Polarized for everyone?

I am taking the liberty of pasting a post from Steve Neal from the “Carbs for zone 1” topic in Physiology.

Steve, who along others here, has a wealth of experience in coaching at top levels and was one of of the podcasts, brings up an interesting point: The long slow rides in the polarized model may not work well for riders who only have a few hours a week to ride, those need to include harder efforts.

I hope that I am not misquoting some of what I have heard him say in the past. I started working with him in the early part of the year, and using his approach made substantial gains in three months, until health conditions precluded me from continuing.

I hope that this opens up a discussion among those that know a lot more than me about the best type of long distance riding for recreational athletes, which is likely most of us.

Steve had me do two hard trainer sessions, with an easy hour of riding the day between the sessions and the day after the second session.

The long Sunday ride built up in length over time but included 25-minute sessions at tempo or just above, interspersed with 30 minutes of zone 1 of 3 easy sections if I remember well, rather than the classic 3-4 hour only 65-70% max HR endurance ride, although the rides were about as long.

I remember him saying those long very easy endurance rides worked best if you had 15 hours a week to spare on the bike, but would not do much for the 7-hr week riders.

Looking forward to what comes out of this discussion.

Steve wrote:

"Yes I agree on the raise fatmax like FTP (although I don’t agree in FTP as it is screwed up emoji face here)

I was just try to say that I have no experience in limiting carbs early in a ride myself.

However, I would say that looking at not using carbs or starting a ride fasted does not always lead to a person burning, using, utilizing more fat…this I have seen on my metabolic cart.

I also know @micomico pretty well and sometimes training in this zone 1/2 range for certain people at certain times will NOT lead to overall fitness gains. I have seen this in many athletes trying to follow a zone 2/fatmax protocol, or polarization training plan. If there fat max is 100 watts, and they use this alone to ride their endurance with a 250-300 watt maximal aerobic power, they will train too easy during endurance and NOT improve.

On a bit of a rant here, but many cyclists who are trying to improve try to follow an idea that doesn’t make sense for them at that time.

It does matter what you are after. I just find that most recreational athletes trying to improve are focusing on the wrong thing when they begin, which holds them back from improving.



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@micomico perception is reality. Thanks for posting…Pretty close to our chats…only thing missing was how we got to the place of being able to do workouts you didn’t think possible. But they were, you gained confidence almost before the fitness.

Keep riding…stay healthy…Thanks again.


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Thanks. As you well know, your long slow distance approach for riders with just a few hours a week to ride still shares the zone 1 of 3 approach, just that within every hour of zone 1 riding you have around 25 minutes of tempo. At least from my experience.

Is that to increase Type 1 fiber fatigue quicker, and stimulate Type IIX into more aerobic qualities with less hours of riding?

I am sure there are other reasons, but was wondering about the IIX theory; if tempo sections could begin to stimulate them earlier, instead of having to wait 2 hours or so for Type Is to fatigue?

@micomico is this directed at me? or everyone?

Hi Steve, at you as well as anyone who would like to comment.

Hi @micomico

First off this isn’t a long slow distance approach if we were discussing your situtation…or anyone in your weekly volume situation.

We looked at your aerobic abilities, as well as improving your vo2 max.

If we took at polarized approaced based on your percent of intensity versus the time at LT1…or endurance wattage at such a low wattage (sorry but this is true) you would have not have gotten better.

Another example for another athlete is as follows:

This is someone I have been working with for a few months time.

This is there original report, you can see the threshold and fatmax are low.

If I were to use these numbers and plan their program from their fatmax and threshold, they would have been undertaining and worse today.

Although we have lots of testing abilities available to use. We also have to be able to understand that if we train vo2max and endurance, and do this at 80-90% under LT1…and 10-20% above LT2…we would likely undertain a new athlete.

Below is last year of an athlete (I have been coaching them for 2 months)

I am focusing on endurance between 150-170w (above their fatmax) and 2 intervals a week (which you were amazed you could even do)

and they continue to improve as they adjust to work.

The polarization rule or pyramidal rule will only apply once you have a certain level of fitness.

If you aren’t that fit…sadly those rules or philosoplies won’t apply to you or help you get better.

I will say in public, that your issues when we worked together were due to knee issues or fit issues, or equipment issues which I wan’t able to have an optinion on until it was too late.

Indoor training setup in my opinion can play a major role on the athletes comfort and ability to train indoors.

I have been working with some athletes for 6-12 years who train indoors at least 6 months of the year without issues.

So polarization/pyramidal training/ is only part of the programming for a mostly indoor training person…the equipment may play a role in how each athlete reacts to that training, depending on their ability to cycling functionally indoors, knees, hips, pelvic floor…etc

Sorry for the long…honest post…but I feel we know each other well enough for me to post this.

Thank you for your reply and insights, I appreciate them.

From your experience, can you let me/others know why you have seen that for the new recreational athlete the usual polarized model does not work well?

For those with 6-7 hours a week to ride, what I have seen usually suggested is 1-2 intervals, an easy 1-hr ride in between them, then 3-4 hours long ride at 70% max HR on the weekend, bringing the total to 6-7 hours/week


To simplify this I guess…I would use my experience for someone without testing that they…

need to raise their vo2 max…to therefore raise the power they can do endurance at

need to ride harder than 70% heart rate, untli the power at that heart rate is at least 150-175 watts, to be able to create both muscular and cardiovascular stress to improve

I think if you ride at 120-140w if that is the right % to be polarized, there is likely no response to that training in 60-90m

I think one of the things that is important, to build confidence in someone starting out is to actually get their fatmax, crossover point, LT1 and LT2 tested so they can relate to actual measured data.

Many people who are starting training and are on low hours won’t have developed stroke volume, so if they follow heart rate zones, they will likely undertrain.

If they follow lactate or muscular oxygen zones when they begin, or metabolic cart data, then there will be more info to create zoning.

An athlete might have a fatmax at 130 watts, but a VE (L/MIN) change on a met cart at 160 watts, I would train that athlete by VE, until VE, power and heart rate, and fatmax were more inline at a higher wattage.

Not one single metric will always identify where to train.

There is a lactate measurement, respiratory measurement, cardiovascular measurement, perceived exertion measurement…and so on. Many people will have a different perception of how they feel at LT1…what do you then determine as THEIR training metric?

Everyone is different.

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In short…Polarized is NOT for everyone…Pyramidal is NOT for everyone.

To be honest there is a minimum effective dose for everyone, that if you do things right should grow…meaning more time the more fit you get.

The problem many have is that you get fit … but can’t afford more time … so maybe you train harder, and get worse. That is a bummer…but often the case.

You need to find more time to get better.

UNLESS you have 20 years of cycling base of hours and hours of training when you reach the point of wanting to ride at a certain level.

Many people in this situation can train on less volume, and still be quite fit.

Not to mention genetics in both equations above.

We are not all created equal on 7 hours per week…sad…but true.



I got asked after last weeks’ race (19 Nov) how I do so well on such a low amount of training time: 400-420 annual hours, or 7-8 hours/week average).

  • Consistency; in training, sleep, diet, work-life balance, recovery;
  • >20 years of riding history;
  • I’m not afraid to let my fitness drop (CTL of 38) for a couple months (April and May), then build up again (CTL peaking at 67);
  • I’m doing Pyramidal training for 16-20 weeks, and then Polarised for 8-9 weeks leading up to the event;
  • Trust in the process, which isn’t perfect but rather adequate for my needs. It could be better, but I’m happy.