Preprint / Version 1

The proportional distribution of training at different intensities during different phases of the season by elite athletes participating in a variety of endurance sports


  • Billy Sperlich Integrative & Experimental Exercise Science & Training, Institute of Sport Science, University of Würzburg
  • Manuel Matzka Integrative and Experimental Training Science, Institute of Sport Sciences, University of Würzburg, Germany
  • Hans-Christer Holmberg Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Biomedicum C5, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; Department of Health Sciences, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden



blood lactate levels, cardiovascular responses, critical power, endurance sports, exercise intensity zones, Exercise, exercise intensity, external load, low-intensity exercise, heart rate, internal load, metabolic responses, neuromuscular adaptation, physiological adaptation, Fat Adaptation, psychological adaptation, rating of perceived exertion, Rating of perceived effort (RPE), aerobic training, strength training, training volume, wearables, wearable devices


This review covers the scientific literature concerning the relative amounts of low-, moderate- and high-intensity training, quantified by different methods, performed by elite (Tier 4) and world-class (Tier 5) athletes participating in a variety of endurance sports during different phases of the season. Information was obtained through a non-systematic search of PubMed for relevant retrospective reports on the distribution of training (TID).

The 34 articles retrieved yielded 175 TIDs, of which 120 involved quantifications on the basis of heart rate, time-in-zone or variations of the session goal approach, with demarcation of zones of exercise intensity utilizing physiological parameters. Next most common (n=37) was the use of velocity or power output as extrinsic parameters of quantification, followed by demarcation of zones on the basis of racing pace, i.e., velocity (n=14). Two studies employed ratings of perceived exertion to quantify TID. Of the TIDs identified, 85 (49%) involved single-case reports, of which 57 (67%) concerned cross-country skiing or the biathlon. Eighty-nine were pyramidal and 8 emphasized the threshold. Overall, 65 were polarized, of which 34 (52%) were derived from single-case reports on cross-country skiers or biathletes.

With respect to training by elite and world-class athletes in all endurance disciplines, 91% (n=160) of the TIDs involved >60% low-intensity endurance exercise. Independent of the method of quantification, the relative amount of time spent in the different zones of exercise intensity varied widely between sports and different phases of the season


Metrics Loading ...


Seiler, S., What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2010. 5(3): p. 276-91.

Haugen, T., et al., The training characteristics of world-class distance runners: An integration of scientific literature and results-proven practice. Sports Med Open, 2022. 8(1): p. 46.

Svendsen, I.S., et al., Training, performance, and physiological predictors of a successful elite senior career in junior competitive road cyclists. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2018: p. 1-6.

van der Poel, N. How to skate a 10k and also half a 10k. 2022; Available from:

Stoggl, T.L. and B. Sperlich, The training intensity distribution among well-trained and elite endurance athletes. Front Physiol, 2015. 6: p. 295.

Johansen, J.M., et al., No change - no gain; the effect of age, sex, selected genes and training on physiological and performance adaptations in cross-Country skiing. Front Physiol, 2020. 11: p. 581339.

Johansen, J.M., et al., Effects of individual changes in training distribution on maximal aerobic capacity in well-trained cross-country skiers: A follow-up study. Front Physiol, 2021. 12: p. 675273.

Sandbakk, O., et al., Effects of intensity and duration in aerobic high-intensity interval training in highly trained junior cross-country skiers. J Strength Cond Res, 2013. 27(7): p. 1974-80.

Bellinger, P., B. Arnold, and C. Minahan, Quantifying the training intensity distribution in middle-distance runners: The influence of different methods of training intensity quantification. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2019: p. 1-5.

Guellich, A., S. Seiler, and E. Emrich, Training methods and intensity distribution of young world-class rowers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2009. 4(4): p. 448-60.

Matzka, M., et al., The relationship between the distribution of training intensity and performance of kayak and canoe Sprinters: A retrospective observational analysis of one season of competition. Front Sports Act Living, 2021. 3: p. 788108.

Mujika, I., et al., Effects of training on performance in competitive swimming. Can J Appl Physiol, 1995. 20(4): p. 395-406.

Schmitt, L., S. Bouthiaux, and G.P. Millet, Eleven years' monitoring of the world's most successful male biathlete of the last decade. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2021. 16(6): p. 900-905.

Schumacher, Y.O. and P. Mueller, The 4000-m team pursuit cycling world record: theoretical and practical aspects. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2002. 34(6): p. 1029-36.

Solli, G.S., E. Tonnessen, and O. Sandbakk, The training characteristics of the world's most successful female cross-country skier. Front Physiol, 2017. 8: p. 1069.

Solli, G.S., E. Tonnessen, and O. Sandbakk, Block vs. traditional periodization of HIT: Two different paths to success for the world's best cross-country skier. Front Physiol, 2019. 10: p. 375.

Steinacker, J.M., et al., Training of junior rowers before world championships. Effects on performance, mood state and selected hormonal and metabolic responses. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2000. 40(4): p. 327-35.

Tjelta, L.I., A longitudinal case study of the training of the 2012 european 1500 m track champion. International Journal of Applied Sports Sciences, 2013. 25: p. 11-18.

Tonnessen, E., et al., The road to gold: training and peaking characteristics in the year prior to a gold medal endurance performance. PLoS One, 2014. 9(7): p. e101796.

Rothschild, J.A., et al., Racing and training physiology of an elite ultra-endurance cyclist: case study of 2 record-setting performances. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2021. 16(5): p. 739-743.

Kenneally, M., et al., Training intensity distribution analysis by race pace vs. physiological approach in world-class middle- and long-distance runners. Eur J Sport Sci, 2021. 21(6): p. 819-826.

Kenneally, M., et al., Training characteristics of a world championship 5000-m Finalist and multiple continental record holder over the year leading to a world championship final. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2022. 17(1): p. 142-146.

Matzka, M., et al., Retrospective analysis of Ttaining intensity distribution based on race pace versus physiological benchmarks in highly trained sprint kayakers. Sports Med Open, 2022. 8(1): p. 1.

van Erp, T., D. Sanders, and J.J. de Koning, Training characteristics of male and female professional road cyclists: A 4-year retrospective analysis. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2019: p. 1-7.

Billat, V., et al., Training and bioenergetic characteristics in elite male and female Kenyan runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2003. 35(2): p. 297-304; discussion 305-6.

Billat, V.L., et al., Physical and training characteristics of top-class marathon runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2001. 33(12): p. 2089-97.

Leo, P., et al., Training characteristics and power profile of professional U23 cyclists throughout a competitive season. Sports (Basel), 2020. 8(12).

Spragg, J., P. Leo, and J. Swart, The relationship between training characteristics and durability in professional cyclists across a competitive season. Eur J Sport Sci, 2022: p. 1-10.

Wasserman, K. and M.B. McIlroy, Detecting the Threshold of Anaerobic Metabolism in Cardiac Patients during Exercise. Am J Cardiol, 1964. 14: p. 844-52.

Beaver, W.L., K. Wasserman, and B.J. Whipp, A new method for detecting anaerobic threshold by gas exchange. J Appl Physiol, 1986. 60(6): p. 2020-7.

Sjodin, B. and I. Jacobs, Onset of blood lactate accumulation and marathon running performance. Int J Sports Med, 1981. 2(1): p. 23-6.

Urhausen, A., et al., Individual anaerobic threshold and maximum lactate steady state. Int J Sports Med, 1993. 14(3): p. 134-9.

Mader, A. and H. Heck, A theory of the metabolic origin of "anaerobic threshold". Int J Sports Med, 1986. 7 Suppl 1: p. 45-65.

Stegmann, H., W. Kindermann, and A. Schnabel, Lactate kinetics and individual anaerobic threshold. Int J Sports Med, 1981. 2(3): p. 160-5.

Kindermann, W., G. Simon, and J. Keul, The significance of the aerobic-anaerobic transition for the determination of work load intensities during endurance training. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol, 1979. 42(1): p. 25-34.

Davis, J.A., et al., Anaerobic threshold and maximal aerobic power for three modes of exercise. J Appl Physiol, 1976. 41(4): p. 544-50.

Coyle, E.F., et al., Physiological and biomechanical factors associated with elite endurance cycling performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1991. 23(1): p. 93-107.

Conconi, F., et al., Determination of the anaerobic threshold by a noninvasive field test in runners. J Appl Physiol, 1982. 52(4): p. 869-73.

Orie, J., et al., Thirty-eight years of training distribution in Olympic speed skaters. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2014. 9(1): p. 93-9.

Seiler, K.S. and G.O. Kjerland, Quantifying training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes: is there evidence for an "optimal" distribution? Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2006. 16(1): p. 49-56.

Fiskerstrand, A. and K.S. Seiler, Training and performance characteristics among Norwegian international rowers 1970-2001. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2004. 14(5): p. 303-10.

Daussin, F.N., et al., Improvement of VO2max by cardiac output and oxygen extraction adaptation during intermittent versus continuous endurance training. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2007. 101(3): p. 377-83.

Helgerud, J., et al., Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2max more than moderate training. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2007. 39(4): p. 665-71.

Jones, A.M. and H. Carter, The effect of endurance training on parameters of aerobic fitness. Sports Med, 2000. 29(6): p. 373-86.

McKay, B.R., D.H. Paterson, and J.M. Kowalchuk, Effect of short-term high-intensity interval training vs. continuous training on O2 uptake kinetics, muscle deoxygenation, and exercise performance. J Appl Physiol (1985), 2009. 107(1): p. 128-38.

Midgley, A.W., L.R. McNaughton, and M. Wilkinson, Is there an optimal training intensity for enhancing the maximal oxygen uptake of distance runners?: empirical research findings, current opinions, physiological rationale and practical recommendations. Sports Med, 2006. 36(2): p. 117-32.

Romijn, J.A., et al., Regulation of endogenous fat and carbohydrate metabolism in relation to exercise intensity and duration. Am J Physiol, 1993. 265(3 Pt 1): p. E380-91.

Foster, C., et al., A new approach to monitoring exercise training. J Strength Cond Res, 2001. 15(1): p. 109-15.

Ieno, C., et al., Monitoring rating of perceived exertion time in zone: A novel method to quantify training load in elite open-water swimmers? Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2021. 16(10): p. 1551-1555.

Jamnick, N.A., et al., An examination and critique of current methods to determine exercise intensity. Sports Med, 2020. 50(10): p. 1729-1756.

Kenneally, M., A. Casado, and J. Santos-Concejero, The effect of periodization and training intensity distribution on middle- and long-distance running performance: A systematic review. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2018. 13(9): p. 1114-1121.

Treff, G., et al., The Polarization-Index: A simple calculation to distinguish polarized from non-polarized training intensity distributions. Front Physiol, 2019. 10: p. 707.

Sylta, O., E. Tonnessen, and S. Seiler, From heart-rate data to training quantification: a comparison of 3 methods of training-intensity analysis. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2014. 9(1): p. 100-7.

Sandbakk, O., et al., The physiology of world-class sprint skiers. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2011. 21(6): p. e9-16.

Gallo, G., et al., How do world class top 5 Giro d'Italia finishers train? A qualitative multiple case study. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2022. 32(12): p. 1738-1746.

Esteve-Lanao, J., et al., How do endurance runners actually train? Relationship with competition performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2005. 37(3): p. 496-504.

Lucia, A., et al., Metabolic and neuromuscular adaptations to endurance training in professional cyclists: a longitudinal study. Jpn J Physiol, 2000. 50(3): p. 381-8.

Sanders, D., T. Myers, and I. Akubat, Training intensity distribution in road cyclists: Objective versus subjective measures. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2017. 12(9): p. 1232-1237.

Zapico, A.G., et al., Evolution of physiological and haematological parameters with training load in elite male road cyclists: a longitudinal study. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 2007. 47(2): p. 191-6.

Plews, D.J., et al., Heart-rate variability and training-intensity distribution in elite rowers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2014. 9(6): p. 1026-32.

Buchheit, M. and P.B. Laursen, High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle: Part I: cardiopulmonary emphasis. Sports Med, 2013. 43(5): p. 313-38.

Hogan, C., et al., Heart rate and stroke rate misrepresent supramaximal sprint kayak training as quantified by power. Eur J Sport Sci, 2021. 21(5): p. 656-665.

Cerezuela-Espejo, V., et al., The relationship between lactate and ventilatory thresholds in runners: Validity and reliability of exercise test performance parameters. Front Physiol, 2018. 9: p. 1320.

Pallares, J.G., et al., Validity and reliability of ventilatory and blood lactate thresholds in well-trained cyclists. PLoS One, 2016. 11(9): p. e0163389.

Warr-di Piero, D., et al., Effects of work-interval duration and sport specificity on blood lactate concentration, heart rate and perceptual responses during high intensity interval training. PLoS One, 2018. 13(7): p. e0200690.

Burnley, M., S.E. Bearden, and A.M. Jones, Polarized training is not optimal for endurance athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2022. 54(6): p. 1032-1034.

Foster, C., et al., Polarized training is optimal for endurance athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2022. 54(6): p. 1028-1031.

Sperlich, B., G. Treff, and J. Boone, Training intensity distribution in endurance sports: Time to consider sport specificity and waking hour activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2022. 54(7): p. 1227-1228.

Cejuela, R. and S. Selles-Perez, Road to Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games: Training characteristics of a world class male triathlete. Front Physiol, 2022. 13: p. 835705.

Zeller, S., T. Abel, and H.K. Strueder, Monitoring training load in handcycling: A case study. J Strength Cond Res, 2017. 31(11): p. 3094-3100.

McKay, A.K.A., et al., Defining training and performance caliber: A participant classification framework. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2022. 17(2): p. 317-331.

Garcia-Pallares, J., et al., Performance changes in world-class kayakers following two different training periodization models. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2010. 110(1): p. 99-107.

Kim, T.H., et al., The effect of polarized training on the athletic performance of male and female cross-country skiers during the general preparation period. Healthcare (Basel), 2021. 9(7).

Pla, R., et al., Effects of a 6-week period of polarized or threshold training on performance and fatigue in elite swimmers. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2019. 14(2): p. 183-189.

Treff, G., et al., Eleven-week preparation involving polarized intensity distribution is not superior to pyramidal distribution in national elite rowers. Front Physiol, 2017. 8: p. 515.

Yu, H., et al., A quasi-experimental study of Chinese top-level speed skaters' training load: threshold versus polarized model. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2012. 7(2): p. 103-12.

Drevon, D., S.R. Fursa, and A.L. Malcolm, Intercoder Reliability and Validity of WebPlotDigitizer in Extracting Graphed Data. Behavior Modification, 2017. 41(2): p. 323-339.

Bompa, T.O. and C. Buzzichelli, Periodization: theory and methodology of training. 2019: Human kinetics.

Boone, J., et al., Physical preparation of a world-class lightweight men's double sculls team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2022. 17(12): p. 1741-1747.

Ingham, S.A., B.W. Fudge, and J.S. Pringle, Training distribution, physiological profile, and performance for a male international 1500-m runner. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2012. 7(2): p. 193-5.

Talsnes, R.K., et al., The return from underperformance to sustainable world-class level: A case study of a male cross-country skier. Front Physiol, 2022. 13: p. 1089867.

Secher, N.H., Physiological and biomechanical aspects of rowing. Implications for training. Sports Med, 1993. 15(1): p. 24-42.

Guellich, A. and S. Seiler, Lactate profile changes in relation to training characteristics in junior elite cyclists. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2010. 5(3): p. 316-27.

Hartmann, U., A. Mader, and W. Hollmann, Heart rate and lactate during endurance training programs in rowing and its relation to the duration of exercise by top elite rowers, in FISA Coaching Development Programme Course - Level III. 1990,

Torvik, P.O., G.S. Solli, and O. Sandbakk, The training characteristics of world-class male long-distance cross-country skiers. Front Sports Act Living, 2021. 3: p. 641389.

Mujika, I., Olympic preparation of a world-class female triathlete. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2014. 9(4): p. 727-31.

Robinson, D.M., et al., Training intensity of elite male distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1991. 23(9): p. 1078-82.

Mader, A., Glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation as a function of cytosolic phosphorylation state and power output of the muscle cell. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2003. 88(4-5): p. 317-38.

Craig, N.P. and K.I. Norton, Characteristics of track cycling. Sports Med, 2001. 31(7): p. 457-68.

Laursen, P.B., Training for intense exercise performance: high-intensity or high-volume training? Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2010. 20 Suppl 2: p. 1-10.

Gibala, M.J., et al., Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance. The Journal of Physiology, 2006. 575(3): p. 901-911.

Laursen, P.B. and D.G. Jenkins, The scientific basis for high-intensity interval training: optimising training programmes and maximising performance in highly trained endurance athletes. Sports Med, 2002. 32(1): p. 53-73.

Bourgois, J.G., G. Bourgois, and J. Boone, Perspectives and determinants for training intensity distribution in elite endurance athletes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2019. 14(8): p. 1151-1156.

Stöggl, T. and B. Sperlich, Polarized training has greater impact on key endurance variables than threshold, high intensity, or high volume training. Front Physiol, 2014. 5: p. 33.

Esteve-Lanao, J., et al., Impact of training intensity distribution on performance in endurance athletes. J Strength Cond Res, 2007. 21(3): p. 943-9.

Slominski, P. and A. Nowacka, Swimming – The structure and volume of training loads in the four-year training cycle of an elite olympic athlete. Polish Journal of Sport and Tourism, 2017. 24(3): p. 162-169.

Del Giudice, M., et al., Investigating the reproducibility of maximal oxygen uptake responses to high-intensity interval training. J Sci Med Sport, 2020. 23(1): p. 94-99.

Pol, R., et al., Training or synergizing? Complex systems principles change the understanding of sport processes. Sports Med Open, 2020. 6(1): p. 28.

Kiely, J., Periodization theory: Confronting an inconvenient truth. Sports Med, 2018. 48(4): p. 753-764.

Zinner, C., D. Schäfer Olstad, and B. Sperlich, Mesocycles with different training intensity distribution in recreational runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2018. 50(8): p. 1641-1648.

McPhee, J.S., et al., Variability in the magnitude of response of metabolic enzymes reveals patterns of co-ordinated expression following endurance training in women. Exp Physiol, 2011. 96(7): p. 699-707.

Raleigh, J.P., et al., Contribution of central and peripheral adaptations to changes in maximal oxygen uptake following 4 weeks of sprint interval training. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 2018. 43(10): p. 1059-1068.

Simoneau, J.A., et al., Inheritance of human skeletal muscle and anaerobic capacity adaptation to high-intensity intermittent training. Int J Sports Med, 1986. 7(3): p. 167-71.

Yan, X., et al., The gene SMART study: method, study design, and preliminary findings. BMC Genomics, 2017. 18(Suppl 8): p. 821.

Sperlich, B. and H.C. Holmberg, The responses of elite athletes to exercise: An all-day, 24-h integrative view is required! Front Physiol, 2017. 8: p. 564.

Treff, G., et al., The integration of training and off-training activities substantially alters training volume and load analysis in elite rowers. Sci Rep, 2021. 11(1): p. 17218.

Duking, P., et al., Integrated Framework of Load Monitoring by a Combination of Smartphone Applications, Wearables and Point-of-Care Testing Provides Feedback that Allows Individual Responsive Adjustments to Activities of Daily Living. Sensors (Basel), 2018. 18(5).

Sperlich, B., et al., Editorial: Wearable sensor technology for monitoring training load and health in the athletic population. Front Physiol, 2019. 10: p. 1520.

Brownstein, C.G., et al., Disparate mechanisms of fatigability in response to prolonged running versus cycling of matched intensity and duration. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2022. 54(5): p. 872-882.

Sandbakk, O., T. Haugen, and G. Ettema, The influence of exercise modality on training load management. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2021. 16(4): p. 605-608.

Buitrago, S., et al., Effects of load and training modes on physiological and metabolic responses in resistance exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2012. 112(7): p. 2739-48.

Sylta, O., E. Tonnessen, and S. Seiler, Do elite endurance athletes report their training accurately? Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2014. 9(1): p. 85-92.

Sperlich, B. and H.C. Holmberg, Wearable, yes, but able...?: it is time for evidence-based marketing claims! Br J Sports Med, 2017. 51(16): p. 1240.

Filipas, L., et al., Effects of 16 weeks of pyramidal and polarized training intensity distributions in well-trained endurance runners. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2022. 32(3): p. 498-511.

Jones, A.M., The physiology of the world record holder for the women's marathon. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 2006. 1(2): p. 101-116.

Billat, V.L., et al., Interval training at VO2max: effects on aerobic performance and overtraining markers. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1999. 31(1): p. 156-63.