Sweet Spot Workouts | 80/20 Endurance

Sweet Spot Workouts

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    I’ve been using 80/20 training plans for a couple of years. Generally I’ve been happy with them and will continue using them. It’s the only system (including coaches) that I’ve used that I haven’t ended up overtrained and/or injured. I’m training for a 70.3 this year and decided to try an online cycling basecamp program. It’s heavy on the sweet spot (SST) workouts. These are 88-95% of FTP or zone X. The explanation I’ve gotten from the coach is that work in this range “builds FTP from below” by increasing mitochondrial density. These workouts feel good to me. I’ve read through the forum and it seems that you recommend work in this range in the later stages of longer duration race training. I also read through the book and see that Ae workouts can be done in ZX. In the 70.3 plan I have Ae workouts begin in the race specific phase for run/bike and earlier for swim. My question is: at what point in the training plan would you recommend doing these workouts in ZX? Would you continue doing them in ZX all the way to the end or cut them back to Z2 in the taper?


    That’s an interesting one. When reading your post I almost right away thought “He’s referring to Trainer Road” as they do most of the workouts and plans as Sweet Spot.
    I tried them for a while and whilst it felt good initially, I ended up super fatigue after a while. Following their plans (maybe not low volume but the higher volume based ones) just killed me. I feel way better sticking to 80/20….But I cant wait for more thoughts and opinions.

    David Warden

    (disclaimer: this post got really long and demonstrative. I’m sticking with it for now, it may disappear tomorrow morning…)


    Short answer: I recommend sweet spot (Zone X) training be done only in the specific phase of training for athletes who will use Zone X intensity in their race. I would add zone X at the point at which your week-end bricks begin.

    Long answer: One of my challenges as a coach is when to be dogmatic and when not to be. There are a few universal truths in training that I really do believe should always be followed, but then there is a lot of grey area where I don’t want to give bad advise. This is not a black-and-white question, because as you pointed out, there is an important place for Zone X for many distances, particularly for 70.3 athletes.

    Where I do feel compelled to be strict is the use of Zone X outside the Specific phase of training. If Zone X is not a part of your intended race plan, it should never be used. If Zone X is a part of your race plan, yes, you should use it. But, Zone X on race day only applies to 70.3, Marathon, half marathon and maybe Ironman if you are willing to take a huge risk.

    There’s really two parts to your question (I think). The use of the sweet spot (Zone X) at all, and the use of Zone X when training for a 70.3.

    Using Zone X for base training is perfect example of the moderate intensity rut. The sweet spot feels good to you? Of course! It’s this perfect intensity that is not so hard that it does not hurt very much, but hard enough that you feel it was worth your time. I don’t recommend using it for building FTP. You know what I do recommend for building FTP? Training at FTP.

    This is going to sound cynical, and I have great respect for these other systems that promote high time in Zone X. Is that sweet spot recommendation driven by empirical evidence* or marketing data? Does this 3rd party find that athletes more likely to stay on their platform when fed sweet spot training, or fed 80/20 training?

    Do you know how hard it is to market a system that tells the athlete so slow down? We lose 75% of our potential customers in the elevator pitch. But, we do it because we know it works. We know the best athletes in the world use it*. We’ve spent almost 10 years trying to change the perception that more intensity is better.

    BUT! Yes, Zone X can and should be used for some distances in training. Specificity is as important as intensity distribution. During the specific phase of training, add that Zone X if you are using that intensity on race day. Introduce it when the week-end bricks begin (specific phase).


    *Seiler, K. S., & Kjerland, G. O. (2006). Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an “optimal” distribution? Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 16(1), 49-56.

    Esteve-Lanao, J., Juan, A. S., Earnest, C. P., Foster, C., & Lucia, A. (2005). How Do Endurance Runners Actually Train? Relationship with Competition Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 37(3), 496-504.

    Esteve-Lanao, J., Foster, C., Seiler, S., & Lucia, A. (2007). Impact of Training Intensity Distribution on Performance in Endurance Athletes. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(3), 943.

    Seller, S. (2010). What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 5(3), 276-291.

    Laursen, P. B. (2010). Training for intense exercise performance: high-intensity or high-volume training? Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20, 1-10.


    Thanks for a really detailed response. I actually hesitated to ask because there seems to be a similar amount of passion about the benefits of sweet spot intervals among the other coaching group I’ve been working with this winter. In no way did I intend to question your training plans or the 80/20 system. I guess I’m fortunate as a self coached athlete that I don’t really have any stake in this other than trying to reconcile two opposing views and to figure out if there is a useful tool in sweet spot intervals and when their use is appropriate. You gave me some useful info. I really appreciate the references. I will check them out if they’re publicly available.

    David Warden

    Definitely don’t hesitate to ask! I’m glad you did.

    The problem is that now that I have a commercial incentive in the 80/20 system, I’ve lost my objectivity. I recognize that. You really should check other sources and make an informed decision.

    However, I would challenge those other groups to offer empirical data to support sweet spot training. I’ve provided 5 studies that refute that position, what can they offer?




    Please!!! Do not remove your post!

    The integrity and forthright comments and the evolution of your plans as new research and experience emerge make your plans unique and keep me coming back.

    What you describe is a path to mastery. Having reached an age when I am often the only runner in my category winning means less than knowing. Much of what I experience and learn is contrary to what I read about aging. But, the 80/20 formula has proven to be the perfect foundation for building fitness while avoiding overtraining and injury.

    I have tried the Zone X running for preparation phase to build mileage (before entering into 80/20 race plans) and experienced the fatigue that winoria described. I do wish that you would come up with a plan for building milage; I mentioned elsewhere on the forum that I felt that the maintenance plans didn’t quite get me where I need to be for some to the longer distance plans.

    Thanks for all you are doing and helping us all to advance our running goals.


    David Warden

    @Charles, thanks for your kind comments.

    Speaking of evolution of our 80/20 system, I have some news on the Maintenance plans. We previously offered just 1 level. We will now offer 4 levels, Level 0-3, just like our other plans. They will available in the next couple of weeks and will still be free. The old Maintenance level was about a Level 1, so I expect you’ll get a good bump with our Level 2 or 3 Maintenance plan.



    If I were to do Ae workouts in zone x as discussed before, would the time in zone x still count as low intensity for the purposes of maintaining the approx 80/20 intensity balance within each week?

    David Warden

    PJ, see this post which I believe answers this question.

    Zone x

    If not, let me know and I’ll try again here.


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