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Polarized Training a Dialectic

Below, in the spirit of the great continental philosophers, is a dialectic that attempts to synthesize the typical arguments that arise when debating a polarized training approach.

It is not intended to serve as an introduction to Polarized training, there are many of those in-print and online. I think that Joe Friel's blog post is a good intro for us amateurs.

Elite athletes have been shown in a number of studies to train in a polarized manner - 80/20 split of workouts targetting polarised zones 1 and 3 [1][2][3]

There is variation across sports in how that ~20% is split between time in Z2 and Z3 [1]
There is more than one way to skin a cat and coaches will adapt general principles to specific needs of the sport.

The key message remains: Elite athletes adopt plans that include high-volumes of low intensity and low-volumes of high-intensity.
Elite athletes have also been shown to train in a pyramidal manner [13]
Polarized Zones are between LT1/VT1 and LT2/VT2 [1]

LT1/VT1 and LT2/VT2 can be identified using a number of field based approaches [4][5][6][7]

You can follow guidelines on mapping LT1/LT2 to cycling power to make it useful for amateur cyclists.
Polarized zones are hard to pin down without lab tests and therefore too vague for amateur use
Polarized Principles suggest spending ~80% of time predominantly in Z1 and ~20% of time predominantly in Z3. [1]

If you are not following the polarized principles then you’re not following a polarised training plan.

That’s ok, if it’s ok for you.
How can I assess if I am following a polarized training programme when my rides don’t fall neatly into the polarized classification scheme.

The ratio of 4:1 low to high intensity workouts is to enable the athlete to accumulate volume but be fresh when its time to work hard [1]

If you’re doing Z3 work that needs you to be fresh then its probably a Z3 workout.

I do my Z3 sprints in long rides, I can’t classify them using the polarized scheme, so it must be flawed in some way.
Many amateur athletes fall into the trap of going too hard on easy days and not hard enough on hard days
The training black hole may be a problem for some, might not be a problem for all.
I am not convinced this is a common phenomena.
Avoid working in the no-mans land zone close to threshold as it is the worst of both worlds

No synthesis possible – need evidence to asses both positions
I don’t agree with the polarized approach of avoiding Z2.
I like spending time working near threshold as it is the best bang for buck, especially for time crunched cyclists.
Amongst other things, high volume work has been shown to promote a greater increase in mitochondrial density, whilst high intensity  has been shown to promote a greater increase in mitochondrial function when compared directly with working at threshold. [8][9][10]

Confirmation bias might be at play, look at the available evidence and make up your own mind.
Dr. Andrew Coggan, one of SST biggest advocates admits there is no study or empirical evidence to support the claim that SST is the best bang for buck. [11]
No-one is claiming it is about polarized vs SST, its about minimising time spent in THR/SST zones when following a polarized approach.

The efficacy of SST always arises when discussing POL because it is conflict with the central principle of avoiding spending too much time in Zone 2.

Depending upon the nature of the event and sport being trained for, the time spent in Zone 2 can vary significantly.

SST is generally to be avoided if you are following a polarized training approach.

For some sports more time is spent in Zone 2 is appropriate depending upon the demands of the sport and duration of the event.
Don’t conflate a training intensity distribution with a training intensity its not about Polarized vs SST.

You are comparing apples with oranges.
If you haven’t trained in any other ways then this doesn’t add much to the debate. But if it works for you then thats great.

There is evidence that just increasing frequency of training (more volume) helps so-called non-responders. [14]

There is evidence that belief in the plan plays a part in determining training outcomes, but will also bias your assessment of it. [12]

Increasing frequency and volume helps many athletes, if you aint tried it, you'll never know.

But hey ...

Choose the approach you are happiest with – you are more likely to stick with it if you do.
When I spend time working at SST I get my best results. Its always worked well for me. Polarized is for elite athletes that have lots of time to train.

Online References

[1] Seiler, K. S. and Kjerland, G. Ø. (2006), Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an “optimal” distribution? (

[2] Espen Tønnessen , Øystein Sylta, Thomas A. Haugen, Erlend Hem, Ida S. Svendsen, Stephen Seiler (2014) The Road to Gold: Training and Peaking Characteristics in the Year Prior to a Gold Medal Endurance Performance (

[3] Seiler, K.S. (2016) Lecture Presentation, European Endurance Conference. ('s_Hierarchy_of_Endurance_Training_Needs)

[4] Rodríguez-Marroyo JA1, Villa JG, García-López J, Foster C. (2013) Relationship between the talk test and ventilatory thresholds in well-trained cyclists. (

[5] Vesterinen V, Nummela A, Ayramo S, Laine T, Hynynen E, Mikkola J, Häkkinen K. (2016) Monitoring Training Adaptation With a Submaximal Running Test Under Field Conditions. (

[6] Pringle JS, Jones AM. (2002) Maximal lactate steady state, critical power and EMG during cycling (

[7] Mattioni Maturana F, Keir DA, McLay KM, Murias JM. (2017) Critical power testing or self-selected cycling: Which one is the best predictor of maximal metabolic steady-state? (

[8] Thomas Stöggl and Billy Sperlich (2014) Polarized training has greater impact on key endurance variables than threshold, high intensity, or high volume training (

[9] Cesare Granata, Rodrigo S. F. Oliveira, Jonathan P. Little, Kathrin Renner & David J. Bishop (2017) Sprint-interval but not continuous exercise increases PGC-1α protein content and p53 phosphorylation in nuclear fractions of human skeletal muscle (

[10] Neal CM, Hunter AM, Brennan L, O'Sullivan A, Hamilton DL, De Vito G, Galloway SD. (2013) Six weeks of a polarized training-intensity distribution leads to greater physiological and performance adaptations than a threshold model in trained cyclists (

[12] Svein S. Andersen, Per Øystein Hansen & Thorvald Hærem. How elite athletes reflect on their training: strong beliefs – ambiguous feedback signals (

[13] Stöggl TL, Sperlich B. (2015) The training intensity distribution among well-trained and elite endurance athletes. (

[14] Montero, Lundby (2016) Refuting the myth of non-responders. (

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