Polarized Concomitant Training - Will it Help You Make Max. Gains & Improvements in Body Comp. W/ Strength+Cardio?

Polarized training? Find out more...
Does concurrent / concomitant training intensity distribution matter? Unless you're a first timer at the SuppVersity you will have read at least two or three previous articles of mine about studies investigating the effects of concurrent training, i.e. the combination of strength and cardio training, (i.e. concomitant training) here.

If you recall the results, you will know that previous research has demonstrated the influence of intensity distribution on strength endurance training adaptations.
You can learn more about the optimal exercise order at the SuppVersity

What's the Right Training 4 You?

Hypertrophy Blueprints

Fat Loss Support Blueprint

Strength Training Blueprints

Study: Over-training Exists

Recovering from the Athlete's Triad
You may also remember that no previous study has addressed the influence of "intensity distribution", i.e. the way intensity and volume are distributed across the training sessions, on the effectiveness of concurrent training (CT | see Figure 1). The goal was to prevent interference of the two types of training:
Figure 1: Training design of the experimental groups during the 8-week training period. Continuous-line and dotted-line circles represent the different training session modalities for the PT and TT groups, respectively. PT: polarized training group; TT: Traditional-based training group; BW: brisk walking; RM: repetition maximum; RNG: running; IST: intermittent sprint training (Varela-Sanz. 2016).
"Another problem which must be solved is the comparison of external training loads. Thus, our independent variable and focus was training intensity distribution with an equivalent total external load [...] of both training programs. A training group performed a combination of strength and endurance training aligned with the current ACSM recommendations of intensity distribution, while another group performed the same amount of external workload but with a polarized intensity distribution. Both ex. groups were evaluated before and after an 8-week training period (weekly training frequency of 3 days), and compared to a control group. To examine the effectiveness of the [...] training regimes, [...] physical (jump capacity, upper- and lower-body strength, running performance, and body composition), physiological (heart rate variability), and perceptual variables (rate of perceived exertion, training impulse, and feeling scale) were examined as dependent variables" (Varela-Sanz. 2016)
Thirty-one healthy sport science students (30 men, 5 women; all moderately active, but training less than 2 days per week apart from their academic activities which included a variable amount of PA on a daily basis) volunteered and were, after a 2-week familiarization phase (training thrice a week for two weeks), evaluated for resting heart rate variability (HRV), countermovement jump, bench press, half squat, and maximum aerobic speed (MAS).
I don't get it. How exactly did this "polarized training" work? Yes, the protocol was different from the one you may remember from Seiler et al. (2006) who tried to quantify training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes. More specifically, subjects trained thrice a week (i.e. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) for ~120 min each on Monday and Friday, and ~60 min on Wednesday. The training sessions on Mondays and Fridays consisted of cardiorespiratory exercise training (i.e. brisk walking or running) followed by resistance exercise training; meanwhile on Wednesdays participants only performed cardiorespiratory exercise training.

Each training session started with a standardized warm-up that consisted of 5 min of calisthenics followed by 5 min of brisk walking at 30% of the MAS. Before resistance exercises, participants also performed a specific warm-up that consisted of 2 sets of 8 repetitions of the resistance circuit they performed during the familiarization period with a OMNI-Scale perception of effort of 2-3. Cooling down exercises consisted of 2-3 sets of 15 s of stretching exercises of the muscle groups involved during the session. The exercises during the actual workout were bench press and half squat. Based on the conclusions of Simão et al., whose study had revealed that you will see greater gains on those exercises you do first in your workout, the order of resistance exercises was alternated each week. In that, the TT group performed 3-5 sets of 10-12 RM with 3 min of rest between sets. The PT group performed 3-5 sets of 5 RM on Mondays, and 2-4 sets of 15 RM on Fridays. The rest between sets was always 3 min. Resistance exercise workloads were equated.
All were then randomly distributed into either a traditional-based training group (TT; n=11; 65-75% of MAS, combined with 10-12RM), polarized training group (PT; n=10; 35-40% and 120% of MAS, combined with 5RM and 15RM), or control group (CG; n=10).
Figure 2: Relative changes in heart rate, jump height, peak power, bench press (1RM) and half squat (1RM) after 8 weeks of traditional (TT), polarized (PT) training or control (Varela-Sanz. 2016).
After 8 weeks of training (3 days.week-1), TT and PT exhibited similar improvements in MAS, bench press and half squat performances. No differences were observed between TT and PT groups for perceived loads. There were no changes in heart rate variability (HRV) for any group although TT exhibited a reduction in resting HR.
Figure 3: Effect sizes corresponding to the relative values in Figure 1 (Varela-Sanz. 2016).
What is worth mentioning, though, is that, compared to other groups, the PT group maintained jump capacity with an increment in body weight and BMI without changes in body fatness, in other words: they gained muscle, but also fat (see Figure in Bottom Line | body fat measured by skinfold "only").

There's one thing we didn't discuss yet: Was the polarized training maybe less taxing or more fun? The findings of the study at hand suggest that this was the case: TT and PT reported similar perceptions of effort, sensations, and internal load levels over the 8-week training period. Briefly, RPE and TRIMPS increased progressively along the 8-week training period. These perceptual levels demonstrated an increase in external load during the 3rd microcycle compared to the 1st and 2nd microcycles of each mesocycle. Thus, "the current findings suggest that different concurrent training regimes of equated loads could be similarly perceived by participants" (Varela-Sanz. 2016).
Effects on body composition; effect sizes and rel. (%) changes (Varela-Sanz. 2016).
Bottom line: The previously outlined observations lead the scientists to conclude that their funky polarization approach to concurrent training "induced similar improvements in physical fitness of physically-active individuals", but that "PT produced a lower interference for jumping capacity despite an increment in body weight, whereas TT induced greater bradycardia" (Varela-Sanz. 2016).

The fact that there were further benefits in terms of peak power, squat and bench press performance, but that those were not statistically significant (see Figure 2), however, is something the scientists don't mention in the abstract, even though these differences could become significant in the longer (>8 weeks) term.

A mistake? No, in view of the conflicting evidence from the calculated effect sizes (see Figure 3), it is absolutely correct to say that there were no meaningful inter-group differences in the most important parameters for most trainees, i.e. the bench press, half squat and the effects on body comp (see Figure on the right) | Comment!
  • Seiler, K. Stephen, and Glenn Øvrevik Kjerland. "Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an “optimal” distribution?." Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 16.1 (2006): 49-56.
  • Simao, Roberto, et al. "Exercise order in resistance training." Sports Medicine 42.3 (2012): 251-265.
  • Varela-Sanz, Adrián; Tuimil, José L.; Abreu, Laurinda; Boullosa, Daniel A. "Does concurrent training intensity distribution matter?" Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: Post Acceptance: May 09, 2016 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001474.
Disclaimer:The information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. It is by no means intended as professional medical advice. Do not use any of the agents or freely available dietary supplements mentioned on this website without further consultation with your medical practitioner.