Updated: Jul 24
Polarised training is completing majority of training at low intensity, with small amounts of training at moderate & high intensity. Rough values equate to 70% low intensity; 10% moderate intensity and 20% high intensity for total weekly volume.
It was initially theorised based on observations of elite athletes in endurance sports particularly cross country skiing & cycling.
Polarised training describes the way in which we organise training weeks and blocks to improve athlete performance. The theory is that high intensity interval training (HIIT) brings about greater improvements in performance and that only small amounts of training are to be completed in the ‘grey’ zone around threshold or 6-8/10 effort. This is true but must consider individual athlete’s chronic training load.
High Intensity Interval Training
HIIT requires high levels of athlete commitment and mental concentration and thus should be kept to 2-3 training sessions per week. It is a good training method to bring about short term improvements in performance but may limit long term progression and sustainability. This is where individual differences need to be considered.
To fully achieve the benefits of HIIT, an athlete’s training volume needs to also systematically increase or they must have a good base level of aerobic fitness.
HIIT can allow for better execution, quality of effort, make it more achievable and enjoyable when compared to a longer threshold effort. Consider the difference between completing 5x 5min max effort + 5min recovery compared to a 30min time trial.
Threshold training, like the time trial above, still has its place. Training around threshold or in that moderately hard zone is usually around your “race pace”. This is a good training model to add in toward a key race, rather than training in that zone in an endurance training phase. It can be fatiguing and difficult to execute week after week particularly early in the season or under high chronic load.
Remember polarised training was developed by observing elite athletes. Usually the key difference between elite athletes & age group athletes or emerging elite athletes is that elite athletes are more consistent with their execution of key sessions. They also execute these key sessions consistently with a much higher chronic training load. This means that often the key quality sessions may look similar between the groups but the elite athletes will also complete more easy endurance training in their week.
Athletes and coaches need to know the training zones for each athlete as represented by RPE (rate of perceived exertion), HR or power to accurately use polarised training models.
Polarised training is a model or theory of training, the optimal distribution might be different depending on each athlete. The coach must therefore “know the athlete”.
You don’t need to be “on” at each session. The bulk of the work in your week will be done at low intensity and an athlete will “go hard” a couple of times per week where there is a big change in pace between easy and hard.
Summarised from Episode 3 Polarised Training : Joel Filliol ‘Joel Filliol Triathlon (JFT) Podcast with Paulo Sousa ‘The Triathlon Squad’