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During the Sochi Olympic Winter games in the Adler speed skating arena, the Dutch speed skating team showed total dominance as they hauled in 24 medals out of a possible 36. In fact, the Netherlands’ total medals came from speed skating only. A recent study on the Dutch speed skating team concluded that in the last 38 years, the Olympic team has shifted its training approach towards polarized training. This training approach has also been used by endurance athletes in other sports such as rowing, cycling and running to name a few.

Polarized training is an approach which emphasizes that the hard days should be very hard and easy days be very easy. These days are polar opposites – hence polarized training. The benefit of this approach is to be able to train hard on the hard days, recover on the easy days and then be able to train hard again, since you have recovered on your easy day.

A study done on high performance elite endurance athletes suggested that when using the polarized training approach, 75 percent of the training should be low intensity, zone 1 and 15 to 20 percent at very high intensity, zone 3. The other 5 to 10 percent should concentrate on threshold or tempo training, zone 2.

Training zones:

  1. Zone 1 is low intensity where your heart rate is below 80 percent of maximum. This is the zone you should be in on your very easy days.
  2. Zone 2 is moderate intensity, which is between low intensity and high intensity. Your heart rate should be between 80 and 90 percent of maximum.
  3. Zone 3 is high intensity training. Your heart rate is above 90 percent. This is where you should be on your very hard days.

Though most of your training time should ideally be in zone 1, threshold training can still be carried out, which is zone 2. In a study done on recreational runners, polarized training was shown to improve a 10km performance by 5 percent as compared to 3.6 percent in runners who used the threshold training approach, where the majority of training time is spent in zone 2.

It is important to make sure that your easy days are easy and hard days are hard. Training in the moderate zone on the easy days will prevent you from going as hard as you otherwise could on the hard days. Before embarking on polarized training, talk to your coach or other athletes who use the approach to best understand if it is the right training approach for you.

References Available from the SIRC Collection:

1. Hongjun Y, Xiaoping C, Weimo Z, Chunmei C. A Quasi-Experimental Study of Chinese Top-Level Speed Skaters’ Training Load: Threshold Versus Polarized Model. International Journal Of Sports Physiology & Performance. June 2012;7(2):103-112.

2. HUTCHINSON A. HUTCHINSON. Runner’s World. November 2013;48(11):46.

3. Laursen P. Training for intense exercise performance: high-intensity or high-volume training?. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports. October 2, 2010;20:1-10.

4. Orie J, Hofman N, de Koning J, Foster C. Thirty-Eight Years of Training Distribution in Olympic Speed Skaters. International Journal Of Sports Physiology & Performance. January 2014;9(1):93-99.

5. Seiler K, Kjerland G. Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an “optimal” distribution?. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports. February 2006;16(1):49-56.

6. Fiskerstrand Â, Seiler K. Training and performance characteristics among Norwegian International Rowers 1970–2001. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports. October 2004;14(5):303-310.

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