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.

Sunday: Hard 5.8km on Quinsigamond

We got tho the lake this morning and the fog was so thick that you could not see the opposite shore 500m away.  We don’t launch under those conditions.  A pity too because there was no wind and the water was oily smooth.  We waited about 30 minutes and it started to clear.  There was still very little wind, and it was quite cool, maybe around 40F.  The water was fabulous!  The featured image is at 8:30, right when I was finishing my main piece.

The plan for today was another head race simulation.  My last before the racing starts next weekend up in Lowell.


  1. 5.5km hard
  2. rate: r28
  3. pace: better than 2:12.7 (my previous best pace)
  4. As always work on good reach at the catch, smooth drive and early finish.

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05800_|_25:33_|_2:12.2_|_674___|_26.4_|_08.6_|_168___|_Main set
02780_|_15:00_|_2:41.9_|_301___|_20.1_|_09.2_|_138___|_rest meters

In the warmup to the south end of the lake, I tried to keep the intensity low.  I was rowing with another guy in a single and we basically matched pace.  As I got closer to the end, I cranked up to target pace and just got loose and ready for the piece.  I was pressed for time after our fog delay, so I took a minimal rest, drank a little water and set off on the main piece.

Less than 500m into the piece, I was hit by a massive wake from a waterskiing boat.  It stopped me dead in the water for a couple of strokes.  But, I got back in the groove and was pleased to see that I could hold under a 2:10 without going crazy.  It felt like a nice pressure. About 400m later, I was hit with another wake.  This one was smaller and I could keep rowing through it, but at half slide and with blades on the water.

Over the next 1500m, I started to feel the effects of my fast start, and the splits started to climb into the 2:10 to 2:15 range.  I just focused on mechanics. Reach far and finish clean.  Reach far and finish clean.  This got me to the narrows where I was waked one more time.  Again not so bad, but it cost me a few strokes at full pressure.

From there to the bridge was pretty painful.  I was hurting and just trying to keep it together.  There was a stretch where I was struggling with a cross chop from the wakes bouncing off the shore lines and coming back in unpredictable ways.  At steady state pressure these would have been no big deal, but I was tired enough that they really made it hard to stay in a smooth rhythm.  I was glad to get under the bridge and know that I had about 2K left.

I lifted the rate after the bridge.  I wasn’t hitting the target rate in the south end of the lake, but now I was.  I was also desperately counting strokes, trying to make sure that I didn’t get ahead of myself and trying to stay in the moment, just focusing on mechanics and technique.  I hit all the milestones at the right stroke counts and I knew that I would finish up right at about 700 strokes for the whole piece.  I started a final push with about 400m to go and finished with a 2:00 split on  the speedcoach.

I was gassed.  I panted for a half a minute then paddled up to the top of the lake.  I had a drink, took my feet out and then paddled back toward our dock.  I did about 1000m of steady rowing, then 500m of slow roll ups, then 500m of square blades and that was about it.

Even with the 3 wakings, I managed to beat my previous best pace by half a second (2:12.2 vs 2:12.7).  Excluding the one big wake, the pace was 2:10.8.  Even better, the average HR for this piece was 168 versus 176 for the piece where I did 2:12.7.  I’m happy with that and I think I’ll have a beer.

Tomorrow: Steady State.  Training plan calls for rate ladders.  I plan to do them

1000 @ 16, 1000 @ 18, rest of the distance @ 20

I will also row with a HR cap at 150.

What is the right way to cool down at the end of a hard session. Two articles worth reading

Blood lactate clearance during active recovery after an intense running bout depends on the intensity of the active recovery

Blood lactate removal during recovery at various intensities below the individual anaerobic threshold in triathletes.

The first article compares the lactate clearance rate for different intensity of cool downs. The experiment was a 10 minute warm up, then a 5 minute test at 90% of VO2Max, then straight into one of the cool down scenarios ranging from passive to 100% of LT power for 32 minutes with lactate tests performed during the cool down.

Here is the key graph.

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It shows that a cooldown at 60% or greater of LT power clears lactate significantly faster than passive or 40% of LT power.  LT power is about the power that can be sustained for a 30 minute time trial.  For me on the erg, right now, LT is probably around 250W, so a cooldown power greater than 0.6*250 = 150W (2:12.6 pace).

The second paper is based on triathletes.  The protocol here was very similar.  A 3 minute warmup, followed by a 6 minute test at about 90% VO2Max, then straight into the different cool down scenarios.  This paper defines the cool down intensity in terms of above, at or below the IVT (Individual Ventilatory Threshold), basically an intensity where your breathing gets very regular and deep.  This was all a bit too mumbo-jumbo-ish for me, but luckily they included a handy translation table to get from their weird units to % of VO2max.

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The findings were that the lower intensity IVT(-50%delT) provided optimal lactate clearance.

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So, if you use 2K power as a rough equivalent to VO2Max power, then you can come up with “real” numbers to use for comparison.  My current 2K is probably around a 6:50, which is 1:42.5 pace and 325W.  So, these intensities would be:

  • 67% * 325 = 218
  • 59% * 325 = 192
  • 51% * 325 = 166

So, this paper says 166W, which is a 2:08.2 pace

So put it together, these two papers say that I should go faster than 2:12.6 and no faster than 2:08.2.  I think 2:10 is probably a good pace for my cool downs based on my current fitness level.