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Background to Polar Running Training Programs

From the Polar Personal Trainer Running Article Library

For a personalized running training program, go to the 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 requirements.

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”.

Program Structure

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 programs.

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 level.

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.

Gradual Progress

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.

Periodicity and Sharpening

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.

Time Limitations

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.

The mission of Team Beachbody is to motivate you and to educate you about health, fitness and nutrition and the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Click here to learn more about Team Beachbody Coach Rich Dafter.

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