Polarised Training

Having just finished reading 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald as well as a recent post by Joe Friel on his blog, I thought it would be worthwhile posting a summary on polarised training.  I would certainly recommend reading 80/20 Running as it is an intriguing yet easy read and has some nice training plans relevant to different distances.  Joe Friel’s books and blog are always a great reference for the novice to elite athlete.

Polarised Training.  What is it?

Polarised training refers to an exercise plan involving predominantly very low intensity exercise interspersed with a small amount of very high intensity training.  Advocates of such programs like Matt Fitzgerald recommend, on average, 80% of training performed at low intensity and 20% at a higher intensity.

Why would you want to train in this way?

Because it makes you fit!  Research has shown that polarised training is an extremely effective form of training in enhancing your VO2 max (your maximum oxygen consumption during exercise and common measure of level of fitness).  It is superior to regular moderate intensity exercise (which is how most people train) and high volume low intensity training.

How is intensity defined?

Athletes and coaches use various different tools to determine intensity including pace (running), heart rate, power output (cycling) and perceived effort.  If you are interested in the specifics of these measures I direct you to the above-mentioned resources.

But I want to start it NOW?

Whoa cool it!!  Most people embarking on fitness programs are fairly impatient.  “Too much too soon” is the most common cause of injury seen at our clinic and is far more relevant than most biomechanics factors.  Before considering any form of intensity, I would recommend working on some form of fitness base incorporating consistent easy exercise.  This is especially important for activities such as running involving repetitive loading to the lower limbs.  For semi-weightbearing activities such as cycling, intensity can be added earlier.  For those who have been exercising consistently for many months (or preferably years) and have a reasonable level of base fitness and have not suffered from injury over that period, some intensity can be added into their program.

How to get started…

If you want to start polarised training, and don’t want to use training tools such as heart rate and power, then you will need to rely on perceived effort and pace/speed.   A GPS training App is a handy addition and can easily be downloaded for your phone (e.g., cyclometer, strava).  When performing your easy training, you should be able to hold a conversation with a training partner.  Often the effort feels “too easy.”  Once finishing an easy session, you should feel that you could continue to exercise for longer.  By performing most of your training at low intensity, when it comes time to do your high intensity sessions, you really have the energy to put a lot into it.  Hard sessions are very difficult and involve extremely heavy breathing, lots of perspiration, burning muscles and high heart rates.  As these sessions are stressful on the body, an emphasis on quality rather than quantity is important.  If you feel like you cannot give a scheduled hard session everything then it may be better to replace it with another easy session.  Easy exercise helps athletes to recover from the hard sessions whilst also improving components of cardiovascular fitness.

Is polarised training everything?

No.  Specificity is.  Your training needs to be specific to whatever event/ race you are training for.  For example, if you are are training for an ultra marathon, low intensity volume will be more important than intensity when compared to shorter events such as a 10 km race.

Furthermore, the concept of periodisation is relevant.  This term refers to planning training over a period of time with an emphasis on building fitness by manipulating volume intensity for a specific race/ event goal.


Julian Spence on his recent marathon, health and nutrition

By Luke Madeley

Julian Spence is an amazing running talent that has achieved a lot in a very short space of time.  Coming onto the scene fairly late after pursuing football and surfing interests, over the last 6 years Julian has had success with ultra-running, marathons, cross country, as well as on the track. Julian has taken the role of Geelong Regional Cross Country manager and is also the store manager for The Running  Company.  I caught up with Julian after the recent Melbourne marathon to discuss his run, his future and his thoughts on nutrition, performance and health.

Congratulations Julian on a great effort.  I sense from your Strava post (Julian titled his recent marathon run as ‘the wrong way to run 2:27’) you are not happy with your Melbourne Marathon, despite finishing 15th.
I was unhappy with the time, but content with the way I went about the run.  The first half went pretty well as I was running consistent splits and I felt good.  However, I couldn’t maintain the pace and in the latter part of the race I could have easily pulled out.   Overall I was satisfied that I was able to get the finish line. 
Leading into the race, you were in great form.  Why do you think you ran slower than you expected?
I was aiming for sub 2:20 and I was definately fitter than 2:27.   There was a chance that I wasn’t in 2:20 shape and that may have been the problem.  However, I still went for it, and when you’re on such a fine line, things can fall apart pretty quickly.  I probably could have gone out there and ran conservatively with the aim to run 2:24.  However,  I pushed myself to run 2:20 which exceeded my threshold on the day and I basically cooked myself!
You also experienced an injury a few weeks before the race?
I was doing a long training run around marathon pace and ran 16 kms into a shocking head wind.  I must have changed the way I was running a little bit.  I think I just started to lean forward as I was fighting into the wind which may have changed the way my hammy and glutes were working.  After that run, I pulled up sore around my hip.
The injury significantly messed with my head. I was stressing about it which led to poor sleep and I started to second guess myself.  Also, the legs didn’t get as much time in them for the last 2 weeks prior to the marathon and they were used to running twice a day every day.  And all of a sudden I was not running at all.
How is your recovering going?
I haven’t ran in a week and I’m going to have another week off and then start to re-build.  I played golf today.  I will ride the bike while Bri (Julian’s girlfriend) runs and walk the dog twice a day.   I also enjoy just sitting, and not really doing a whole lot.   I’m already starting to get motivated to start running again now that the soreness has gone and I’m seeing Bri out running.
What are your short-term goals in running?
The best bit about this experience is the fitness block I got out of it.  My immediate goal is a marathon in Japan in February next year, which will give me a chance of running the distance again. I would also consider running the Gold Coast marathon next year where there will be more guys running at the pace I am aiming for.   I might do some trail running over summer and  I will also jump on the track for some races.   But mainly my focus is Japan.
What are your long-term goals in running?
I want to break 2:20 and I want to run at the Zatopek 10 k.m.  However  I don’t really think about goals like that.  Because once I’ve run 2:20,  I’ll want to improve on that.  I don’t want to put a ceiling on my expectations.    That’s why short-term goals are more relevant to me.  There will always be another level to get to.
What are your thoughts on running for health benefits?
I don’t see a lot of people losing weight when they run. Most people complain when they start running that they don’t lose weight.  And then people are fighting with it (running) all the time and it’s battle to get out all the time.  So in those cases, I don’t think that is something you should be doing. Something that is good for your health should still be enjoyable.  If you’re forcing yourself to run, it’s not healthy.
I run because I enjoy it.  But it’s not necessarily always healthy.  I’m always sore, I have no power what so ever, I am stiff and inflexible.  I really eat whatever I want so my diet is not awesome.  I’m probably under the weight range, my immune system is constantly on edge all the time.  So I wouldn’t say what I do is all together healthy.  But what I do is at an extreme.  And I enjoy it.
You can be healthy and run ok but you’re not going to do as well as if you run 150 kms a week.
What are your thoughts on nutrition and do you feel nutritional requirements for an elite athlete should be different to the average active person?
A lot of it is input vs output.  If I run 15 kms in the morning, I think it is 500-600 calories that I burn.  In the evening I run 7 kms, maybe I burn 300 calories.    I need to get that (calories) from somewhere, otherwise I will waste away.    I won’t recover well, I’ll be tired all the time and sore. I find that it is hard to get all of those calories by eating really clean.  I try to keep foods wholesome but sometimes you just need to pack it in.  So often before bed I will drink a sustagen (energy drink) milkshake so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night hungry.
For average person, if you consume 300 calories before bed and you’re not doing the work then it will just go straight into your fat stores.  You don’t need as many calories if you’re not expending a lot of energy.
What’s your philosophy on injuries?
 Every runner gets injuries.     And sometimes you need to work out the mistake in your training, whether it’s training load, too much intensity, too much volume or too much intensity in close proximity to volume.     Sometimes it is the surfaces you run on, like if it is heavily cambered.     Footwear features are also important and I know I get tibialis posterior tendon pain when the shoe is too soft.
I started changing the way I ran after sustaining a knee injury.  An MRI has shown I have cartilage damage but I was able to cope with this by running with a higher cadence and landing more on the forefoot (and landing under centre of gravity).  Using a lower (flatter heeled) pitch shoe, I found it easier to do learn this and it allowed me to absorb the load of running.  I started in barefoot shoes such as Vibrams doing walk/runs on fairly hard surfaces.  From doing this, patterns changed and all of a sudden landing on the heel felt really unnatural with increased jarring and force.  It is good to have some cushion under there (foot) so you can run the next day without being really sore but the best learning technique is to not wear a shoe at all.
What are the necessary components of a successful running  program with reference to long steady, tempo and interval workouts?
A program can have all three of these components and can do really well.  I don’t pidgeon hole one of these components as the answer.  I think all three can help.
Could you give me an example of  each type of workout?
Long steady runs have the lowest risk (of injury) and are a good way for me to start re-build fitness.     An example of a long steady run for me would be running on a trail for two and half hours at an easy pace (4.30-5.00mins/ km).
A marathon specific tempo session would be 16 k ms  at 3.15-3.20mins/km.
Interval training in reference to marathon training would involve 10 repetitions of one km on the track with 90 seconds recovery.  This would be usually be  performed at 3 min/ km pace.
What additional training tools do you use besides the traditional?
That’s a good question.  I take Sustagen before I go to bed so I sleep better.  I take inner health plus to help settle the gut.  But really I just run…

Healthy Food. Are we too busy to care?

By Luke Madeley

There is no doubt that nutrition has a huge impact on health and sports performance.  Recently, fitness coach extraordinaire, Joe Friel tweeted that: “The greatest advance in the next 10 years for endurance sports won’t be in equipment or training; it will be in nutrition.” At present, there are experts arguing over potential benefits of low fat/ high carbohydrate vs low carbohydrate/ high fat diets.  Prominent basketballer’s Kobe Bryant and Lebron James have captured headlines for adopting low carbohydrate diets.  Cricketer’s Shane Watson and David Warner have also adopted a similar nutrition plan.    Advocates for such diets suggest benefits including weight loss, better sustained energy and better overall health. 

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The paleo (caveman) diet is also gaining popularity.  This diet, adopted by celebrity chef, Pete Evans is characterised by whole foods and excludes refined carbohydrates, including grains, processed foods, legumes and dairy products.  Critics of the paleo diet suggest that whole grains are the basis for a healthy, nutritious diet (based on the current food pyramid). Many believe, we have become victims of convenience.  For example, when we purchase food at a supermarket, do we question the origin of the food?  Is the meat we purchase from healthy animals from natural environments?  Is the fruit we eat chemical and hormone free?  Whilst remaining contentious, the prominence of the above-mentioned diets and the celebrities that follow them have allowed us to question the food we commonly consume.

Recently I had the pleasure of being shown around Geelong Institution, Siketa Meats  by owner, Bruno Siketa.  When asked about the key to his success, Bruno simply replied, “quality.”  He believes in sourcing meat from best, healthy animals.   It stands to reason that if you want health benefits from food, the source must also be healthy.  A simple concept, yes.  But has it been lost in the modern world? So what is the perfect diet?  This topic will be argued for many years to come (and we will endeavour to provide some insight into the current trends).  However, regardless of whether you believe in high/ low fat versus low carbohydrate diets, it is hard to argue against high quality, locally sourced whole foods.

Beware of Extremists!

By Luke Madeley

It always fascinates me when people hold 
extremely strong views on a topic that can be 
looked at from various perspectives. For 
instance, the concept that natural is best is a
prominent topic. Of particular interest in 
today’s article is the notion that barefoot 
running is natural and therefore better than 
running in shoes. For many people, this is old 
news as this has been a hot topic for some time.
However, as prominent fitness coach and health 
advocate, Dr Phil Maffetone has recently 
suggested in his new book, 1.59, that barefoot 
running is optimal and is required for an 
athlete to break 2 hours in a marathon, I think 
it is a great time to revisit this topic. 
Especially as Dennis Kimetto has recently broken
the marathon world record in a cushioned shoe 
with a high heel to toe angle!
Is natural best? Is running in cushioned shoes 
really that bad?

I will try and answer this question by asking 
you this: What do you think of cycling? I know 
lots of people enjoy cycling including high 
level athletes, medical practitioners and the 
every day punter. But it’s not natural! However,
it’s hard to deny the health benefits many 
receive from this activity. So in this case, 
clearly, “natural” is not necessary for positive
effects. The same could be said for many sports
that require equipment and technology.

But there is something about the “pure” activity
of running. The simplicity of running is 
unparalleled. However, is barefoot running 
better than running in a structured shoe with 
technology backed by corporate giants?

Let’s briefly look at a rapidly growing running
shoe company, Hoka One One. This company makes 
runners with massive cushioned outer soles 
really like no other shoe on the market (they 
also have many other tech components but that is
not for todays’s post). Now running in these 
shoes is almost the opposite to running 
barefoot. So is it wrong to run in these shoes?

Throughout modern history, humans have worn 
shoes, generally footwear with a positive, or 
built up heel. This generally will occur at a 
very young age. Individuals adapt to the 
conditions around them and wearing shoes is no 
different. So individual’s musculature, joints,
ligament and tendon adapt to the position and 
load subject to them. This is where the plot 
thickens a little. For an individual of the age 
of 21, who has grown up wearing a positive 
heeled shoe for their entire life, is barefoot 
running appropriate? This leads me finally to 
the answer:

NO… or maybe YES

To answer this question in reality, you must 
understand the concept of load. Every time you 
take a step, load is transferred from the impact
of the ground, onto your body. Wearing shoes 
with different features direct load to various 
areas of the body. For example, if the above 
athlete had a history of overuse ankle problems,
a higher pitch (built up at the heel) runner 
may work better than a minamilistic shoe. If the
athlete had a chronic knee issue, low heeled 
shoe could be better. So the difference between
barefoot vs minimalist vs cushioned footwear can
really be dissected by how much load is 
transferred to various parts of the body and how
that then translates to performance.

In prescribing footwear, many factors may be 
- age and footwear history
- injury history
- activity history
- type of training
- etc

However, to simplify the process, comfort is 
often a reliable way of choosing footwear. For 
those wanting to run barefoot or in minamilistic
footwear, then that’s cool. But it isn’t for 
everyone- and it doesn’t have to be!

Life is complex. If running in a particular shoe
 enables you to enjoy a potentially healthy past
-time, I believe it is not wrong. What is 
perfect? Well that is yet to be determined. 
Certainly running in a cushioned shoe with all 
the bells and whistles is healthier than 
lying in front of TV eating a packet of crisps!