Should I use the Polarized method?

Many ask about using the polarized method of training. This methodology is recommended by Dr. Seiler. Most of the fitness podcasts and magazines analyze his system. The benefits of this system are as follows.

  • Improved lactate clearance
  • Higher volumes of training
  • Reduced risk of training injury

In these discussions, training volume or experience is not mentioned. With the case of the athletes that benefited from the polarized system, they were on the bike for 30 hours during the week. They also made sure to limit inflammation. They also completed yoga, stretching, and weight work in the gym. Can you afford all of this time?

In order to be a well rounded person, you should focus on improving all functional strengths. You want to be able to walk up the stairs briskly. You don’t want to complete a training workout on the bicycle and be unable to use any stairs for 5 days. You need to assess your goals and your personal time constrains. Don’t compare yourself to others. Do you really know how someone trains when you only see them on the bike for 1.5 hours each week?

Using a Polarized system is likely to reduce the amount of training injuries. The required amounts of high intensity and frequency of such are amounts are less than the requirements of a more traditional plan. You build the engine by riding many hours. Those hours often have less intensity. The muscle fibers don’t like the long hard hours at high intensity. Your heart will not have to run at 165 bpm indefinitely.

In a sweet spot typical plan provided by many of the coaches, you ride near your maximum sustainable heart rate for an hour or two. You come home tired. The next day, you might elect to skip training. Remember, you want to be able to walk up those stairs? So, you decide not to ride on the following day. You need time to recover. In the sweet spot plan, you accumulate TSS rapidly. You are earning those points.

In the polarized plan, you might find yourself holding out through the day’s workout and saying that you can repeat this, again, tomorrow. This is good. In the polarized method, you would repeat the same intensity, often. You might be able to actually ride more days in the week, consecutively. In the sweet spot training plan, you might need to take a lot of days to recover.

Article by Mr. Joel Friel

The polarized method might help to improve lactate clearance more than a more traditional approach for the typical American amateur athletes. The author of the cycling bible, Mr. Joel Friel, wrote a piece about polarized training. He referenced a study. You have to realize that the study was about elite champion athletes. Those athletes already have improved lactate clearance. Their Vo2Max numbers are in the 50s.

Is your typical new cyclist starting at a Vo2Max of 30? Mr. Friel dismisses the polarized method, which is contrary to his years of publications. His method pushes many complicated interval plans. Does your body really distinguish between all of these intervals?

Some of those intervals are really designed to make you think that the coach is spending a lot of time working on your plan, when they are not. They simply pull the workouts from a library. The library automatically updates the numbers within the workout based on your 20 minute endurance. Can you really rely on this method?

Go polarized. For your high intensity sessions just use the following intervals

  • HIIT – 30 sec Z6, 30 sec off – repeated many times
  • 4×4 – 4 minutes z5, 3 minutes off and repeat 3 more times.
  • 20×3 – 20 minutes z5, 8 minutes off, and repeat 2 more times.

How to set FTP

First, we need to know what FTP is. FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power. This is something that an academic researcher developed in Texas. This was not developed by a pro team’s coach. FTP is the power that you can produce for one hour within an aerobic capacity. You don’t necessarily have the ability to sustain this power for 2 hours. You can produce this power for 1 hour without any interruption.

How do we typically set FTP? We listen to folks with training programs. They have us take a test for 20 minutes and multiple the power by 95%. This does not work. Zwift does the same thing.

Were you riding through a big climb in Zwift and it lasted for 20 minutes? You set a new power record. Your heart rate was 180bpm. Perhaps you only spun the cranks at 55rpm. Was this not anaerobic? Zwift applied the 95 percentage against your new power record and displayed a window. Within the window it stated that your FTP increased. Can we rely upon this display?

Well not quite. Your heart rate was 180. Was this aerobic? No.

The best way to determine your FTP and your actual zones is to complete the 1 hour test. You might want to rest for two days to ensure full recovery prior to completing the FTP test.

warm-up for 20 minutes; ride for 1 hour.

While you are pedaling for the 1 hour, try to reach a heart rate in the 150 to 165 range. Hold your efforts while you maintain this heart beat. Pick flat terrain for this effort. Try to avoid stop lights and other traffic control devices. Pick a route with long sections that do not require stopping.

It takes practice to maintain that smooth pace and produce the power for an hour. If you don’t feel that you succeeded on the first try, then repeat the process on another day.

When you finished pedaling the second section, use the average power of the second section as your FTP.

Quick Tip – higher than normal resting heart rate

Use a Fitbit or another watch such as an Apple Watch to track your heart beat. The secret way to know when you need to take it is easy is now quantifiable. Use your watch.

Establish your normal resting heart rate. When you wake up, if your resting heart rate is higher than normal, then cut off the day’s intervals or take a rest day. For instance, if I wake up and my heart rate is 65, then I will reduce the work load. My average heart rate is 60. My body is recovering and needs time to make adaptations.