Can We Reduce Fitness Training Load by 90%?

If the amount of time spent on fitness training could be reduced by 90% most coaches would be interested. The result would be more rested athletes that have more time to develop their skills and strategy and athletes who would rather spend time on their sport instead of slogging it out in preseason would certainly be in support. While more work is required to ensure that this is viable option there has been some evidence published in the last few years that suggests that this might be possible.

Introduction

In modern elite sport there is often a feeling of compromise as the coach tries to fit strategy, fitness and skill into a training week. Often one dominates at the cost of the others. We attempt to get through this through periodisation and changing the focus of our training as the training year progresses. Having said that, the more time that can be spent on skill and strategy development the better. So if the amount of time spent on fitness training could be reduced by 90% most coaches would be interested. The result would be more rested athletes that have more time to develop their skills and strategy and athletes who would rather spend time on their sport instead of slogging it out in preseason would certainly be in support. While more work is required to ensure that this is viable option there has been some evidence published in the last few years that suggests that this might be possible.

We already know that endurance training improves performance at submaximal workloads. This occurs through a number of processes including making glycogen more available while decreasing the amount of glycogen breakdown thus improving overall glycogen capacity. Endurance training also improves respiratory control, respiratory capacity and muscle oxidative capacity (the ability of the muscles to use oxygen).

Sprint training, on the other hand is thought to have less effect on muscle oxidative capacity and endurance performance. Specifically sprint training increases the activity of certain enzymes in the muscle, decreases the usage of glycogen and decreases lactic acid build up serving to assist performance in aerobic activities also. There are other benefits to sprint training such as improved muscle buffering capacity, which directly relates to the ability of the muscle to cope with lactic acid build up. Therefore Gibala and colleagues (2006) propose that Sprint Interval Training maybe a time efficient way to improve performance in endurance sports.

Methods

Gibala and colleagues (2006) examined two very different training protocols measuring both chemical and performance changes as a result of each training method. Sixteen active (not elite) men were split into two training groups, a Sprint Interval Training Group (SIT) and an Endurance Training Group (ET). The study compared cellular, molecular and performance adaptations before and after the two training protocols.

Each group performed six training sessions over two weeks with 1 to 2 days rest between training sessions. Both groups had an identical number of training sessions and rest days. The difference in the groups was training intensity, which was maximal in the SIT group and volume, which was 90% higher in the ET group. The SIT group’s training sessions consisted of six ‘all out’ 30-second sprints on a stationary bike with a total of 3 minutes of exercise time over approximately 30 minutes. The ET group’s training sessions involved 90-120 minutes of continuous exercise at 65% of VO2max.

Tests were performed on cellular markers of exercise tolerance, including exercise capacity, muscle oxidative capacity and muscle buffering capacity. Performance tests were also carried out in the nature of two time trials and long time trial (750kj) and a short time trial (50kj). These time trials measured how long it took each individual to expend this much energy on a stationary bike. The researchers held the hypothesis that both groups would improve in the long time trial and only the SIT group would improve in the short time trial.

Results

Results showed that the SIT group improved 750kj time trial by 10.1% while the ET group improved their corresponding time by 7.5%. Similarly the SIT group improved power output in the 750kj time trial by 22 watts while the ET group improved their power output by 11 watts. Both groups improved by similar amounts in the 50kj time trial. Analysis of the muscle samples that were taken showed that both groups improved in oxidative capacity, muscle buffering capacity and muscle glycogen content but without significant difference between groups.

Implications and Conclusions

This study suggests that SIT may be a time efficient means to improve performance where normally high volume, low intensity training would be used. This would leave more time for skill and strategy development and rest and recovery. Of course this does not count time that needs to be spent on strength training or speed and agility training.

It is important to consider that ET may have greater effects on oxidative capacity and muscle glycogen content over a longer training period. In other words short SIT may result in rapid changes to muscle chemistry and performance but this development may be limited in comparison to ET given a long enough time frame. Due to the lack of cumulated stress on joints and bones this training may also not appropriately adapt athletes who participate in extremely long endurance events such as marathon and longer events or give them a chance to become mentally accustomed to the stress of such a long event. Australian Sports Conditioning expects that this training would be most suited to team sports such as soccer, rugby and so on.

More studies on this are required utilizing longer training periods, more experienced athletes with gas analysis of VO2 and HR response during the tests.

References

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