Polarized vs. Time Crunched





Disclaimer:  I am most certainly NOT a coach.  What I know about training I learned by picking things up here and there.  From friends and competitors, internet discussion lists, and trial and error.  All that, plus more than 30 years of experience has helped me figure out a training regime that works pretty well for me.

If you frequent internet discussion lists relating to training for cycling you will see two common trains of thought.  Polarized Training, and “Time Crunched” training.  Recently Velonews produced a podcast comparing the two methods.  It’s worth a listen.

My tendency is more towards polarized training.  If I had the time that I did when I was in college I would ride more hours year round than I do now.  Frankly, I just like riding my bike and within reason I’ve always enjoyed the more is better line of thinking.

But then real life kicked in.  Working 8 hours a day during the winter when some days have barely more than 8 hours of daylight put a cramp in my riding.  I did a lot of bike commuting over the years until my office moved further away and bike commuting in the dark was no longer a smart option.  I tried to adjust.  I tried lunch rides.  Not too appealing on the frontage road.  I tried working 6-2:30, but that didn’t work out either.

Finally I settled into riding the trainer during the week when the days were short.  I tried doing “normal” types of rides and found them incredibly boring.  Riding 90 minutes at an endurance pace was pretty horrible from my point of view.  Then I started reading about 2×20′ workouts.  The context was 2×20′ @ FTP (Functional Threshold Power) which I think is pretty horrible on a trainer.  While it may be a great workout, you have to actually want to do it and then get out on the bike.

Over time I kind of fell into a routine that I think is worth your consideration if like me your winter riding time is limited.

From the end of Daylight Savings Time until it comes back in the spring, I’m on the trainer Monday through Friday. What I’ve settle on is a one hour trainer ride where I do 2×20′ in the Tempo to Sweet Spot power zone.  Tempo is defined as between 76 and 90 % of your FTP according to Training Peaks.  I call 80% of FTP my minimum power level for these intervals, well, just because.  Sweet Spot, explained here is about 88-92% of FTP.

I do about a 10-12 minute warm up, hit the lap timer on my Garmin and settle in for 20′.  To make this a bit more bite sized I break it up into 5′ blocks.  Every 5 minutes I shift up two cogs and stand up for about 20 seconds to give my butt a break, then sit down and get back at it.  Between the two intervals I ease back into a low endurance, recovery level for about 5′, then back at it for another 20′ of Tempo/Sweet Spot, then a 5′ cool down.

All in, it takes about an hour and for me burns about 1,000 KiloJoules.

Each fall when I start this regimen, it’s kind of hard.  Not death defying by any means, but it takes a couple of weeks to adapt again.  Over the winter the power level that I find comfortable increases slightly as I get more fit.  I’ll start the winter doing more Tempo than Sweet Spot, but as time goes on I’ll find myself more and more in the Sweet Spot zone.  BTW, I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT pick a power number that I’m shooting for that day and do what it takes to hit it.  If I’m tired and feel crappy, it’s closer to 80%.  If I’m feeling really good it’s closer to 90%.

On the weekends, weather permitting I go on long rides in the hills (4-6 hours each day) and will generally get in about 15 hours per week.  I don’t have any particular training goal on those long weekend rides other than to have fun, ride lots and maybe hit it hard here and there if I’m in the mood.

Some people are appalled by the idea of riding the trainer 5 days a week.  Sure, it’s not as fun as riding outside everyday, but you do what you gotta do.

This started out as something to get me through the winter in decent shape, but frankly it has turned into my secret weapon.

This is the shit that kills.  Seriously!

When I start racing in the spring I’m not “race fit”.  I haven’t done any of the really hard types of effort that are important to win races.  But I feel like I’ve got an incredible depth when I’m out there.  I just feel like I can always dig in for more and will always be in on the kill.  I may not have what it takes to “eat first”, but I will be there.  Then, when DST comes back I transition into a more polarized type of training.  Hard and easy days during the week with some higher level VO2 Max and above efforts.  That helps get me to the level where I sometimes get to “eat first”. 🙂

The last few years I’ve done a count down of trainer rides on Strava.  I just count up the number of non-holiday week days until DST comes back.  Subtract planned vacation day’s and there is my number.  This last winter (2016-2017) my number was 74.  Of course here and there you get a rainy weekend day so I generally do a few more than the count down number, but it’s fun and it helps get me through the winter.

So, back to the “Time Crunched” vs. Polarized.  I don’t look at it as an “either/or” situation.  I use both at various times of the year.  I would suggest that riders look at all of the training methodologies, workouts, etc. that they can find, try things out and find what works for them.

1 Comment

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One Response to Polarized vs. Time Crunched

  1. Rafael

    Great article. I will give this a try this winter, starting today!

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