“Sweet Spot” Your Training
“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” Benjamin Franklin
Sweet Spot: There are many “sweet spot” connotations and meanings. As I refer to it here, it’s the relatively small space between over-doing on the one side and not challenging enough on the other. Sweet spot relates to threshold, training tolerance, and stress. Maximizing performance potential while minimizing undue stress is the name of the game. The goal of coaches and athletes alike is to gain the greatest amount of improvement in the shortest possible time with the least risk of injury. Successful achievement of this goal starts with knowing oneself. Knowledge of self, as well as road-mapping a realistic training plan for the upcoming season will increase performance progress as well as personal fulfillment.
In training, the body has to adapt to both physiological and psychological changes in order to perform better. The degree to which the body can adapt to training is the ultimate “sweet spot” question. Training at maximal levels too much of the time is commonly known as “overtraining” which hastens the likelihood of injury, a performance plateau, or worse. Overtraining is often to blame when training results begin to outpace racing results. However, with regular, consistent intensity-appropriate workouts, the body will grow stronger. Although risky, exceeding the body’s training threshold for brief periods can cause a kind of super fitness breakthrough. Elite training necessitates this strategy. I nickname these workouts- redlining the “sweet spot”.
The early season base training period is a particularly important time to establish just what optimal levels are for your training. To find ways to challenge yourself just enough but not too much, consider the following:
(1) Field test results: what are your season’s starting stats? Your times in the swim, bike, and run? Retesting is generally recommended every three to four weeks to see how your training is progressing your performance.
(2) Goal setting starts with a realistic appraisal of your present conditioning and times. For most athletes, goals are useful motivators. There’s a “sweet spot” to goal setting. Too many goals or goals that are unrealistic or too structured can be counterproductive. Don’t forget to reward yourself for achieving goals which are based on attitude, effort, and consistency, AKA, process goals.
(3) Get coached, at least for a period for time. Lots of “sweet spot” questions here in which good coaches are essential. How much conditioning do you need? Do you need help with biomechanics (form)? Are your goals, short & long term, reasonable? Should you concentrate more on the swim, bike, or run? I am of the opinion that a good coach, like a good teacher, is always training themselves out of a job. They are always building your expertise so you know how to be your personal best. Good coaches are not creating a dependence.
Successful strategies during the base training period produce a bigger aerobic engine. That engine will come in handy during the stepped up intensity of peak training.
Mind and body intersect as exertion and intensity elevate in the peak and race periods of the athlete’s season. During moments of extreme exertion, the “sweet spot” can also be known as a state of flow. The mental/physical “flow state” has been studied and discussed by a man whose name no one can pronounce or spell: Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi. The “state of flow” is an athlete’s Nirvana: inspired, and seemingly effortless athletic perfection. Think, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, or Roger Federer at their best. “Flow” is not a gift often given beginners. Usually, God-awful dues have been paid in brutal training of amazing talent. Wouldn’t we all like to have few moments of “perfect” play? Want to learn more about the heightened state of flow? Watch Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi discuss “flow state” here:
Dr. Timothy Noakes calls the brain the “central governor” of the body. To protect the body, the brain creates a sensation of fatigue long before depletion. You might feel fear. Your body is warning you. Keep pushing at this level and something terrible is going to happen. But will it? Noakes claims you’re really not out of gas just because that’s how you feel. Practice, focus, and courage can push athletes beyond this crippling spot. Understanding this phenomenon has helped athletes overcome fatigue and improve. Almost mysteriously, some athletes have resurrected from “the wall” to “sweet spot”. Here’s where we hear about those Olympic moments.
In conclusion, life is full of stress and all the consequences it imposes on our overall health. You must love triathlon, right? Put some time and effort into determining your training tolerances or “sweet spots”. See you at the swim start! J Susan Kelly
Coach Susan Kelly is founder & coach of Sporting Our Spirit: a sports’ coaching ministry. All athletes, all ages & abilities are welcome. Athletes who are ready to make “sport” part of their personal proving ground are our #1 focus. Coach Susan Kelly is an age group triathlete with the following certifications: USAT (Triathlon) Level II, USAT Youth & Junior (Tri), ASCA (swim) Level II, NASM Personal Trainer, Diocesan Minister, with 30 years of teaching and coaching experience. Find out more at: www.sportingourspirit.com or contact Coach Susan @ Susan@SportingOurSpirit.com.