Cycling’s sweet spot. You may have heard of it. Perhaps it is already an conscious part of your training programme. But where is it? What is it? And how can you best apply it in your training sessions? In this article, we look a little deeper into the theory of the sweet spot (SST).
Functional Threshold Power, or FTP
In order to best explain SST, we first have to talk a bit about functional threshold power (FTP). To move your bike forward to need apply force. The rate at which your legs apply that force to the pedals (power), is expressed in watts. You can see this as similar to a motor, in which the engine’s power is expressed in horsepower.
We can all ride a bike, but cycling fast is more difficult. In order to ride fast, you have to apply more power. In other words: generate more watts. You can increase this power by training. Every rider has a point at which, if she exerts herself over that level, her muscles will build up lactic acid and slow the whole system down—this is known as your lactate threshold.
Functional threshold power is a measure of the average amount of power that you can pedal at for one hour, without going over your lactate threshold. This is a standard measurement in cycling, and is often used to express how good/strong a cyclist is. The FTP of an un-trained individual is around 100 watts, and a professional racer may attain 400 watts. However, it is often related to a rider’s bodyweight, and expressed at watts per kilo, which effectively expresses a rider’s power-to-weight ratio.
Sweet spot, or SST
Once you have established your FTP, then you can then calculate your SST. Your sweet spot is a specific power zone based on your FTP. To be precise, it is between 88% and 94% of your FTP—so, around 90% of FTP. This means it is quite an intensive zone, but still under your lactate threshold. This is an excellent zone to train in, in order to increase your FTP. And with a higher FTP, you can ride faster, with less effort. That’s what we all want, right?
SST in training
By training in your SST zone you increase your FTP, but you recover faster from these training sessions than from FTP sessions (often long intervals at FTP power level). This means that you can effectively train more often at SST than you can at FTP. But if you haven’t done this before, don’t try and ride for 90 minutes at 90% of your FTP. There are various specific interval training sessions that work particularly well.
Start with an interval session of 4 x 8 minutes at SST, with 8 minutes of rest between each interval. If these rest periods start to feel too long, then try 4 x 10 minutes at SST, with rest periods which of 5 minutes long. The final goal is 3 x 20 minutes at SST, with 3 minute rests in between. You could even try this during a long endurance ride, for example. If you train for 10 weeks, with four training sessions a week, it’s maybe a good idea to take some rest and let the body recover. The take a new FTP test, and if it has gone up, recalibrate your SST zone. And rinse and repeat. Ride on!