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Polarisation of Training

Polarised Training is a term used to describe a training methodology which splits training predominantly between low and high intensity with very little time spent in-between. It has garnered significant support in recent years due to positive results from recent studies.

To determine whether this training approach may be useful it is important to have an understanding of the way in which it is studied and how training intensity distribution is understood differently in the literature and by some coaches and athletes.

Defining training zones for the use of polarisation.

The graph below breaks training down into Zone 1 = Easy, Zone 2 = Medium and Zone 3 = Hard. These zones are then anchored at the bottom end by 50% of VO2 max at the low end and 100% of Vo2 max at the top.

The boundaries that divide zones 1 and 2 and zones 2 and 3 are defined by physiological anchor points commonly determined by either blood lactate concentration or gas exchange methods. These anchor point are known by a range of names but are most commonly referred to as either Lactate thresholds 1 &2 (LT1& LT2), Ventrilatory thresholds 1&2 (VT1& VT2) or the Aerobic and Anaerobic thresholds.

Researchers commonly utilise this 3-zone system to break down and investigate how changing the training intensity distribution effects an athlete’s performance. This is different from the wide variety of training zones that are typically utilised by coaches which usually range from 5-7 zones and break down training intensity into much smaller chunks.

Training intensity distribution in polarised training.

It is the way that training time is split between these zones that defines the polarisation training method. Typically for training to be considered polarised the training intensity distribution needs to be 75-80% in zone 1, 5% of time in zone 2 and 15-20% in zone 3.

This varies considerably from the other main training intensity distribution approaches namely Threshold (THR), High Volume and Pyramidal which are characterised by distinctly different intensity distributions.

Guidelines for training intensity distributions across the main approaches

Why the interest in polarised training?

A number of research studies including studies by Stoggl & Sperlich (2014) and Neal et al. (2013) have noted significant improvements in exercise performance when athletes have completed polarised training interventions including in VO2 PEAK, peak power output, high intensity exercise capacity, power at lactate threshold and time to exhaustion. See the table at the end of the article for a review of the results of these studies.

This has sparked a renewed interest among both coaches and athletes on the training intensity debate and the best training way to prescribe training with some arguing that a polarised training approach is necessary to achieve peak performance. Whilst the evidence for a polarised training approach looks promising there are a few important points to consider prior to implementing this approach.

Issues to consider when interpreting or implementing polarised training

There are a couple of important points to note between the zones and intensities expressed in the literature and those used by coaches and athletes on a day to day basis.

  1. Adjusting the 3 zone system used in the literature to fit with the more commonly used 6-7 zone systems.
  2. The increasing use of power to prescribe training may influence the recommended split between zones.
  3. Many coaches and athletes use the performance marker of functional threshold power (FTP) rather than the physiological markers of lactate thresholds to define our zone system.
  4. Does polarised training fit with the training principal of specificity and the demands of your event?

If you have any questions about polarised training or the right training distribution to help you get the most out of your training, please feel free to get in touch with us at FTP Training.

Summary of recent studies into training intensity distribution among cyclists

References

  • Stöggl, T., & Sperlich, B. (2014). Polarized training has greater impact on key endurance variables than threshold, high intensity, or high volume training. Frontiers in Physiology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2014.00033
  • Neal, C. M., Hunter, A. M., Brennan, L., O’Sullivan, A., Hamilton, D. L., DeVito, G., & Galloway, S. D. R. (2013). Six weeks of a polarized training-intensity distribution leads to greater physiological and performance adaptations than a threshold model in trained cyclists. Journal of Applied Physiology, 114(4), 461–471. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00652.2012
  • Seiler, S. (2010). What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 5(3), 276–291.

Hamish Gorman

Associate Coach

Growing up in Kangaroo Valley I’ve developed a love for the outdoors including cycling, mountain biking and trail running. After completing a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology at the University of Wollongong I have been working as an Exercise Physiologist and Sports Scientist specialising in the testing of endurance athletes.

I’ve coached a wide variety of athletes as part of Sydney Cycling Coaching and have come across to FTP Training as an associate coach to continue my coaching education and to collaborate with other coaches for the benefit of his athletes.

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