phase. Additionally, I’m having second thoughts about my decision to switch from the traditional base plan to the sweet spot base plan. I’m just wondering whether the sweet spot approach is the right strategy for me. On the other hand, before passing judgment, I want to give it a chance. To be fair, I frequently substituted workouts that were more strenuous than those called for by the plan. Those decisions might have been detrimental. Also, I doubt I’m typical of the target demographic for TrainerRoad. I am 65 years old. Five workouts per week might be too many.

At this point, I’m wondering about the merits of a midstream switch from the sweet spot base plan to the traditional base plan. With the traditional base plan, I have a history of success. Although any number of factors could be affecting my response to the sweet spot plan, I’m a little discouraged. Until I retake the threshold test, the jury is still out. Only then will I know whether I had a bad day, whether I’m suffering from overtraining, or just needed a few more days of recovery. If I make a miraculous recovery, I might give the sweet spot plan another chance. Otherwise, I’m likely to switch to the traditional plan. Your feedback would be appreciated.

2 Likes

If you’re concerned about volume, why not switch to Sweet Spot Base LV instead of traditional base? If you’re doing a lower volume traditional base plan, you’re not going to get near the benefit from it that you would SSB. You’re right: your body needs more recovery time as you get older, so rather than dialing back the intensity, try the LV plan. Add an outdoor or aerobic ride on the weekend if you want.

I’ll say this: I’ve been training with intensity and as much structure as I cold for more than a decade, and SSB MV is challenging for me to be fresh workout-to-workout at age 42. I think you’re going to see better benefit from dialing back the volume rather than the intensity.

4 Likes

I’m following this as I’m interested to hear what the community has to say. I took my 2nd RAMP test this morning and it was bad. I lost FTP. Like you I’m discouraged. Sorry I could not be of more help other than to say you are not the only one. Thank you for posting.

1 Like

Between now and the threshold test I’m planning for Tuesday, I won’t ride again until Sunday. So, I will be off the bike for the next two days, ride at a recovery-level effort for up to 45 minutes on Sunday, then take Monday off. On Tuesday, I will repeat the Step test. Although I can’t explain why it works, it’s a strategy that seems to have worked in the past. Two days off, followed by a recovery-level effort of no more than 45 minutes, followed by another day off. That’s how I taper my workouts before a big event. If my performance improves, I’ll assume that my lackluster performance during the previous test was due to an overabundance of muscle fatigue.

I’m 41, reasonably fit and I have nothing but admiration for those of you who even attempt the mid volume plans. I know that my body wouldn’t be able to handle the workload.

Personally, I’d recommend a shift to the low volume plan. I found the sessions to be challenging and engaging with plenty of variety.

I’d also try to resist the urge to swap sessions. I dare say the folks at TR have spent a long time creating these training blocks and following the prescribed sessions will help encourage the desired adaptations.

Good luck :+1:

Almost 51 year old Masters athlete here. :wink: I’m just getting back into the TR plans after a 3 year break. I usually prefer to create my own plans, but I am considering returning to the sweet spot plans just because of the variety of workouts. Normally, I do fairly traditional workouts – 2x20 sub threshold, 2x12 threshold, 3:3x3 VO2max, 3:5x30s anaerobic, and so on, etc, etc. – it’s worked for me and has help me win races and get on the podium, but they are boring as shit. I prefer to do them outside when you have something to look at and it doesn’t mater how monotonous they are.

As a Masters racer, and also heeding the advise that we need more recovery time, I find the TSS build in the sweet spot base plans to be a bit disconcerting. I can pretty much guarantee if i followed these mid vol sweet spot plans from now until my first race end of May, I’d would not be at my peak, but i’d be fatigued, and in a half assed, in limbo state of fitness. Thats just me and based on my experience as I get older. I will be inserting several rest weeks in between these plans and within the plans.

I was just noticing that these 8 week plans just keep on building and building in TSS and then finally drop down to a rest week on the 8th week. I follow a different sort of periodization (modeled after the TrainingPeaks ATP,), which is either a 3 or 4 week cycle, where you start at a moderate week of TSS, build to a higher TSS, build yet again or stay the same, and then you drop down to a rest week, like 260 TSS or something. So for a masters athlete, the 8 week build cycle just seems like a recipe for disaster and a build of potential fatigue syndrome vs. strength. So you might try experimenting with the 8 week plan a bit…every 3 or 4 weeks, modify the workouts so that you are dropping the TSS down to a similar TSS as the last week. Let your body recover so that it can continue to adapt, vs. hammering the crap out of your system for 8 weeks in a row with no reprieve but a few rest days each week. We’re not 25 year olds who can get 9 hours of sleep and be totally recovered and fresh the next day. I wish though…I really wish that were the case.

I had this discussion with a few local pro racers once…it was back when I was doing these structured plans week after week, base, to build, to specialty, just following them week after week like a mindless lemming. . They asked me when was the last time I had a rest week? Rest week? What do you mean? Yeah, every 4-6 weeks, you need to stop the structured workouts. Just a week of as they say “Pressure on the Pedals”. Rest on Monday and Tuesday. 60min low endurance zone on Wed. Rest on Thurs and Fri. 90 min of low endurance zone on Sat and Sun. It does wonders. The next week you can start slavishly hammering away at the structured plan again. :wink:

Also, check out this article that talks about average TSS a week by Category, cycling discipline, etc. Suggested TSS a week for Masters is 288-480. I generally maintain an average of 350 TSS a week, some lower some higher, again based on a 3 or 4 week periodization.

2 Likes

@krispenhartung
The build plans do have a rest week every 4th week.

2 Likes

I see that now. I was looking at the base plans. They are still a bit much for me for a rest week, however. I suppose you could mix and match and put a low volume rest week into a mid volume plan…based on how it feels.

I agree. As a 53 year old I set the SSB as 3 weeks build then a recovery week so for me its…

ssb1 week 1
ssb1 week 2
ssb1 week 3
recovery week
ssb1 week 4
ssb1 week 5
ssb2 week 1
recovery week
etc…

1 Like

Lot’s of options. Personally, I’d rather keep a fairly intense weekly schedule and higher TSS, and then drop really low on my rest weeks. I’d prefer that vs. just switching to a low volume plan. In other words, make the rest weeks like actual rest weeks. Pressure on the pedals is not a 50TSS ride.

1 Like

Nice! It’s good to be flexible and do what your body needs I like what you have done there

1 Like

I haven’t tried this yet, but let me ask before I totally destroy my TR calendar. When you are in the calendar and “push” a week in the plan ahead, does it create an empty week and not overwrite any of the following weeks?

yes it pushes “everything” out by one week and leaves a blank week

1 Like

If I was you I’d seriously consider doing a Traditional base low volume plan initially to build up your aerobic base after your health issues before going into a Sweet Spot plan.

3 Likes

@carytb
He’s had a 3 year break from TR, not from cycling.

1 Like

A couple of things jump out for me

That’s not an unmitigated disaster. It could easily be within the +/- % of Power Meter calibration and potentially more if you are using virtual power. One of the issues with this kind of ‘by rote’ testing regime is that enormous significance is placed on a single test at a single point in time. One erroneous it seems can potentially derail someones training/motivation often for no real reason.

You haven’t appeared to give the plans as written a chance. Saying that you aren’t sure whether a particular approach isn’t right for you when that approach isn’t the one you actually followed on the face of it seems to be jumping the gun a little!

As a slight aside, have you read Fast after 50 by Joe Friel? If you haven’t it’s well worth a read for Masters athletes. At 65 and off the back of a serious illness it may be just that the level of training you’ve jumped into is too much - only you and time will be able to tell that.

Based on what you’ve written my advice if you really want to see whether a particular approach is suitable for you is to commit to it, follow the plan as written and then you’ll be in a better position to assess it’s value to you. One poor test doesn’t negate the training you have done.

If you are unsure about what to do my advice would be to follow the path you feel most psychologically comfortable with and you feel will work for you. For both physical and psychological reasons it will stand the better chance of success. However my advice I think would be to consider repeating the Mid Volume Base plan but committing to it without any substitutions or making it harder. At least then you’ll be able to fairly judge whether it works for you as if you return to Traditional Base you’ll never know and likely not try again.

1 Like

I would almost expect it to be more like week 1, week 2, week 3, rest, repeat week 3, week 4, week 5 rest. A little bit more repetition repeating week 3, but finished the block with the hardest week of ssb.

2 Likes

“Fast After 50”. I love that book! I started reading it when was 48 to get a head start :wink: ha ha.

Sorry for this long winded response…I find the topic of training for Masters very interesting and relevant, and also find that most of the bike training apps and plans out there neglect this demographic, like we’re put out to pasture and no longer a focus point. I’m going to be dropping some data below from my own WKO4 data base to make a point here.

I woke up this morning and a thought occurred to me regarding this thread. I am surprised TR has not created a set of Masters training plans that takes into account the physiological changes that our bodies go through when we age. For me, it’s not simply a matter of selecting a low volume plan. That does not meet my need. Why? Because I like to ride my bike! Why should I be forced to follow a 4-5 hour a week plan because the longer week plans generate too much stress and TSS? That’s idiotic and takes the joy out of training and riding. We’re not recreational spin class folks who are good with 2-3 spin classes a week.

The gap here in my mind is that there needs to be a way to maintain 7-10 hours a week (especially in Spring-Summer when I am doing longer rides on the weekend, but also doing interval work during the week) without a weekly TSS load that beats us into the ground. This is why I ultimately end up creating my own training plans, where I create a greater discrepancy between volume and intensity. Sort of like a hybrid model – time crunched cyclist during the week, traditional cyclist on the weekend. In practice, during build, for instance, I reserve Tues and Thurs as my intervals days…hard intervals not sweet spot. I’m doing tabata intervals, repeated 20-30 second all out sprints, VO2max work, etc. Then on the other days, I"m either recovering or doing active recovery or doing low endurance…NO intervals, no sweet spot, no mock races. If I feel strong, I might reserve one weekend day for free sweet spot.

I could theoretically build my entire plan on only 4 days a week, but still get in 7-12 hours and not with a load that will overly stress my body. Point in case, I was scanning through all the plans, and I could not find a single plan with an average time of 8-9 hours a week with a TSS in the mid to high 300s for TSS. That’s a problem for me, and if you look at the recommended TSS a week for masters, 288-480 TSS, this means that if I am roughly in the middle of this range at 350 TSS, there is no plan that allows me to ride 8-9 hours a week without exceeding this TSS and over fatiguing over time. That’s a problem for me.

This brings me back to the research done by Joe Beers, which I posted in another forum area here. “Base level of 55-80% HRmax or in “low lactate” ZONE ONE predominates in ALL phases of the year.” And by predominates, he states 75-90% of the time. So if I am riding 8 hours a week, this is no more than 50min to 2 hours of combined time a week under 80% of max HR.

So, let’s use a case study: Moi! :slight_smile: Let’s see how a Masters athlete with prior fatigue issues aligns to the research above. It will require some math. Fortunately, I use WKO4, and I have the data at my finger tips. This is what I see for my 2018 season. 87% of my entire year was spent under 80% of my Max HR. This was a strong season for me, the strongest ever. I did not overtrain, didn’t feel overly fatigued, etc, and I performed very well…won several of races on the track or finished strong or on the podium, beat most of my peak power goals and so on…blah blah blah. I did this with my own training plan, based on my own research.

Now for comparison, in 2016 I had a young pro coach who pushed me hard. I was putting in a lot of volume and intensity, and didn’t take a lot of recovery weeks. About 3/4 into the season I crashed and had all the symptoms of the onset of potential fatigue syndrome. I was irritable. I had a hard time sleeping at night. I was constantly sore. At my time trials, I was seeing my average heart rate go up, and my average power go down. It was depressing. I was in a downward spiral and I had to get off the bike and no ride for 3 weeks to recovery…and still I was not the same after this. It took me until the next season to get back on track. Guess what? Looking at my data, in 2016 I spent only 70% of my time under 80% of my HR max! Interesting, eh? And it’s easy to see where that extra 10% came from…too much high intensity throughout the week, not enough recovery, too much high intensity work or sweet spot integrated into my weekend rides. I didn’t listen to my body. I was just blindly following a plan.

http://coachjoebeer.com/resources/Joe-Beer’s-WHITE-PAPER-2016-Smarter-Training.pdf

3 Likes

@krispenhartung

That’s very interesting reading. I’m going to get myself a copy of joe beers book.

What % of ftp would 80% of max HR equal?

Is this polarised training?

Thanks for sharing.

I agree that a more polarized approach allows the masters athlete to avoid overreaching.

I find myself creating my own plan as well and feeling better for it. It’s unfortunate that TR is myopic about training.

It is very easy to overdo it with the sweet spot plans that TR glowingly endorses.

3 Likes