Adaptive Training and the Polarized Plans

Great questions!

This is something the team is looking into. I’ll pass the message on when we have more info!


Thanks Sarah :slightly_smiling_face:

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Its not though, seiler has said that cyclists in particular training in Z2 as far back as 2007(Zapico U23 cyclists)

I mean I think seiler would say the same, since he didn’t assign any particular distribution, he’s just quantifying the work that other coaches prescribe

Why not other than a semantic argument? This seems to be the sticking point for TR polarized as well, polarized does not exclude SS, it just doesn’t sub out endurance for SS. This is the way other coaching companies like Fastcat prescribe sweetspot as well, they are still having their high end athletes do tons of endurance for a base, then prescribing longer and harder SS workouts as high end aerobic work. This isn’t a new concept either, Coggan and his peers have been looking at this training distribution for a long time

In fact you aren’t doing vanilla TR SS or polarized plans, you’re individualizing them because there isn’t a proper fit for the type of training intensity distribution you want. We’ve come full circle back to what was originally what most people were asking for when the polarized plans were introduced, TR style plans with less days of intensity and more days of endurance. The explanation was always that people didn’t do the long endurance rides, probably because TR athletes are more biased towards time crunched indoor riders.

Don’t think I’m misinterpreting Seiler, over at the FastTalkLabs the polarized pathway he helped create:

still has him appear to be on record with avoiding the middle zone. I won’t post screenshots, but if you scan the article its pretty clear in the pictures and accompanying text.

I’m still unclear on why so many words are being written about a researcher that is reporting retrospective analysis of athlete training logs across a bunch of sports. Rather than coaches that have effectively done longitudinal studies with athletes. :man_shrugging:


I think the article that is actually most relevant is here:

In the context of the same 3-zone model that Dr. Seiler uses for polarized training, sweet spot training puts the focus on zone 2 work, specifically targeting 84–97 percent of the athlete’s FTP. Scientists refer to this type of training as “threshold training” because it occurs between the aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. Because athletes think of threshold training as an intensity right at the anaerobic threshold, there can be confusion around the terminology. The terminology “sweet spot training” has been used to clear up that confusion.

This is most representative of TR style SS plans.

This is in contrast to polarized and SS

You could also just look at his own training, where he does tons of tempo/SS rides(his 1hr power is~300w)

For example here, 1.5 hours of SS:

Is Z2/3 these athletes are doing tempo or sweet spot? From the data it looks like we can’t know. Most training methodologies tell you that the power region “tempo - sweet spot” should be avoided.

IMHO this is one of the reasons why I don’t use a three- or two-zone model: it isn’t very useful in practice even if you want to follow a polarized approach.

You realize that Overton (the FasCat in the name) is one of the pioneers of sweet spot training, right? How you spend your days with intensity is a different question from how much intensity vs. endurance you prescribe.

I think that depends on how you view TR plans: whether you see them as a skeleton that you can use for customization or a something that needs to be followed as-is. Certainly, if you have been listening to the podcast, you know that these plans are meant to be customizable by design.

I’m not customizing them to get the distribution I want, I decide how I want to spend my hard days, how many days of intensity I want to do at that moment (usually three, but for the current block I am down to 2) and then add the rest of my time budget with endurance work as well as an outdoor ride on the weekend that may or may not be structured. The days of intensity are determined by how fatigued/fresh I am (and I am talking about long-term fatigue). I can tack on endurance rides as time permits. I control fatigue from endurance rides by varying IF if necessary.

Many approaches of polarized do exclude sweet spot. I remember one member on this forum who had a coach that prescribed polarized training for her. She did pretty much the same intervals that TR prescribes.

Of course, nobody forces you to take the same approach. You can mix polarized with sweet spot and create a hybrid. Or take a sweet spot plan and cut one day of intensity, and call it polarized, we are living in free countries. But my read of what you describe as polarized is simply sweet spot with one less day of intensity. And if that works for you, great! Who cares what we call it.

But apart from semantics, in my experience it is important how you spend your hard days. In my experience, my results from following a Z4–Z5-centric polarized plan are completely different than a sweet spot plan, even if all other things are equal (my endurance volume is not that different since I add them to fill my 90-minute-a-workout budget). I find it useful to give these two different intensity distributions different names.

Thanks for the link. However, I don’t want to enter into a discussion “what Seiler really means”, but on Dylan Johnson’s two Youtube videos (one interview split in two), he did talk about a two-zone approach (below/above LT1). I have a hard time extracting a consistent prescriptive training philosophy from what Seiler says in public. Perhaps one conclusion is that Seiler does not follow a polarized approach? :wink:

I totally agree with two other points you make: a lot of Seiler’s research is descriptive, not prescriptive. And that in practice training plans created by coaches (I am including off-the-shelf training plans) are ahead of researchers. Plus, athletes are individuals, and how you react to a stimulus is likely different from how I react to it. We are not statistical averages.

Yes, where the pictures clearly show polarized training avoids the middle zone, the zone between thresholds.

Believe he is getting compensated for some of the FastTalkLabs work. Think its reasonable to claim that is his official position. I’ve seen him post on Twitter “do as I say, not as I do” and I’m not going to Strava/Twitter stalk him to attempt to separate FastTalkLabs Polarized Pathway from what he does on the bike. He is not a cycling coach in any reasonable sense of the word ‘coach.’

Thats actually the whole point of the semantic argument isn’t it? You’re seeming to say polarized only means to avoid SS intensity, but its more about how much intensity vs endurance you are doing, and less important what the intensity looks like? Thats why many do not differentiate between polarized and pyramidal, the majority of the work is endurance, including with the way frank prescribes SS work, with the majority of work done in the endurance zone, like in Sepp Kuss’s training when he was still with fastcat

Sure, I’m not looking for to follow one specific coach or researcher either, but I think the idea almost everyone is coalescing around is the following:
Do lots of endurance work to build a base
Limit intensity sessions to 2-3 days a week, more is not better and the chance of overreaching is higher
How you do your intensity needs to vary on a periodized schedule.

Now what you want to call that doesn’t matter, but thats what seems to work for the most people. This is also what a lot of people have asked of TR, not necessarily the polarized plans they came out with, going back to before Seiler had ever even done a podcast

(Emphasis added.)
Yeah, I think that is likely what is going on here. I’d also say that if you catch Seiler in a more colloquial setting, he is more vague. When he talks about himself, he adds a lot of context that is important when adapting a training philosophy to an individual. He said he has a larger share of fast-twitch fibers, so this workout works well for him whereas this doesn’t. Etc.

What irks me with Seiler is that he often lacks of precision when he purports to speak as a scientist.

IMHO how you spend your intense workouts and the ratio between endurance and intense days are two different axes. Some approaches of polarized add ratios (e. g. time-in-zone) that relate the two, so at least in some versions of polarized these are not independent.

FasCat’s stock base plans and TR’s stock sweet spot base plans are both sweet spot-centric plans for the base period, yet they are quite different from one another. And likewise, one only needs to look at our different understanding of what polarized means to see that there is are wildly different plans.

Moreover, once we up the volume, most training plans eventually add mostly endurance work, because people cap out at a certain number of intense days. So the simple diagrams you posted will likely shift more to the endurance side for sweet spot.

I agree with every point on this list in broad strokes. But nothing none of these points have anything to do with polarized training. These are more fundamental training principles that lie below sweet spot and polarized.

That’s another reason why this debate isn’t just about semantics: fundamentally, it is important to distinguish whether you are doing too many days at intensity or whether the intensity distribution on the hard days isn’t stimulating for you. These are two different diagnoses with two different solutions.

You might be surprised at the number of people that read about polarized being the exciting new way to train, hire a coach, and then demand to be trained polarized and ask why they are doing tempo or sweet spot LOL

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Again thats kinda the point I’m making, we can’t call them both SS plans if they are so different in intensity distributions, your training in the base period sounds more like fastcat SS, than TR SS, so one is more “polarized” or “pyramidal”

Fundamentally, TR thinks you can get away with more intensity subbing out endurance, whereas others don’t. So lots of TR users asked for plans that spell this out explicitly, and others moved on to other coaching platforms or built their own plans. All different ways to get to the same end goal

This goes back more to what Kolie said in his podcast, that the argument between polarized and sweetspot is kayfabe, we need to separate out the interpretation of the results from the actual data. Maybe its because I do this intuitively as a scientist that I don’t get caught up in one phrase or another when someone says something that doesn’t always line up with what others or saying or themselves. i consider the whole(within reason) discussion and data to draw a more nuanced conclusion that doesn’t necessarily match either end’s position

Why not?
Sweet spot doesn’t indicate the ratio of endurance-to-hard days, but it indicates what your hard days look like.

I don’t see it that way. FasCat’s plans were built from the FasCat Coaching’s experience coaching hundreds and hundreds (thousands and thousands) of individuals. They were in a different market segment than TR started out in: if you are willing to spend 10+x of what TR costs per month on a coach, it is likely you are more serious and you will adhere to a coach’s recommendation. FasCat’s plans are in a sense outdoor workout plans where you can do some bits indoors. FasCat’s plans are more rounded in that they include things like strength training and yoga.

TR started out with indoor trainers in mind. Lots of decisions can be traced back to this, e. g. TR’s endurance workouts tend to be shorter but at a higher intensity. TR’s decision to replace Sunday’s endurance ride with a sweet spot workout was born of TR’s experience that completion rates for such a long endurance workout dropped. TR’s plans don’t yet include strength work by default, just as an extra curricular activity.

My point isn’t to excuse TR’s plans or some such. Both approaches could both be great plans for the majority of the respective audiences, realizing that both audiences are different and have different constraints on average.

However, the more experience you have, the closer you are to your limit (given the constraints you are under), the more you need to deviate from standard plans. TR has tens of thousands of users, so statistically, there will always be a great number for which a stock training plan doesn’t work. And the reasons might just be user error: people are too ambitious and train themselves into the ground. This is TR’s problem to solve, but you have to understand the reasoning why. E. g. compared to their training plans now is it better if TR prescribes more vegetables (= endurance rides) and then a large share of athletes simply not eating them? Does consistency trump healthiness? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like a simple question.

TR’s solution was to help athletes by giving them tools and the knowledge (through their blog and podcast) to customize their plans and eventually introduced AT v1.0 and AI FTP. You don’t need to use any or all of these tools, but likely you are using some. With that in mind, your criticism that “I don’t follow TR’s plans.” is a bit weird: I’m using TR as intended and officially supported. I work around the limitations of its current automated functionality by amending plans manually. That has worked well for me, also because it has forced me to learn more about training. And when you understand better what you are doing, your training improves.

As a fellow scientist, I think it is absolutely crucial to be precise when speaking scientifically. Defining what we mean by e. g. polarized is important if you want to analyze the efficacy and have comparable results. That is why e. g. I find the 3-zone system useless for cycling: not only doesn’t it distinguish between e. g. sweet spot and tempo, but it also doesn’t distinguish between threshold, VO2max and anaerobic work. Yet, all polarized training plans implicitly use Coggan’s system when they prescribe threshold on one day and VO2max work on another. Furthermore, since you don’t resolve the difference between tempo and sweet spot — both are Z2, the data that you posted does not say whether the athletes who do spend quite a bit in Z2 are doing tempo, sweet spot or both. In this discussion, a distinction seems essential.

@WindWarrior mentioned a good distinction: are you looking at this from the perspective of a scientist working in exercise physiology (i. e. you want to look at the effect across many individuals, but are limited by the number of participants and duration)? Or are you a coach (i. e. you are focussing an individual, and your experience spans many individuals in less controlled conditions, but across much longer spans of time)?

Both approaches can be scientifically valid, especially since people need not respond to stimulus like the majority in a trial did. It also depends on the athlete’s goals what they want to do. The significance of TTE at 95–100 % FTP is different for a crit racer participating in races that last about 30 minutes than an Iron Man athlete. Also, you could be maxed out on a particular stimulus and you need a different stimulus to grow.

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stock off the shelf cheap plans have the same distribution

Sure, they’ve emphasized completion over recommended training for the adaptions intended. Coach Chad has said as much. Then they take a more hands off approach to see where the chips fall. This is of course the opposite of Fastcat’s approach of follow the f*ing plan, because its good for you. Could both sides land somewhere in the middle with a better balance? Sure.

I guess I’m not sure why scientists are held to this level of preciseness but CEOs and coaches aren’t. TR’s plans and suggestions are given a much deeper level of nuance and consideration than a polarizing argument from a scientist. Seiler is very vague in his prescriptions because he isn’t a coach, he simply says this is what he sees in the data, that more can be done, and then he tests hypothesis in very direct ways on small cohorts and then doesn’t over extrapolate from there. Other people might take it that way, but the same thing happens with TR athletes that don’t listen to hours of podcasts and read all the blogs and end up down an intensity hole because they have the time for a MV/HV plan. I guess my main gripe is that TR still continues to kind of sidestep the main issue, that training should be mostly easy.

You’ve found that yourself, and the original way I framed my question, if you were on a vanilla TR plan with 5 rides a week you’d be doing 4-5 days of intensity, not the 2-3 you are doing, so its not really an apples or oranges comparison with the experimental polarized plans. So to more precisely ask my initial question, do you find 2-3 hard polarized days easier or harder than 4-5 kinda hard days?

It’d be interesting to know whether “a lot” is really a lot. I wonder how many people are following the TR Polarised plans, or who is substituting in workouts or some other ride in place of the long sessions.

It still seems to me that “most” people don’t want to spend the time on the trainer to make Polarised worthwhile.

I’d also love to know what the original plans/ @chad 's optimal plan would be for Sweet Spot Base MV (for example) if he didn’t have to concern himself about compliance and TR athletes skipping long trainer sessions.

I suspect/hope there will be more energy put into this type of training with WLV2 and the next big update as it seems there will be an option to choose length of training time available, and that would logically change the type of training one might prescribe.

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I mean they’d basically be fastcat style progression weeks I would guess

I definitely find 2–3 polarized days harder than the equivalent sweet spot block with 3–4 days of intensity. (I have never done 5 days of intensity, only 4.)

However, a few caveats here: when I joined TR, my FTP was 277 W (about 3.7 W/kg, I think). I had a good aerobic base from riding tons, spending 6–12 hours in the saddle at one day of the weekend before we had kids. Doing the mid-volume vanilla plan felt very easy. My FTP has risen steadily to 348 W (4.7 W/kg). As I have increased my fitness, I found I have become more sensitive to perturbations, e. g. I am more sensitive to not sleeping enough or sleeping badly and not having eaten the right thing or eaten enough. And within the last 5 years, we have had 2 kids, and often they wreak havoc on my sleep schedule.

And I have started experimenting with plans very early in my TR career. So I am not sure I have done more than a season of bone stock TR plans, if that. I followed TR’s recommendation of adding endurance work rather than upping the volume, and that has worked very well for me. For example, I added a Friday endurance workout, and that didn’t agree with me at all. Instead, I found out that it is much better to tack on 30 minutes of endurance to all scheduled weekday workouts. Even though I spent 30 minutes more per week doing Z2 work, this was way easier on my body. Next season I might experiment doing 2 longer days of intensity rather than 3, but keeping the overall duration at intensity roughly the same.

In 2019 and 2020 I essentially did MV+/HV- plans (as measured by TSS, which, I know, isn’t perfect). And at the end of 2020, I decided to strategize across several seasons: doing a crit plan to focus on my short power (i. e. increase the height of my power tower) and then in 2022 broaden my power tower’s base. I don’t know when I started substituting endurance workouts for Sunday’s sweet spot workouts, but I did this, because I have heard the recommendation on TR’s podcast and wanted to try it. Personally, I didn’t feel much difference, and found sweet spot workouts more engaging. Yet, I erred more on the endurance side, because I didn’t want my endurance to fall behind my FTP if that makes sense.

I did a polarized block at the first opportunity to see what the buzz was all about and how my body would react to it. Specifically, I did a 6-week block before my Plan Builder training plan (with sweet spot base), and that combo was ace. My endurance-at-power greatly improved, peaking at sweet spot PL 9.1 or so this season. I gained about 20 W that season (peak-to-peak FTP). I again based my training plan around a mid-volume plan and added endurance work.

Now I use polarized blocks strategically when I want to work on my endurance-at-power (when I want to increase my PLs). E. g. I took one month off in spring because of a family vacation, and to my surprise, my FTP hadn’t fallen that much — but my endurance was atrocious. So I added a polarized block to address that.

However, I have never substituted a sweet spot or built block for the equivalent polarized block because I felt I had too many days of intensity. Instead, I dropped down to low-volume and added endurance work (which was only for the current block). Essentially, the only difference is that my Saturday workout (scheduled on Fridays) is an endurance workout and not threshold.

Because coaches and CEOs aren’t scientists?! When you invite me to give a talk about semiclassics in condensed matter or topological phenomena in periodic media (some of my areas of expertise), then I would hold myself to a higher standard than when I post about training and exercise physiology (where I’d call myself a somewhat self-educated layperson). Seiler is one of the experts in the world on polarized training, and it makes a difference whether or not he is consistent in his definitions and analysis. That’s because if the scientific community doesn’t define polarized training properly, then studies become hard or impossible to compare, something that Seiler himself admitted.

Coach Frank and to a lesser degree @Nate_Pearson follow a scientific approach, but they are not scientists. (I think Coach Frank’s podcast where he tells his story before becoming a coach full time is excellent, he really susses out the difference between being a scientist and a coach that follows scientific principles. And he was directly involved in the development of Coggan’s approach and sweet spot base training.) Now you could say they are just trying to sell their services, yes, but I really believe them that they are trying to base their approach on science coupled with experience, because ultimately, good results is what brings them repeat customers.

I don’t think that’s it.
Seiler himself said that comparing studies on polarized training and comparing a polarized to a pyramidal approach has become difficult, because some works that are purported to test a polarized strategy look more pyramidal. It also matters if he introduces a two-zone model, which erases the distinction between polarized and pyramidal.

All of this sounds as if I am bashing Seiler and don’t like polarized training. I do use polarized blocks and they work for me, especially in combination with sweet spot. And in terms of general principles, I found myself nodding with much of what Seiler has said. Still, I think if you are recognized as one of the (perhaps the) foremost authority on polarized training, you are judged differently than a coach or a CEO.

If people neither educate themselves nor hire a professional, then their training will likely not be as effective. Is that surprising? Not really.

Is TR really sidestepping the issue? I have had no problems using TR’s tools to create training plans that suit my needs. Customizing training plans and picking the right training plans has been a perennial topic on the blog and TR’s podcast. And I listen to my body, not marketing and the proof is in the pudding: am I getting faster? What metrics do I use to gauge my fitness? Can I sustain the training I am doing now? Is my training too hard or can I do more? Software can only help me to a degree.

Just to clarify: TR could do a lot do make their training plans better and to steer people towards a training plan that is more in line with their abilities and try to automate some parts to help beginners. At least some of the features I’d like are actively being worked on, e. g. that I can determine how long workouts should be on a given day. That’d help me a lot. And there was repeated talk about a plan below low-volume.

It’s all sweet spot in the end :wink:

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Judging non-scientifically from the forums, it seems a lot of people opted for polarized blocks who just could not sustain the overall intensity. There is also a large intersection with the crowd who claims that the ramp test overestimates their FTP. (This is not meant as a ding or an underhanded compliment.) If you combine both, you get a training plan with more endurance work, 2 days of intensity instead of 3 or 4 (if we are staying on mid-volume). And if the FTP the athlete chose is lower than their actual lactate threshold, their steady-state threshold workout might be a sweet spot workout.

Perhaps this is exactly what these people need, but I’d say they are following a sort-of sweet spot plan with less days of intensity.