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“.

Well, I finished the 2017 Pacific Populaire👏👏👏


Well, I finished safely 👏👏👏 This was the first group event I have completed since crashing last fall.

And, I posted the fastest time ever, despite batting a 15-20 kph headwind 50% of the time 👏👏👏

I have completed the Pacific Populaire 4 times now, and proudly display my event pins in my den. The Pacific Populaire is the first local century ride of the season, and I look forward to it each year because it keeps me motivated during the coldest, wettest months of the year in these parts. It is the same route each year, so riders learn where to safely attack, and where its better to hold back. The route is 100 km long with 17 km of climbing with grades averaging  3%, up to a maximum of 9%.

For most of the route, I rode with two other cyclists, each of us taking turns pulling, and averaging 25 kph for the entire course. It seemed faster than that. We were often travelling 30-40 kph, but had to battle a strong headwind half of the time, and because we cycle through the city, we must obey all traffic lights. You wouldn’t believe how much they can slow you down. There are ~ 25 km of the course where we were affected. We seemed to catch all the red lights 😠 So, a 25 kph average is not bad considering.

However, I feel I could have gone harder, and faster. I averaged ~ 80% of my maximum heart rate over the 4 hours, and yet had “gas left in the tank” at the end. I could have worked harder. Also, my cycling comrades pushed a more relaxed pace for 20 km, and then took a shortcut back to the finish with 20 km remaining. They tired.

In general, I was pleased with my result. I prepared differently this season, and it payed off. I felt strong, and confident on the bike, despite not having many hours in the saddle beforehand.

This is what I did differently.

  1. For 3 months, I trained 6 days a week including a modified cardio program, strength training, particularly for the cycling muscles, the legs and core.
  2. Most of the cardio workouts were completed on a Keiser spinning bike. It was too cold, icy, and wet from January – March to train regularly outside on the road bikes.
  3. I used the built in power meter on the Keiser to regulate the workouts instead of my heart rate monitor. It is a more accurate measure of effort.
  4. The cardio workouts were varied, including endurance, lactate threshold, VO2 max, and recovery rides lasting 45-60 minutes.
  5. I had specific FPT and strength goals, and retested at the beginning of each month so that I could revise my training zones (both heart rate and watts) accordingly, gradually increasing my training load.
  6. Leg workouts included leg press, hamstring curls, and leg extension exercises twice weekly. And, I lifted differently than I have in the past, lifting one-legged, and until failure, for 6-8 sets. I have lifted “heavy” for several years but this time I made an effort to balance my leg strength by doing each of the exercised one leg at a time.
  7. Core workouts included crunches, planks, pallof presses, core twists using the cable machine, and leg raises three times a week. Again, I workout “heavy”, and the pallof press was new to me.
  8. Using the Garmin activity tracker, I tracked and recorded my resting heart rate, and sleep quality every day. I had never done this consistently before and was surprised to learn that my RHR on average is in the mid forties, and that I average 9+ hours of sleep a night, including ~ 5 hours of “deep” sleep.
  9. I maintained a detailed daily log tracking every workout. I did this so that I have a guide for the next 3 months, and for next year when I plan to start the process over again.
  10. I tapered for 3 weeks prior to the event, maintaining training intensity while reducing the duration of the workouts – 30% the first week, 20% the following week, and an additional 10% the final week. I had never tapered “gradually” before, and never for 3 weeks. It worked. I felt refreshed, and eager to race by the end of it.
  11. I only managed to complete 5 road rides before the event because of the weather, gradually increasing the distance over a 2 week period, never riding more than 65 km. This was a concern but I learned you can train effectively inside.
  12. I stretched regularly, particularly on rest days. I seldom does this in the warmer months when I’m on the bikes more. I need to change this up. Stretching aids with recovery, particularly when training hard.
  13. I rested 1 day each week, and 2 days at the end of each month. This was difficult. I’m not accustomed to rest days.
  14. I paid better attention to my diet and nutrition, adding more protein, and making certain I ate within 60 minutes of every workout.

This schedule and training technique seemed to agree with me. I improved my strength, VO2 max, flexibility, and endurance.

So, what is next … 🤔

Well, I have things to work on.

For starters, I didn’t lose as much weight as I hoped. A reduction of 5-10 pounds will improve both my speed and climbing ability. Once I am at the cottage, cycling longer distances, and eating my own cooking for a few months, I will shed 10 pounds quickly.

Also, I need to cycle on the roads more frequently. Now that the weather is improving, I can switch from the spinning bike to the road bikes. I plan to ride 250-300 km every week while I’m at the cottage.

And, I had better hydrate better. I left with two full bottles, one with electrolytes, and the other plain water. I returned 4 hours later with only half a bottle gone.  I didn’t seem thirsty at the time but quickly downed 2 beer when I settled in to watch the back nine finish at the Masters. I need to do a better job of this.

Oh yeah. I need to cycle with a team of 3-4 other cyclists prepared to work as hard, and long as me. I’m going to call it Team PedalWORKS 😂

Interested … 🤔

I have registered for another century ride (MEC (Toronto) – Horseshoe Valley Century Ride) on July 15 while I’m at the cottage. That gives me another 3 months to lose the weight, accumulate more road miles, and learn to hydrate better.

I’m also going to experiment with a more polarized training schedule, but let’s leave that for a subsequent post.

Are you planning to complete a century ride soon?