Podcast, Science

An up to date scientific analysis of polarised training vs. threshold training with Michael Rosenblat | EP#244

 July 27, 2020

By  Mikael Eriksson


Michael Rosenblat

Michael Rosenblat is a Canadian researcher working towards his PhD. In this interview we discuss one of his main research papers: a meta-analysis and systematic review comparing polarised training and threshold training in endurance sports.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • How polarised training and threshold training are defined in the scientific literature, and common misconceptions around this
  • The scientific evidence available comparing these training models
  • Why polarised training may work better than threshold training for endurance athletes
  • Just how polarised (high vs. moderate intensity) should polarised training be?
  • How strictly should athletes and coaches follow "hard numbers" in their training intensity distribution (between low, moderate, and high intensity)

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Polarized training vs. threshold training

04:20 - 

  • The polarized training strategy is a methodology that focuses mainly on the two opposite extremes of training intensity, either being low intensity (the vast majority, > 80 %) or very high intensity (over race pace) and very little time is spent in the ”middle intense zone” or around race pace.
  • In the threshold training approach, training around race pace intensity is the most emphasized training form, this can in turn be divided into two sub groups of intensity, where one is slightly lower than the other.

    The distribution between ”lower end” threshold training and ”higher end” threshold training is approximately 40-40 where a small amount of training is performed in the very high end.

The meta analysis

06:00 -

  • In order to try and find out, which of these two training strategies is the most effective, we conducted a meta analysis.

    Inclusion criteria for included studies in the meta analysis included that the studies should have been done on athletes (recreational or at a high level, the VO2max of the included subjects were between 63-73 ml/kg/min) and that every study compared the two training approaches in a randomized manner.

    As outcome measurements, VO2max, time trial performance and time to exhaustion had been used in included studies.
  • In total, only three articles met the inclusion criteria of the meta analysis and the total number of subjects included in the pooled analysis were 65 athletes.
  • In terms of the results, looking at time trial performance over 10 km running, the polarized training group improved their time by 40s more than the threshold group, which is substantial, especially considering these were fairly rained individuals.

    However, what must be emphasized is that both groups improved their time over 10 km running by 2-2.5 mins on average, but the greatest improvements were seen in the polarized training group.

    Also, the greatest difference between the groups where seen in the 10 km running time trial, the differences in cycling performance were not equally significant.

Potential explanations to the results

16:15 -

  • My theory is that the results partly can be explained in energy substrate utilization.

    There are indications of that the oxidation of fatty acids is greater stimulated by the polarized training model compared to the threshold training model (mainly due to large amount of training conducted at low intensity).
  • Another explanation could be that the threshold training is putting a much higher level of fatigue than the polarized training method, which could harm the effectiveness of the threshold training.

Implementing and interpreting the findings

25:05 -

  • As in many cases, the ”depending on factor” comes into play when the results is going to be implemented in a more practical setting.

    According to the study, a polarized training approach seems to be most effective to increase athletics performance and should hence constitute the majority of the training.

    However, as race date is approaching, specific training at race intensity is probably crucial and is therefore important to implement during this phase.
  • Another interesting aspect of the different training methods is the total training volume.

    In one of the included studies, a polarized training approach had been compared against a group who only performed the HIIT part of the polarized approach, and this group did not improve as much as the polarized training group.

    This indicate that the total volume of training, even when conducted on a low intensity, is important for performance.


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

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