Adaptive Training and the Polarized Plans

When the Polarized Plans launched March of last year @Jonathan wrote, “If you have Closed Beta Access as of today, Adaptive Training will adapt these plans with workouts that may not fall within the designed constraints of these plans… We are working on next steps so that Adaptive Training will adapt only within the constraints of these plans.”

Does anyone know if AT is now suggesting adaptations within the constraint of these plans?

TY in advance in anyone knows.

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I did Polarized base and build for 2022. AT kept the workouts within the polarized constraints, not a single outlier. As far as my experience went, it all seemed to work to plan.

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I can confirm that. TR has added a whole host of polarized workouts. You can recognize them as all of them have the same warm-up. I have completed several polarized blocks (2 or 3, don’t remember), only the first one was without AT.

I think @Jonathan is referring to what happens when you are at the edges of your performance levels (PLs). I think then AT may pick workouts that haven’t been specifically designed for polarized training. If your PL is too low, you may not spend enough time-in-zone, if it is too high, your only choice is to exceed the recommended time-in-zone.

In practice, though, this has been completely irrelevant for me. @LiveSimply, I recommend you have a look at this thread. There are of course plenty of others, but many of them are super long and contain a lot of back-and-forth. The one I linked to is relatively short and focusses on people with experience, especially within the first 30 posts or so. My post that I linked to was relatively popular, so I hope it contains useful info.

Lastly, if I were you, I’d advise against asking the question whether the plan is “truly polarized”, and to be overly strict about the numbers. What is much more important are the basics, which are shared: polarized plans are also polarized in terms of difficulty, i. e. easy workouts are EASY and hard workouts are HARD. That is, if you picked a polarized plan, because sweet spot base was too difficult, you may not do better with a polarized plan.

You will also spend more time riding easy, which means you will emphasize base fitness (the breadth of your power tower/power pyramid) rather than increasing e. g. your FTP. That has been my experience at least. Note that this does not mean you are not getting fitter, it just means you are emphasizing a different dimension of your fitness. And when you judge how well you did, be sure to include measures other than FTP.

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Yes, @OreoCookie , I believe that is what he meant, as well as how AT adapts to your survey responses. I have a good grasp of what and how the polarized approach works, my question was merely asking if the software was updated to address the shortcoming @Jonathan referenced.

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:+1:

Hey @LiveSimply!
Yes! The team has been working hard to add to our library of Polarized Workouts! Therefore, Adaptive Training will only replace Polarized Workouts with Workouts marked as Polarized now. :slightly_smiling_face:

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I remember when these plans launched, there was a decent amount of talk about TR collecting the data from the polarized plans to compare it to their standard more pyramidal plans or at least report some takeaways. I don’t think I’ve seen any data or conclusions from the TR team on this. Or have I missed it? The last thing that I expect is for TR to say “Polarized is better/worse than the other plans,” but I’m very curious to know some general takeaways like:

  • more/less effective than expected?
  • more/less effective for certain age groups/sexes?
  • more/less effective for newer/more experienced riders?
  • effective for completing subsequent threshold/SS efforts?
  • effective in higher/lower volumes?

I’m sure the TR team needs more work on their plate… :grinning:

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Thank you, @SarahLaverty :+1:

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I know they want to make sure they have really validated their data before they do that but I’d love to know what their primary thoughts are.

Another complicating factor is that — in my experience at least — polarized blocks have not raised my FTP by much if anything, but they have upped my mental fortitude and my physical endurance. So if I extrapolate from myself, it looks like polarized base loses out to sweet spot base if all you look at is FTP.

Personally, I don’t need to wait. To me, polarized and sweet spot blocks are all arrows in my quiver, and depending on what emphasis I’d like to set, I choose one over the other. The right tool for the right job.

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Do you think that is at least somewhat correlated with being fresher for the harder sessions so you can really push knowing that you don’t have kinda hard sessions coming up for a few days? Of course we can also flip that and make long SS intervals “hard” within a polarized style model too and get a different adaption in different blocks

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What exactly are you replying to? I’m not sure I understand the full context of your post.

It seems you are responding to my post where I wrote that also the mental effort is polarized, EASY vs. HARD workouts in polarized, correct? Personally, that doesn’t make it easier for me, if anything, it is harder. During polarized blocks, I can up my mental game. Plus, sweet spot intervals are my favorite, together with very short, hard efforts like 15-15s or 30-30s. Having an Achievable sweet spot workout feels like a treat for me: it isn’t as boring as endurance workouts, but I don’t have to go to my mental limits. It feels as if I have done something without draining myself.

The way I have done polarized blocks in the past is that I used the first week to verify my FTP, and then adjust it if necessary. I really wanted to (and want to) follow the idea of polarized, namely that workouts which ask me to ride at 100 % FTP, then I try my best to ride at lactate threshold. With sweet spot workouts, that’s much less important since you always have a buffer.

Overall, the purpose of my comments here isn’t to shy people away from polarized. After all, I use polarized blocks in my training. I’m just saying that if you expect polarized blocks to be easier than the corresponding sweet spot or build block, that’s not necessarily true. And also the gains don’t necessarily show up as bumps in your FTP, so be aware of that when you try to gauge how successful a polarized block was.

Not saying overall the block is easier or harder, but individual workouts you can go harder in a polarized block, because you are physically and mentally fresher, whether they are threshold, SS, or VO2max intervals, you can get more TiZ, or higher percentage when you only have those 2-3 hard workouts in a week

Maybe I can go harder, but I still perceive them as harder and it really is harder for me. Individual hard workouts matter much more on a polarized plan, so the need to nail those creates more mental pressure. If I have three hard workouts, of which 1 is usually an easier, Achievable workout, then I can shift things around. On days when I don’t feel it, I can just swap and do an achievable workout without losing anything across the whole week.

Like I wrote before, in my mind this is an intended goal of polarized training and has led to mental adaptations that make it easier for me to suffer through hard workouts later in the season.

Personally, the equivalent vanilla TR training block doesn’t leave me much more depleted. That early in the season when I haven’t accumulated much long-term fatigue, I can do both. But YMMV. My recommendation is: try a polarized block, listen to your body and look at the kind of adaptations you get and how they differ. Perhaps try again if you are not sure. Then use it strategically to fulfill your training goals.

Do they? Remember seiler didnt even assign power targets to intervals and has emphasized accumulating time at or near 90%maxhr. He’s even suggested multiple times to err on the side of less intensity to increase tiz.

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Yes, for me they do. But YMMV and perhaps you feel differently.

I’m just saying that to caution people who think that sweet spot base is too hard. Usually what I think is going on is that they have too many days with intensity. Instead, you could start from a low-volume plan, replace the weekend workout with endurance work (or, in my case, an outdoor ride where I practice skills, etc.) and then pad that with endurance work.

This is not supposed to be an argument for or against polarized (I use both), but people should know what is actually going on, what the problem is and then decide how to address that.

Seiler’s position has changed over the years, so quoting him without context is not really valuable. In the recent interview he did with Dylan Johnson, he said that he’s mostly using a two-zone model now to train with LT1 being the boundary between the two. I’m not even taking a position here, but the details of “what Seiler said” has morphed and changed significantly over time and there are many ways to make a polarized training plan. He was talking about the fact that he has more fast twitch fibers, so certain workouts leave him more or less fatigued. That makes sense: you should know how your body reacts to certain training stimuli, and two athletes might react very differently to the same stimulus. We all have our most and least favorite workouts, and our physiologies are different. Sensible, but not really useful to create a training plan.

When he talked about heart rate, most of the stuff he said was sensible, but it wasn’t really prescriptive, just descriptive. That for endurance rides heart rate works well as a primary metric, but for intense workout, it is more difficult. That heart rate is still valuable to gauge how hard your body is working on average. That sort of thing. But those do not neatly distill into principles rom which you can create a workout plan.

IMHO most people are overthinking polarized: polarized just means to me in practical terms that you are eschewing sweet spot workouts, you reduce the number of days with intensity and put more emphasis on endurance work. So guess what, you broaden the base of your power tower — at least that has been my experience with it. For the last 2+ seasons, I have used polarized blocks whenever I felt my physical and mental endurance needed to be addressed.

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It doesn’t mean that though, its just classifying sweetspot as “hard”, and making those workouts actually hard instead of TR style short time crunched endurance replacements. For example Seiler does a bunch of sweetspot work, but his SS sessions are like 2 hours long with 60-90 TiZ, because they are considered interval days and he still does long endurance riding. This also why he’s suggesting to group workouts into below LT1 and above LT1.

practically, this is why I consider polarized easier. The majority of time is spent doing endurance riding that is not mentally fatiguing, and then you sprinkle in as many intensity sessions as you can sustainably do, and they should be hard but your mentally fresh for them, and it also doesn’t matter that you hit exact prescriptions because they are still providing 90+% of the intended benefit if you are just accumulating TiZ, and that no one single workout matters that much in the longer term. I think where we differ is that you’re adding an extra mental hurdle in terms of thinking that with so few days of intensity you have to do them at a high level, whereas I see it from the opposite end, if you do the majority of the endurance work to build the adaptions from a large base, then the intensity is the icing on top. Whereas a sweetspot heavy approach that replaces endurance with shorter duration intervals means you have to be mentally prepared to nail intensity regularly, because there is nothing else to fall back on in the training. Just my perspective on the philosophical difference. Both use SS, but its in the classification of such that differs

In a 3-zone model, which is the model originally used with polarized training, sweet spot is in Zone 2/3, and this is the intensity region that is traditionally being avoided.

Now I realize that Seiler has evolved/changed his opinion on this and seems to propagate a two-zone system. I don’t want to regurgitate the polarized discussion in its entirety, but it seems to me that Seiler is simply re-discovering the utility of sweet spot training in cycling. Which is completely fine, but we should be aware of what we are talking about. Such a “sweet spot-polarized approach” practically just means you are following a sweet spot plan with two days of intensity.

And since many people opt for a training plan with too much intensity, it makes complete sense that they fare better on a “sweet spot-polarized plan” aka a sweet spot plan with fewer days of intensity. The latter could be the exact right training plan for them, though.

Overall, I have a hard time basing a training plan off of Seiler’s current stance as I understand it. I agree with almost all of the stuff he said, but it is so vague that most training plans fit the description. I’d be very careful mixing Seiler’s current vague characterization with more specific prescriptions from the polarized community such as TiZ prescriptions and ratios like 80/20 or 90/10.

I don’t disagree with anything you write here.

But you do realize that you are describing the advantages of sweet spot training over polarized training, right? Because these are precisely the arguments mentioned by Coggan and others in favor of training at sweet spot rather than threshold: it is less fatiguing, you can train at intensity for longer, etc.

From how you describe it, your “polarized” plan is a sweet spot plan with less days of intensity. If that works for you, great! There is nothing wrong with that.

First off, intensity is certainly not the icing on the cake. Intensity is essential for getting faster, as is spending time in Z2/7.

I am also not adding an extra hurdle by spending them in Z3/3 (aka Z4/7 and above): this is simply the prescription of polarized plans. If I don’t want this distribution, I simply opt for a sweet spot plan with the appropriate number of days at intensity instead. Both work for me, both give me different benefits, though. So I use both in my training.

… as long as I am consistent and I am able to complete workouts. This is harder with polarized for me. If I want an easier block, I opt for sweet spot. It is easier to stay consistent if they are easier.

But that is also never Seiler’s point, the problem he has always had with the way that some people train is that they do too much intensity on too many days and never go really hard. It was never that SS had no place, that’s what he saw in elite athletes, that even when they do zone 2 training(3 zone) ie in cyclists that it doesn’t make up a majority of the endurance training. This is from over a decade ago(2009?). He also did a number of experiments with cyclists using 4x16 SS intervals(comparison with 4x8 and 4x4), so this idea that SS is a no go isn’t accurate.

I guess the question is why aren’t you able to be consistent with polarized, and why you can with SS? If you’re doing them same number of days of intensity and the non interval days make up the same zone distribution that would point to maybe doing the polarized intervals too hard and/or the SS intervals too easy(or short)

That was his original observation, although his first research was descriptive, not prescriptive. Based on the fact that people don’t go hard enough on hard days, his original approach was to do workouts in Z4+/7, i. e. threshold and VO2max, but to eschew sweet spot.

You are right that you can make any workout hard by increasing e. g. duration or number of intervals. But at least originally, his point was that you also needed to be above LT2, not just LT1.

Of course, it is not at all surprising that people tend to converge on the same fundamentals, e. g. the utility of sweet spot and the importance of doing enough endurance work. Training fundamentals such as progressive overload will always be more timeless than any training philosophy that prescribes a particular intensity distribution.

Please re-read what I wrote carefully: I wrote that his position has evolved over the years, and that he now includes sweet spot. Hence, I wrote, somewhat tongue-in-cheek that Seiler re-discovered sweet spot. But I think it is accurate that polarized training originally prescribed athletes workouts that avoided Z2/3, which includes sweet spot.

Personally, I don’t care whether we call Seiler 2.0 or Seiler 3.0 training polarized, Polarized or sweet spot. What matters to me is the intensity distribution, and whether the chosen intensity distribution will likely lead to the desired effect. Doing a sweet spot plan with fewer days of intensity isn’t a polarized plan in my book, simply because I view it as a sweet spot plan because calling it polarized would be confusing to me. That’s without judgement in either direction.

My impression is also that some people find it easier to say “they are doing a polarized plan” than admitting they need to reduce the number of intense days. We should care less about that, swallow our pride and do what is best for our fitness.

I’m very good at sweet spot, and find it 10x easier than spending the same amount of time at threshold. To give you an idea, after my polarized block last winter, I reached Sweet Spot PL 9.0+. I stopped, because I didn’t want to do 1–2 minutes at 150 % prior to my sweet spot block and instead went for the slightly easier option of 130 % :wink:

That means with a sweet spot workout, I needn’t have slept optimally (I have two small kids, so you can imagine that this is not completely under my control), etc. With a hard workout, the probability of failure is higher, because all the other factors need to be where they should be within a much narrower margin of error. That’s why a “traditional” polarized training plan is much harder for me. Yet, and I emphasize this again, I still do them, because they are beneficial. I wouldn’t have reached Sweet Spot PL 9 without upping my mental game thanks to my polarized block.

In fact, I find a sweet spot plan with 3 days of intensity (the Sunday sweet spot workout is always replaced with an endurance workout or a free ride) easier than a polarized plan with 2. (Although in all cases I ride 5 times a week, I always pad plans with endurance rides.)