Sweet Spot Training for Cyclists
Let’s look at how to use sweet spot training to help you be more productive on the bike and win some races and drop some friends. You can use sweet spot training to build your aerobic fitness and push out your FTP ceiling. In your training cycle, make sure that you ask yourself: how is this training applicable to my racing, or whatever training goals that you may have if winning races isn’t your priority.
Do you find yourself making the break or lead group but getting dropped?
Do you find yourself in the break but don’t have any kick at the end?
This can be extremely frustrating since you were able to make the selection, but can’t seem to have the finishing kill at the end. One thing you can do to help your chance in the break is to build out your aerobic base, and you can accomplish this with sweet spot training.
HOW TO INCORPORATE SWEET SPOT TRAINING
Let’s define the sweet spot zone: 88-97% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).
While you want to start off small, make sure you elongate the sweet spot intervals for longer periods of time, beyond the 20 minute time range that many cyclists use for intervals. You can start with 2 x 15 minutes at sweet spot, with half of the interval time as rest (so 7.5 minutes for this example), and slowly move up, with the goal of getting to 45 minute intervals and beyond, with only 5 minutes of recovery between this longer sessions (for the more advanced riders).
Make sure you’ve tested your 30-60 minute power to have accurate data on your FTP. The Cat 1-3 cyclist should aim to eventually work up to one long interval of 1.5 hours of sweet spot. 2 hours of sweet spot is very hard to complete, but it’s all about increasing your duration week after week.
WHEN SHOULD I DO SWEET SPOT TRAINING?
This is a great workout that you can do during the season because you can focus on repeatability. You can stack a few of these intervals back to back and get phenomenal adaptations, and you can most likely get more actual work done at this intensity than doing back to back 100% FTP sessions. Riding JUST UNDER 100%, at Sweet Spot, will push out your ability to really pin it when you have to. You still need to do some threshold work in order to know what that red line feeling feels like, but on a physiological level, you can get so much growth from sweet spot training.
I was riding with a cyclist last week (end of November) who mentioned that he is using a sweet spot training plan from an online coaching source, and that he was doing 4 sweet spot workouts a week. This is way too much, and I really bring back up what was mentioned in the first paragraph: what is the goal of all of these workouts? This is too much because the intensity of each ride is just making you very tired, and then where do you go from there? If you feel inclined to do an “FTP builder”, you must build and then use the adaptation before it goes away. You can get a bump here and there, but true FTP building comes when you stop back from the trees, and look at your watts year over year. If you build your FTP and then go work on one minute efforts for a few weeks, I will make a bet that you will not have the same FTP when you come back!
Sweet Spot and FTP building workouts are best saved for a couple months before your race season starts to get used to those hard efforts, and then sprinkle them in as appropriate, based on your racing calendar. Unless you have a race coming up in January, you do not need to be doing sweet spot training. Focus on gaining strength and power in the gym, to prepare your body for the massive training blocks that await down the road. Always remember: USE IT OR LOSE IT.
GETTING DROPPED FROM THE BREAK
I looked at an athlete’s data who was struggling to have some extra kick at the end of the race. This is not a top end issue, which I talked about in the Polarized Training article, but an aerobic issue. He never did long intervals to develop this type of power and sustainability in a bike race. If it came to a group sprint, he could win; but if he found himself in the break, he’d either get dropped or be so gassed at the end, that his go-to sprint was nowhere to be seen.
I looked at this athlete’s 45 minute power and asked him to go out and complete three intervals of 45 minutes at 95% of his max wattage. He would rest five minutes in between, and complete the session. Simply by completing this session he set a lifetime average power personal best for a duration of 2 hours and 25 minutes! It highlighted that he just never went that hard continually. He immediately posts a personal best and now you can see the building block that this sets…aim for higher watts, go a little longer. Aim higher, go longer. You’ll soon be pushing your numbers out and increasing your FTP!
He then went back and did two more intervals at 95% of his new 45 minutes max and set another lifetime personal best. The watts were there, but he never asked his body to complete this task. This really is like a 2.5 hour interval, which sounds awful, but it’s not. 95% of your max is just REALLY FAST FUN!
Check out the video to really see what this type of workout does for my athletes and ask yourself how you can incorporate this into your training. Contact me today to get faster so that you crush all of your goals and set new personal power bests!
Do you want to get stronger on the bike? Do you want to come out next spring and drop your friends that are currently faster than you? I can make that happen for you, as I’ve done for a hundred others. Contact us today!