Help with polarized intensity distribution

Hey everyone,

I’m putting together the next phase of my training plan and I’m looking to clarify some things regarding polarized training intensity distribution. I’m interested in making my next phase more polarized, but I’m struggling to understand how to implement the intensity split.

I’ve listened to several interviews with Dr. Seiler and understand the 80/20 split refers to easy versus hard sessions. However, when looking at time in zone (TIZ), the split seems closer to 90/10 or an even lower percentage of intensity.

I know many other sports have more training sessions per year, often with double days. Cycling is a bit different; many of our sessions are longer, reducing the number of sessions for a given total training volume.

My question is: How should I decide how much or how often to do intensity workouts?

I understand a key point of polarized training is being fresh enough to truly nail those key high-intensity workouts. If I follow an 80/20 split by sessions (easy vs. hard), I’d be doing one hard workout per week. The issue is that with a 90/10 TIZ split, I’d need 60 minutes per week hard or above threshold. This seems unrealistic for me. I can handle 3 x 20 minutes at threshold, but going above threshold or VO2 max for 60 minutes in one session is a no-go.

Here are the numbers as I see them:

  • Current training: 8.3 hours/week average for the past 41 weeks
  • Increased training: Potentially increase to a 10-hour/week average (considering illness impact on previous volume)
  • Structured training: Estimate 45 weeks/year of actual structured training
  • Total training sessions: Roughly 200 sessions/year (assuming 4-5 days/week)
  • Yearly training total: Approximately 450 hours

Intensity Split Calculations:

  • 80/20 Split by Sessions:
    • Total sessions/year: 200
    • “Hard” sessions/year: 40
    • Frequency: Approximately 1 hard session/week
  • 90/10 Split by TIZ:
    • “Hard” time/year: 45 hours (2700 minutes)
    • Weekly “hard” time: 60 minutes/week (2700 minutes / 45 training weeks)
  • Even at a 95/5 Split:
    • Weekly “hard” time: 30 minutes/week above threshold

Am I on the right track? Even with 45 training weeks, some will be rest weeks, race weeks, tapers, etc.

If someone can help me clear this up, it would be greatly appreciated.

Don’t use something that is descriptive to prescribe training.

Work backwards from your goal events, start with 2 key workout per week and a standard 3 on 1 off block.

Work your training blocks from a general prep phase to a more race specific phase closer to your race.

This is a generally safe setup that you can then experiment with to see what works best for you.

I would also take a look at the Tim Cusick WKO webinars, they do a good job of setting out general training principals.


Just my opinion, but you may be overthinking this. If the desired split is 80/20 sessions, for a week that would typically be 1 intensity session and 4 endurance sessions, right?

You’ll be fine to do one intensity session a week…that shouldn’t be enough to dig you into a hole. You should see an increase in the high intensity time and power as you progress. Then, do what you can at endurance pace the rest of the week., if it’s 3 days, that will give you even more rest days (3 days instead of only 2). When you are able to increase time, add another day of endurance or increase the time for the existing endurance sessions.

ok, forget that for now. Ride easy a lot. Two or three times a week, do intervals or high intensity repeats. Think like a coach and structure your hard work. At 450 hours/year, that works out to 8+ hours/week on average. So about 4 or 5 times a week. If you recover easily then do intervals/repeats on 3 days a week. You can get really really far by just riding easy and doing threshold work on the interval/repeat days. You’ll likely need to build up to that, and possibly want to target specific durations for example a 10 minute climb. I’ve had my own debate about effectiveness of easy work, and as a mid-packer with average genetics, stressful job, and later in life athlete, I’ve come down to just riding easy and then doing high-intensity repeats and threshold work. At the end of the year it happens to come out to something like 75% easy, 20% moderate, and 5% all-out. Not by design, but like Dr Seiler found by looking in the rear view mirror.

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Thanks for the replies!

My current training season has been as you all have described 2-3 hard sessions per week with the rest being low intensity. My current training feels good, but I’m always interested in learning and experimenting. Many if not most other coaches I have listened to also recommend a similar intensity split.

My current intensity breakdown is 72% Z1 & Z2, 22% Z3 & Z4, and 6% Z5+. One reason I’m considering a more polarized approach is the planned increase in training volume. While I’m aiming for a 10-hour weekly average, this will likely mean many 11-12 hour weeks. Balancing this with a 60+ hour workweek and family life, I see polarization as a potential way to manage overall stress load.

Additionally, I used to target 5-6 hour gravel races, but a recent 2-hour MTB race exposed my lack of top-end short-duration power. This isn’t surprising given my training history. Since my next race will likely be MTB, I want to develop that higher power aspect a bit more. So, considering the volume increase and desired improvement area, polarization again seemed like a good option.

Regarding the Tim Cusick webinars, I actually watched one yesterday. Not the most entertaining way to spend trainer time, but valuable information nonetheless.

you are already doing it “right” without having to use the word polarized. Just take it easy on the long rides, and if it seems too easy, power up a bit. The non-Seller version is:

  • long-term endurance adaptions are driven by duration, not intensity
  • you need some high-intensity work to drive companion adaptations
  • there is some minor gains from pushing low-intensity to higher intensity, theoretically, but its really capped by recovery so don’t push power, push duration

Agree with WW. I wasn’t advocating the polarized 80/20 sessions, just addressing that, as it’s been discussed many times.

I’m in a bit of the same boat, as I did just outside MTB rides (almost no Z2, >50% z4&5) for a number of years, and maxed out (actually went backward with some burnout), but started building up some consistent z2 (very close to 80/20 tiz), and the change in my fitness across all zones has been remarkable over the last 1.5 years. I’ve gotten really consistent in z3&4, too, except my high end (climbing) hasn’t kept up, and looking at how much time I’ve been spending above threshold the last couple months…it’s very little (less than 10% z4&5). I credit my fitness, because I’m mostly satisfied with how fast I’m riding (my group is making me lead way too much these days) and am facing limitations in bike handling at these speeds :smiley:. So I need to work some supra-threshold and bike handling in there somewhere.

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There are many threads here discussing polarized training. My take-aways from the threads is:

  • There is no universally agreed upon definition of what polarized is.
  • Polarized training is, as @Twowkg correctly pointed out, descriptive not necessarily prescriptive.
  • The more time you spend on the bike, the more of that time you need to spend in Z2 (of 7)/Z1 of 3.
  • The three-zone model is very limited when prescribing workouts, because — as you point out — threshold ≠ VO2max workouts. You can do 60ish minutes at threshold. You cannot do 60ish minutes at VO2max in one workout.
  • When it comes to TR specifically, many people were drawn to polarized training plans as they had fewer intense days. Now you can achieve the same by ticking the Master’s option.
  • What was completely missing from your post is what your goals are and how your body has reacted to it. I have been using polarized blocks for several years now, and my body and mind react differently to polarized blocks than to e. g. sweet spot blocks. My FTP increases less, but it steels my mind and makes me able to endure more time at (a lower) FTP. YMMV, but that has been my experience.
  • The biggest two factors in my experience are consistency and sleep. Obivously, the two are related (chronic lack of sleep usually leads to lower consistency). How I spend the time on the trainer is less important.

Seiler says a lot of different things in different interviews and podcasts. I would not base my training off of what he has said in any of them. (I can recall him saying in one podcast “Don’t do what I do.”)

I would start afresh and answer the following questions:

  • What are your goals?
  • Why do you think that changing from the current observed intensity distribution (which looks very healthy IMHO) to a polarized distribution would help you become faster?
  • Why do you feel the need to create your own training plans? TR has polarized Base and Build blocks, which have evolved over time. Is designing your own worth it?
  • How many hard sessions on the trainer can you sustain? 2? 3?
  • What do you do in the Speciality phase? Polarized is in most cases not specific to your events or your riding. Polarized training is best for Base and Build blocks.