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.

(Sure, it’s convenient to know your Sweet Spot wattages and stay on track with a power meter, but a power meter is not a requirement here.)

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. More specifically, 84-97% of one’s FTP. (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

Doing structured training, specific to your goal event, is still important! You can’t plan on “doing some Sweet Spot workouts” and expect great results.

But if you’ve ever done a basic interval workout, and know the basic concepts of periodization, you should be able to structure a plan that’s good enough to see improvements!

(Need help with your training schedules? Really want to maximize performance? Talk to a coach.)

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

How Much Sweet Spot Training Is Appropriate?

I think one block of Sweet Spot Training in the middle of your race season is a great idea. And if you try it and like it, you might even make Sweet Spotting the primary method of training for your entire year!

You have to be thoughtful though, because Sweet Spot efforts will generate a high Training Stress Score (TSS) and Chronic Training Load (CTL).

So the question becomes, how much?

In general, you should do as much Sweet Spot as you can handle, while still being able to recover, or as much Sweet Spot as is necessary based on the types of racing you do.

(Just because you can recover faster from a Sweet Spot workout compared to some more intense types of intervals, doesn’t mean you can do unlimited Sweet Spot workouts!)

Obviously your current fitness levels could be a limiter, and if you’re a beginner, you’ll probably start with just 15 minutes of Sweet Spot intervals in each Sweet Spot workout. But as you progress, you’ll want to increase the specificity of your training, to where the volume of Sweet Spot intensity matches the demands of your races.

Sweet Spot for Road Cyclists

Depending on your preferred type of race, you may only need a small dose of SST. But if you do long road races – and especially if you like to get into the break or lead group – you’ll want to do a lot of Sweet Spot training.

So you would calculate it not just by the race duration, but the type of race strategy you use.

Sweet Spot for Mountain Bikers

Personally, I was drawn to SST because it was such a close match to the demands of the mountain bike racing I was doing. If you’re doing 2-4 hour long XC mountain bike races, chances are much of your time is spent in the Sweet Spot zone. So that should be your preferred training zone, in duration similar to what you encounter in racing.

My Final Opinion on Sweet Spot Training

I feel like SST is a great way to train, especially mid-season after a peak. It’s also very effective if you have limited training time available.

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” aerobic fitness 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 Sweet Spotting.

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

Show References

This article was originally published on April 3, 2014. It was updated and republished on July 26, 2018.

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  1. I switched to Sweet Spot training year round and now I can hang with the lead group consistently!

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