If you need to make the most of limited riding time, sweet spot training is your friend. Whether you want to get fitter, prepare for a challenging sportive or improve your road racing, sweet spot training offers more bang for your buck than just about any other form of training.
What is sweet spot training?
Sweet spot training bridges the gap between steady rides that build a good base of endurance and high intensity interval training. British Cycling describes the sweet spot as the upper end of zone three and the bottom end of zone four. That’s 88-93% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) or threshold heart rate.
If you don’t know your threshold power it’s worth performing an FTP test to determine these figures accurately. But if you don’t have a power or heart rate target to work to, then you can gauge your effort on feel. Sweet spot training should seem tough but not painful. It should be possible to speak, but only in short sentences, and after half an hour or so you’ll feel fatigue creeping into your legs. Training at this level requires concentration, but it’s not a race-pace effort.
What are the benefits of sweet spot training?
As the name implies, sweet spot training hits the bull’s-eye between endurance training and very intense efforts. It’s hard enough to encourage physiological adaptations, but not so hard that you’ll need an extended period of recovery.
In other words, sweet spot training makes you a fitter and quicker cyclist but doesn’t batter the body the way high intensity intervals do. You should still feel ready to ride the day after sweet spot training. Your legs won’t be completely fresh, but they shouldn’t be sore or stiff. This makes sweet spot training especially useful if you commute to work by bike and need to be able to ride day after day.
What’s a typical sweet spot training session?
A 2×20 minute session, once or twice a week, can bring rapid results. After a thorough 20-minute warm-up ride in the sweet spot zone, recover for four minutes then repeat. The second 20 minutes will feel harder than the first, especially towards the end, but it should be sustainably hard rather than super tough.
What kind of rider benefits most from sweet spot training?
Any rider can improve by incorporating sweet spot rides into their training programme. It’s especially useful if you ride regularly but struggle to find the time for very long rides (say, three hours plus).
Sweet spot training lifts the body’s anaerobic threshold and will help you sustain speed over periods of several minutes to an hour. It’s great if you race time trials or want to improve your ability to tackle long climbs.
What are the drawbacks of sweet spot training?
Although working in the sweet spot offers a very effective workout, that’s not to say that all your training should be in this one zone.
Long steady rides will build and maintain an endurance base, while high-intensity intervals will boost top-end speed. If you want a finishing kick, then short, all-out efforts will complement your sweet spot training. Training should be tailored to your aims and the kind of cycling you participate in.
So, don’t make the mistake of thinking that sweet spot training is the be-all and end-all of becoming a better cyclist, but one or two sweet spot sessions a week will make you fitter and faster.