Sweetspot Training: Pros and Cons
If you're pressed for training time, you'll no doubt have heard of "sweetspot". But do you know exactly what it is, or how you might use it to your advantage?
In this post, I'll go over what sweetspot training is, the benefits and drawbacks of it for cyclists and mountain bikers and end with a few workout ideas you can add into your training plan right now.
Here's the video and the full post is below:
What is sweetspot training?
It’s a name given to the training intensity that supposedly gives you the best bang for your training time. It sits at the top of zone 3, right below your functional threshold heart rate or power.
The idea is that it allows for an ideal balance between time spent training and a high enough level of intensity to cause strong adaptions.
It’s used to boost the lactate threshold, but also work on aerobic fitness too, given that intervals can be quite long. In this way then, it seems to tick quite a few training boxes.
Sweetspot Training Benefits
Number one is that sweetspot is great for those with limited time to train. I’m talking less than 8 hours per week here.
When you can’t put in multiple 3 hour plus rides in a week to work on your aerobic base, you need to take shortcuts. This is what sweetspot is there for. It’ll help build your aerobic base, but also tap into the higher intensities too.
Next, sweetspot is often quite specific to a lot of what cyclists experience in competitive situations. It’ll prepare you well for a fast group ride, longer time trials as well as climbing in endurance events like sportives or a mountain bike marathon race.
A third benefit to sweetspot is that it’s, dare I say, enjoyable. It’s an intensity that is manageable but still feels like you’re working hard and getting something out of yourself.
Training needs to be fun and motivating, and sweetspot certainly gives that rewarding feeling when you’re actually performing it and when you’re analysing post-ride.
Finally, you’ll find that sweetspot won’t induce overtraining as easily as threshold or higher intensities, given that it’s aerobic in nature.
Don’t get me wrong, you can get mentally burnt out with it, but as long as you’re progressive and sensible, it shouldn’t dig you into too much of a physical hole.
Sweetspot Training Drawbacks
The flip side to sweetspot is that it’s a bit of a jack of all trades, i.e. a master of none.
Whilst it’s good for those on a time budget, it’s not the best way to train for those with more to invest.
Firstly, sweetspot isn’t as potent as longer, low intensity rides when it comes to some key endurance benefits like fat utilisation. You’ll be burning through far more carbohydrate that you would otherwise and won’t be able to ride as long at this relatively high intensity.
So for those with time to ride for more than 3 hours at a time, a sweetspot session would be best replaced with a longer ride.
Secondly, if you want to actually boost your threshold power in a more purposeful way, you’re better actually training AT your lactate threshold, or pulling it up by training slightly above it.
Sweetspot can suffer from being a bit too vague when it comes to specific goals for training sessions, as training for any type of cycling discipline needs a wholistic and varied approach.
Lastly, another drawback is that because of all these supposed benefits, riders have a habit of only training at this intensity, or at least doing it too much, thinking it’s a magic bullet.
This can leave them shortchanged when it comes to a properly organised training plan, which relies on a balanced approach at many levels.
One final note I’ll mention is that when you look at the training of the pros, you’ll be hard pressed to find many that do much sweetspot at all. That could be quite telling.
Example Sweetspot Workouts
Like I say, I’d advise sweetspot as a good solution for those without much time to train. I also think it’s OK as distinct workouts within a wider plan for those with more time.
That said, here are some ways you can use sweetspot to best effect.
- You could do a series of 2 to 3x 25 minute intervals in a 1 to 1.5H ride.
- You might want to perform a whole 45 minute segment of a shorter ride at sweetspot, bookended with a 10-15 minute warm up or cool down
- You could add in some 20 minute sweetspot blocks into a longer endurance ride when it comes to transition to higher intensity training as the season approaches.
Finally, I’ll note that sweetspot in any of these forms is a great choice for training indoors.
You don’t have to sit there for hours and you can pretty easily dial in this kind of medium-hard intensity on the turbo trainer, so what’s not to love?
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