What I Learned from Sweet Spot Training

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Training is soul crushing. I keep away from it like a hot-tub norovirus. Don’t get me mistaken, I like using bikes (mountain, gravel, and highway) and snowboarding (Nordic, backcountry, and alpine) and usually take into account myself a match man. But the few instances I’ve tried to truly prepare for biking, with all of the rigmarole of energy meters, inflexible scheduling, midweek intervals, and back-to-back five-hour weekend rides, I burned out on the drudgery by week 2 and shortly reverted to my established order: having enjoyable hammering with pals.

The drawback with selecting recreation over coaching, although, is that the physique adapts to routine stress (train) and shortly finds homeostasis. Your health flatlines. And when it’s time to compete in an occasion like a 50-mile summer season mountain bike race, fall gravel grinder, or perhaps a beery Saturday cyclocross jamboree with snow threatening, you received’t dwell as much as your potential. Riding ain’t racing.

To get quick, most coaches will inform you, 1 should embrace a periodized plan of polarization, that means a schedule (the periodized half) through which an athlete mixes high-volume work at low depth and high-intensity work at low quantity (polarization) to hit peak type on race day. A polarized week may contain 2 prolonged weekend rides at a gentle tempo, plus 2 to a few high-intensity midweek exercises. There’s no arguing that polarized coaching works—it’s a coaching staple for Tour de France cyclists. But even for leisure cyclists, it might probably fairly shortly suck up 16 to 20 hours in every week, which is why I’ve by no means been capable of decide to such a plan.

Luckily, although, there’s one other strategy to ramp up your health for an endurance occasion. It’s referred to as candy spot coaching, and it includes focusing your effort on reasonably laborious weekend using with only a sprint of threshold (race tempo) work and average efforts thrown in midweek. Which occur to be the issues that give me biking pleasure. If I might someway make that work in a periodized schedule, there was hope that I might get quicker with out boring myself right into a roadside ditch or kicking myself for my half-assed makes an attempt at intervals.

Sweet spot coaching dates again to 2004, when Frank Overton, of Boulder, Colorado–primarily based FasCat Coaching, was simply breaking into the enterprise. At the identical time, energy meters, which gauge how a lot work you’re doing on a motorbike way more precisely than a coronary heart fee monitor or perceived exertion, have been turning into extensively obtainable.

As an early check, Overton labored with famed train physiologist Andy Coggan to graph a couple of months of energy meter information from Overton and a dozen different athletes. The end result was a near-perfect bell curve that provided a tantalizing coaching secret: Focus the majority of your exercises in the course of the bell curve, and also you’ll maximize your effectivity on the bike and get well quicker than you do from high-intensity intervals. Coggan drew a circle on the graph: the candy spot.

Intrigued, Overton constructed himself a periodization schedule heavy on reasonably laborious using backed by attainable threshold intervals (these sustained efforts simply past the candy spot curve) and promptly earned his greatest placement ever on the 2005 Colorado State Time Trial Championships. “I produced the most power of my entire life,” he says. “I just smashed my A race.”

In the years since, Overton has included candy spot coaching into 1000’s of customized plans and web-based packages for professional and leisure athletes with comparable success. You nonetheless bake in the remainder days and restoration blocks of a periodized plan, however the exercise higher emulates what most workaday athletes do for enjoyable and with time commitments which can be attainable. So I got down to see if it might work for me, too.


Late final summer season, with no path, I began incorporating my very own interpretation of candy spot coaching into my journey schedule. For me that meant that on weekends, as a substitute of using for six hours with my coronary heart fee round 135, I went out and climbed for 3 hours with my coronary heart fee at 155. I did this for about 5 weeks; by September, I used to be using noticeably quicker.

This summer season, I made a decision to see what a proper plan might do for me and signed up for one among FasCat’s six-week, $50 web-based coaching packages. It would culminate with me racing the Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge, Colorado. I’d raced the Firecracker a couple of years earlier and completed with a decent time in my class, however I used to be certain I might enhance my end result with some structured coaching. FasCat’s description of the plan promised that I’d quickly be “sweet spotting up the wahzoo.”

training
(Liam Doran)

My six-week plan included eight to 12 hours every week of using—versus coaching—with 1 huge week the place I bumped as much as 16 hours. (I sometimes journey eight to 12 hours every week anyway.) The huge week concerned a masochistic six-hour mountain bike journey, plus some extra-credit spinning with my son, however the remainder of the plan was simply included into my regular journey schedule. To examine: An equal huge week on a polarized routine would require 16 to 20 hours of using.

Before we might discover my candy spot zone, which differs for everybody, Overton wanted some information. I used to be tasked with performing what’s referred to as a practical threshold energy (FTP) check, which is train jargon for going as laborious as you possibly can maintain for 20 minutes up a gentle climb.

Plugging that coronary heart fee data and the facility information from the meter on my bike right into a FasCat spreadsheet advised me what I already knew from years of using with a coronary heart fee monitor: My candy spot goal was between 148 and 164 bpm, 90 to 98 % of my FTP. During my first summer season of self-directed candy spot coaching, I’d guesstimated it at 155 bpm, which, as an growing older athlete, is precisely 90 % of my max coronary heart fee. My goal wattage was within the 193 to 226 vary, which is so tiny in comparison with larger, stronger skilled riders that I’m embarrassed to even kind it. Anyway, that was the final time in the course of the six-week program that I paid a whiff of consideration to my energy rankings.

Moderately laborious using is good spot using. The tempo is more durable than a straightforward tempo, a pace you might maintain for hours whereas chatting on and off, however not as laborious because the higher reaches of threshold, the place speaking is sort of inconceivable. At the candy spot, you’re audibly respiratory however not gasping. Your tolerance of struggling could differ, however on a perceived exertion scale of 1 to 10, I’d put my candy spot zone within the five-to-seven vary. (Hard-ass Overton says it’s from 4 to 6.) If you’re climbing with pals and going laborious however not making an attempt to assault, you’re most likely sweet-spotting. And the truth is, group rides are rife with candy spot efforts—particularly if you happen to transfer to the entrance and pull the peloton into the wind if the tempo feels too simple.

All of which is why FasCat’s six-week plan labored so properly for me: I simply included the prescribed efforts into my weekly rides. A typical candy spot week concerned 1 three-to-four-hour journey on the weekend, ultimately using within the candy spot half of the time. Then I did 3 90-minute rides midweek. One targeted on threshold work—basically race tempo. A 2nd outing would contain what are referred to as tempo bursts—cranking up the pace for 30 seconds whereas using in that chatty tempo zone. And a 3rd outing may require 20 to 40 minutes of candy spot efforts. Throw in an elective restoration journey, the place you’re merely spinning the pedals at an all-day tempo, and name it 9 to 10 hours all collectively. And sure, these periodized relaxation days are baked in. For the weekend journey, I simply rode with quicker pals to remain within the candy spot.

By week 3 of the candy spot program, the advantages have been kicking in, and I used to be using comfortably with quicker teams. Ten days earlier than the Firecracker, I entered a 17-mile mountain bike race at altitude and stunned myself by nabbing 3rd on the knowledgeable podium in my age group. A restoration block simply previous to the Firecracker had me feeling well-rested and superhuman on the weekly membership journey. And then got here the massive race.

Overton had promised that using on the candy spot provides you a 2nd benefit over polarization: Because it simulates racing, going reasonably laborious higher prepares your legs for the sustained effort of a protracted mountain bike race. When I raced the Firecracker 2 years prior, I let the lead group roll away from me as I discovered my snug tempo. But this 12 months, I had the legs to carry their wheels till we entered the singletrack. Looking round, I’d already improved my positioning by 5 locations over the earlier 12 months. Now I simply wanted to carry on and settle into the highest finish of my candy spot tempo.

And then, rocketing down a hearth highway strewn with talus, I exploded the air out of my rear tire and someway broke the valve stem. An epic flat-tire situation ensued, which ultimately noticed me pull out of the race. But I had one other check coming simply 5 weeks later: the Steamboat Stinger. The race is 53 miles lengthy (90 % of it on singletrack) with 7,000 toes of climbing. Despite the knowledgeable teaching, I’m probably not a lot of a racer. I screwed up the beginning and acquired behind a line of slower riders I couldn’t move. But even after shedding my mojo—I race higher when I’ve rabbits in sight and again off once I’m remoted—I took ten minutes off my 2015 time and completed feeling form of recent.

Meaning I went simpler however completed quicker—which is the last word testomony to a conditioning program.


Find Your Sweet Spot

Want to guesstimate your candy spot zone with out a energy meter? A devoted coronary heart fee monitor or perhaps a smartwatch with coronary heart fee on the wrist will do. First, discover a gradual climb with none dips within the highway to allow you to get well. Warm up as you’ll for a race, after which hit your timer and journey for 20 minutes at your most sustained effort. If you’re an extrinsically motivated slacker like I’m, ask a quicker good friend to tempo you, staying a couple of bike lengths in entrance so that you don’t cheat of their draft. Your common coronary heart fee after 20 minutes is your practical threshold. That’s the intense prime finish of your candy spot zone. Multiply it by 90 % to seek out the underside of the zone. After six weeks, retest your self to fine-tune.

Sweet Spot for Cyclocrossers

Since cyclocross races are comparatively brief, 90-minute efforts, many informal racers assume you don’t want to coach a lot for distance. Overton, who additionally focuses on cross, will dissuade you of that opinion. In summer season, his cross athletes candy spot prepare for six, 12, or 18 weeks earlier than he redirects them to shorter and extra intense efforts. “The trick,” Overton says, “is to leave time post–sweet spot training to allow for cross-specific intervals—usually that’s three to six weeks.”

Trick Yourself into Training

My “Six Weeks to the Sweet Spot” plan was tailor-made completely to the calls for of a largely solitary and extended effort like a 50-mile mountain bike race or a very long time trial, the place you’re actively avoiding redlining and making an attempt to not surge. But highway races, cyclocross, and sub-three-hour mountain bike races require extra top-end energy to chase down breakaways, get the outlet shot, or move on that last ramp earlier than the downhill. In such instances, including high-intensity interval coaching to prime off your candy spot type is a should. FasCat teaching will set you up with a plan. Can’t make your self do intervals solo? On your subsequent group journey, let your self drift off the again of the peloton after which chase again on. Do this six instances—or till you get spit out.

(Editor references)

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