How sweet it is….
By Brandon Davis [September, 2014
If you googled sweet spot training you would undoubtedly come up with a list of resources, what most of those resources would have in common is Frank Overton. The man who coined the term and in conjunction with some of his peers, virtually invented the concept of “sweet spot” training in January of 2005. Overton defines the sweet spot as a percentage of FTP (functional threshold power) and states that at 83-97% FTP is the ideal zone to work in. Transfer that to FTHR (functional threshold heart rate NOT to be confused with MAX!!) and that equates to 90%-100% FTHR. So the math for someone with a FTP of 250W and FTHR of 170bpm would be as follows:
250w x .83=208w
250w x .97=243w à therefore Sweet Spot Power Zone=208-243W
For HRM (heart rate monitor) users
170bpm x .90=153bpm à therefore Sweet Spot HR Zone=153-170bpm
The next natural comment is, “well that’s great but how do I find my FTP or FTHR”, TEST TIME! You will see numerous ways of doing this, the gold standard is a 40k time trial (~1hr@max sustained effort) the reality though is very few people can do that mentally in training and produce an accurate result. This is why 20’ max effort is the most common method (See Dr. Andrew Coggan’s FTP Test). Coggan takes that 20’ effort and multiplies the output by .95 to replicate typical fade if extrapolated out to the ~1hr mark of a 40k TT effort.
However once armed with a power meter or HRM don’t fall into the Strava arms race…..the mistake some cyclists make is that they then (upon obtaining there best 20” data) “race” their workouts. By that I mean whatever is their best 20min effort of the year, they often hold that as the “bar” to be reached in every workout. The problem with that lies in environmental factors, particularly with HR. If it’s summer and hot you will generally produce lower FTP at a slightly higher or equal FTHR than in the corresponding seasons. This is just a fact, much like a car your engine runs hotter when it’s 95F out than when it’s 60F out.
Now, back to sweet spot, the comment I get from clients the most is ….”another sweet-spot workout” and to that I say, “YES!!”. Why? Because it is the best bang for the buck in regards to training efficiency and improving your functional threshold, VO2max, aerobic capacity….and more. The only variance lies in a riders experience level which merely dictates volume ranging from 15’ (beginner) to 180’(professional) total volume in a workout (i.e. 3x5’ for a beginner to 3x60’ for an elite rider)! In addition to volume, the type of rider will dictate the volume/training period such that if you already have been training and/or racing for years you can typically start out with a heavier load and earlier on in your season.
What does it do…..
From a physiological stance “sweet spot” training will increase numerous key components that in return yield more power on the bike. The biggest improvement will be from an aerobic state via an increase in mitochondrial density (your cells “power house” for energy production….Google it). In conjunction with an increase in mitochondria your capillary density (the highways and byways of blood) will increase, you also increase the oxidative capacity of your fast twitch fibers for more efficient function, all while boosting glycogen storage….in a 2-3hr workout! You would have to do multiple 5-6hr endurance rides a week to get the same benefit as 2-3hr sweet spot workout, enters our discussion on time creation…
So, what does a “working” cyclist do? THEY WORK! They don’t have time to ride 4-6hrs, 5-6days a week with nothing to do but focus on nutrition and recovery in and around their rides. We have to work or go to school, manage life stress, financial stress, etc…..and that all has an effect on input/output (watts/HR). This is what separates the working athlete from the pro athlete the most regarding training volume! Now, that said in an effort to build the highest level of fitness you can with the time allotted (typically 8-14hrs a week for most category racers) we should learn to embrace the pace of sweet spot! Start small with 1-2hrs (2-3x/wk) with your group rides and or endurance/tempo rides thrown in the mix and what you will see is a serious boost in fitness if executed right. Fast forward 6months and you will be a powerhouse for your “A” priority event/race. So go find your own sweet spot and embrace the burning sensation in your legs, you will find out that Greg LeMond said it best…. “it doesn’t ever get easier, you just go faster”.