Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Wednesday 4th December 2013
Since the bustle of Thanksgiving settled down, I have had my head down working hard both in the library & in the field.  I have found myself a new "office", which is a quiet desk space in the Peter Lewis Library on the Princeton University campus.  It is fantastic to be able to access the facilities of such a renowned institution & in turn I have been really motivated to study.

Yesterday, I returned to visit Byron (Hansen) & the rest of the athletic training team at the New York Giants.  Since I was last there, a little over a year ago, the training site has a new sponsor & is now called the "Quest Training Center" as opposed to the "Timex Training Center.  Aside from a couple of minor cosmetic changes, however, much remains the same & the majority of the faces working away were the familiar faces of past encounters.

As usual, Byron got me involved from the moment I arrived & I was able to spend time with a couple of the more complex presentations the team have been managing of late.  Away from the treatment room & discussions over lunch related to specific player cases, before leading onto debates regarding the intensity of, programming of & recovery from various training loads.  In addition to Byron's thoughts, the conditioning department's newest recruit, Joe Danos, had some interesting points to make.

Joe has recently arrived from the football programme at Florida State University & has been tasked with the data collection, interpretation & monitoring in relation to training exposure.  Joe feeds the information back to head coach, Tom Coughlan, vice president of medical services, Ronnie Barnes & the rest of the rehabilitation staff.  It's already apparent that his contribution will really enhance the team that is already in place.

The conversation on training recovery preceded my discovery of an abstract on the subject by about 12 hours.  Oliver Neubauer & his team from the University of Vienna have investigated the length of time it takes for human skeletal muscle to recover from a bout of endurance training by looking at changes in the gene expression in the muscle cells as the tissue changes from an inflammatory state to one of adaptive remodelling.

The study has been published on line, prior to print on the Journal of Physiology website:

Subjects were endurance trained males & they conducted an exercise trial consisting of 60 minutes of intense cycling, followed by a further 60 minutes of intense running.  The investigators then harvested skeletal muscle samples at baseline, 3 hours, 48 hours & 96 hours post-exercise.  

After extracting RNA from the muscles, the gene expression analysis 3 hours post-exercise showed a significant up regulation in gene set groups related to leukocyte migration, immune & chaperone activation & cyclic AMP responsive element binding protein 1.  To put it more simply, 3 hours after exercise, there were genetic changes indicative of the inflammatory phase of exercise-induced muscle damage.  45 hours later & gene expression analysis indicated that genetic markers of adaptive remodelling were identified as being significantly up regulated.  

The final tissue analysis, conducted on the cells harvested at 96 hours post-exercise, highlighted significant up regulation of gene sets related to chemokine signalling, cell stress management & extra-cellualr matrix remodelling.  In other words, the muscle tissue was still recovering from the exercise bout & in a phase of adaptive muscular response, suggesting that even 4 days after a bout of intense endurance training, muscle recovery (from a transcriptional perspective) is incomplete.

What then does this have to do with training loads in an American football environment, I hear you ask?  Well, not every club is the same & there are still a large number of teams in American football, as well as in many other sports, where the training load does not relate to the playing load.  As such, it isn't unusual for teams to schedule 2 hour practice sessions, which can then be followed by weights sessions for players in a training group that happens to have lifting components scheduled for the same day.  By the time a player has completed those two components back to back, you have an intense endurance load logged in the training diary.

It tends to happen less in the upper echelons of professional rugby & soccer, as the top teams in these sports have been assigning resources for monitoring training loads in great detail for several years.  However, lower down the ladder, the money may not be there for the equipment, or more importantly for the staff skilled enough to interpret the data gleaned from the equipment & when it is, the coaches might not understand the importance of it.

One of the concerns that coaches or strength & conditioning staff that are less informed in load management have is that they deem recovery as "slacking off".  The mention of "shorter sessions" can be mistaken for a request for "easier sessions"; a suggestion of "training load variation" can be misconstrued as an insult to the quality of the sessions conducted; or the old school opinion that "sport xxxx is tough & players have to undergo the physical demands of training to prepare for playing".  Surely less hours training means a decrease in the physical capacity of the playing staff...right?

In reality, the spectre of over-training looms large if training loads aren't managed carefully & subsequently, the risk of sustaining overuse injuries rises considerably.  To be cynical, it's all too easy to find yourself in a situation where influential players are lost to treatment rooms, results suffer & clubs lose money.    

The debate reminded me of another paper I had read a couple of years ago, regarding the variance of training load.  Again published in the Journal of Physiology, the paper also specifically pertained to endurance trained athletes.  The authors, Iaia et al (2009), sought to establish the effects of substituting "regular" endurance sessions for speed endurance sessions of an increased intensity but a reduced volume over a four week period, in relation to muscle oxidative capacity, capillarisation & energy expenditure during sub-maximal exercise. 

17 male endurance trained runners were assigned either to a control group or an experimental group, where the regular training was substituted for frequent high-intensity training sessions, each consisting of 8 - 12, 30 second sprints with a 3 minute recovery phase & supplemented with around 10km per week of low speed running.  

At the conclusion of the experimental period, oxygen uptake was significantly reduced in the group that had changed their training when tested at 11, 13, 14.5 & 16 km/h, whereas there were no changes noted in the control group.  Despite the greatly reduced training volume, the experimental group showed no significant differences in measures of muscle oxidative capacity, capillarisation or endurance performance when compared with the control group.

Again, it must be remembered that this data pertains specifically to endurance training sessions participated in by endurance-trained male athletes & can't be extrapolated to fit another group.  However, it does illustrate that the considered norm might not be the most effective method of training.  As such it is important to research the studies that have investigated training loads in relation to the sport in which you work, whilst ensuring that the sports science staff & coaching staff are aware of what data needs to be collected to inform the planning of training & recovery.

The data certainly strikes a personal chord.  Several months back, after a discussion with Lloyd Cowan (Christine Ohuruogu's coach) during warm weather training, I started to incorporate a lot of high intensity circuit training sessions in my weekly schedule.  Although I admit to a failure to conduct any form of scientific testing on my markers of muscle oxidative capacity, capillarisation or standardised endurance performance capabilities, I certainly felt that my RPEs for conducting a variety of endurance-based sessions continued to fall, whilst my perceived performance markers improved week on week.

Well, that's enough wider reading for today, I must return to my formal studies & the Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning - I have an exam to pass!!!


blog comments powered by Disqus