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What makes a Great

endurance athlete?


Key Terms:

  • Robust Athlete
  • Durable
  • Metabolic Control


When you start. working with an endurance athlete the reasons they do it may vary, the goals may vary and the time they have to train will vary. However, there are things that stay the same;  things common to all great endurance athletes.

The priority as someone starting on an endurance journey is that you focus on the areas that get most gain long term, not short, quick hit, one-percenter gains.

My coach at the time pointed me in the direction of some podcasts by Stephen Seiler (links below). This was the first time I’d heard some of these key terms listed above, and it changed the way I trained forever.

Performance doesn’t come from a miracle interval set, or riding so hard you end up lying in a pool of sweat by your bike after a turbo trainer session. It comes from consistent, well structured, disciplined training over time.

The discipline most people struggle with isn’t actually to push hard, it’s to hold themselves back on the easy days. It’s this discipline that. forms the foundation of a great endurance athlete. Taking the easy. days easy enough means heart rate. below 78% of max (as a rough guide). This can be really hard at first, it takes discipline.

If you stay disciplined, keep your hard days hard (1-2 x per week) and your easy days easy you will get. consistent training over time and that is when you start getting sustainable, high-level gains.

It is this approach that will make you a robust, durable athlete with the metabolic control to go easy when it’s easy and hard when it’s required.

Case study

I used to train for cycling with a lot of Z2/3 riding (in a 3 Zone Model). A typical week of training consisted of 2-3 sweet spot rides on my turbo trainer, 1 threshold ride/race and 1 long ride. I used to get regular colds, particularly after a ‘peak’. Nothing too bad, but it would always knock me back a couple of weeks.

The other issue I had that for 2 seasons in a row I had not progressed my FTP. Towards the 2nd season of seeing this pattern of frequent illness and stagnation I heard a Stephen Seiler podcast and then looked for a coach with a polarised approach to endurance training.

I changed to polarised training in late 2018 and had my most consistent winter and build ever. You can see the difference in intensity in the graph on the right.

I felt fresh almost all of the time and when the racing came I was faster than ever. FTP had been about 305 for 2 years and now it was 328. I beat all my time trial PB’s:

  • 19:57 for 10 miles (down from 20:56)
  • 50:46 for 25 miles (down from 54:55)
  • 1:49.45 for 50 miles (down from 1:56.42)

I didn’t get ill, I was able to train more consistently and I could have beaten those PB’s again if I’d had the chance in 2020!

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Stay Healthy

Meaning both not getting injured and not getting ill.

If your training is too hard or too frequently intense you will get little illnesses and injuries that break your consistency.

Keep. your easy sessions easy, for most athletes this means around 80-90% of your training is below 78% of your max heart rate.

Be Consistent

Once you are disciplined with your intensity, you will stay healthier and consistency will come.

Getting on your bike as much as you can, in balance with the rest of your busy life, will be the thing that impacts your fitness the most.

Sustainable rhythm

All this put together means that you can put together long stretches of sustained endurance training stimulus that creates greater adaptation and performance gains.

It’s important to remember to keep life in balance, fit the training in around everything else and don’t dig too deep into your energy or your partner or families ‘good will’. Find a balance.



How can you do this yourself?

If you want to know how to put this plan together for you, take advantage of a FREE Coaching Call

Book my Free Coaching Call




Stephen Seler Podcast Link: FAST TALK Ep. 51 – Polarised Training

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Why recommend riding so much in zone 1?

If you’ve read the research on polarised training, you (like me) may have raised an eyebrow at seeing that 80% of sessions should be totally in Z1 (3 zone model – Clear here to learn more about training Zones). May be even more of a shock to see that that figure is SESSIONS, actually time in zone should be more like 90% in zone 1.

The research that is suggesting this is pretty strong. Take a look at the research gate page for Stephen Seiler to see. Study of many other endurance sports including cross country skiing, running, rowing, biathlon have all shown that the best athletes spend 80% of their sessions entirely in zone 1.

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What’s so Special about riding below LT1?

Lactate threshold occurs roughly at 78% of MHR (assuming you are fresh). When we are talking about Z1 in a 3 zone model you want to stay below this throughout the ride. With the InScyd testing we can get a much more accurate picture as everyone will be different.

The biggest reason you need to spend all this time in zone 1 is that you can accumulate the desired amount of minutes of training, without triggering a huge stress response from the sympathetic nervous system.

Frequency and duration are two of the most important factors in building an endurance engine, Z1 rides allow you to enjoy frequent rides with sufficient duration to build a big engine.

The other benefit of this time staying disciplined in Z1 for 80% of your sessions is that when you do the other 20% you can really make the sessions count!! You aren’t jaded from semi-hard sessions, you can train and race with all your available strength.

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will i still get benefits if i ride in zone 1?

When you finish a Z1 ride, you don’t really get that heavy, stinging legs feeling, which may make you think you haven’t achieved anything. This is a wrong, you have achieved something, you have triggered an adaptive response, but without the stress induced by a hard Z2 ride.

A typical sweet spot ride ‘feels productive’, but will create more stress, which means that long term you will not be able to make the biggest gains.

Interestingly, most people think it only works for pro riders doing 25-30 hours a week, but this is incorrect. There is some great science to show that polarised training scales down to those athletes doing 5 hours a week. This puts it squarely in the range of most amateur athletes.

Any questions about polarised training

If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them in the comments below. Or if you want to speak to a coach, click the button below.