Science behind Sweet Spot Methodology


#1

Can anyone point me to some science behind sweet spot methodology? Perhaps papers from Coggan et al?

I’m familiar with the blog posts from Frank Overton on Fascat (who coined the term). I used his “fatigue dependent design” idea last year with some success (on ~6 hrs weekly). I also understand the elevator pitch as it’s repeated on the web many times over.

In the interest of transparency, I’ve recently become rather skeptical of the touted benefits and I’ve never really taken the time to critically examine it. Is it beneficial but overstated? Totally awesome?

Tim


#2

It’s probably best and most succinctly explained in Chapter 5 of Coggan’s book Training and Racing with a Power Meter specifically figure 5.2. Long story short, training just below threshold gives best balance of physiological adaptation without requiring significant recovery. In other words, you can do a ton of it, and it’s intense enough to grant big gains.


#3

Appreciate the response @nash031 but that’s really just the elevator pitch and the common PowerPoint diagram.

I’m seeking out some actual literature. So authors, abstract, intro, methods, results (p values, etc), then discussion.


#4

Good luck with that. I’d point to thousands of TR users who have improved using sweet spot style training as a good starting point. But if you’re looking for lab results, I’m not sure what you expect to find. Most coaching approaches start out as theories and the only practical applications comes from athletes who use it. Again, good luck.


#5

Probably @chad is the person to ask, or a good podcast topic for the nerds (like me) among us.


#6

I think this quote can be true, but with what may be a big qualifier.

The qualifier, I think, is as follows (Note - the following statements I’m posing as what I believe based on evidence I have observed from my own experience and a lot of reading I have been doing on human energy systems. They may not be right, and I’m open to have my opinion changed :thinking:):

Training at intensities just below threshold preferentially develops the energy system that uses glycogen as fuel. This kind of training will prepare you very well as long as you are doing rides where you can rely on glycogen as a fuel source.
I have found that I feel great during rides/races that are three hours or less - likely when I still have plenty of glycogen on board.

For longer rides/races, threshold training may serve you less well, as it does not develop the energy system that uses fat as fuel as well as lower intensity training sessions. The training intensity where fat metabolism is at its highest in trained athletes is ~75% of FTP, and lower for less trained athletes.
When I do rides, in particular races, that go longer than 5-6 hours, I experience a noticeable drop off in power past the 5-6hr mark. Not a true bonk, as I’m usually refueling somewhat through eating, but my power output goes way down, while RPE goes up.

Up until recently, I have never really in my life done any long slow distance training, either on the bike, running or rugby. It’s all been mid-higher intensity stuff. An as a result, my fat metabolism is likely under developed - hence my experience above during long rides/races.

This is why I am trying a polarized approach for the next few months, where I replace all of my threshold/SS rides with lower intensity rides (~65-70% of FTP).

For riders who already have a big base, and good fat metabolism, then SS/threshold may give a big added boost. But for someone with my profile, who has only ever done mid-higher intensity training, and likely has an underdeveloped fat metabolism, I think SS/threshold training may not be the best approach, specifically in preparing for long rides.


#7

Thanks Dave, I was about to go into much more detail about how sweet spot serves some individual riders better than others, but that doesn’t seem to drive at the desires of the OP, so I left it alone since I can’t really answer his question about papers/proof that sweet spot is effective. I guess the amplifying question for the OP is “effective for what?” For me, as a TTer/climber/triathlete type rider (sustained power), sweet spot is very effective because that’s my wheelhouse. Is it what a sprinter or even a crit rider should focus on as much? Probably not.

For the longer distance riders - centuries and the like - sweet spot is undoubtedly not the best because it’s not the most specific to their racing/riding. Specificity is key when training the different systems you preferentially employ, as you allude to in your post. The reason sweet spot is often recommended, however, has to do with “life”. Many of us who race longer events can’t afford 5-6 hours on the bike with any regularity. Thus, sweet spot provides a little bit more intensity in a more compact package while also training the aerobic systems preferentially burning fat to a point and glycogen rather than ATP-burning VO2 Max efforts, etc. In short, it provides the “best” bang for your buck in terms of training time for most (but definitely not all) time-challenged athletes - it’s repeatable; it’s not demotivatingly hard (you don’t dread a sweet spot workout… usually); it generates desirable training effects for most riders in relatively little time as compared to long slow aerobic rides.

On another note, so few athletes are fully fat-adapted that even riding at lower levels of FTP are probably going to deplete glycogen significantly, even if it’s only a trickle. 5-6 hours is a looooong trickle and requires excellent fueling to sustain, even for experienced and fat-adapted athletes.


#8

I’m riding Leadville next year, hence my interest in improving my fueling for long rides.
And agree - it’s hard to find time to get out for 5-6hr rides!


#9

I do a good number of 4+ hour rides all year, and when coming home my wife either refers to my bike as “your girlfriend” (in particular for the century rides), or is fuming mad because she spent Saturday morning doing housework while I was “out playing.” :smile: Last year the agreement was only 1 long weekend ride a month, after knocking down the honey-do list during the week, and we go to the gym together on Sunday.

But she knows it keeps me sane, and is both less expensive and less time away from home versus going up to Lake Tahoe area ski resorts. :wink:


#10

This gives me an idea: I need to make a deal with my wife - she gets ski days during the week, I get bike days on the weekend :+1:t3:


#11

now your talking!


#12

I can have my 3 hr Saturday morning ride, she gets her 3 hr tennis on Wednesday nights. I need to convince her to play more tennis!


#13

I’m not familiar with any that have directly evaluated SST vs. other types of training within the same experiment. There are some good studies looking at different lengths of intervals that have been done by Stephen Seiler (not the typical training load distribution papers he’s famous for). For example, Effects of High-Intensity Training on Physiological and Hormonal Adaptions in Well-Trained Cyclists. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017 Jun;49(6):1137-1146. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001214.

You might also be interested in: Metabolic and performance-related consequences of exercising at and slightly above MLSS. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30120803
Iannetta D, Inglis EC, Fullerton C, Passfield L, Murias JM. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018 Aug 17. doi: 10.1111/sms.13280.

Always good to look at Juan Murias and Louis Passfield’s work, but again, not directly SST

I’d also look at www.hiitscience.com Paul Laursen and Martin Buchheit have put together a fantastic book and course coming in December


#14

dunno guys, I’m not a gifted endurance athlete, not well fat adapted, and got a late start cycling in my 50s. I routinely finish centuries stronger at the end, not an A group rider but can hang with them for a good amount of time on the flats (where my weight isn’t a penalty). Lots of sweet spot work, but I’m only entering my 4th season so its not too surprising from reading Joe Friel’s stuff. Liquid carbs in the bottles + some granola bars or trail mix, nothing too fancy.


#15

Hahaha…nice. Not so easy is it? Well, I’m one of the thousands who have improved using sweet spot. Frank Overton’s fatigue-dependent design is basically a formalized version of @chad common advice: “if you can’t do a SS workout, bump down to tempo, if you can’t do that, bump down to endurance”. (The context of that advice is cumulative fatigue within your mesocycle, not messing up your FTP estimate, etc). Anyway, @nash031 I’m sure you’re aware, but for those reading this who may not be, Frank Overton coined the term “Sweet Spot”, so even though I’m an avid user of TR, I have used Fascat’s training plans (essentially the source of this stuff, in my view).

@nash031 I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said, anecdotally. And I’ll say it again, and I mean it, thank you for your thoughts. I always learn something.

Yep. Exactly. I am fortunate (or unfortunate) to have come through a US collegiate cross country (running) program many moons ago. When I came to cycling a few years ago, the concept of “time-crunched” and “sweet spot” was brand new to me.

I’ve heard they’re planning a deep dive on training pretty soon. So I doubt I’ll get a response directly from @chad in this thread. It’s a huge topic.

And up until recently (as a runner), I’d never done any but long slow distance training (with higher intensity at some point of course).

Exactly. I’m seeking peer-reviewed journal articles or reviews. My guess (as you’ve suggested) is that it’s accepted coaching lore and that whereas it my not be entirely non-scientific, it’s not as cut-and-dried as “here’s a group of studies with a control group of ppl doing x, and y doing threshold training”. Or even: “here’s a bunch of training logs in aggregate”, which is a lot what Matt Fitzgerald and Seiler have done.

Thanks @gdumanoir. I’ll check all those out. It’s actually all that Seiler, Neil, et al work and the polarized discussion in the community at large and on TR threads that led me on this quest. We seem to be trying to pick apart the science around all of that (which is good). But I haven’t seen the same rigor applied to what we (cyclists in general, not just TR users) practice week in and week out, mid-to-high tempo zone intervals.

Tim


#16

As you may know, I’ve been looking for those too.

Given that it took about 20 years before any studies were done on Polarized training I think we might be in for a long wait.

Mike


#17

I think this alone can’t be used as a valid argument. Making untrained people stick to any kind of structured training program would produce noticeable results.

I am also interested in insights how this type of training is suited for people who want cycling to be their lifelong hobby.


#18

Not all TR users are untrained.


#19

Science showing what?

I’m not familiar with any of the TR or Fascatcoaching SST plans, however, I know quite a few “real” people doing pretty well competitively on SST. It has always been my understanding that SST serves as a time-limited-person’s surrogate for traditional base training. At some point every rider I know increases or adds intensity. Therefore, I find it weird when they do studies where they compare weeks of POL with so called THR, which is in reality only Tempo and zero intensity. Who trains that way?

How do you study the effect of base training? Are there actually any long term studies - with the exception of these horse studies - that have studied the effect of base training, may it be SST or slower endurance riding, on subsequent blocks of intensity? Isn’t this what SST is all about?

the only exception that I’m aware of are these preparations for hour time trials where many athletes seem so work in the SST rance. Though isn’t this some kind of base training as well?

With regards to studies conducted at SST effort level one would have to look back 20-40years. Many of the early interval studies or metabolism studies where conducted in that range. Question is, science on what?


#20

I don’t know how long you’ve been trying the TR SS/Threshold plans, and what kind of result you’ve seen, but if SS/Threshold work is a new stimulus for your body, I’d expect you might see training adaptations pretty quickly.

This is similar logic I’m relying on when I hope to see endurance rides (which I’ve not historically done much of) improving my aerobic/base fitness, specifically, fat metabolism.