Polarized training … đŸ¤”


I have been pleased with my indoor training regimen this winter. I got stronger, more flexible, and improved my VO2 Max. But training in the gym is not the same as cycling outside. Now that Spring has finally arrived, and the weather is improving, I’m switching things up. I’m going to get outside whenever possible, switch to a Polarized Training programme, and body-weight strengthening exercises so that I can train anywhere, even when a gym is not available.

Like at the cottage 😂

What is Polarized Training?

Training at an easy pace for 80% of the sessions, and essentially flat out for 20% of them is known as polarized training. It is how elite athletes train.

I’m not new to this technique. Just never knew it had a name. The key is to go slow most of the time, but work hard 1-2 times each week.

What is slow, and what is hard? 🤔

I don’t have a power meter on my bikes but I do wear a heart rate monitor integrated with my cycling computer, the VDO M6 pictured above. This particular display (there are several) highlights the percentage of ride time spent in each of 4 pre-defined heart rate zones, expressed as a % of MHR. The default zones, and the ones I use, are:

  • Zone 1 – 60-70%
  • Zone 2 – 70-80%
  • Zone 3 – 80-90%
  • Zone 4 – 90-100%

For the ride pictured above, I spent 12% in Zone 1, 59% in Zone 2, 34% in Zone 3, and 1% in Zone 4. This was a relatively hard 4 hour ride. With Polarized Training, I want to see weekly averages that look like this:

  • Zone 1 – 80%
  • Zone 2 – ∅
  • Zone 3 – 10%
  • Zone 4 – 10%

Once or twice a week, I will find a hill and do high-effort repeated climbs getting my heart rate up to 80-100% of my MHR.

Without the hard days you will only make minor gains, if any.
4 x 8 minute intervals ridden at 90% of VO2 max appear to generate the most gains. These hard days need to be done once or twice per week.

For me, that would be 4 climbs up a 3 km climb with an average grade of 5-6%.

The other days of the week, I will ride in Zone 1. That is easier said than done. That’s slower than I normally ride, and is best done alone. It means not challenging the hills, and staying off the wheel ahead.

I’ll try this for a month.

Six weeks of a polarized training-intensity distribution leads to greater physiological and performance adaptations than a threshold model in trained cyclists.

The key benefit of this training method is that despite putting in a lot of time and accumulating high mileage, there is sufficient time to recover.

It is not possible to do all of this training at a high pace.
The majority of the time, around 75-85%, is spent in zone 1. The remainder of the time is in the other zones, with emphasis on high intensity. It appears that this low intensity training provides many of the adaptions required for endurance performance without over stressing the athlete.

If you are not convinced, I suggest you read Pieter Van Pietersen’s article entitled “Polarized training for cyclists“.