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What the experts say

Nigel Hetherington reviews the latest research material relating to coaching, exercise physiology, and athletic development.

Whether or not to warm up!

One of the challenges of coaching athletes taking part in a competition in variable climatic conditions is the question of how, or indeed if, the warm-up should be altered? Many teams and individuals have a pre-set warm-up routine appropriate only to the 'average' conditions in which they prepare for training or competition. Often, a fall-back plan is missing, which allows for variations in climate and levels of excitement of the athletes. A study[1] aimed to examine whether athletes can self-select their optimal warm-up and proposed a methodological approach to investigating the effects of warm-up on performance. In the study, male subjects underwent a free field warm-up at a self-selected intensity and duration during which heart rate and body temperature were monitored. The intensity of this warm-up was subsequently estimated from the heart rate obtained during an incremental test to determine maximal power. Performance (cycle time to exhaustion at maximal power), heart rate, and temperature were then examined following each no warm up; reference warm up (based on free warm up); reference-10% intensity, and reference+10% intensity. Results showed no significant difference in heart rate and temperature increase between free and reference warm-up. Most importantly, performance improvement after warming up conditions gave reference (56%) > reference-10 (33%) > reference+10 (11%) > no warm-up. It was interesting that the higher intensity warm-up of reference+10 led to a reduction in performance relative to even the reduced warm-up of reference-10 - you can overdo the warm-up! A warm-up intensity ranging from 54-72% of maximal power and inducing an increase in heart rate to around 80% max, was found to be optimal. While most athletes were able to self-determine the intensity of their optimal warm-up, for others, there is still a need for continued coaching intervention.

Testing the robustness of agility and skills

A study[2] compared player agility, when responding to a life-size, interactive video display of a netball player initiating a pass to a traditional, pre-planned agility movement where no external stimulus was present for the measurement of agility in highly, moderately, and lesser skilled netball players. The total movement times and decision times of the players were the primary dependent measures of interest. Results revealed significant differences existed between the two test conditions demonstrating that they measured different types of agility. The highly skilled group was significantly faster in both the reactive and planned test conditions relative to the lesser skilled group. In contrast, the moderately experienced group was considerably faster than the lesser skilled group in the reactive test condition. The decision time component within the reactive test condition revealed that the highly-skilled players made significantly quicker decisions than the lesser-skilled players. It is reasoned that it is this decision-making component of reactive agility that contributes to the significant differences between the two test conditions. Indeed, this is what sets the two different types of players apart! Fatigue can have an effect on the performance of sport-specific skills. A study[3] investigated the effect of moderate and high-intensity total body fatigue on passing accuracy in expert and novice basketball players. Ten novice basketball players and ten expert basketball players all aged around 23 years performed the modified AAHPERD Basketball Passing Test under three different testing conditions: rest, moderate intensity, and high-intensity total body fatigue.

Fatigue intensity was established using a percentage of the maximal number of squat thrusts performed by the participant in one minute. The results showed that following high-intensity total body fatigue. There was a significant detriment in the passing performance of both novice and expert basketball players when compared to their resting scores. Fundamentally, however, the detrimental impact of fatigue on passing performance is not as steep in the expert players compared in the novice players. The results suggest that expert or skilled players are better able to cope with both moderate and high-intensity fatigue conditions and maintain a higher level of performance when compared to novice players. The findings of this research suggest the need for trainers and conditioning coaches in basketball to include moderate, but particularly high-intensity exercise into their skills sessions. This specific training may enable players at all levels of the game to better cope with the demands of the game on the court and maintain a higher standard of play. This fully supports the stages of a learning model for skill acquisition. A robust skill WILL hold up better under fatigue.

Sprint intervals improve cycling time trial performance

An earlier study[4] showed that six sessions of sprint interval training (SIT) over two weeks increased cycle endurance capacity. A follow-up study[5] showed that short-term SIT impacts the metabolic pathway to reduce skeletal muscle glycogenolysis and lactate accumulation during exercise and increases the capacity for pyruvate oxidation in the mitochondria. Eight men performed six sessions of 4-7 x 30-s "all-out" cycling with 4 minutes of recovery over two weeks. Subjects also performed a 250-kJ time trial before and after SIT to assess changes in cycling performance. SIT increased muscle glycogen content by 50%. Pyruvate oxidation was higher after training and net muscle glycogenolysis, and lactate accumulation during exercise was reduced. Time trial performance improved by 9.6% after training, while the control group showed no change in performance when tested two weeks apart without SIT. The authors concluded that short-term SIT improved cycling time trial performance and resulted in a closer matching of glycogenolytic flux and pyruvate oxidation during submaximal exercise.

Jumps predict block start performance

Recent research[6] examined which style of jump performance related best to sprint acceleration performance from a block start. Ten competing male track sprinters (100m personal best 10.37-11.42s) performed 10m sprints from blocks. Squat jump (SJ), countermovement jump (CMJ), continuous straight-legged jump (SLJ), single-leg hop for distance, and single-leg triple hop for distance measures of power were also tested. Statistical analysis identified CMJ average power (W/kg) as a predictor of 10m-sprint performance from a block start. CMJ force and power and SJ power generating capabilities also showed a strong relation to sprint performance. Putting this into perspective, a 3% increase in CMJ average power resulted in an improvement of 0.01s (0.5%) in 10m sprint performance. Further, a 3.5% increase in SJ average power was predicted to result in a 0.01 s (0.5%) reduction in 10m sprint time. The results of this study seem to suggest that the ability to generate power both elastically during a CMJ and concentrically during an SJ is a good indicator of sprint performance over 10m from blocks. Now, the real challenge is to turn this one around and identify which, if any, of these jumping activities, can facilitate improvement in sprinting performance!?

Barriers are no obstacle for women steeplechasers

In a comparison between male and female steeplechasers, a study[7] investigated three aspects of the hurdling technique: 1) Differences in the ratio of the landing step to the penultimate step around each steeplechase barrier (excluding the water jump), 2) differences in step lengths between regular barriers, and 3) changes in the step lengths around the barrier throughout the race. The stride lengths around the 28 regular barriers of the top seven men and women at the 2003 USA Track and Field Championships were measured using a two-dimensional analysis. The study found that men exhibited a smaller ratio between the lengths of the landing to penultimate steps than women. No step length differences were observed between the four barriers in the step lengths around each barrier. Athletes gradually increased the total length of all steps in the region of the barriers throughout the race. A smaller ratio between landing to penultimate stride lengths showed that the barriers affect women less than men. There may be a need to train men and women differently for regular barriers in the steeplechase and to alter racing strategy slightly.

Young athletes are incomplete

A study[8] examined relative energy system dependency (via type substrate use) during exercise in young athletes from early-pubertal (EP), mid-pubertal (MP), late-pubertal (LP), and young-adult (YA) males. Fuel use was calculated during cycling exercise at 30 to 70% of VO2 peak. Significant group by intensity interactions were found for lactate, RER, percent CHO, and fat use, in addition to fat and CHO oxidation rates, which suggest a maturation effect on substrate use during exercise. While not statistically significant at all intensities, analyses revealed greater fat use, lower CHO use, and lower lactate concentrations in EP and MP compared to LP or YA. No differences were noted between EP and MP or LP and YA at any intensity, suggesting the development of an adult-like metabolic profile occurs between mid to late puberty and is complete by the end of puberty. This information confirms the widely held belief that young athletes need to be trained differently to mature adults because their energy system development is incomplete from a fundamental biochemical perspective.

Recovery matters

In a study[9] 15 subjects (3 women, 12 men) participated in 3 trials to assess whether body cooling between 2 bouts of exercise in the heat enhances performance during the second exercise session. Subjects ran 90 minutes on hilly trails in a hot environment (approximately 27°C) before 12 minutes of either cold-water immersion (CWI; 13.98°C), ice water immersion (IWI; 5.23°C), or mock treatment (MT) of sitting in a tub with no water (29.50°C). After immersion, subjects ran a 2-mile race. CWI had a faster performance time (725 seconds) than MT (769 seconds). CWI and IWI had significantly lower rectal temperatures post-immersion than MT as well as post-race. Heart rate also remained significantly lower during the CWI and IWI trials for the first half of the race. In conclusion, CWI enhances performance (6% improvement in race time) in the second bout of exercise, supporting its potential role as an ergogenic aid in athletic performance.

The effect of active versus passive recovery on blood pH (level of acidosis) was studied[10] during multiple bouts of intense exercise. Ten males completed two exercise trials consisting of three exercise bouts to exhaustion with either a 12-minute active (20% workload max) or passive recovery between bouts. Blood pH was slightly lower in the passive (p) recovery group compared to the active (a) group throughout the second and third recovery periods. Exercise performance times did not differ between recovery conditions. No difference was found between conditions for blood pH recovery kinetics (slope and half-time to recovery). Subsequent performance during multiple bouts of intense exercise to exhaustion may not be influenced by blood acidosis or mode of recovery. The study showed that three exercise bouts could be completed satisfactorily with the rest interval specified. The effect of further exercise bouts was not reported. The study opposes training guidelines about, for example, lactate recovery between bouts of intense exercise where active recovery is encouraged. However, blood pH may not be the only marker here, and local muscle pH conditions may need to be taken into account, especially where higher numbers of exercise bouts are included.

Vitamin C can reduce DOMS

A study[11] investigated if vitamin C supplementation before and after eccentric exercise could reduce muscle soreness (MS) and improve muscle function. Eighteen healthy men were randomly assigned to dosing of 3g/day of either a placebo (P) or vitamin C (VC) treatment group for two weeks before and four days after performing 70 eccentric elbow extensions with their non-dominant arm. MS increased in both groups with significantly reduced MS for the first 24 hours with VC. A range of motion was reduced equally in both groups after the exercise. Muscle force declined equally and was unaffected by treatment. VC attenuated the creatine kinase (CK - associated with muscle damage) increase at 48 hours after exercise with similar CK after this time. These data suggest that vitamin C pre-treatment can reduce MS and delay CK increase but does not affect muscle function loss. A further paper[12] delved deeper into CK presence by examining four different recovery interventions on the rate of muscle damage recovery. Twenty-three elite male rugby players were monitored before, immediately after, 36 hours after, and 84 hours after competitive rugby matches. Players were randomly assigned to complete one of four post-match strategies: contrast water therapy (CWT), compression garment (GAR), low-intensity active exercise (ACT), and passive recovery (PAS). The results showed significant increases in CK activity as a result of the rugby match. The magnitude of recovery in the PAS intervention was significantly worse than in the ACT, CWT, and GAR interventions at the 36 and 84-hour time points. In conclusion, low impact exercise immediately post-competition, wearing compression garments, or carrying out contrast water therapy enhanced CK clearance more than passive recovery in young male athletes.

Chocolate milk aids recovery - just what we needed to hear!

In a paper[13] nine male, endurance-trained cyclists performed an interval workout followed by 4 hours of recovery, and a subsequent endurance trial to exhaustion at 70% VO2 max, on three separate days. Immediately following the first exercise bout and 2 hours of recovery, subjects drank isovolumic amounts of chocolate milk (CM), fluid replacement drink (FR), or carbohydrate replacement drink (CR). Carbohydrate content was equivalent for CM and CR. Time to exhaustion (TTE), average heart rate (HR), the rating of perceived exertion (RPE), and total work (WT) for the endurance exercise were compared between trials. TTE and WT were significantly greater for CM and FR trials compared to the CR trial. The results of this study suggest that chocolate milk is an effective recovery aid between two exhausting exercise bouts.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HETHERINGTON, N. (2006) What the experts say. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 34/ July-August), p. 10-13


  1. Mandengue SH et al. 'Are athletes able to self-select their optimal warm-up?' J Sci Med Sport. 2005 Mar;8(1):26-34
  2. Farrow D et al. 'The development of a test of reactive agility for netball: a new methodology' J Sci Med Sport. 2005 Mar;8(1):52-60
  3. Lyons M et al. 'The impact of moderate and high-intensity total body fatigue on passing accuracy in expert and novice basketball players' Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2006) 5, 215 - 227
  4. Burgomaster KA et al. 'Sprint interval training increased cycle endurance' J Appl Physiol 98: 1895-1900, 2005
  5. Burgomaster KA et al. 'Effect of short-term sprint interval training on human skeletal muscle carbohydrate metabolism during exercise and time-trial performance' J Appl Physiol 100: 2041-2047, 2006
  6. Maulder PS et al. 'Jump kinetic determinants of sprint acceleration performance from starting blocks in male sprinters' Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2006) 5, 359 - 366
  7. Hunter I & Bushnell TD 'Steeplechase barriers affect women less than men' Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2006) 5, 318 - 322
  8. Stephens BR 'The Influence of Biological Maturation on Fat and Carbohydrate Metabolism During Exercise in Males' IJSNEM, 16(2), April 2006
  9. Yeargin SW et al. 'Body cooling between two bouts of exercise in the heat enhances subsequent performance. J. Strength Cond. Res. 20(2), 383-389. 2006
  10. Siegler JC et al. 'Active and Passive Recovery and Acid-Base Kinetics Following Multiple Bouts of Intense Exercise to Exhaustion' IJSNEM, 16(1), February 2006
  11. Bryer S & Goldfarb AH 'Effect of High Dose Vitamin C Supplementation on Muscle Soreness, Damage, Function, and Oxidative Stress to Eccentric Exercise' IJSNEM, 16(3), June 2006
  12. Gill ND 'Effectiveness of post-match recovery strategies in rugby players' British Journal of Sports Medicine 2006
  13. Karp JR et al. 'Chocolate Milk as a Post-Exercise Recovery Aid' IJSNEM, 16(1), February 2006

Page Reference

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About the Author

Nigel Hetherington was the Head Track & Field Coach at the internationally acclaimed Singapore Sports School. He is a former National Performance Development Manager for Scottish Athletics and National Sprints Coach for Wales. Qualified and highly active as a British Athletics level 4 performance coach in all events he has coached athletes to National and International honours in sprints, and hurdles as well as a World Record holder in the Paralympic shot. He has 10 years of experience as a senior coach educator and assessor trainer on behalf of British Athletics. Nigel is also an experienced athlete in a sprint (World Masters Championship level) and endurance (3-hour marathon runner plus completed the 24-hour 'Bob Graham Round' ultra-endurance event up and down 42 mountain peaks in the English Lake District). He is a chartered chemist with 26 years of experience in scientific research and publishing.