What's the difference between sweet spot, tempo and threshold?

So I came to cycling from competitive running and we had lots of paces… but there was always a interchangeable blurry definition of what “tempo” and “threshold” is. Digging into the I the “7 zones of training” and looking at workouts in the TR data base I am having a hard time differentiating between sweet spot, tempo and threshold. I get the differences in percentages of FTP (seems minor) but can anyone break down how these train different systems?

Here’s the official support page:

As a triathlete, i do both so I’ll attempt to bridge definitions:

Threshold: you can hold it for ~ 20 to 40min maybe 60min at best. Threshold intervals hurt. That would be equivalent to 10km race pace.
I would say tempo is akin to half marathon pace - you can hold it for ~2hours but you wouldn’t run a marathon at that pace.
Endurance is marathon pace. Once trained, you can hold it for a long ride: 3 to 12hours.


Marathon pace for a well trained runner of decent ability is just below threshold. For a 2.5 hour marathoner you’re looking at 15-20 seconds per mile slower than threshold. Slightly bigger gap as you get towards 3 hours obviously. Much harder than endurance though. It would probably fall between tempo and threshold in the cycling power zones.

1 Like

Let’s not assume OP is a young pro male Kenyan endurance runner…
Lol 2h30m would be 30 min faster than a BQ (Boston Qualifiying) time for a <34yrs male!!!

Sorry but your definition of a “well trained decent” marathoner leaves well over 99.xx% of male marathon finishers out per this source 126 Running Statistics You Need to Know | livestrong says:

  • To place among the top 1% of marathon runners in the U.S., you would have to finish faster than 2 hours and 49 minutes, according to RunRepeat.
  • To place among the top 10% of marathon runners in the U.S., you would need to finish faster than 3 hours and 24 minutes."

For us mortals, threshold is not something we can maintain long and only a low % of cyclists are able to pedal more than 40min at their FTP threshold. Per Dr Coggan, it’s supposed to be what you can do for 1hour and be completly exhausted.


My personal best is 2:26 which was actually the result of a failed attempt at the OT standard almost 20 years ago. 2 kids, 2 decades later I got my first real MTB and have enjoyed getting back into shape. I did some racing last year but nothing structured. Just riding for fun.

Now that I’m starting up “real training” again… the science geek in me was enjoying digging into the TR workout page. I was just curious on the differences in the terms. From what I gather sweet spot, tempo, threshold are all kinda the same but just different intensities.

Probably the thing I’m most intrigued with is the idea of not letting watts or heart rate take you into a certain zone. This made me wonder if there really is a difference in these “training zones.”

1 Like

@OP you will see that despite the minor differences in %FTP, the zones result in quite different training experiences.

Even within sweet spot it’s quite noticeable if you’re on the lower or higher end.

Welcome to cycling!


Definitely have noticed… it’s all feeling good… til it’s not!

1 Like

Wherever this discussion goes, I think this kind of power duration understanding is best. It does rely on having some historical context though.

2:30 is on the upper range of a competitive amateur. Which I assume is the target audience. I myself have run 2:45 and that as a mid pack D3 runner at my best. So very much applicable. 4 hour marathoners need not apply in a training discussion. But even 4 hour runners would be in the Z3 area if they do enough miles.

My own times were 59:40 for 10 miles 1:18:30 for the half, and 2:45 for the marathon. That’s a 22 sec per mile difference from a max effort 1 hour and the marathon. And in any case, the notion that ftp is an hour effort is not true. With the amount of base and endurance miles I put in, it would not surprise me if my tte was well over an hour, to use cycling jargon.

1 Like

This is incorrect and Andy has addressed it several times.


Good article covering the differences / benefits of sweet spot and threshold:

1 Like

Doesn’t really matter what Coggin says about it. If we’re looking for a metric that we all can understand, FTP needs to be defined as your max output for 60 minutes. What you’re talking about is LT2 or MLSS, but that’s really hard to pin down.


Really? It doesn’t matter what the person who created FTP has to say about what FTP is? He has repeatedly said it is not precisely 1 hour. FTP is intended to be a ‘functional’ test (ie not a lab test) for power at MLSS.


Just as an outside reader here… but I think what is trying to be conveyed is the need for clarity. If this is a “functional test,” not done in the lab, there needs to be a clear definition. If one person’s FTP (just throwing out numbers here) is 45 minutes, another 60 and another 75… that is a big difference.


There is in cycling as well. When I left running and picked up cycling and a power meter, I thought: yay, better definitions. But not really.

You don’t need that many as an individual. There are that many to cover all types of cycling and training.

sweet spot and tempo are just lower intensity than threshold. threshold in this case would be FTP, not a used or useful concept in running


They are not different systems. It’s all the same system.

1 Like

Those are big differences, but the numbers you throw out there are all realistic Time To Exhaustion (TTE) numbers, with the lower ones being much more likely.

Correct. Very much protocol-dependent. It’s the most often (or one of the most often) over-looked aspects in these discussions. I used to try to reconcile this test with that protocol (8 min, 20 min, all out 60 min, TTE test, NP over whatever minutes)…see below.

But no more. If someone says FTP and they don’t also provide a protocol, it’s as if they said to me: “yo, my whatchamagiggy is two thousand eight hundred and forty”.

“Cool” :man_shrugging:


Why? The ramp test has you go to exhaustion, and the TR version does not have you go for precisely 19.5 minutes to determine your FTP. So why not go to exhaustion on a long test? That takes into account the reality that some can go longer at threshold than others. If you have trouble wrapping your head around that, read the protocol description here: The Physiology of FTP and New FTP Test Protocols

If you are good at pacing and want a shorter estimate based on exact time, you can do the Friel test which is a 30 minutes all-out effort with no multiplier, as Friel considers 30-min power a ‘good enough’ approximation. Or the Allen 20-minute test (95% multiplier), or the FasCat 20-minute test (90-95% multiplier), or … just realize the multiplier should be personalized based on your physiology.

1 Like

I agree with you, but I can see how different coaches might have a different calculation method for FTP.

Perhaps it’s better to say , my FTP from TR is…

1 Like

I am not following your reply… are you saying there is no need for clear definition of what FTP is?

It is well documented that the Zwift test scores a much higher FTP due to the shorter ramp up. It works great for when working out in TR and reality a number is not much more than a threshold to work at within a certain training program… but in a data driven sport and one that heavily cites science, do you not see value in controls and clear definitions?