Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Ultimate conditioning tool: Threshold intervals.

There are many conditioning methods and tools out there. One of our favorites is threshold sessions. The goal of these sessions is get some volume of training in and around lactate threshold. Training the vicinity of lactate threshold has proven to be very effective at improving ones conditioning. Traditionally it was considered an endurance athletes concern but team sports have shown great success with this type of training.

Implementing this type of training is relatively simple but does require a little bit of preparation. The most efficient thing to do is go to the nearest performance lab and perform a lactate test. This basically establishes your work load and heart rate at lactate threshold. The DIY option is a little less accurate but can still be quite effective. One simple way to establish a decent estimate is the method described below.

DIY LACTATE TEST

After a comprehensive warm-up conduct the following.

  • Run, Row or Cycle a 10min time trial on an even surface. Try and maintain as steady a pace as possible for the entire 10mins. Make note of heart rate and or watts/pace every 30secs for the final three minutes. The average of these will be a pretty close estimate of your lactate threshold. It will be accurate enough to use effectively but not 100% as you would get with a lab test.

Once you do this you can construct the sessions. The intervals should reflect the nature of your competition. Longer distance races deserve longer intervals. The work:rest periods should be 1:1 or 2:1 for longer intervals. 3-4 reps performed twice a week will be enough to start seeing improvements.

Here are some suggestions for some popular sports that have shown to help improve overall conditioning in a short space of time.

Rugby/Soccer/Hockey

4X 4mins with 4mins rest @90% of Lactate threshold (Pace or Heart rate) twice per week

Rowing/Sprint Triathlon

3-4 X 5-10min with 5mins rest @85% of lactate threshold (Pace, Watts or Heart rate) twice per week

5k, 10k or Half/Full Marathon

3-4 X 5-10min with 5mins rest @85% of lactate threshold (Pace, Watts or Heart Rate) twice per week

If using Heart Rate, with each successive repetition heart rate will creep up about 2-3% to maintain pace or wattage. This is normal. If using Wattage or pace there should be a similar decrease with each progressive rep. As fatigue develops across the session less work will be possible at the lactate threshold point. The 2-3% shift accounts for this fatigue. Do not panic if you see this relatively small drop off. The session will still be effective.

In summary these sessions are a great method for improving aerobic conditioning. Not everyone has access to a lab so the DIY test is a very useful and cost effective alternative. It is accurate enough to still use the sessions effectively. Which sessions you choose will depend on what sort of sport you partake in. Add a few of these into your sessions and you should notice a solid improvement in your conditioning within a matter of weeks.

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Fats and sports performance

The last category within the macronutrient group is that of ‘fats’, a broad term used to describe a wide range of foods including meats, dairy, nuts, seeds, soybeans, peanuts and avocados. This particular food group is an essential component of our diet and a major source of energy in everyday life. However, it can also be publicized as a problematic nutrient with excessive intakes linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and some forms of cancer.

As an athlete, it can be easy to forgo of the importance of fats –we are constantly bombarded with information about carbohydrates and protein and as a result fats are left in the dark. However, fats are a crucial source of energy and insulation for the human body. Whereby carbohydrates account for the majority of energy during short duration or low intensity exercise, fats make up the most part of energy during longer or more intense exercise sessions (marathons). Secondly, when we are not receiving enough energy from our diets, stored fat in the form of adipose tissue is broken down to supply the necessary energy. It can be considered a ‘survival’ nutrient for mankind. Fats are also important in the transport of essential vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) around the body and can protect our internal organs from damage and trauma sustained during sports injury or collision.

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Fats are composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen elements. They are insoluble in water and dissolve only in fat solvents. They are made up of building blocks called fatty acids, which are classified as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated depending on their chemical structure. Some of these fatty acids are essential to an individual’s diet whereas others can be detrimental to health if too much is consumed. All types of fat provides about 9kcal/g which means that too much of any type of fat can lead to weight gain. The Department of Health states that fat intake should not exceed 35% of our total energy intake and saturated fat should not exceed 11% of total energy intake from food. Unfortunately, the Irish population is consuming foods high in saturated fats such as fried foods as well as cakes, biscuits and pastries and this is contributing to the widespread dilemma of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Types of Fats

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are found in animal sources such as meat, egg yolk, yogurt, cheese and butter. They are also found in some vegetable oils including coconut and palm kernel oil. This type of fat is normally solid at room temperature and is the biggest cause of high LDL levels (bad cholesterol) leading to problems such as heart disease and stroke. It is, therefore, suggested to limit the amount of saturated fats to no more than 10% of your total daily calorie intake.

Trans Fats

Trans fat is another type of fat that is found naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products but much larger amounts are being produced in the production of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats have been shown to have a bigger adversarial effect on blood cholesterol levels than saturated fats. It is therefore important to always read the back of pack labels and determine the proportion of trans fats in products before purchase.

 

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What are healthier fat choices?

 

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats on the other hand are normally liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help to reduce cholesterol levels and are found in vegetable oils such as olive, rapeseed and sunflower oil.

An essential component of polyunsaturated fats are ‘fatty acids’, which are needed biochemically by our bodies and can only be made available to us through diet. They are, therefore, described as ‘essential’ fatty acids as they can only derived from external sources. These fatty acids are used to build specialized fats ‘omega 3 fatty acid’ and ‘omega 6 fatty acid’, which are important in the normal functioning of all body tissues. Omega 6 fatty acids are very common in the modern diet and can be found in most vegetable and nut oils as well as meat and dairy. Omega 3’s, on the other hand are more difficult to attain and can be found in foods such as oily fish (salmon), flaxseed, soybeans and walnuts. In 2009, the EFSA published its recommendations for essential fatty acids intake;

 

  • Omega 3 fatty acids – an intake of 2g/day of alpha linoleic acid (ALA) and 250mg/day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • Omega 6 fatty acids – an intake of 10g/day of linoleic acid (LA)

 

On the flip side, fat intake can also be correlated with weight gain. High consumption of dietary fat is associated with increased levels of body fat and obesity. Fats are the densest source of energy, supplying about 9 kcal per gram. This is more than double the number of calories provided by protein and carbohydrates per gram. Therefore, the key to successful weight loss is low dietary fat consumption whilst maintaining adequate protein and carbohydrate intake.

As a general rule of thumb, we should try and cut down on the amount of saturated fats that we consume and opt for healthier foods containing unsaturated fatty acids like avocados, nuts and fish. These foods comprise a typical Mediterranean diet, which is vastly linked with a lower rate of heart disease. Also try to incorporate vegetable oils such as olive, sunflower and rapeseed oils over those rich in saturated fats (butter, palm, coconut oil) into your diet.

Fat and Sports Performance.

As already stated fat provides the highest amount of energy out of all the nutrients – 1g of fat equals nine calories. This calorie density makes fat one of our largest energy reserves. When oxidative metabolism is possible we use fat for energy quite well. However, as soon as lactic acidosis begins to occur our ability to utilize fat as an energy substrate diminishes significantly. This occurs much earlier than many of us realize. Building oxidative capacity is, therefore, essential for endurance athletes or where competition lasts more than 40 mins. They simply need to be good fat burners in order to maintain work output for longer durations. Our fat stores will last much longer than our glycogen stores making it essential for performance in certain endurance sports.

 

Endurance athletes rely on the energy yield of fats and the greater stores within the body.

Endurance athletes rely on the energy yield of fats and the greater stores within the body.

 

However the power of fat as a source of energy for exercise takes time and is dependent on a number of factors; it is slow to digest and can take nearly 6 hours to be converted into a usable energy. The body also needs to break down the fat and transport it to muscles before it can be used as the body’s primary energy source. In order to truly benefit form fat consumption, athletes should consider carefully planning when they are going to eat fat, how much they will eat and the types of fats they’ll consume in the lead up to a game or event.

 

By Christina Higgins & Ross Hamilton

 

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The warm-up and performance!

A winning team or athlete will undoubtedly want to achieve two things every session. One, perform at their best for that given day and two, prevent any injury occurring. With this in mind athletes are paying more attention to their warm-up procedure as the impact of an effective warm-up has shown to play a significant role in achieving those goals. Competition tends to encourage us to find an edge or advantage over our competitors. In some cases this allows us to be innovative and improve, in others it creates distractions. The warm-up has become a monster in some cases. It is not uncommon for some teams and individuals performing excessive warm-up protocols which show more harm than benefit.

Quite recently I attended a rugby tournament and witnessed the warm-up routines of other teams. One such team’s warm-up lasted from the time we left our team bus to the kick off of our first match. A period of about 90mins. They had a wide arsenal of stretches, mobility drills and activation exercises. They also had 21 points scored against them in the first ten minutes of the game by the tournament’s wildcard entry. In my opinion they missed the point of the warm-up, which was to prepare them for the game.

An effective warm-up will prepare you for the task ahead. In order to be effective an individual or team coach must identify what they are preparing themselves for. The following will discuss the main components of a warm-up. By understanding what is needed one can structure a warm-up that is fit for their purpose.

Body temperature

This is the main priority of the warm-up. By increasing core and muscle temperature we elicit a wide range of responses which have been proven to improve performance. 1° C increase in muscle temperature from resting is associated with approximately a 4% increase in power output. The ideal temperature being approximately 37.5°C. Excess of this will likely have detrimental effects. The most effective way to increase warm-up is to perform moderate full body exercise (Approx 80% of lactate threshold) for 5-10mins depending on environmental factors. This increase should level off after approximately 15mins in normothermic conditions. Optimal muscle temperature allows for faster nerve transmission and muscle contraction.

 

Even endurance sports benefit from an effective warm-up

Even endurance sports benefit from an effective warm-up

Cardiovascular

When we begin to exercise our cardiovascular system reacts. Blood vessels dilate and constrict to direct more blood to working muscle and away from inactive muscle and organs. Increases in heart rate also allow for increased cardiac output and blood supply.

Joint mobility and flexibility

Activity and movement reduces viscosity of synovial fluid in the joints which act as a form of lubricant. In addition, stretching may be utilized to promote elasticity of muscle fibres. Some theorize that this can prepare the muscles for rapid loading and increase ranges of motion (ROM), reducing the possibility of injury. Some have argued that increased range of motion may be problematic for joint related injury depending on the nature of activity to follow. It is wise to exercise caution with the use of stretching prior to exercise. Foam rolling has also become a popular method to promote muscle elasticity and ROM. It has shown little evidence for increasing performance where ROM is not a limiting factor. Mobility drills may also be used to promote ROM but have again shown little evidence for promoting performance where issues with ROM are not present. In short unless there is tightness or an issue with mobility it is not essential.

Dynamic stretching may offer a more beneficial alternative. Basic drills can be used which closely replicate movements required during competition. Increased specificity will prepare the athlete more appropriately for their sport.

 

Stretching should be used appropriately in a warm-up routine.

Stretching should be used appropriately during a warm-up routine.

 

Post activation potentiation (PAP)

Leading on from the previous point, an effective warm-up will also provide some PAP response. This can be read about more in a previous article here https://hamiltonsport.com/2015/01/post-activation-potentiation/. Some basic ballistic style movements and dynamic stretching can provide this. It is wise to do this following the temperature increase portion of the warm-up. Some progressive bounding or jump type movements are appropriate in most cases. This may increase nervous system activity which can allow for better contractile function of the muscle. This can improve force output and reaction times.

Competition specific

Technical drills should be used to prepare the athlete mentally for the tasks they must perform. Including some technical, skill focused drills will allow for further warm-up physically which will be specific to the tasks they must perform.

 

Warm-up drills should also prepare the athlete for contact.

Warm-up drills should also prepare the athlete for contact.

 

The recommended order of warm-up should look like this.

  • Temperature ramp (Also covers cardiovascular preparation)
  • Mobility and dynamic stretching (Covers PAP response)
  • Competition specific

A full warm-up should last between 15 and 30 mins depending on the sport. It is important that the athlete’s warm-up is as efficient as possible and wastes little time. The warm-up is not the time to address mobility or flexibility issues. These should have dedicated time given to it. A warm-up is preparation for the task. I feel that far too much time is given to mobility drills and foam rolling and these have become the core of many warm-up routines. The popularity of movement as a performance variable has allowed some to go overboard and neglect other aspects of their preparation. The main priority is getting the desired increase in body temperature, especially in colder environments. It must also be noted that warm-ups should be performed as close to the event as possible and great care should be taken to maintain body temperature if there are periods between the cessation of the warm-up and the start of competition.

These are the core components of an efficient warm-up. The exact drills and procedure will depend largely on the sport itself. If your warm-up is lacking any of these components then it would be very beneficial to look at ways of adding them in. In summary a warm-up should be time efficient and fit for purpose. It should have both a general and specific portion and should always look to establish optimum body temperature. Too many mobility drills may distract the athlete from purpose and would be better placed in a training session dedicated to addressing mobility issues. It takes a little experimenting to find a balance between effort, time and effectiveness. If exercises are too intense fatigue can become an issue. It is always best to establish protocols outside competition first to avoid any issues on the day.

If you have any questions or concerns about your warm-up then do not hesitate to contact us.

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