Background to Polar Running
Training ProgramsFrom the
Personal Trainer Running Article Library
For a personalized running training program,
go to the
www.polarpersonaltrainer.com web service. Here, you will
find goal-oriented event programs (5 km, 10 km, 21 km and 42 km) as well as a
fitness running program.
Programs are designed to improve your
fitness safely, and are based on your current fitness level. By answering a few
questions you will be given a program that is suitable for your fitness level
and goals. The optional questions about fitness level specifics like OwnIndex
or VO2max will help create a program more accurately suited to your
The programs have been designed in
cooperation with exercise physiologist and training consultant Brendon Downey.
Brendon is a qualified triathlon coach with 13 years of experience working with
beginners as well as elite-level athletes, including national champions and
several ITU World Cup & Olympic competitors. He used to be a competitive
cyclist and triathlete, competing at the World Championships in triathlon
himself, and is a former New Zealand National Triathlon Champion. Having
completed 6 Ironman Triathlons, he has a personal best of 8:59. Brendon has a
bachelor’s degree in science and a postgraduate diploma in physiology. He
can be contacted at his website at
Programs Based on
Polar sport zones
Each program uses the Polar sport zones
terminology and structure. In other words, all training is broken down into
five sport zones and intensities. This helps clarify the requirements for every
session. For additional information on Polar sport zones, consult the article
“Polar sport zones”.
The 5 km programs are 9 weeks, the 10 km
programs are 10 weeks and the ½ Marathon and Marathon programs are 14
weeks in duration. Fitness running programs last 4 weeks.
General aerobic training in zone 2 is an
efficient and safe way to build endurance; therefore, training plans are
designed to ensure that plenty of aerobic fitness is built first. All programs
at lower fitness levels are based on two main principles: week-to-week
progression of total exercise volumes, and a long run in zones 1 or 2 that
builds up towards the speed required to complete the event. The programs also
include some easier “breather” weeks. This is to make sure you
complete your event safely, and can eventually move on to longer event
Intermediate programs include more aerobic
work in zone 2, and, since participants will have some history in running, we
have thrown in additional event-specific work in zones 3 and 4, as well as some
hills to build strength. Doing structured amounts of higher intensity work will
be a new experience for many runners, so zone 3 work will increase gradually,
helping participants improve their training pace and time. Most programs will
consist of a small amount of zone 4 work. This will also lead to an increase in
event speed and make sure you can advance to more demanding programs safely,
should you want to.
For the programs at higher levels, more
emphasis is placed on creating an even more solid foundation (more total
distance/time) through aerobic running and increased amounts of hill work in
zones 3-4. Also, training at event speed in zones 3 and 4 increase at this
In all cases, we stick to the principle of
progressive loading, and ensuring recovery before repeating. In all, these
programs spell quality preparation for running events.
The programs are designed to help runners
progress towards better fitness, longer distances and more challenging training
programs. Generally, once you have completed a particular training program, you
can either advance to the same distance at a higher intensity level or to a
longer distance at the same intensity level. For example, after a 5 km program,
you should be able to advance to 10 km. But to do that, your fitness level
should have improved sufficiently. This is determined once you
‘re-profile’ yourself for a new program.
Generally, all programs follow the 10% rule,
i.e. volume will increase by around 10% every week. Note that in some cases,
some runs may increase more than 10%, so monitor given distances and times
carefully, and if in any doubt, just do less.
Progress occurs throughout the program, also
in terms of training intensity. At first, intensities are kept low (most
training in zones 1-2), increasing gradually to durations and distances closer
to event levels.
Each program has a base phase where the
emphasis is on increasing volume/distance, or as for some advanced programs,
relatively more volume with less intensity. This initial phase of the program
will generally include more hills and less speed sessions. This is because
doing hills is an ideal way to exercise in higher zones (3+) without the high
risk associated with the running speeds required to reach these zones on the
flat. Running hills also helps improve exercise economy and develop
running-specific leg strength. These are all valuable ways to develop a solid
foundation to build on.
In the latter part of most programs, faster
work is included in a specific speed phase (zones 3-5). Even the marathon
programs, while emphasizing distance/time, include training in zones 3 and 4,
as this will help boost efficiency at racing speed on event day.
Since these programs are designed with
working people in mind, they will include easier periods of training every
other week. Generally, these easy weeks amount to around half the training of
the previous week. This ensures good recovery and helps athletes benefit from
the past two weeks of training before moving on.
As running creates a fair amount of muscle
damage due to its weight-pounding nature, programs include a fair amount of
taper. Advanced programs include more of a change in volume due to the greater
need for recovery after heavier training loads. Taper periods are, therefore,
generally longer. All programs include an adequate taper, which will still
include some intense running (in zones 3 and 4) to make sure you maintain good
leg speed and strength while still allowing for recovery.
Note that the programs are limited with
regards to total amount of training, so for runners looking to compete at
regional level or above, the programs can only offer some guidance. Additional
training may, therefore, be required. In fact, we strongly recommend you seek
the services of a coach.