Sweet spot training for cyclists

By Frank Overton, Cycling Plus | Tuesday, August 21, 2012 7.00am

Training in your 'sweet spot' can raise your functional threshold power (FTP) using short sessions. Here to tell us how is Frank Overton from FasCat Coaching, who coined the phrase sweet spot to describe a training concept originally formulated by Andy Coggan.

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What is it?

The sweet spot relates to a balance in the intensity and volume of your training. It lies at around 90 percent of threshold power. If you don’t have a power meter (see why power measurement is important) this roughly equates to 95 percent of your threshold heart rate, or you can consider this level as ‘medium hard.' Note that your functional threshold heart rate is not  your maximum heart rate; instead, 'functional threshold' refers to the average power, or heart rate, that you could hold for an hour time trial.

Training at this sweet spot is more sustainable than threshold work and less time-consuming than endurance training, so cyclists can repeat it frequently and see real improvements. 

Free form

The 90-minute free-form session involves going out and riding hard. Start at 95 percent of your threshold power. As you fatigue let your wattage fall slightly but continue to push. You should accept that your wattage will rise and fall as the fatigue sets in, but at about 90 percent power you will be riding in the sweet spot. 

Analyse the data from your ride afterwards. Each consecutive time you repeat this ride you should aim to hold the sweet spot for a longer period – this will eventually increase your threshold power.

Group riding and climbs are great for sweet spot training – try combining the two!:

A hilly group ride – two training techniques ticked off in one go

Group rides

When you’re in a group, take longer stints in the front rather than drafting. Do more work, be aggressive. Check your power meter to confirm you are working at around 90 percent - or 95 percent on your heart rate monitor. 

If you find your group is holding you back, try to ride with cyclists who are better than you. Don’t be disheartened if this means you have to sit at the back, just know you are bettering yourself. 

Riding with stronger riders makes you stronger – often because you are pushing your sweet spot watts. Download your data after each ride and monitor your improvements.

Related links

Sweet climb

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a hilly or mountainous region, climbs are an excellent way to train. Try to remain within the sweet spot from the bottom to the top of any climb you do. Remember to keep track of the total time you spend climbing so that you are able to note improvements. 

This workout offers more freedom and motivation than structured intervals such as 3x15 minutes. A good example is an 18-minute climb followed by a 10-minute climb and finished off with a final 15-minute climb. This provides a good block of solid work in a stimulating format.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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