Polarised exercise training

Endurance training is very popular, I mean really popular! It’s hard not to look out the window of your car and see folks running the streets of my home town of Auckland. The Auckland Marathon itself is a reflection of that with an estimated 17’000 people running every year. The London Marathon also continues to be popular with well over 35’000 people participating every year. Elite events are also out there. The famous (or infamous!) Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara desert, and ‘Badwater’ Marathon across Death Valley California are seemingly (and bizarrely!) getting more interest every year with people looking to take the leap into elite athlete territory.

But how does one prepare for any of these events? The answer is increasingly within a system called ‘Polarised training’. Polarised training is a combination of  both high intensity and low intensity training. This combination of methods is actually nothing new. The legendary New Zealand running coach Arthur Lydiard pioneered this approach in the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s and 70’s with great results for runner such as Murray Halberg and Peter Snell. The approach was that, to enable good endurance in running (or any sport for that matter and studies have been done on swimmers and skiers) you need a base level of low intensity stamina. This allows the body to perform at a higher intensity (the high intensity training I referred to) more easily. Think about it like running the engine on a car. You run the car in neutral once a week to keep it tuned and make sure nothings amiss before you take it for a Sunday drive.

Now there are lots of boffin-like, scientific ways I can describe and prescribe these high and low intensity exercises for clients, but for the context here I will keep it simple.

Low intensity exercise can be simply measured by the ‘laugh’ approach. If you are exercising and can talk and laugh then the exercise (whatever it is) is low intensity and this should be able to be maintained for anything up to an hour. High intensity exercise is much shorter (around 30 seconds) and followed by an appropriate rest period to allow you to recover. High intensity is the ‘all you can give’ approach and should have you puffing hard. These intervals can be repeated according to your tolerance to the exercise.

High intensity exercise has been clinically proved to help improve cardio-vascular fitness, increase fat metabolism (fat burring) and improve insulin tolerance. Whereas low intensity exercise has been clinically shown to also improve metabolism and increase muscle stamina. The two together are a match made in heaven for health. They are easy and cheap to perform and can be done in the same session. But I hear what you might be saying, “I’m not an athlete!” and “I don’t go to the gym!” Well, my experience with most people nowadays is that they live demanding lives both professionally and socially. Lives that start at sun-up and often last till well after the sun has set. So you can’t tell me that  doesn’t require stamina, you’re a ‘life athlete! Cant get to the gym? Don’t want to? Both high intensity and low intensity exercise can be done during the average walk, just use the principles of ‘laugh’ and ‘all you can give’ by walking on both flat terrain and up a hill!

If you have any questions regarding polarised training or any other subject in my blog you can contact me at paul@moldphysiotherapy.co.nz.

I’ll see you next time when i’ll be discussing knee pain and how walking and running styles can affect it.

See you soon!

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