Updated: Mar 22, 2021
There are many discussions recently on what cycling training method is best, Polarized vs. Threshold training, so I thought I would jump on in.
Quick summary, Polarized training requires you to ride "easy," below your threshold, 80% of your training time in Zone 1. The remaining 20% of your training time is done Hard, above your threshold or zone 3. It is best known as the 80/20 training method. The benefit is you do a lot of high-intensity work, which builds your power, anaerobic threshold, V02 and allows you plenty of easy miles to recover! No zone 2 threshold riding!
On the other hand, Threshold training is primarily focused in the middle zone 2, just below your FTP threshold. We call this "Sweet Spot Training," which is roughly 87%-94% of your FTP threshold power. The benefit is you get a lot of physiological rewards in a shorter time. This training increases your overall sustained power, Vo2 performance, and endurance fitness.
Although some current clinical trials have given the edge to Polarized training over Threshold training, both deliver results depending on your cycling experience, type of cyclist, and goals. I like to mix them both in my training. It is almost always beneficial to mix in various workout intensities to avoid doing the same power zones repeatedly. Whatever method you choose, it is critical to include proper recovery so your body can adapt and become stronger. Too much intensity training for too long will lead to poor performance and burn you out.
The benefits of Threshold training
Threshold training works great for endurance athletes who want to build their power and aerobic fitness but only have 5-7 hours to train each week. Skip the 3-4 hour easy ride and replace it with structured, sustained intensity training instead. Time-crunched athletes can achieve impressive aerobic fitness, increased FTP power, and still, be extremely competitive in their events using purposeful threshold training. Adding 1 or 2 threshold sessions each week can build big watts and results.
Off-season aerobic training.
Especially mountain bikers and gravel cyclists that require high sustain power to be competitive. No place on the planet can build more sustained watts than your indoor trainer. The indoor controlled environment allows you to perform longer sustained power workouts than outdoors! Sweet Spot training sessions of 30, 60, up to 120 minutes can build impressive sustain power you can take to the road this spring! Your coach can start you on a threshold program that is best suited for your power zones and fitness. Although threshold training can deliver significant results, you want to avoid overdoing it.
"Sweet Spot" /Threshold training gets a bad rap because athletes often do too much of it. It is common for cyclists to overtrain and underperform because they ride too hard on their rest days and fail to achieve their best power on those important hard days! Again, a coach can help manage your training to prescribe the right amount of stress and recovery that will build your aerobic fitness properly.
Threshold training will make you mentally stronger!
Riding in your sweet spot zone is not a leg-busting nor lung-burning effort on its own. But don't underestimate the level of difficulty! This sub-threshold intensity requires full mental focus, and it will be a physical challenge! Anyone who has done 60-90 minutes at 90+% of their FTP knows how difficult the last 10 minutes can be. You will have to dig deep some days to finish these sessions, but well worth it! After each session, you can't help but feel a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and newfound mental toughness!
Remember, when we train and recover properly, our bodies adapt to that stress and become stronger. Experienced cyclists have years of aerobic conditions to tolerate more stress, longer threshold sessions, and faster recovery. If you are starting training or getting back into it again, be patient and consistent with your threshold training, add proper recovery, and reap the rewards.