From Polarized to Optimized. New Lecture from Prof. Steven Seiler

I am trying to get a handle on periodizing my training.  The book The Science of Winning by Jan Olbrecht makes a big point that an athlete will plateau after 8 to 10 weeks of consistent training and the training durations and intensities must be modulated to maintain progress.  This lecture takes a different view.  That periodization is highly variable from athlete to athlete and must be evaluated with a view toward individual progress.  Changes have to be made if the desired training effect is not seen.

He describes an experiment conducted with well trained cyclists.  The 69 cyclists were divided up into 3 groups.  Each group followed an 80/20 polarized training plan, but the higher intensity training was varied between the groups.  Here is the plot showing the average training hours per athlete per week in the study.

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All three groups had 4 week mesocycles with varying workloads and you can see the difference in how well rested the athletes felt in those week.

Each of these three groups were given different a training plan.

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Pretty neat experiment, huh?  In the traditional group, the intensity build in each mesocycle.

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In the hybrid group, each mesocycle had a mix of each type of training.  This is very much like the Pete Plan or Wolverine plan.

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In the Reverse group, it all started with hell week with 3 high intensity sessions, then moved to intermediate and longer intervals.

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The results were interesting.  In the traditional group 60% of the athletes made significant gains in VO2max power.  The other groups significantly lower part of the group made big gains.

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The main point that Seiler made though, was that significant portions of each group did not make progress with the plan that they were on.

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As a scientist, the reaction is “Huh?”.  As a coach, the reaction needs to be “Change the plan!”.

For me, the big take away is that the lowest level of success was with the hybrid plan and that is basically what I have been using for the past 4 years with very little variation.  I think I will start to plan out training loads and intensities following the “Traditional model” for my winter training plan and track progress.  Of course all of this is in the context that 80% of the training will be low intensity steady state, but the type and amount of high intensity work will change by mesocycle.  The other take away is to monitor progress and make changes when things are not progressing as I expect.

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10 thoughts on “From Polarized to Optimized. New Lecture from Prof. Steven Seiler

  1. sanderroosendaal says:

    Did they look at the training journals of the athletes ‘on the wrong plan’? The notes section may have contained hints of what was going on. Or could it be that life interfered for that group? A bug? Work stress?
    All right with the conclusions though. Some weeks it is good to pile on a few intervals sessions. Would that be the week when you feel like that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • gregsmith01748 says:

      He said that journals were reviewed, but he didn’t cite any reasons for lack of progress. If I follow a periodization plan, I would map out the mesocycles before hand to ramp up the volume in an organized way. I would also preplan which type of mesocycle it was in terms of intensity based on time from competition.

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  2. stelph82 says:

    Interesting study, it certainly shows the “hybrid” plan hadn’t done as well as the others, I think that’s inline with other Polarised studies I have read about as it suggests that training plans that are more “polarised” (i.e. higher intensity intervals) are more successful, as particularly in the last 4 weeks that looks to be the main difference between the three plans.

    Another thought I had was relating to that fact that even though the reverse plan looks to be a “detraining” type plan and really shouldn’t do that well, it actually held its own in the end, something that perhaps can be put down to the “block periodization” effect – where training that is organised into blocks with a different focus week to week has a bigger effect that traditional periodization training plans

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rogergelissen says:

    The main point I take from the lecture is the huge variability between the athletes. Or as prof. Seiler said at the end: “every athlete is a case study”. There is a temptation to conclude from the experimental study is that the traditional training plans with periodization work better than the reversed one, which in turn works better than the hybrid one. But that was not what Seiler was saying. In fact, the differences between the three groups were not statistical significant.

    The one thing most studies seem to be fairly conclusive about is the necessary workload in terms of hours spent training. And from what science can tell us right now, the 80/20 distribution of those work hours seems to be fitting. But the best composition of that 20% of high intensity training and the benefits of periodization are highly individual. It seems everyone just simply has to do his own testing to find out what works best. Be your own case study. The drawback is that it takes much longer (to try different plans after one and other) and there is no way to control to the environment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gregsmith01748 says:

      That’s a good point and something I tried to highlight. In the lecture, he also said that despite the lack of statistical difference that higher portion of the athletes did better on the traditional plan, than certainly the hybrid plan. He says if your a scientist, you would say they are not statistically different, if your a coach, you’d go with the one that had the highest number of good responders, and then adjust if you don’t see good progress.

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