Polarized Training with Stephen Seiler, PhD | EP#177 That Triathlon Show

  • I’m happy you like the sheet. It’s something I continue to refine and am open to comments (and corrections) if you see anything you think could be improved.

  • As to my POL experiment, I think the basic approach can work well for me. I finished the 4-week test with a good overall feel and no excessive fatigue. It seemed like less tired legs than a typical TR SSB 2 or Build for comparison.
  • I wish that I would have had the time to apply a 6-week test, then a break, and a 6-week TR Build for comparison. But I was short on time and then got sick for two weeks shortly after completing the POL period. So I don’t have any great comparison that was as closely times as I would have liked.
  • But as I am currently in the 6th week of my Sustained Power Build, I can see some differences in fatigue. The first 3 weeks I followed the main plan and did the SS Sunday workouts. I think I ended up with a decent dose of fatigue with that approach.
  • I swapped to the longer Endurance pace workout at the end of week 5, in hopes of getting some relief that is more like the POL approach. I think it likely helped me recover for this current week. I hope to do the long trainer option again this week and next.
  • I think I got good, but manageable stress from those 4+ hour trainer rides. They lead to some notable DOMS that I haven’t seen in other shorter, higher intensity rides for the most part. I have had some (like Le Conte) that crushed me and I was sore for days. It’s interesting to me that I had similar muscle soreness from “easy” rides on the trainer that stretched well past 3 hours.
  • On those long trainer rides, I made every attempt to do the entire workout with little or no coasting. I nailed most with less than 10 seconds of coasting in most, and a few with no coasting. The mental strain got tough on one or two, but it was a different strain than a over-threshold workout like VO2 Max ones.

  • One very notable difference in my training right now is that I am including run training 3 times a week. That was absent during my POL test last October. I am working to get better run results in my duathlon’s this season. I am certain that the extra time on the run is adding to my overall fatigue. I eased into it with 2 short bricks per week for about a month. At 8 weeks into my run training, I am up to 3 runs (2x 20 min bricks at easy pace, and 1 solo LSD run for about an hour) that are aimed at my Sprint distance Du’s.

  • Back to POL, I think the basic concept with my 7-9 hours per week allow for good use of the POL approach. I have taken the positive feel of the extra long easy days and want to do those at least twice per month for my Sunday rides. More if I can afford the extra time.
  • I still like the option of the shorter Sweet Spot option to meet life’s other commitments. They still pack a decent punch, but ideally I hope to do a mix with the LSD ones. Maybe alternate weeks in the best case.

Let me know if I didn’t answer your questions, as I rambled a bit above. Happy to answer any other questions.


Those 2 minute recoveries still kill me. Maybe I’m soft, but I couldn’t come close to resting that short and still getting up to the power I estimated was needed for each set.

However, that was also before I got more familiar with the real goals of VO2 max and the adjustments I can make to get through the sets and get the right demands from my body. I should probably retry that approach again at some point, but a 1:1 work/rest seems more to my liking :stuck_out_tongue:

1 Like

Yes. Although Hour of Power is replaced by 40km Time Trial data. In my case the 40km results produce a CP60 of 235 watts +/- depending on race course and conditions. But over years and many races that number holds up.

FTP testing (20min, 8 min or RAMP) are all fairly consistent too and produce an FTP estimate of 240-250 watts.

We’re talking almost a decade of tests and races so pretty good consistency over time and accounting for fitness and training consistency across seasons.

MLSS testing shows about 230-235w which is probably not accidentally consistent with 40km wattage.

In terms of TR programs, if I use the 240-250 watt estimates I can complete SweetSpot Build I and II as programmed. The longer workouts hurt, and they should, but are doable.

For Sustained Power Build, I had to change from 3:1 to 2:1 work week to rest week to complete the plan. There were also several workouts that I could not complete. Had I used a 230w or 235w FTP suspect that 2:1 would have been 100% success and probably OK at 3:1

Since I’ve been training for TTs over the last many years, when I try short power build or other heavy VO2max type workouts I really suffer. That’s specificity in training revealing itself.

Hope that addresses the question. I’m only one data set so others might have a completely different experience to report.



Yes, same here as a true recreational/enthusiast cyclist. Keep in mind those were self-selected maximal 8-min efforts. They were not done in erg mode. Would be interesting to go out and try pacing outside, I suspect my power would drop on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th intervals with only 2-min recoveries. Not sure how much, but it would drop. Forgot if the study commented on the same.

1 Like

Also of note… 90% HR max is a much easier and repeatable interval than 120% of FTP, even if that FTP is your true 1 hour power for most people. 3 minute self-selected intervals will often put me in to zone 5 of the Norwegian model or greater than 92%

So we’re probably talking about something like 5-10% over threshold at most. (or even some people’s FTP in TR)

1 Like

Kudos for that episode. 2 other takeaways:

  • According to Seiler polarized is also recommended with 5 training hours per week
  • From around 1:13 hours in (devils advocate part) Seiler says that those other approaches (like TR I assumed) would only work short term (giving the example of the most winning Norwegian Olympian cross country skier) which contradicts what Nate pointed out here

So it seems a bit words against words :exploding_head:… Looking forward to hearing your take on this.

1 Like

More than words, the approach applied by hundreds and even thousands of TR athletes seems to point to reasonable success from their plans. The big data thread was a small window into some of the info they have in the hands.

Whenever they do the bid, deep dive on training (that is supposed to address POL as well as their info) I hope to hear more specifics about what they see from their athletes. I suspect they have been mining the data to look at consistency, compliance, frequency, and the related metrics to judge progress (FTP, PR’s, etc.) and share with us what they see as the most likely path (or paths?) to success.

I think there is a strong chance that many types of plans can work. POL isn’t for everyone and neither is Threshold. I think there are strong points with each approach and likely a blend of concepts from each may well prove effective for a wide range of athletes.

In particular, I think we will see data from the TR side that includes more “regular” athletes (as opposed to the Dr. Seiler’s that seem to be heavy on pro’s) as well as more abbreviated schedules (likely 5-10 hours per week with a big mass at 6-7 hours per week). I think we can likely draw potentially better conclusions because the “subjects” are more alike than the massive gap to what we see with the pro’s.

To my knowledge there hasn’t been a study that has shown the efficacy of Sweet Spot vs 80/20 Polarized. Essentially Seiler v. Overton

This study is interesting though…

From all that I’ve heard/read/thought about, you MUST perform your high intensity intervals at a specificity that aligns with your goal events. If you’re a XC, Crit, CX racer, simply doing a bunch of 4x8 @ 105% of FTP can’t possibly give you the response you’re looking for. Or at least I don’t believe so. That’s why there are microburst and short VO2 or Anaerobic workouts. Going above 90% of HR max has to have merit. Training to your goals, events, etc is crucial.


you might surprise yourself with how well you can do 1 hour if you work up to it; 30 min, then 40m…60m.

I recently did that and wrote a blog about pacing through the 60 minutes


Just got around to listening to this and yet again @Mikael_Eriksson it was a really good listen.

I’d be interested in yours, or if there is to be a follow up interview Stephen Seiler’s, opinion about how to manage high intensity training when threshold HR is a high percentage of HR max. I have no problem keeping the majority of my training below 75% but recently ran a half marathon at 91% of max HR so conceivably my 1 hour or threshold HR maybe a couple of beats and percent higher than that.

This has the effect of making any sort of VO2 max effort, running or cycling brutally hard and usually confined to pretty short intervals. If I collect minutes at 90% as per Seiler and the show notes those are sub threshold minutes and still bloody hard, and heading into true VO2 Max territory means hitting those 94-95% HR max intervals which are unsustainable for very long.

The net effect is that there is generally not a great differential between my tempo and VO2 max run pace and the same is reflected on the bike. I guess it may mean that I need to do those short intervals to raise the roof to create a bit more room for threshold growth and be careful about allowing enough recovery time for those really hard efforts?

You’ve had a great run of interviews over the past few months btw. Seiler, Joel Filliol, Dan Loreng, Phil Skiba, Tim Floyd, Sebastian Weber to name but a few. Some real big hitters in there :+1:


Hi Mikael, I wonder if you could outline what you do for your high intensity bike workouts. I believe you suggest two a week but wonder how you structure these and whether you vary HIIT prescription or stick to one approach eg two 4x8 workouts each week. Thanks again for your podcasts and your follow up via these pages.

Thank you @Mikael_Eriksson for both the podcast and the reply! I think i just really need here this directly. I’ll give going even slower a real chance and report back after my race

I don’t know if he really agrees with that. The research concerning actual distribution probably isn’t as strong as the stuff concerning volume, for example. And, anyways, it’s a funny pyramid he describes (the split is like 70 z1/ 15 z2/ 15 z3 and some other variations that are nonetheless very bottom heavy.

To really flesh this thing out we need to see a POL year round training plan and what that would look like. I’m guessing it still would have some sort of pyramidal structure.

Not sure what he really believes, but it seemed to be a contrast from Fast Talk podcast where I recall he made the claim pro cyclists were polarized.

Show notes:

If you look at triathlon, particularly Ironman, we see the distibution being more pyramidal.

It steps down from 80% at low intensity, and maybe 10:10, or 12:8 percent at zone 2 and 3.

Didn’t see anything in the show notes about cycling being pyramidal, thought I heard it. Planning to listen again.

yeh I think that’s clutch… “more pyramidal”. Maybe @Mikael_Eriksson will chime in on it. Also, I’m pretty sure in FastTalk, Seiler also says you see pro cyclists being “more pyramidal” than their XCski and rowing counterparts. Also - as for what he “really believes”, I think he’s pretty plain spoken and straightforward. I don’t think he is really trying to pull the wool over people and it’s notable that being a coach isn’t his job, but rather his passion and he could go on his merry way writing, reviewing and publishing articles like any professor without the hassle of all these interviews.

By “more pyramidal” I’m pretty sure he’s not finding lots of pros doing plans like Sweet Spot High Volume base or Overton’s planned sweet spot plans. I’m not even sure these are pyramidal if you make the count on total sessions vs time in HR or power zone.

1 Like

Note: The statement below is incorrect in regards to the information in this podcast; see responses for an explanation. Post kept for reference.

One thing that was missing was how the HR% calculation works which is pretty important to understand. When Seiler is talking about 90% HRpeak he’s actually talking about a heart rate that is 90% of the way between your resting heart rate and you’re peak.

90% HRpeak = 0.9 x (HRpeak - HRrest) + HRrest



That is not what he said:

Your heart rate max will likely be different for each discipline because they’re movement specific.

Typically running will give the highest heart rate max, and we tend to call the others heart rate ‘peak’.

The cycling heart rate peak might be 5-7 beats lower than the heart rate max in running.


Balls, this is where I’m a bit screwed. I hit 200 on a race on Zwift a year ago, but I haven’t done anything even remotely close to that in ages. Don’t think I’ve even hit 170HR in months, just haven’t been high intensity stuff… just messing around outdoors as I can’t train indoors (though I’m starting now to do proper sweet spot and threshold work and am interested in trying POL properly if I can work out how to approach it right).

Resting at its lowest from Apple Watch shows 45 this year. How would I work out my HR zones if I can’t get a fix on my max?

Lactate test. His zone 1/2 border is defined by LT1. And other borders are power at 60 min test, and 6 min test. No HR in original zone definitions.

1 Like