How-to Guide

Polarized Endurance Training


Can you structure your endurance training to get more return on the investment of energy you put out? Yes. Interestingly, some high-caliber strategies that help you progress faster may seem a little counterintuitive. Spending time training in lower intensity effort zones can ultimately help you go faster and farther later. That is the concept behind our course entitled Going Slow to Go Fast, and it is also the methodology behind the concept called polarized training. This How-to Guide helps you implement this training technique if you decide to try it.


Find Your Zones

We can measure training intensity (i.e. how “hard” exercise is) in a number of different ways including things like running speed, perceived effort, oxygen consumption, and heart rate.

When using any of these methods, we can separate activities into three intensity zones. These effort zones apply to any type of endurance sport (cycling, running, rowing, etc.). Below “Zone Guidance”, we will use running as an example of how to find your zone.

Polarize Your Training

To increase endurance capability polarized training means spending most of your time in two training poles: lower intensity efforts around 65% of your maximal heart rate and higher intensity zones around 85% of maximal heart rate or higher. The middle zone, around 75-85% maximum heart rate, is avoided in this training method.

Now that you have your training zones (by speed and/or heart rate), it’s time to go out and train!

  • Zone 1 Training - 3 to 4 Workouts per Week: To try a more “polarized” approach to training, try doing 3-4 workouts per week where your heart rate stays within zone 1. Don’t worry if it feels slow.
  • Zone 2 Training: Avoid!
  • Zone 3 Training - 1 to 2 Workouts per Week: Do some type of interval training where you really push the intensity in spurts. The sprint intervals can be varied in length. An example is to sprint on a track for four to eight intervals of 10 to 60 seconds with maximal efforts followed by one to four minutes rest between intervals. Another approach is to find a hill and sprint up it then walk back down, rest and start again. For the recovery period, aim to be fairly well recovered so that you can put more into your sprint intervals.
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