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Polarized Training: More but Easier Easy and Less But Harder Hard May Be the Way

roadskater's picture

In recent weeks I've been following some podcasts and reading some studies about training as I get ready to get back to eating and training better once the sun hits me after the time shift. Last year, I had lost a lot of weight and had trained pretty well, but at A2A start line I felt weak. Carolina Century I felt much better and stronger, but I tried managing problems from the road and that didn't work.

When I think back on the best years at A2A and CC, it was after eebee and I had been to lots of long slow rides (charity rides and Silver Comet skates of 50 to 60 miles), and we had some higher heart rate work that was shorter in time. Lately, though, I had gotten into a habit of working out at around my highest average one hour heart rate. With so little time I'm able or willing to train in each week (feels like a lot!), I tend to undervalue anything where I'm not working out hard, but on the other hand, I've not typically been doing any real intensity work (maybe some one lap efforts at Country Park would count, especially if I did that 4 times, but this all gets complicated fast).

Anyway, it was with great interest that I heard about polarized training recently on the VeloNews podcast (overview page is at https://soundcloud.com/velonews):

https://soundcloud.com/velonews/fast-talk-ep-68-the-big-picture-the-three-types-of-rides-you-should-do

The very basic idea is that most of us who are not world class athletes, not even professional athletes, are probably going at our training in a way that puts more stress on us that isn't helpful, but we may also not be doing enough of the high intensity workouts that are successfully stressful. As some have put it, our submaximal efforts may be robbing quality from any high intensity workouts (anaerobic repeats) we may be doing. It turns out that workouts averaging 120 average heart rate (as a rough number that's not specific to an individual) may give us most or all of the benefits of those averaging 145 ahr, but without the same stress on the body. In fact, it's looking like 80-90% of our time in workouts should be in the lower zones, with only 10% of the time spent in the higher zones. See the podcast for details, but this is the basic idea.

I still have a lot of learning to understand what polarization studies have to say about how we should set up our workouts, and how this compares with typical "threshold training" (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/ for scientific studies).

For more info, see more of the podcasts in the VeloNews Fast Talk series, especially those with Stephen Seiler, plus other posts listed here:

https://soundcloud.com/velonews/fast-talk-ep-51-polarizing-your-training-with-dr-stephen-seiler

https://soundcloud.com/velonews/fast-talk-ep-54-applying-the-polarized-model-with-dr-stephen-seiler

https://soundcloud.com/velonews/fast-talk-ep-67-vlamax-vo2max-and-the-interplay-of-anaerobic-and-aerobic-with-sebastian-weber

https://www.joefrielsblog.com/2014/10/polarized-training-update.html

https://www.joefrielsblog.com/2018/10/duration-and-intensity-in-training.html

Polarized training has greater impact on key endurance variables than threshold, high intensity, or high volume training. - PubMed - NCBI

Does polarized training improve performance in recreational runners? - PubMed - NCBI

Specific Intensity for Peaking: Is Race Pace the Best Option? - PubMed - NCBI

Rethinking the role of fat oxidation: substrate utilisation during high-intensity interval training in well-trained and recreationally trained runn... - PubMed - NCBI

The road to gold: training and peaking characteristics in the year prior to a gold medal endurance performance. - PubMed - NCBI

Current Scientific Evidence for a Polarized Cardiovascular E... : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research

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