Polarised training (POL) describes an approach to endurance programming where around a small proportion of the training volume is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The rest of the training is at low intensity. The aim is to make the high-intensity intervals as hard as possible and then make the rest easy using a power cap of around 72% of Functional Threshold Power.
A 2014 study by Stöggl and Sperlich published in Frontiers of Physiology saw a 12% increase in V02Max and an 8% increase in Threshold Power following a nine-week 11 hour per week polarised plan in well-trained athletes. The programme involved three three-week blocks made up of two intense weeks and one recovery week. The intense weeks included two 60 minute High-Intensity Interval Sessions (HIIT), two 120-180 minute low-intensity sessions with 6-8x 5 second maximal sprints, each separated by 20 minutes, and two 90 minute low-intensity sessions. The recovery week included only one of each of the three sessions separated by a rest day.
The HIIT sessions in the study involved a warm-up followed by four intervals of four minutes at 90-95% of maximal heart rate. Later studies have shown that four intervals of 8 minutes or 30/15 workouts are more effective at increasing cycling performance and could be used instead. Ash Beech, who achieved an FTP of 5w/kg as an amateur cyclist, suggests in his book Blood Sport that you could increase the HIIT workouts to three per week, each followed by a low-intensity session the following day. One or all of the HIIT sessions could be replaced by Zwift races if all the training is indoors to ensure the intensity is high. Dr Martin Bonnevie-Svendsen suggests the total volume could be reduced from eleven hours by reducing the frequency of the low-intensity workouts.
Creating a Polarised plan
- Work in three-week blocks with two intense weeks followed by a recovery week
- Schedule 2-3 HIIT workouts in the intense weeks and one HIIT workout in the recovery week
- For the HIIT workouts, use:
- Four sets of eight minutes at 102-107% of FTP
- 30/15 format at 120-140% of FTP
- Zwift races
- For the low-intensity workouts, aim for one to two 120-180 minute low-intensity workouts with 6-8 5 second sprints and one to two 90 minute low-intensity workouts in the intense weeks and one of each in the recovery week.
- Perform an FTP test every nine weeks in a recovery week in place of the HIIT workout.
- Plan in three-week blocks based on your performance and how you feel at the end of the recovery week. Frequent planning will add variety to your training and keep your routine interesting.