A key session in every time-crunched cyclist’s training plan, sweet spot training is designed to bring rapid improvements to FTP without undue stress to the body. One or two of these sessions a week will have a big impact on your fitness and will result in noticeable increases to your functional threshold power (FTP)*.
*FTP is simply how much power you can sustain for an hour. Don't know yours? Try the "FTP Test".
What is sweet spot training (SST)?
SST refers to a workout zone which cyclists can make use of to improve their power at anaerobic threshold. In simple terms this means that time spent working in this zone will help you perform better at efforts lasting anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. If you want to improve your time on the Epic KOM or raise your FTP in a short time period (6-8 weeks), it’s likely you could see some real benefit from some sweet spot training.
Why do sweet spot training?
Many cyclists have heard of the benefits of traditional base building - those long endurance sessions racers perform in the winter months to prepare for racing in Spring and Summer. What many don't know is that unless you've got the kind of hours to dedicate to training that racers do, you won't reap the benefits of traditional base building. As CTS Pro Coach Jim Ruthberg succinctly puts it, for "time-crunched amateur racers and enthusiasts, traditional base training is a waste of time."
In these cases, SST offers the flexibility and short-term performance gains that most cyclists need to enjoy their local club rides or solo excursions. British Cycling gives a concise summary of the benefits of SST:
“It’s known as the Sweet Spot because it strikes a desirable balance between the training effects you’ll get from the workouts, most significantly a rise in FTP, with a physiological strain that does not require extended recovery.”
Are there any downsides to sweet spot training?
The short answer is that it depends on the type of cycling you do. Consistently training at sweet spot intensity will train your muscles to become very efficient at working in the sweet spot zone, at the expense of explosive power. If you are a criterium racer, you might find that you can no longer keep up with the massive turns of pace required in such races. On the other hand, time trialists and those regularly ascending alpine climbs will benefit greatly from the ability to hold higher wattages for longer and will not miss their explosive power.
How to get started with SST
Launch Zwift and confirm your paired devices are all active. Click “Select a Workout” and expand the section “60-90 minutes to burn”. This will reveal a workout titled “SST (Med)”. Select it and click “Workout”.
Perform the warmup and prepare yourself for some over-under (OU) blocks. These consist of 5-minute intervals at the top end of your sweet spot zone followed by 5-minute intervals at the bottom end of your sweet spot zone, where the intensity is more manageable but still demanding, and definitely not easy enough to be considered a recovery.
Enjoy the break after the first OU block and prepare yourself for the second block. During this second block your fatigued legs may falter, but focusing on your breathing and cadence will get you through to the 10 minute cooldown at the end of the workout. Sip water, enjoy the cooldown and after stepping off the bike make sure you get a good meal to kick-start your body’s recovery.
If you are a beginner cyclist, incorporate this workout once or twice a week into your training and give yourself a day of rest after each session. You will soon reap the benefits of this focused training without the dangers that come with overtraining. Experienced cyclists seeing diminishing returns from training can perform this session twice a week in combination with VO2 max sessions to push their FTP through the roof.