OK, here’s my thoughts on the Polarised Plans. They just happened to come along before I finished my last Plan Builder assigned progression. I was starting to get a little jaded with that if truth be told, after all I’d been doing some variation of Low Volume Sweet Spot Base and various Build plans since October 2019 (all hail the Covid lockdowns!) so something new would be of help.
I went with the Mid Volume plans, six week then eight week. The reason for “stepping up” from LV wasn’t so much that I was fitter (I was) but that my LV plans invariably included longer weekend rides so I was really swapping LV + unstructured/un-associated rides with an endurance ride associated with a workout.
I set all workouts to be outdoors. I began the plans in the first week of April just as the weather here in the UK was becoming drier if not warmer - we’ve had one of the coldest springs in recent years. This raised its own problems in that I live in a hilly area, even the “flat” roads are anything but, “rolling” would be a better description. Not a problem with the endurance workouts but a bit of Strava detective work, i.e. looking at my times on various potential hills and I reckoned I could map workouts onto some of those. It’s surprising just how far you can go, even uphill, in sixteen minutes! Also the hills aren’t a steady grade, the one I chose for threshold intervals had 150m @ 20%, 200m @ 10%, 100m @25%, 800m @ 5%, etc. Pacing is a nightmare!
I haven’t done an FTP test in a while - I don’t seem to get on with the Ramp Test - but I have a good idea of how various workouts should feel and, yes, let’s be honest, I’d probably stagnated. The eFTP from intervals.icu was 5W lower than that obtained via one of the few good Ramp Tests I’ve done: 267W vs 272W. (When I started on TR back in Oct 2019, my FTP was 244W) Because of this I’ll use eFTP as a proxy since there were updates during the plans and it’s the one figure I have to compare over the period plus it’s always been within 5W of the TR figure.
One last point: I signed up for AT shortly after the announcement but only got added to the Closed Beta when I was one week into the eight week build plan. Since I’d added the plans manually rather than doing the use Plan Builder then swap out the plans method I decided to keep on with the Polarised Plan and ignore AT for the duration. I knew I wouldn’t get any adaptations but I wasn’t looking at going along that road at this time.
I found the endurance workouts very easy, in fact the hardest part was keeping the power down, this was in part due to the aforementioned rolling roads - keeping to 70% of FTP is rather tricky when you are faced with a 16% grade! Most of the time I just went for a ride and didn’t bother about the duration so a 2hr workout often ended up as a four hour ride. I often did these on my mountain bike which doesn’t have a power meter so I went by HR instead - I’ve a good idea of what pace/HR to do for 70% and Strava’s estimated power isn’t far off.
The threshold and VO2max workouts meant hill work. The first threshold workout, San Pedro, called for eight minute efforts - easy enough. My PB on the segment I used for the 16min threshold was 13;30 so slightly short of the duration required but pacing and using the next bit of road meant I was never much more than a minute short. The plan called for two repeats, then three the next week and four the week after that. After the last of these Intervals.icu bumped my eFTP to 272W, i.e. the same as from the Ramp Test. Here’s my notes from that workout (Bartlett Peak):
Pretty consistent with times and power on each lap/climb. A slight decline over the first three then a bigger drop to the fourth one. I think a fifth would have been really hard work so just right for where I’m at. The power levels were actually: 105%, 106%, 105%, 103%, so pushing into the bottom of VO2max territory - this is born out in intervals.icu which shows 24mins in that zone, so probably the intervals were really a set of over-unders. Looking at the power trace, they do look very over-under in nature, albeit with the overs at 117% and the unders at 90%, obviously dictated by the gradients and ramps of the climb.
VO2max is one of my weak points on the trainer - I possibly move the bike a lot and the fixed nature of the trainer means I can’t do that. Outside I’m a bit freer. My chosen hill for these varied between flat and maybe 5% but long enough that I could choose “flat then climb” or “climb then flat”. Again these worked well and I hit or exceeded the power targets repeatedly and consistently though 12 efforts over the same bit of road do tire somewhat!
I didn’t see any further improvements during the Base phase and the start of the Build phase was delayed slightly by a four day bikepacking trip in the south of England.
There’s a few common workouts in Base and Build and one of these, Mount Grant, saw my next increase in eFTP to 276W. The week after this saw a significant rise in eFTP to 291W. Here’s my ride notes:
“Got an email from intervals.icu that my eFTP had risen to 291W because of this ride! It could well be right, my average power for the four climbs was 316W, 294W, 294W & 302W. The middle two definitely felt repeatable, with an FTP of 272W they would be at 108% whereas with a 291W they are at 101% - much more likely. Also I shouldn’t be able to ride for 15mins at 116% as with the first interval, again with a 291W FTP that drops to 108%.”
There haven’t been any further improvements. The two plans though designated Base and Build are pretty much of a muchness so there’s not a lot to say about Build that hasn’t already been said about Base.
Overall the plans fitted in with work and the weather surprisingly well. I felt that targeting just two hard workouts a week was much easier than the three called for in the Sweet Spot LV plans and I could really focus on them.
One thing I have noticed: I suffer from cramps quite a lot but following the Polarised Plans I’ve been getting much fewer attacks. Not sure if it’s entirely related or just coincidence.
I’ve not manually bumped my FTP within TR but workouts on my latest plan do feel “easy” - I could have done another couple of sets of Ritter with no problem and Tunnabora’s Sweet Spot could have been twice as long without worrying me.
In conclusion. Do they work? A qualified yes from me. It’s a bit hard to tell if the improvements were because of the plans themselves or just that I needed a change. Certainly for summer they make a lot of sense with only short sessions of hard work with the rest of the time really being “just riding”.