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The Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Sweet Spot Training (SST)

Sweet Spot Training, or “SST” for short, is one of the newer methodologies used for structuring training for endurance sports.

It breaks away from the most traditional method – periodization.

It might sound complicated when you first read about it, but in practice, it’s relatively simple and makes a lot of sense, especially if you don’t have tons of hours available for training purposes.

Keep reading to see what it is and how you can use it to your advantage…

 

What Sweet Spot Training Is

The term “Sweet Spot Training” was coined by Frank Overton and his research group (including Dr. Andy Coggan, Ph.D and other prominent figures) in 2005 and introduced in this article. According to Frank:

“The underlying principle of sweet spot training is a balanced amount of intensity and volume that produces a maximal increase in an athlete’s functional threshold power (FTP).”

Essentially, you balance intensity with volume to hit the “sweet spot” where you are able to improve both endurance and FTP as much as possible.

You can also think of it as combining the base and build phases of a traditional periodization plan into one phase.

 

What Sweet Spot Training Is NOT

SST is not traditional base training where you put in tons of miles at a fairly easy pace to build aerobic base fitness. It’s not quite the same as a build phase, either, since volume is still relatively high. And it’s definitely not a substitute for VO2max, anaerobic, or neuromuscular intervals.

Just think of it as a concept to apply to your training year; it’s not an exact training plan.

And finally, remember that it’s ‘sweet,’ not magical or revolutionary!

 

Traditional Base Miles vs Sweet Spot Training

When you’re putting in your base miles for the season, you essentially have one goal – building your aerobic endurance. So, training volume is huge, while intensity is low to moderate. (Which is fine, because you’ll ramp up intensity in the build phase, when you cut back on volume.)

If you choose to apply the concept of SST to your schedule, your base and build phases will mesh together into one. This phase is going to be moderately high in both volume and intensity. It’s harder than traditional base training and prepares you for most racing situations.

However, much like base training, it won’t prepare you for killer hills, attacks, finish line sprints, etc. (Like I said, it’s not a substitute for that type of intensity.)

 

Sweet Spot Training, By the Numbers

So, now you are beginning to understand the concept of SST. Next, we need to figure out how to actually turn that into something tangible you can use!

If you’ve never done a threshold test, that’s going to be your first step. If you have a power meter, great, you can figure out your actual threshold power. (Read all about it in Training and Racing with a Power Meter.)

No power meter? No problem! You can use heart rate (HR) or rating of perceived exertion (RPE). Remember, SST is a concept. It can be applied to whatever measurements you’re using.

The key is to find the pace, power, HR, or RPE you can sustain for 60 minutes. Everything else will be based off this reference point.

According to Dr. Coggan’s graph, the sweet spot occurs between 70-100% of your FTP.

Sticking with Coggan’s schema, this means your SST will be at the upper end of Level 2 through the lower end of Level 4. (Which translates to roughly 80-100% of your threshold HR or an RPE from 3-5, if that’s your style.)

So, you could use a wide variety of workouts here. Need suggestions? Continue to the next section…

 

What Your Sweet Spot Training Might Look Like

Since SST is just a concept, figuring out your sweet spot is just the beginning. Structuring your training plan is still going to be just as tedious as ever!

You’ll likely use a combination of 2-5 hour LSD rides, 2×20 threshold intervals, and lots of tempo riding (spirited group rides, for example.)

Here’s an example training week you could see during an SST phase:

Monday: 30 minute recovery spin

Tuesday: 1 hour ride with 2×20 threshold intervals

Wednesday: 2 hour LSD/endurance ride

Thursday: 2 hour tempo ride

Friday: 1 hour endurance ride

Saturday: 2-3 hour group ride (with the fast group)

Sunday: 2-4 hour LSD/endurance ride

 

When To Use Sweet Spot Training

Sweet Spot Training fits into your schedule anytime you’d be doing base and build periods. So, the very beginning of the season, or even better, mid-season after a proper taper and peak (and short recovery break.)

Since you probably plan to peak a second time, you sort of have to go ‘back to the drawing board’ when it comes to endurance. See, your aerobic endurance will have dropped during your taper, and you need to build it back up, and pronto.

Assuming your next goal race is in late summer or early fall, there’s no time for three months of base miles right now! SST is the perfect way to rebuild your endurance in record time.

Your year-long training may resemble this:

  • Prep
  • Base
  • Build
  • Taper
  • Peak
  • Recover
  • SST
  • Taper
  • Peak
  • Recover

 

My Final Opinion on Sweet Spot Training

I feel like SST is a great way to train, especially mid-season after a peak.

Complete beginners would be best served by one year of traditional periodization (as in The Cyclist’s Training Bible,) because it’s so critical to fully build your aerobic endurance base.

But if you have 1-2 years experience, you’ll have some accumulated “base” carryover, which will help you make the most of SST. Similarly, the more experience you have and better you know your body, the more you’ll get out of SST.

 

Are you incorporating SST into your training plan? Is it helping? Let me know in the comments!

 

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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