graphic interpreting polarized training method as 80/20 mix of intensities, from green to yellow/red

Polarizing Your Training, with Dr. Stephen Seiler

This episode is a deep dive into polarized training with Dr. Stephen Seiler, Grant Holicky, Andrew Randall, Steve Neal, and Larry Warbasse.

FTL Dr. Stephen Seiler episode 51

Episode 51 of Fast Talk is one that Coach Connor and Chris Case are particularly excited about. In fact, Trevor is so enamored with our guest’s research that he refers to him as the Jay-Z of physiology. (We don’t really know what that means, but we’re fascinated that Trevor knows who Jay-Z is.)

Dr. Stephen Seiler has revolutionized our understanding of endurance training. Perhaps you’ve heard us refer to his findings in previous episodes. We’ve discussed several of them in the past, just not at length or in one place. Today it all comes together, and we’re privileged to have Dr. Seiler to help explain what can be, at times, some complex science.

Full disclosure: this episode is a deep dive. If this is your first time listening to Fast Talk, we recommend starting with an appetizer. In episode 14, we discuss the difference between polarized and sweet-spot training, which give you the context you need to follow this conversation.

In this episode, we take a deep dive into many of Dr. Seiler’s theories, including:

  • Why both coaching techniques and the science have become so biased toward high-intensity training when that isn’t how the best athletes train.
  • Dr. Seiler’s three-zone model of training.
    • In his research, Seiler has pointed out that when we test, there are two physiological breakpoints. One is our anaerobic threshold, or MLSS. (Your coach may call it FTP.) The other breakpoint is often called our aerobic threshold. Seiler feels these breakpoints define three physiological zones. Zone 1 is below the aerobic threshold, and what we call easy base training. Zone 2 is between the breakpoints and has many names, including “no man’s land” or “sweet spot.” The third zone is our high-intensity training zone.
  • Next, we’ll talk about how, by studying elite athletes, Seiler found a remarkable consistency: most endurance athletes train about 80% of the time in Zone 1, around 15-20% in Zone 3, and very little in Zone 2. This has become known as polarized training.
  • We’ll take a deep dive with Dr. Seiler into both Zone 1 and Zone 3 training and how to approach both.
    • A theme will start to emerge, and you’ll hear one of the top physiologists in the world repeat it again and again: keep it simple. That might seem surprising, but the research is clear: complex intervals and overly detailed training plans may hurt more than they help. Ultimately, it may be as simple as accumulating time in the various zones in the right ratios.
  • Finally, we’ll discuss how these principles apply specifically to training.
    • Seiler’s research includes Nordic skiers, rowers, runners, and cyclists. So be warned, at times you’ll hear some concepts that may be unfamiliar to you. For example, cycling is one of the few places where endurance athletes do five-hour workouts. In other endurance sports, they add volume by doing two-a-days.

Our featured guest is, of course, Dr. Stephen Seiler, a professor of sports science in Norway, where he has lived for 22 years. But no, that’s not a Norwegian accent. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas. Dr. Seiler is now on the executive board of the well-respected European University College for Sports Science.

If you want to learn more about his research, he’s on Twitter and tries to make all of his research and presentations available for free on Research Gate.

RELATED: Fast Talk Episode 100—The Past, Present, and Future of Polarized Training

In addition to Dr. Seiler, our other esteemed guests include:

  • Grant Holicky, former head coach at Apex Coaching—a highly respected coaching center here in Boulder that has produced many Olympic and world champion caliber cyclists—and cofounder of Forever Endurance. Holicky talks with us about the mistakes of doing too much training in that middle zone.
  • We’ll also hear from past Canadian national champion Andrew Randall and past national mountain bike coach Steve Neal who, together run The Cycling Gym in Toronto, a city where traffic, bad roads, and cold weather dominate. The conditions justify doing lots of intensity on the trainer, but Randall and Neal explain why they don’t take that approach with their athletes and still follow a polarized model.
  • Finally, we hear from Larry Warbasse, the 2017 U.S. national road champion who rides for Aqua Blue Sport. He gives a few examples of how top pros have figured out what seems to work for them, without necessarily having read the research or knowing the scientific terms.

RELATED: Fast Talk Episode 124
How to Map Out Your Season, with Tom Skujins, Kiel Reijnen, Joey Rosskopf, and Larry Warbasse

So, are you ready to go slow to be fast? If so, this is the episode for you. Let’s make you fast!

Episode Transcript

Chris Case  00:13

Hello and welcome to Fast Talk. I’m Chris Case, managing editor of VeloNews joined by slow and steady Coach Trevor Connor. Today we present an episode that Coach Connor and I are particularly excited about. In fact, Trevor is so enamored with our guests research that he refers to him as the Jay Z of physiology. I don’t know really what that means. But I’m fascinated that Trevor knows who Jay Z is.

But I digress. Dr. Steven Siler has revolutionized our understanding of endurance training. Perhaps you’ve heard us refer to his findings in previous episodes. We’ve discussed several of them in the past, just not at length, and in one place. Today, it all comes together. And we’re privileged to have Dr Siler to help explain what can be, at times some complex science.

In this episode, we’re going to take a deep dive into many of his theories, including why both coaching techniques and the science have become so biased towards high intensity training, when that isn’t how the best athletes train.

Doctors sailors, three zone model of training, there are many zone models out there. Most of us use five zones for training some models have as many as eight or nine. In his research, Sylar has pointed out that when we test, there are two physiological breakpoints. One is our anaerobic threshold, or mlss. Your coach may call it FTP, it tends to be right around the point where we hit four millimoles of lactate. The other breakpoint, which is lower about 85% of anaerobic threshold, and that two millimoles of lactate is often called our aerobic threshold. Siler fields, these breakpoints defined three physiological zones, zone one is below the aerobic threshold and what we call EZ based training. Zone two is between the break points and has many names including no man’s land or sweet spot. The third zone is our high intensity training zone. We’ll get more into that later in the show.

Next, we’ll talk about how by studying elite athletes Siler found a remarkable consistency. Most endurance athletes train about 80% of the time in zone one, around 15 to 20% in zone three, and very little in zone two. This has become known as polarized training.

We’ll take a deep dive with Dr. Seiler into both zone one and zone three training and how to approach both a theme will start to emerge and you’ll hear one of the top physiologists in the world. repeat it again and again. Keep it simple. That might seem surprising, but the research is clear, complex intervals and overly detailed training plans may hurt more than they help. Ultimately, it may be as simple as accumulating time in the various zones in the right ratios.

Finally, we’ll discuss how these principles apply specifically to training. silos research includes Nordic skiers, rowers, runners, and cyclists. so be warned at times you’ll hear some concepts that may be unfamiliar to you. For example, Cycling is one of the few places where endurance athletes do five hour workouts. In other Endurance Sports they add volume by doing two days.

Full disclosure, this episode is a deep dive. If this is your first time listening to Fast Talk, we recommend starting with an appetizer. In Episode 14, we discussed the difference between polarized and sweet spot training, which gives you the context you need to follow this conversation.

Our featured guest today is of course, Dr. Steven Siler, a professor of sports science in Norway, where he has lived for 22 years. No, that’s not a Norwegian accent he has he received his PhD from the University of Texas. Dr. Siler is now on the executive board of the well respected European University College for sports science. If you want to learn more about his research, he’s on Twitter tries to make all of his research and presentations available for free on researchgate. Check it out.

In addition to Dr. Siler, our guests include grant hockey, head coach at Apex coaching, highly respected coaching Center here in Boulder that has produced many Olympic and World Champion caliber cyclists. How lucky talks with us about the mistakes of doing too much trading in that middle zone.

We’ll also hear from past Canadian national champion Andrew Randall, and past national mountain bike coach Steve Neal, who together run the cycling gym in Toronto, a city where traffic bad roads and cold weather dominate. The conditions justify doing lots of intensity on the trainer, but Randall and Neil explain why they don’t take that approach with their athletes and still follow a polarized model.

Finally, we hear from Larry warboss, the 2017 US National Road champion who rides for aqua blue sport. He gives a few examples of how top pros have figured out what seems to work for them without necessarily having read the research or knowing the scientific terms.

So Are you ready to go slow to be fast? If so, this is the episode for you. Let’s make you fast.

Chris Case  05:16

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you’ve listened to the Fast Talk podcast of the last couple years, you know that a lot of the things we’re going to talk about today, we’ve probably mentioned, Trevor, specifically is a great fan of Dr. Sylar his work and a lot of the concepts we’ll talk about, but this is the first time to talk with the man himself. And a lot of those concepts and hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

So I know over the last couple years with this podcast, I’ve been getting a bit of a reputation as a geek. So here’s how much of a geek and I know a lot of people out there get excited about Rihanna or Jay-Z and people like that. I kind of get excited about the some of the researchers out there. So Dr. Sadler not to make you embarrassed here. But this is kind of like for me having Jay-Z on the show.

Trevor Connor  06:57

You have had a huge impact on endurance training, and the signs of endurance training. So we’re really excited to have you here.

Chris Case  07:05

I’m really only here to control Trevor today so that he doesn’t embarrass himself. That’s my role,

Dr. Steven Seiler  07:10

but I’m gonna make sure my son hears this because he would never associate me with anybody famous like Jay-Z.

Trevor Connor  07:20

Now, are you originally from Norway? Or the US? Or

Dr. Steven Seiler  07:24

no, I’m American. So I grew up and born in Berkeley, California, but grew up in Arkansas and Texas. South. Yeah.

Trevor Connor  07:32

That I didn’t know I thought you were a European?

Dr. Steven Seiler  07:35

No, I’m a Texan.

Trevor Connor  07:39

I was gonna ask, I definitely heard that that sound in your voice. So okay.

Dr. Steven Seiler  07:46

It’s laid back. It’s a little bit more neutralized now after so long in Europe, but it comes out if I speak to other Southerners. So you guys, it’s not too bad with you. But if I were to speak to like a Southern audience, then it would get even more downhome

Trevor Connor  08:03

I get it. I’m Canadian, I usually don’t hear but I’m talking with my Canadian friends that comes out. That’s right.

Dr. Steven Seiler  08:08

So anyway, so that’s where I come from. But I’ve been in Norway a long time. And it just there’s lots of reasons why that happened involved a girl, but it also involved, traditions here, and so forth. So there were several things that all kind of added up to me coming over at a certain time.

Trevor Connor  08:25

So quick background, at least my interpretation of the research, I had, as a semiprofessional cyclist done a lot of long, slow endurance work. So I was very interested in what the research said, and kept looking for research that that talked about benefits of those long, slow rides. And at the time, I couldn’t find anything. It was all high intensity intervals, high intensity intervals, high intensity intervals. And my interpretation of it is some of this has to do with the nature of the lab, it’s very hard to bring people into a lab and say, do two years of six-hour rides on the trainer. And we’ll study you.

So there was certainly a bias towards put people on a trainer for an hour and do something with high intensity. And what I how I interpreted it is that God extended to sane, really, you should be doing all high intensity work, and there’s no value to fit to the just long and slow. Would you say that’s an accurate assessment?

Dr. Steven Seiler  09:28

Yeah, I think you really you hit the nail on the head. And I’ve been trained in this laboratory environment. And obviously, you just don’t like people don’t like to come into a laboratory and sit there and work at 75% of heart rate max for two hours. It’s just, it’s boring, but it’s also boring for the scientist. And so, interval training is kind of cool. You can measure a lot of variables. And so I think it took off a bit it’s not new, you know, interval training has been going on since the 30s and 40s. But it did kind of get the upper hand And it was also something I think that you could do with untrained people pretty quickly. You know, we’ve got just a history of studies on college students fairly untrained or active, but untrained. And then you do six-week, eight-week study in a spring semester, and you can get it published, you can finish the training and so forth before they leave.

So a lot of research has been tied to the academic calendar, and to what’s kind of doable in the laboratory. So I think you’re completely correct that we tend to look for things where the light is, and that has influenced the research. And also, when you train, when you look at untrained people, you just can’t get them to do two-hour training sessions. They’re not ready, they’re not capable.

So you kind of constrain the research just by who you’re who you’re looking at who you’re using as subjects. So that was my background as well. I mean, I was used to looking at this seamless, and also, you’ve got this wonderful American idea of no pain, no gain. Yes. That I’ve talked about in some other settings. And it’s just it was easy, it kind of went down that pathway is how can we make things more efficient, you know, we increase the intensity, we shorten the time, and we get as much or more out of the training, that was kind of the, you know, the idea, I’ll even throw another thing out at you.

And that is, is that personal trainers, the whole personal trainer phenomenon that’s developed itself over the last 20 years. If you’re a personal trainer, it’s hard to make yourself appear useful by prescribing two hour runs in the forest. So what do you do? Well, you need to prescribe training sessions where it helps for you to be yelling alongside them as they sweat. So it also that the whole personal trainer situation also tends to kind of drive this high intensity approach

Chris Case  11:55

to pull us back a little bit to where we had started and the limitations of studying humans and endurance in the lab. How did you go about figuring out a way to better understand what’s going on? What was your approach? Well, I

Dr. Steven Seiler  12:10

think my approach started with just the belief that coaches aren’t stupid. And neither are athletes. There was kind of this feeling that scientists were smart coaches and athletes were not very smart. And so scientists needed to tell them what to do. And my experience was, well, I tell you what, these guys have a lot of experience, these elite coaches have been in the game a long time, and they’ve got a lot of knowledge, they may not systematize it in exactly the same way. But they know a lot.

And so I guess the starting point for me was saying, hey, experimentation happens also between coach and athlete over the years testing out different methods. And I think probably that what athletes do is partly a result of them testing things on themselves trying and failing. That is kind of the scientific method. Right? So I guess the starting point for me was just to say, it’s meaningful to go and accurately measure what athletes what successful athletes are doing right now. And then start there. And look at how whether that creates hypotheses that we could test in the lab as it did what we see the athletes doing, did it? Did it coincide or jive with what we saw in the lab and so forth. So that was perhaps what I brought a little bit more to the table at that time. You know, when I started doing this,

Trevor Connor  13:31

right, am I actually loved about your approach was you compared the very best your world champions, your Olympic champions, to kind of that that national caliber athlete, because going back to what you were saying about a lot of the research where they’re taking untrained college students, you take somebody off the couch, and you haven’t do anything, they’re going to get fitter. But when you when you identify what’s different between that national caliber level in that highest level, you really find things that truly make a difference even in a trained athlete.

Dr. Steven Seiler  14:01

Yeah, I think I’ve said recently that my kind of summary of a half a lifetime doing this stuff is that studies on elite performers, the findings, they’re scaled down to the well-trained recreational athlete, we can learn from them. But studies of untrained people do not scale up to the well-trained population.

So that’s kind of in a nutshell, the way I see it is there’s so much that happens from the untrained to the you know, in that transition, that once that transition is over, kind of everything changes. And so that scalability isn’t there. But a lot of this intensity focus has been based on that untrained to moderately trained transition.

So I guess that’s the that’s one of the key things that we’ve done is we’ve gone away from that gone. And so now let’s look at let’s describe what the elite guys are doing. Because you can’t, you don’t experiment on the elite on the elite athletes, they they’re not going to go for that. But they’ll let you measure what they’re doing. And even they don’t even care if you describe exactly what they’re doing. Because, you know, I remember a two time gold medalist in Norway, he his training was, was depicted, you know, kind of day for day, in a book and everything well, are you giving away your secrets, he said, Now, just because I tell you what I do doesn’t mean you can repeat it doesn’t mean you can do it, you know, you still got to do the work. So that, you know, most of the elite athletes don’t mind telling you what they do.

Because it’s one thing to write it down on paper, it’s another thing to do it every day. So we started there. And then we can look at the patterns that we see, develop hypotheses and test those hypotheses in the laboratory on sub leads on dedicated, motivated, well-trained subjects that aren’t, you know, they’re not earning a living doing this stuff. But they’re well enough trained that the responses that we see in them, they are meaningful, they tell us something about that population of well-trained athletes.

Trevor Connor  16:07

Let’s dig into what you found in these elite athletes. And I guess we need to start by having you quickly explained your three zone model, which I love, because people have heard this on the podcast before this is one of my soapbox is I hate it when people talk about on going out and doing a zone to ride because the first thing I will always say to a cyclist, when they say that to me is well, what does that mean? And then they go well, you’re a coach, don’t you know what that means? I go, Yeah, actually research this. But what does zone to mean? What system? Are you working? What Why are you training at that intensity? And I was kind of get this blank look, and they’re like, zone to ride?

Dr. Steven Seiler  16:43

Is it sounds cool? No, I have it. But it definitely you need to, you know, it’s a language. And we got to make sure that we’re speaking the same language. So I think even as soon as you start talking about zones, there are different zone systems design different ways of cutting up the pie, or cutting up the, the intensity distribution. But let’s take that three zone model, I have often said, I’m not very smart, I’m a country boy. So I have to have it simple. And I think I’m probably not alone there.

So three zones, I didn’t invent it, but three zones are built around, let’s say three key physiological markers that we can go into the lab and identify, you know, if we do a progressive test or profile, we can identify what we what we might call the first lactate turn point, or the first ventilatory turn point. Typically, it’s somewhere around two millimolar blood lactate, but that’s there’s individual variation. And then we can keep going, you know, ease the intensity up a little bit more. And we can then identify a second turn point where we often say, above this level, blood lactate will just keep climbing above this intensity, it won’t stabilize.

Trevor Connor  18:01

Right? And for our listeners, FTP is not a great, but an estimate of that that second turn point.

Dr. Steven Seiler  18:09

Yeah, if they do it, right, we should unpack that a little in a minute. But so first threshold second threshold, in cyclist, it’s a little tricky. But you know, in runners, we tend to say two millimolar and four millimolar as just crude approximations of that, you know, that zone that’s that you’re distinguishing. And in between those two turn points is in this three-zone model, that’s, that’s that zone two, or that you might call it the yellow zone, you know, green, yellow, red color coding. It’s a zone where you are seeing a significant blood lactate clearance. But as long as you stay within that range, it will kind of stabilize, you know, you’ll go up for resting, and maybe you’ll stay stable at three millimolar or three and a half or four or whatever it might be, but it’ll stabilize.

It’s hard work, but it’s under control. And then you pass that second threshold, maximum lactate steady state functional threshold power, maybe if you do it right, then you’re over into this, this high intensity range, which the farther beyond that threshold you go, the shorter the duration that you will be able to maintain before kind of the accumulation of various waste products kicks you in the butt and you call it a day. So that’s this basic model. It’s simple, green, yellow, red. What we tended to see was is that the best athletes were spending a lot of time in the green zone and some time in the red zone, but not too much time in the yellow zone.

Trevor Connor  19:48

Sir, up. So just in cycling, that yellow zone is often what people talk about when they’re referring to sweet spot training.

Dr. Steven Seiler  19:56

Sure. And so what I argue is and I said there’s not one sweet spot, there’s too, it’s a polar, there’s two polarized sweet spots, there’s a sweet spot probably around 90% and a sweet spot of two max or it’s close to the same for heart rate. And then there’s a sweet spot down in a green zone, probably around 65% of you to Max, maybe 70% of heart rate max. Those are the, you know, in a polarized model, then basically I’m saying that athletes tend to have two sweet spots, they’re their low intensity sweet spot and their high intensity sweet spot. And they, most of their training gravitates towards those one of those two,

Trevor Connor  20:34

we caught up with grant Holic, a head coach at Apex coaching here in Boulder and asked him what are the biggest mistakes he sees cyclists make his immediate response was described polarized training. And the dangers of spending too much time in that yellow zone to


the one that jumps out of me always is making the easy too hard. And making the hard not hard enough. Training is about working the edges of the system. Base training is the foundation of what we’re doing as an athlete, you can do that base training harder. And frankly, one of the real interesting points is shown in many in several studies. based training, which is a little bit easier, and tempo training, which is that no man’s land below threshold, actually are going to give you a similar physiological response, they both have a similar effect on threshold power, they both have a similar effect on VO2max power, all those things, just one of them makes you more tired than the other one makes you.

So the more time we spend a tempo, the more time we spend in that no man’s land that’s going to SAP the legs that’s going to SAP the body. Now, when we turn around on Wednesday, it’s time to really just rail those threshold efforts or rail those via to max efforts, we tend to not have as much left in the legs. So the hard training gets diminished down a little bit. The easy training gets lifted up a little bit. And we live in that world as, as Neil my, my partner at Apex coaching describes as we live in Morocco, we live in that medium place and we’re not going to get that return out of that medium place. Make your hard efforts super hard, and make your base training and your easy days at base or super easy.

Trevor Connor  22:15

Let’s get back to our interview with Dr. Seiler and why we should be spending upwards of 80 to 90% of our time in that green zone one. But most of us would call easy base miles intensity. So when you’re finding the distributions, I mean, this was incredible in that zone one, you are seeing athletes doing 80% of their training below that, in that zone one

Dr. Steven Seiler  22:39

or more depends on how you categorize it. If you categorize it as sessions, you know, like, we’re just going to every session that an athlete does, we’re kind of put it in a bucket, put it in the green bucket, or the yellow bucket or the red bucket, then yeah, green is about 80%.

But if you were to actually if you actually measure it as time in zone with your polar flow, heart rate app, or whatever it might be, then our elite people are, it’s more like 90% they’re in the green zone. I’m sure it’s crazy, you would say oh man, how are they getting fit, but they’re training 18 hours a week, so they’re still or 20 or even more so. But the point is, is that a lot of their work is in green zone and I’m talking about athletes with 85 emails per kg 90 gold medalist, you know, we we’ve measured these people and it’s that high in terms of the distribution, Ingrid Christensen, world record holder, and in the five k 10 k marathon in a day, that’s where she was at. So 80% by session, you know, counting sessions maybe as high as 90% by time, because even an interval session has a lot of low intensity work and the warmup the cooldown, you know what I’m saying? So, so low intensity minutes accumulate, you know, you don’t get me to get caught up in that.

But I’m just the point is, is that it’s a lot you know, it’s a big percentage. And there’s there was an interesting term that came out on Twitter just the other day that really summed it up for me and a lot of ways it was they call it biological durability. Like that. I might, I might call it biological resilience, same thing. And it seems to be just what we see in elite endurance athletes is that a lot of that volume, that low intensity work builds a durability in their system, both their, you know, the hormonal system, the muscular system, the cardiovascular system, they respond well to training, they recover from training, and they can mobilize multiple days in a row. And that’s just, there’s no shortcut to building biological durability. You can’t do it which is to, you know, three days a week or have high intensity for 30 minutes. That makes you biologically fragile in a way because it won’t take very much to tweak your system and put you out of Play when you don’t have that base training?

Trevor Connor  25:03

Well, that’s a fantastic way to put it.

Dr. Steven Seiler  25:05

I think so many recreational are scared of not training hard enough. And that’s not what they need to be afraid of. What they need to be thinking about is, is training Easy enough and long enough in the low intensity sessions to build that biological durability so that those high intensity sessions really can be developmental, they can really push and handle them. And I think that’s where a lot of athletes get it wrong.

Trevor Connor  25:34

So we actually just got a question two days ago from one of our listeners who said, he’s trying to do some of this long, slow distance base work. And he said, for the first hour and a half, it’s kind of boring and easy, then it starts getting a little harder. And then the last 45 minutes really hurt. And I like that part. So is there a way I can skip over that two hours where it isn’t hurting and get to the get to the part that matters? And so I sent him a reply that I knew he was gonna hate saying actually, I think the first hour and a half was the right part.

Dr. Steven Seiler  26:06

Yeah, no, but I but I, but it’s very, he’s he finally nailed it, you know, he’s seeing it that there’s something that happens physiologically, even a transition from 45 minutes to 90 things happen at the local muscular level, you’re stimulating adaptations in a different way. So I don’t think there’s any way to shortcut that you got to go through that. And you guys at race, in cycling, you know it better than most, because you’re used to these four, and five- and six-hour races where the race is one and the last hour of that five-hour race, or maybe the last 20 minutes. But you got to get there, you know, you got to get there prepared to lower the boom, you know, to prepare to go into the cellar and bring up some special. And if you haven’t been doing that in training, then you’re not going to be there when it counts.

Chris Case  26:57

Maybe it’s a time to briefly touch upon some of those the long-term benefits of all of this green zone training.

Dr. Steven Seiler  27:07

An example I can give, we did a study where we compared let’s call them one at one a day athletes, they were guys that were training 60 miles per kg, you know, typical decent, decent endurance types, we compared them to a group of well-trained runners and orienteers that were typically training two days a week and two days, two times a day, I’m sorry, two times a day. So one a day guys versus two, two-a-day athletes. And we looked at how they recovered acutely from high intensity training. So we’re using heart rate variability recovery. In the acute, actually, we looked at it for several hours.

But it turns out, you really see things in the first minutes, that half hour and so forth. And what we saw was these athletes that had that two-a-day background that had that durability, they just recovered from high intensity so much faster. We also looked at one-hour sessions, two-hour sessions, threshold sessions. And they would say, Look, man, I feel better at the end of a two-hour session than I did when I started. You know, their blood lactate one millimolar. Their perceived exertion is like nine, you know, they’re just totally in, you know, easy, controlled zone.

But then when they’re training, high intensity, they’re running faster. They’re recovering faster than the one a day guys. So that’s that durability that I think a lot of these guys try to build in the in the high-volume component of their season. They’re preparing for competition season preparing for that stresses of competition, and being able to recover from that. So we see it just totally in skiing. If our cross-country skiers do not have a successful August, September October training, they won’t be successful in January, February and March.

Trevor Connor  28:55

Now what about with cyclists? What about that long, slow four- or five-hour ride? Are there games that you get from that, that you can’t get any other way? Well, I

Dr. Steven Seiler  29:04

you know, I don’t have the heart. I can’t prove it with data, probably. But it just seems to be the case. And if we look at the peloton, look at the elite guys and women. It’s strange to Max’s peaking early in their career. But typically they’re not winning the really big races until they’ve got a few more years under their belt. We had a guy named Tor who sold here in Norway under 23 times time trial world champion in his day, but he struggled with the really long classics because he was a fairly big guy. And it took him quite a few years to be able to be there at the end of a six-hour race. Ultimately he was he became world champion. He wants some of these big classics. But he was an example of a guy that needed quite a few years to really peak his performance ability and how did he train he had to do the work. He had to do the miles do the do the kilometers so Your sport the sport, you guys are most interested in cycling. I think this is particularly important that you got to spend the hours on this on the bike seat, collecting miles and preparing the body for what happens at the end of a race for that, you know, that moment of truth. The riders face when everything all of a sudden gets real tough and real hard.

Trevor Connor  30:21

You know, I wrote an article two years ago on the value of the long run, because I really wanted to see if there was any research and it’s surprisingly hard to find. I found one study, I think it was from the 80s. The author was a professor Dudley and this was out of Syracuse, New York. And they It was a study in in mice where they looked at the effects of intensity and volume on slow twitch fast twitch type one and fast twitch type x fibers. What was really fascinating is they found that with the slow twitch fiber adaptations, they increased up to about 80% of VO2max and then after that, when you got higher intensity, you actually saw less adaptation in the slow twitch muscle fibers. And the same thing with the fast twitch oxidative fibers that above 80% they showed absolutely no adaptations. dial in the most advanced recovery for your body but Norman Tech’s patented compression massage technology, riders like Taylor Finney, Tom squinch, and the BMC racing team all rely on Normatec to get them through the daily grind to professional cycling. Normatec increases circulation rejuvenates muscles and reduces soreness so you can train harder and race faster. Stop by the Normatec 10 to the Colorado classic try for yourself and feel what everybody is talking about.

Trevor Connor  31:52

I live in Toronto, Canada, which is a big city and it gets cold. there was ever a place where you could justify skipping long slow rides and compensating with lots of high intensity training. It’s right here. So I talked with Andrew Randall and Steve Neil de cycling Jama downtown Toronto. Despite the weather, despite the limitations of the roads, both from experience are strong advocates of polarized training even up here. However, they give some good pointers on how to polarize your training when you’re dealing with the sort of conditions we’re dealing with. Oh, and Andrew is the one with the clear Canadian accent having lost mine, I’m very envious.


Despite living in Toronto, in the bad weather and in the city, we’re still advocates of an aerobic approach to training, I would say we’re definitely not a hit oriented type spot.


So why is that? Because it works.


We’ve had really good results.


I think another way to look at high intensity training, no matter whether you have two eyes or one eye in your word hit. But I think we always try to explain intensity training of any kind, like the person who’s doing the training, the athlete is a sponge. And I always say that, you know, you can try as much intensity training as you can, as long as you improve and you can absorb it, then usually you have to absorb it first to improve. So if people want to try four days a week, they can try it. But if the ultimate goal is to improve them through workouts and testing and stuff, you’ll be able to see if it’s actually working for them. And we’ve just found that most of the time that only works for two to four weeks, before they start to get worse or don’t have the motivation to continue. Or


I would say one of the things we’ve seen at the gym is people coming here, because they’re doing all high intensity programming, like programs you would find on find online. And it the story is Yeah, it worked for me at first, because there are weak. So at first, they just need to push watts. So it works at first. Yeah, it was awesome. For the first six months in the first winter, and then the next year I just cracked and I didn’t get any better. And then they’re looking for a solution. And that’s where they end up coming to us.

Trevor Connor  34:07

So when you’re dealing with an amateur athlete or a Masters athlete who only has seven, eight hours to train for a week or, let’s say six to eight. How often do you have been doing high intensity? Andrew just put up his hand because that’s me 30 years now. Yeah.


1123 Yeah. And that can fluctuate. It can be individual, it can be short periods of time long. Like that’s really the treeline stop just twice a week, all year round.


Like if it’s a coached an athlete, you’re coaching in a private setting. There’s also a timeline to all of this, which I think is one of the challenges, right? So everything you read is you know, the six week program to success or whatever it is, and that’s all high intensity based stuff. But what if you have a two-year plan with an athlete, that that’s a totally different ballgame.

Trevor Connor  34:58

So if you’re just doing one to three times per week, and the athlete only has that that seven, eight hours. What are you doing with the rest of the time? Are they just doing one, one-and-a-half hour easy rides? Or do you get them outside in the snow for a four-hour base mile ride, but what’s the solution?


And I think that’s another individual thing. So if the person so you could say, I live in Toronto, I’ve eight hours a week, but I’m going to go to pivka and race a five-day stage race that has 5000 feet of climbing per day. Personally, I think we would say listen, eight hours a week, you might have a 15-minute gradual warm up, and you might have to do to buy 45 minutes of tempo. So we’re still in that bottom part of the 80% of the world of polarization, but we’re going to try to do as much tempo workout, once again, that the athlete can absorb and improves their tempo ability.

Is it going to be exciting? Probably not. Is it going to be, you know, are they going to need you know, Netflix and crave and Amazon TV all combined, probably. But in order to go climb 5000 feet a day and do their best. It’s not going to happen on high intensity interval training and really easy miles.

Trevor Connor  36:13

Any other thoughts that you have on polarizing for your more amateur masters though writer with limited time?


I think first of all, like polarization to us is from my like actual number crunching ends up being like 90/10. And I’ve even seen success on 95. Five. And by success, I mean podiums and big stage races, you know, in North America. So I think 80/20 actually might be pretty hard for a lot of people.

Trevor Connor  36:43

Yeah. And so to clarify the 80/20. And, actually, Dr. Salah did a good job of explaining this in the podcast, that’s based on what the rides are about. He said, if you actually just looked at in terms of pure power distribution, it’s closer to that 90 10%


Okay, so I’m not crazy. No, okay, good. That makes me feel better.


I mean, I think the thing for me is seeing in, in some of my athletes, this whole, like, nonexistent aerobic system, people just don’t have one. And they struggle with how easy the rides are, at first as they tried to build this aerobic system. And then I just had this happen with somebody, and suddenly, there’s a switch that flicks and man, he’s doing like 229 twit, you know, it’s like 220, normalized power for his insurance ride perfectly in his heart rate zones. And suddenly, it’s hard. He’s tired afterwards. So you know, the game starts to change suddenly. And it’s that it’s that year, that long stretch, where they’re just training and they’re like, Guys, it’s so easy, and I’m not getting any better. And, you know, they’re always complaining and you’re like managing them. And then boom, suddenly, you know, they’re pushing like, 220 watts on endurance, right? Is that solid?

Trevor Connor  37:55

So that gets back to a really interesting point you brought up at the beginning that what’s driving a lot of this high intensity craze is this, I want to improve in six weeks type thing. And it sounds like there is when you get people on this more this polarized program where you need to do a lot of this endurance work. It is a long-term vision. Well, I


mean, one of the things we talk about a lot is longevity as an athlete, I mean, that’s partially why we have strength at the gym. You’re a Masters athlete, you discover cycling at the age of I don’t know 37 you dive into your club ride and you smash it for a couple years, you realize you’re not getting better. you’re injured all the time. But you love cycling? where’s the future? Do you want to keep riding? Do you want to ride appropriately and trained properly for the next 10 1520 years? Or do you keep trying to do high intensity training for another two- or three-years burnout, injure yourself and quit?

Trevor Connor  38:47

So there’s another question for you. The last one that I have is if you have somebody who’s in here that’s training properly, and they’re getting there too good. So hard interval sessions per week, is there a value to just go in and do an hour and a half really easy ride?


If you look at the whole two-to-three-part interval sessions a week like so my old background, I said, having friends that were like Olympic cross-country skiers, I wasn’t, but I hung around with them. So they never even when they were top 10 of the world, they never did more intervals. They just did. They went from 700 hours a year over a bunch of years to get to 1200 hours a year and they did about the same amount of intervals and they actually raced less.

So two or three hard workouts a week has kind of been proven by a lot of people that it works. And then the stuff you add on goes back to the sponge. See if you’re gonna you’ve managed your two to three heart intervals now and you figured out what you can absorb. Then you can start doing more work but it should all be easy endurance right 74% of your max heart rate Let’s call it. And then you have to figure out how much of that you can add and get better. So a lot of people do train and don’t improve.

Trevor Connor  40:11

Now that we’ve talked a lot about the value of low intensity training, let’s get into how to make the most of high intensity. So we actually just recently did a podcast called is FTP dead. And I’m a much bigger fan of MLSS. Because I like it to be physiological. And I agree with you that FTP if you do it, right is an estimate, but it’s not really a physiological thing.

Dr. Steven Seiler  40:33

Well, but even I gotta go on in this because I, you know, I

Trevor Connor  40:37

kind of,

Dr. Steven Seiler  40:38

I like the concept of it to not have to measure blood lactate. And I like measuring power I’ve got I’ve got a skier gunner up in my loft, I do it all the time, I watch watts every day. So I love measuring power. But the problem with FTP for me is that, again, people try to take shortcuts, you know, the original idea of FTP was probably use an hour, you know, the Hour of Power, that’s where this first started was the Hour of Power test in the laboratory.

And believe me, you know, you all know you’re a cyclist, you know, an hour is a is a tough, a tough workout, if you put your head down and go as hard as you can for one hour. But it will describe it will typically give you a power that’s kind of, you know, this is sustainable, versus that 20 minutes is still fairly short, you can still, let’s say cheat a bit, you know, your anaerobic capacity can help you. And so what we’ve been seeing is, is that this idea of doing short tests, and taking using point nine, five or whatever, it’s, it’s too arbitrary.

Trevor Connor  41:39

That’s my view. And plus, now I see so many cyclists who will then look at what was their best 20 minute power in the last two years, and then they won’t multiply it by point nine, five and just end up with this number. That’s completely unrealistic. That’s right. And that’s

Dr. Steven Seiler  41:55

my greatest fear for these guys. You know, I’m not trying to put down FTP, I’m just saying it does tend to systematically get misused and overestimate true that, you know, the, what we want is to identify the training zones correctly, so that our athletes trained properly. And FTP has a tendency to burn them up, you know, because they train too hard. Yeah,

Trevor Connor  42:19

I thank you for saying that. Because I go into these, these trainers, studios, so it’s very popular for cyclists to get the other as a group, go into the studio and do some sort of workout together. And some of these workouts I’ve seen have been insanely complex. And I would just like to ask the people, what energy system are you hitting there?

Dr. Steven Seiler  42:42

It’s fun. And you see all these magical recipes for training sessions with breakdowns and build ups and all that. And I want to say this, that there’s the muscle cell really understand all your complexity, you know, because when it comes when it comes down to training is about creating a signal for adaptation, you know, but we’ve turned it into this advanced hieroglyphics,

Trevor Connor  43:03

you know, right. And actually thinking that you have a study from last year where you said that you can essentially skin the cat bunch of ways with different types of intervals. But the people who saw the, probably the least gains are the people who really mixed it up.

Dr. Steven Seiler  43:19

Yeah, we didn’t expect that in that particular study. But just to kind of get to the essence of that is that interval training is fairly straightforward. You need to accumulate minutes at a reasonably high intensity. And so you try to find the balance between a high intensity that you can do for quite a few minutes. And then what we tended to see was is that around 90%, 91-2% of heart rate Max was high enough to get good at that patients and then but at the same time, you could be under control and collect minutes.

And those minutes seem to be important for the person that’s already reasonably well trained. If they’re going to get a further adaptation, then it’s not just intensity, because you hit the ceiling pretty fast there. It’s how many repeats can you do? How long can you do this? Because that’s what racing comes down to is holding power when the other guys are fading out.

Trevor Connor  44:11

Right. And I’ve heard that from a lot of top pros who say you actually peak out your top power, your five-minute power, your 20-minute power fairly early in your career, it’s really about the repeatability.

Dr. Steven Seiler  44:23

guy named David Bishop down in Australia is even starting to collect some data that suggests that conditions associated with very high but lactate may actually have some inhibitory effects on adaptive signaling, which, which kind of really for me fits in well with this issue of not letting the interval sessions get too high intensity, you know, finding that sweet spot on intensity that’s, we typically see it around 90%, but there’s something that changes from about 90-92% heart rate max to 95-96, where you just really start to fall apart, you know, you start to really have a lot of Have inhibitory responses in the muscle, you would say in the typical, you’re just full of blood lactate you’re blowing up. And that doesn’t seem to be an adaptive state.

Trevor Connor  45:11

So what’s your feeling about something like Tabata intervals?

Dr. Steven Seiler  45:15

Well, again, it depends. If I’m cross, if I’m preparing for a CrossFit competition or this kind of thing, then I’m probably going to do some of those very short, very high intensity intervals. But if I’m trying to build my metabolic engine, build my VO2max, for 30-minute races for an hour power for you know that I’m going to tend to do longer intervals, I just, that’s what we see. We want to accumulate minutes, we’ve done a little bit of research we haven’t posted yet, but we’ve compared micro intervals with longer intervals, you know, where you do these 30/30 kind of things.

And, and we don’t see a difference, we don’t see any magic there. If the body is not that sensitive, you know, it’s responding to the intracellular metadata that’s being changed by the stress that you’re imposing, but an eight-minute continuous workout at 90% of heart rate max, versus, let’s say, eight times, or 16 times 30/30, however you want to measure it, we’re not able to see a difference in the downstream adaptive effects. So maybe the cyclist says, Yeah, but it’s great, because I’m getting all these accelerations Well, okay, maybe. So I’m not going to argue with you on that. But from an adaptation standpoint, just in terms of cardiovascular adaptation is over, we can’t see a difference.

Trevor Connor  46:38

I love hearing that it’s my favorite workout in the world is eight- to 10-minute hill repeats. And when I when I do them, and when I give them to an athlete, my athletes, I have an upper heart rate limit, I give him a heart rate that’s about that kind of 91-92% I say you can’t go over this heartbreak.

Dr. Steven Seiler  46:56

That’s right. That’s what that’s what I tell my daughter who I train as she’s running. And so it’s the same. It’s the formula I’m using. It’s the formula that we see emerging from the research. It’s not particularly sexy, I get that, you know, I’ve told people that my research tends to destroy all the sexy theories. Because it’s pretty, it’s pretty straightforward. You know, it’s keep it simple scientist, or coach, but we just don’t find these shortcuts, do collect the minutes, do the work, get the rest and balance the, the low and the high intensity work. These are the basic ingredients that we see that as far as success.

Trevor Connor  47:37

You talked about this, in your research, Dr. Larson talked about this in his research that there used to be this belief that high intensity worked one system and the long, slow volume trained another system. And both of you have said, No, actually, it doesn’t really work that way. And I know, Dr. Larson did that review in 2010, where he said, they’re both acting through the PG C, one alpha pathway. But it seems that they get their different ways. And as I remember, both of you touched on the fact that the high intensity seems to Well, it’s adaptations are quick seems to be somewhat limited.

Dr. Steven Seiler  48:19

Yeah, there’s a there’s, like the most recent study we did, where we looked at, you know, really well controlled periodization of intensity, high intensity work over 12 weeks, we saw the vast majority of the adaptive response in the first four weeks. And so that, you know, it was just really clear that that interval training, yep, you get a nice response, but the ceiling effects are clearly there. And so that tells me quite a lot about how I train my daughter as we hold back we don’t need I don’t want to burn her candle at both ends. I don’t there’s no sense in her doing really high intensity intervals too early. You know, I don’t we don’t want to peak in March.

So these are the kinds of issues that I think often the recreational athletes fall into this trap is they go too hard too early and they got nowhere to go you know, they don’t have the platform to further development and so they peak and stagnate. Probably too early in the in their career, but also in the season each year. March superstars. So yeah, yeah, cycling. Yeah, happens in running too. And

Trevor Connor  49:25

you know, I’m sure it happens in every sport. Southern formed a lot of his theory is by studying what the highest level endurance athletes do in their training. through experience, they had found what truly works or they wouldn’t be at the highest level, but many of them can’t explain why it works. That was definitely the case with aqua blue sport writer Larry waterbus. He talked with us about his training. He struggled at times to find the words but it clearly discovered some of the concepts that Siler talks about in this podcast, such as how biological durability is more important than peak numbers, even though he didn’t have a name for it. He also learned from one of the best in the world about the dangers of too much high intensity training.

Toms Skujins  50:07

It is kind of interesting, because it’s something we talk about a lot, actually, among us pros is like, we all said, our best numbers in January, okay, so like, you know, we’re all doing these powered tests, you know, like, we’ll go to our January campaign, everyone’s doing their best numbers ever, or in the first like, first like races, the numbers are just insane. But then again, I don’t think that necessarily even means that we’re the strongest that will get you know, because it’s just, we’re more fresh at the beginning of the year.

But so I guess the thing is, is like, just because you’re saying your best numbers doesn’t even mean you’re performing your best actually. So half the time I’ll have my best results and stuff, when maybe I won’t do any crazy numbers in the race or something like that. But it’s just, I guess it’s just that’s another thing. It’s hard to quantify your whether your max power tests are even your best fitness, I guess, sorry. This is hard to explain.

But yeah, so I guess for a lot of us will go to our January camp will be absolutely smashing it. But if we were to say have the same race that we have in July, in January, we wouldn’t perform as well, in January as we wouldn’t July, even though our power numbers would be higher. So that’s kind of confusing and hard to explain. And I don’t think any of us can exactly explain it.

I remember when I’d be going to the camps with BMC. And kridel would just ride, he never do any intervals, he just ride. He just ride his own pace. He goes slow up the climbs, let everyone else go do their efforts, whatever, whatever. And he just ride you know, and I remember being like, how is this guy so good, when he doesn’t do any of the intervals? You know? And, and everyone was like, as the same quiz, like, how can canal just not even do any efforts? Like I don’t understand. And then I was like, you know, the young guys are like, well, I’ll just ask him, you know, everyone else was too scared to ask him. So I asked him like a cadet? Like, how come? How come you don’t do any of the efforts? Like why do you just run?

He said, Well, you know, like, I know, over the course of the year years, my coach and I have figured out that like, it really takes me a short amount of time to get really fit. And I can only hold that fitness for a certain amount of time. So he said, I’d rather just ride here and wait till it gets closer to my objectives. And that’s when I’ll really start training hard. Because I don’t want to be too fit too soon. And then, you know, lose that. Before my important objective.

I was like, Okay, well, you know, that’s pretty fair and good answer. So I guess I’m not as dialed in as someone like he was pretty much it’s just trial and error figuring out. You know how it is. But I think, you know, if, if I was an amateur, I wouldn’t even be stressed about having only a month to train before my first races.

Trevor Connor  53:10

Let’s get back to our conversation about high intensity work and just how much as appropriate. If you’re on the train or doing intervals four or five times per week, make sure you listen closely. So what was interesting is it seems like when you are doing the high intensity work, you did a fair amount of research on what is the optimal amount of high intensity work per week. And it was surprisingly low you were saying two sessions a week beyond that you really don’t see any gains. Is that correct?

Dr. Steven Seiler  53:41

That’s correct. I mean, I’m not gonna say that you may see blocked periods where you do some kind of a super compensation if you’re really again if you’ve got that biological durability to handle it, some elite guys will do blogs a very high intensity and then recover and so forth. But in the in the long haul, what can I do sustainably for weekend and week out? Two days a week of high intensity seems to be for most people plenty hard when we’ve done these studies where we bring guys into the lab they’re in a group training situation they’re highly motivated they tell us or two of these sessions a week is all I can handle and they naturally kind of go into this polarized model ’cause they hired and so they do they really polarized their training because they’re busting their ass in these hard interval sessions twice a week.

Anyway so that’s our view is Yeah, you know, if you’re an elite guy, you may be able to handle brief periods of more but the bread-and-butter weekend week out. We’ve typically seen two unlike if we do a one year average for elite performance, it may be down at 1.6 or 1.7. They may be under two, they’re usually not over two.

Trevor Connor  54:56

So I remember I can’t remember which study this was but you see you kind of edited By this optimal week of for low intensity sessions, one hcit session and then one threshold session or what I think our listeners would think of more as a sweet spot session, you compare that to I think you had athletes try for high intensity sessions in a week and one threshold or one low intensity. And what was amazing was the only difference. And please correct me on this. I’m trying to cite this by memory. But really the only difference between the two groups is the group doing all the high intensity work, we’re showing signs of burnout.

Dr. Steven Seiler  55:35

Yeah, you may be confused. And I’m trying to remember what study you’re connecting me to there, because there’s been there’s other people have been doing some really good work here, on block training and so forth, block periodization. But what we have seen with our work, for example, is that four times four minutes, when we did really short high intensity interval sessions, those were perceived as the toughest. And they started to kind of fall apart over an eight-week cycle, when we were doing those compared to four times eight or four times 16 minutes.

So that’s that was a key finding we saw is that these really short intervals were just perceived as being much tougher, but they didn’t cause they didn’t induce a better adaptation. It was actually the opposite that the somewhat longer intervals in our in our studies have been very effective at improving. I don’t can’t remember a study we’ve done where we’ve had athletes trained for high intensity sessions in a week. But others have others have done some block interval steps.

Trevor Connor  56:35

You’re actually right. I got that from an I’m probably gonna butcher his name, but this was a 2015 review by stoeckel. Yeah, Thomas

Dr. Steven Seiler  56:45

Stokes. Thomas starboard. Yes. Thomas Stargell is done some nice work, he did a nice review with spirit, Billy spirit, looking at this polarized versus he calls it pure middle. And I was actually a reviewer on that review. And I, you know, ultimately there was, I challenge them to go beyond what I had done. And they did ultimately, and they did a great job.

And I think they highlighted something that’s that I will say to you, and that is, is that polarized training models gotten pretty popular. And this polarized term is used a lot. But sometimes it’s overused, it’s you know, people are using it to describe training intensity distributions that actually are not truly polarized. Meaning truly that you don’t have very much in the middle, or you have more on the on the ends than in the middle.

So severely can Stargell they show that you know some guys they’re doing a lot of low intensity, but then they’re doing maybe 15% threshold and 10% high intensity. So they called it pyramid appear of middle distribution, a pyramid anyway, so I think it’s really important that there are other people around here burnt around a stod.

Also in Norway, even Sandbach there’s others that have been doing some nice work around this issue of intensity distribution. And I think what, what I’ve appreciated in these 15 years is that it’s universal. We’ve looked at rowers, we’ve looked at cyclists, we’ve looked at runners, we’ve looked at cross country skiers. And even though they all live in their different training worlds with their different training heroes and backgrounds, this kind of self-organizational property has emerged, where they’re both they’re all doing similar things. And that tells me something,

Chris Case  58:35

they’re all human. After all,

Dr. Steven Seiler  58:37

they’re Yeah, they’re all human. But they’re also that they’re, they’ve been experimenting for decades, you know, the sports communities, whether it’s the cycling community, the Global Cycling community, or the rowing community. You know, we also we looked at that in rowing, we looked at how training had changed over some decades. And we saw these patterns of, you know, even if you go back to the 60s and 70s, there was more focus on intensity than in rowing. But then they figured it out, they realized, well, we race over a six, seven minute period, and that’s primarily aerobic, we need to build these aerobic engines and, and training distribution changed from the 70s to the 80s. And it’s kind of just continued to be focused on the endurance or aerobic side more and more over the last decade. At some point, we’re going to have to ask, Is there something special about cycling? I’m sure you’re going to ask that. And

Trevor Connor  59:28

we need to unpack that. Yeah. And that’s actually a great segue because we said let’s talk about cyclists. And in that review by Stargell he, he talked about cyclists and more than other sports, they seem to follow this pyramidical distribution.

Dr. Steven Seiler  59:44

And I think it’s the key difference between cycling and rowing or cross country skiing is as you progress as a rower or as cross country skier towards an elite status. What’s going to happen is you will go from a one a day training model to a two With a model that is just part of the nature of the beast. So that means that you will have very distinct training sessions a morning session an afternoon session, and they tend to be quite controlled on the intensity, meaning that there’s not a lot of mixing of intensities in the session. So when that rower goes out for a zone, one session, they can just they can hold it, you know, because the water is flat, there’s no hills on the water, they can hold their intensity exactly where they want it to be. I think that’s the difference.

If you look at a cyclist, they tend to keep doing one a days, but the one session gets longer. And it probably is more mixed, the intensity is more mixed, they’ll be two or three hours of low intensity, and then they’ll have some Hill work. And so you know this better than I and I think that’s what I see, in terms of just the way the training is managed, is that most cyclists tend to stick with one training session per day.

Trevor Connor  1:00:58

Now, do you think there would be a benefit for cyclists to try to be more polarized try to fit more this is at 20? Or do you think the pyramid will work especially considering the fact that the bike racing, the races are long? And often we’re racing five hours a day for weeks or a week?

Dr. Steven Seiler  1:01:18

That’s right, so yeah, so I believe that if that’s what you do, if you need to be on the seat for five hours, and you need to be doing that in training, so I’m not saying that they’re what they’re doing is wrong. I think it’s a function of the racing the demands of the racing rowers race for seven minutes, cross country skiers max race for two hours, at least in the World Cup circuit. Again, we have to look at what typifies elite performance in cycling, it is the ability to perform for hours, I get that. And I don’t think I wouldn’t say change the way you train.

Now, if they were a track cyclist, yeah, probably I would go to a two-day model and be more precise on the training and so forth, at least, at times. But for the road cyclist, or they, you just got to spend some hours on the bike and, and ramp that up as the season approaches and get ready for those long races. But having said that, I think they still what’s dangerous with that approach or with for cyclists is that every day becomes a middle of the road hard. That’s the risk.

For the cyclists, I think you got to really choose your terrain, you got to choose the topography of your workout, you got to have some flat rides that just don’t push you into the, into the threshold area when you don’t want to be there. So that’s where the cyclists probably can be smarter is just what rides they choose avoid group training situations when they don’t want the intensity to get out of hand, these kinds of things.

Trevor Connor  1:02:49

So the one thing that still applies is we’re still talking 70 75% of your time in zone one.

Dr. Steven Seiler  1:02:55

Yeah, probably you can probably think a little creatively about this issue that, hey, I need to be able to get be at 90 plus percent for 3040 minutes in a race after having been on the bike for three hours. So okay, let’s design a workout that way. You know, let’s go ahead and get super specific and, and sometimes do the interval session on the back of or at the end of a fairly long zone one period, so that you get comfortable with that reality.

Because it’s a big difference to do a high intensity session fresh versus to suddenly go into it after three hours. And then you find out whether you’re getting good, whether you’re good at body management, whether you’re whether you’ve been maintaining hydration, whether you’ve been keeping relaxed and so forth, to be able to switch gears when it matters. So I think those are kinds of things that that a, a good cyclist is going to build into their training, those transitions, those ways of recreating the very specific demands of road racing.

Chris Case  1:04:02

And what about there plenty of people that are listening out there, I’m sure that are wondering, well, I only have five, six hours a week to train at most. What do I do? Rather those time crunch cyclists out there? What would you suggest that they do and what they can take away from this?

Dr. Steven Seiler  1:04:20

If we’re truly in a situation where someone tells me Look, I have exactly six hours, I can train and that’s it, or my wife will divorce me or my husband would divorce me, you know, okay, those are the constraints, I would probably say, let’s assume they’re training four or five days a week with those six hours now. So they’re getting out there, they get in one hour, kind of redzone and so forth. That’s I tell you what, I’m gonna make your wife happy, because I’m going to recommend to you that you reduce your training frequency by one day a week.

But too, you’re going to compensate for that by making one of your rides twice as long. I want to get in that six hours. I want to get At least one ride out of you. That’s to two and a half hours, where you stretch yourself horizontally, you know. So that’s the way I would kind of Reman re distribute those six hours in a polarized way. So that we get a long session, we get another session, it’s, again, low intensity, but only an hour or 75 minutes. And then, you know, they were well recovered for a long high intensity session.

So we may be able to bring those six hours down to three, even four sessions in a week, but they’re going to be better sessions, they’re going to be either better stretching them horizontally in duration, or better in the sense that they’re going to be good high end, high intensity sessions, kind of like more minutes at that 9091 92% area, instead of going crazy for 30 minutes, four by four, you know, four times four, whatever it might be.

Trevor Connor  1:05:50

So it’s still a polarized model of you, you have your good volume, easy day, you have your two high intensity sessions per week, and maybe some other easy riding, so

Dr. Steven Seiler  1:06:02

just re distributing it and try to, and even being satisfied with reducing the frequency of workouts by a little bit in order to get more total quality in the workouts that you do achieve. That’s what I would do with this because it’s a very common process, not just cyclists that are dealing with this. And the recipe we’ve we’ve tried this, it does work, you know, if the athletes just believe in it, but they have we have a tendency to to do this kind of black hole issue where the the easy rides get harder than I should be in a hard ride. You’re not really, they’re not really developmental, because you’re just not able to do that deep effort that it takes to push it out patients farther. I often have to take new athletes, and I’m coaching out for a ride and show them what my low intensity ride is. And they’re always shocked. They’re like, I can’t believe you go there slow.

Trevor Connor  1:06:56

And I started. I’m a cat one cyclist. And this says, Oh, I go so and they never believe me.

Dr. Steven Seiler  1:07:04

I have a colleague that was he used to work with the Norwegian national cross country ski team back in the 90s. And at the time, they had two guys called Vega long and Bjorn Daly. And between them, I guess they had, I don’t know, 12 gold medals in the Olympics. I mean, these were just on they were monsters, and 90 MLS per kg. But the point is, is is that my colleague is you know, he was a decent endurance guy, but no superstar, he said, you know what I was able to run with Bjorn daily on one, you know, on his easy runs, I could run for two hours. It was no problem. But then he would keep running for two more hours.

But that was his point was is that when these guys were doing the low intensity stuff, it’s not like they were crazy fast. But he said But boy, when they did the high intensity stuff, it was a legendary. You know, it was legendary work and things that people are still talking about, you know that some of these sessions they would do. So that’s that’s the difference. And I think what I also have seen with the really elite athletes, whether it’s been speed skaters, rowers, whatever, they have supreme confidence in their plan, and what they’re doing, and they don’t let people rock them that, you know, if someone runs past them on an easy run, they don’t chase them down.


Mm hmm.

Dr. Steven Seiler  1:08:25

And you know, it’s funny, the world champion doesn’t need to do that. It’s tends to be the 40 year old that will chase down a guy that runs past so that intensity discipline saying, look, here’s my plan today. These guys can run past me if they want or cycle past me, but tomorrow, I welcome them to join me for the session. I’m Do you know what I’m saying? That that’s the mentality of the lead person is they know their plan. They stick to their plan. They plan their work, and they work their plan. So I guess that’s something we can learn from these these true champions. I had a

Trevor Connor  1:09:00

an athlete I’ve been coaching for for a little bit, and he is a Masters athlete, his entire goal is he wants to be able to hang on with the leaders at the Saturday group ride. So he got trained six, seven hours a week, and he was a black hole trainer, every single ride he averaged 215 watts, and I kept trying to get him to slow down and as easy days and then make his quality days really high quality. And I finally at the end of the summer, last year, I got him to experiment. I said you don’t have any more goals left for the season. So just try this.

And we did we’d have one interval session during the week we’d have the group ride on the weekend because that that was one rule. He had to go the group ride every Saturday. Everything else was super easy. Like I want him averaging 140 150 watts. He did this. He did it for six weeks. At the end of that six weeks. He went to the group ride not only was he hanging out with the leaders he broke away and at the end of it, I said Do you understand now? And he goes, Yeah, these intervals you gave me here, right?

Dr. Steven Seiler  1:10:07

Yeah, it’s just it. That’s funny, you just can’t conceive of the fact that the the low intensity training actually is playing a role in the development that’s funny. Just to, to polish this off. When we bring recreational cyclists in these guys like you’re describing the train 7678 hours a week, full of energy full of desire. And we put them through a very careful lactate profile test.

Very Typically, what we see is they have, they have to two and a half, even three millimolar change in their pants, I mean, they can’t even get on the bike before they’re already in an A blood lactate level that we would typically describe as being threshold, they have what we call no metabolic control. But then after six or seven weeks of discipline, training, intensity distribution, then we bring them back in, do the same lactate profile, and now they’re able to do it, you know, they’re at 1.2 1.3, millimolar, you know, and it flattens out shows that nice break.

And then we have an athlete that’s looking like, they may not have the same power, but they have the same threshold. Picture, the curve as the elite guys. It doesn’t take that long, but but it has to do with this intensity distribution. And when these guys are always at their threshold, we tend to see a profile that is is also kind of starting at their threshold if you understand what I’m saying. So it’s quite it’s quite interesting because the way we how quickly we can we can fix it. If they will just listen and actually do the easy rides. Easy believe no longer believe in it. Yeah, yeah. And let that let that system develop.

Trust the fact that it does, it is part of the equation. Trust me, I love interval training. So I am not, I don’t think I’m a wussy, as I call myself sometimes, you know, I, I like hard, hard work. I’ve actually been able to push myself to puky level on intervals. So don’t get me wrong, but but everything I’ve done wrong in my own training has had to do with training too hard. Yep.

And when and so that’s the one thing I’ve learned from these top guys is that it’s not about being tough. It’s about being smart. And knowing when to unleash the beast, and when to keep it at home and focus on other aspects. You know, you’re breathing every ride. every workout should be purposeful, so don’t get me wrong, but I don’t believe in trash training or trash miles.

Sinead Flanagan who won the New York Marathon recently, I think she said it in a wonderful way. She said even on ordinary training days, I’m preparing for something extraordinary. So she understood that the low intensity sessions the easy 50 mile run for her is part of a puzzle that will lead to magical performances when it matters. So I think if we have that mentality in for on the cycling, you know, the on the ride, you know, what can I work on while I’m at 150 watts or 180 watts, breathing, body position, handling food, you know, all these things, that it all adds up.

So these are things that maybe cyclists can spend more time on and understand that, you know, those low intensity rides have purpose they have meaning, and they’re part of the preparation for doing something that is personally extraordinary.

Chris Case  1:13:33

That was another episode of Fast Talk. As always, we love your feedback. Email us at Fast Talk Advil Subscribe to Fast Talk on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play. Be sure to leave us a rating and a comment. Become a fan of Fast Talk on slash velonews and on slash velonews. Fast talk is a joint production between velonews and Connor coaching thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual for Dr. Steven Siler, Andrew Randall, Steve Neil, Larry warboss and Coach Trevor Connor. I’m Chris case. Thanks for listening.