Time-crunched polarized training

Hello, my name is René, I’m new to the forum.

I have the following question regarding intensity distribution.
I want to train in a polarized way, I only have 6-8 hours to train per week and 4-5 training days. In most articles and podcasts about polarized training, a training week with two high-intensity days, even when you’re on a time-crunched schedule, is suggested. If I understand Dr. Seiler correctly, the polarized intensity distribution must be applied on training days instead of hours. So in my situation, it should come near to only one hard day per week if I’m correct.

Can I simply hold on to one hard day per week where I try to accomplish 30-60 minutes of intense work or should I also split the intensity work over two days?

If splitting is preferable above one hard day per week, can you explain to me why? Is it not better for overall health to stay with just one hard day per week in this case?

Kind regards,


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Welcome to the forums.

What are your training for?
Know what you are training for, or exercising if not competitive, can help give more insight into how to plan your workouts.

I have cyclists racing 100 events on 6-8 hours per week, and they are competitive enough to stay with the lead group. The do a mix of sweet spot and threshold in the 3 base mesocycles, then polarised work for 8-10 weeks leading up to their A-event.

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Thanks for your reply, I’m training for a Medio Fondo 93KM - 2200M (7217ft) (30-40 minute climbs) and looking to raise my FTP.

So you know when a response to the question is, “it depends”, it really is a case of it depends.

When is your goal event? How many weeks to go?
What are you doing currently?

My training, and that of my athletes, is made up of 2x threshold sessions in the base period and then I include a mix of threshold and VO2 work in the build phase, as well as some AC and NP sprints (due to the type of events they take part in). The rest of the sessions are all close to 70% of maxHR, unless there’s a feeling of being tired, then it’s rest or active recovery. Monday and Thurday are my HIT sessions, but sometimes it’s a Tuesday and Thursday depending on life’s happenings.

To raise FTP, I ask them to do 3x8m (week 1), 4x8m (week 2) and 5x8 (week 3) at a power they can sustain for all 3-5 intervals. Keep the power steady across the entire set of intervals. It may only be 94% of their “supposed” FTP when they start off, but it’s a starting point. There’s no watching the power data, it must all be on feel. If it feels easy, go a little harder; if it feels a little hard, back off a bit. We then look at what they achieved, and use that as a base for the next session. Sometimes they can ride more than 100% in the first week; it all depends where they are in training cycle.

After the recovery week (4) they start again at 3x8m (week 5), but do it at +/- 5% higher than the corresponding session from 4 weeks prior. By the time they get to 12 weeks (3 blocks) they then change to 3x12m for 3 weeks to extend the duration they can hold the power for.

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Hello @renehansink welcome!

@geraldm24 has great insights as always.

In this time range, many try and add more intensity because they will be training less, this is often a mistake.

You will have to experiment but it might be a case of trying to figure YOUR polarized model, and sticking with it for a number of weeks.

If you start to feel at your limit during the hard work, you will need to go away from that for a week or two and focus on base training so that you don’t overtrain or peak too early.

So even with your limited hours, you may have to build in periods of just endurance training, maybe not rest weeks, but rest weeks away from intervals.

Best of luck!

@geraldm24 you have given great insights on how to build up the intensity especially, after a recovery week. The event is in the first week of June, so I have 29 weeks from now. At the moment I’m in the transition phase where the focus lies on weightlifting and doing some easy rides.

@steveneal I was also thinking about experimenting to find out what works for me as you propose. The idea is to do just one hard day a week and increase the intensity each week by adding an extra repetition like in Gerald’s example. I only thought of some more reps (4x8 week 1, 5x8 week 2, and 6x8 week 3) because I prefer to limit the intensity to solely one interval day per week. I don’t know if this is wise and if I can handle it, but I think I’ll find out by trial and error.

Is there a limit to the number of reps you can apply, e.g. 7x8 minutes? And is there enough progression to be expected if I only do one hard day, a 3-hour LSD ride, and some zone 2 days a week?

By doing up to 7x8 you’re extending the time you can hold your power at that intensity. As Steve mentioned, you need to experiment and find what works for you.

These are the workouts I’ve used, that have yielded results:
3-5 sets of 8min at threshold (4m RBI)
3-6 sets of 5m at VO2 (5m RBI)
4-6 sets of 6x30/30 over/unders 3m (RBI)
4-8 sets of 30s all out sprints (8m RBI)

If you want some help setting you up, and also looking at your historical data and current plans, let me know. No obligation to pay anything. You need the guidance, I need the experience plus there are some better coaches than me that help if I can’t help you. Win-win situation.

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Hi, one thing to keep in mind is that you do want to include SOME race specific intensity, if some of your hill sections are longer and are at tempo instead of threshold, you may want to include some of this work into your longer days. Example for 3 hour session might be 30m endurance + 5m Threshold +25m Tempo x 3

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Thanks, I was just thinking about how to put some specificity into the “build” period of my training plan. I was also thinking about building a ‘race simulation’ like training.

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Hi there!

I want to make sure you saw this new story recently posted:

If I Only Train 4 Hours a Week, Is the Polarized Training Approach Going to Work?

We had our BIG race of the year on Sunday, which has full road closure (to traffic) and caters for all categories, ages, abilities and fitness levels. 96Km, 1400m of elevation gain with lots of undulating terrain in the final half of the race. All our local World Tour Pros take part, competing against the local Pros, while the rest of the 15k participants are Cat 1 down to levels below Cat 5.

Going through comments on the local cycling forum this week, I picked up a rider that only has time, and motivation, to train for 3x 1h sessions (all indoor). He was receiving advice from many people, with the most common being “ride more”.

He only does this race and another one, and only rides the 3 hours per week to (1) stay healthy, and (2) meet his weekly goal on a health insurance active rewards program. He suffered on the hills, telling me he walked on every one of them. It’s not difficult, at least for the well trained, but it can be a nightmare for the beginner or seriously untrained person.

So my challenge will be to get him trained up for next year November to be able to ride the full distance, at his pace, without having to walk. He doesn’t want to ride longer than 1 hour, and only in the indoor trainer. He has a phobia of being hit by a car, or pushed off the road.

I read the article, but thanks for pointing it out anyways.
After reading it, I was wondering how much change in fitness I will see if I ramp up my weekly hours to 12-16. Maybe it’s worth testing this if I have some more time available.

@geraldm24 interesting case study.

Your client might need to accept that the race goal is to ambitious given the training hours, which is perfectly fine given his motivation of just staying healthy.

Going nerd mode:

  • you could calculate the energy requirements to make it over the hill and compare that to what is achievable for this person with 3 hours of training per week.

There is a strong relationship between training hours and VO2max:

Here it shows HRV relationship:

I could not find the vo2max version, but it is similar.
(the relationship is not 1:1, more inverse exponential)

Fortunately I have done this specific event 20 times (excluding riding it a second lap about 6 times). So I know the hills and what it takes to get over them, having suffered myself in the years initial years prior to racing it.

I like your idea of the energy requirements for each hill, which is how I approached it with my club mates. I told them to press the lap button at the bottom of each hill, and then pace it according to their training… 5x8m at 105%. Go easier if the group is going easier, or burn the match a bit to get over the top and recover the other side.

racing it like the training will definitely help. Also mentally.
I ment it even nerdier: true calculate it: X meters distance at an average climb rate of Y, using rider weight and target speed = required average power output.
If the average is above FTP → go training
If the average is below FTP → have some fun while ‘shaking the tree’ every once in a while.

I approached it like this with a skater I coach: → you can do X seconds per lap given your aerobic endurance. Based on FRC and MAP, i calculated he could do 2 laps at X-1 seconds for the end sprint. It worked flawlessly, until he got ahead of himself and hoped he could sprint longer… :smiley:

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I’ve used this website to nerd out before.

Their estimate is 1W higher than my actual power for the duration, with a 1km/h head wind.

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Thanks for the article!