Sports Science Monthly – August 2018

Welcome back to another edition of Sports Science Monthly. This month, we take a closer look at periodizing some different aspects of training, sleep as a measurement for overtraining, building resilience, supplements, and several other topics.

As always, the full Sports Science Monthly is available exclusively to HMMR Plus Members. The first topic below is free to everyone, but sign up now to read about all the research. To get an idea of what Sports Science Monthly is all about, the April 2016 edition is available in its entirety for free.

This Month’s Topics

An integrated model for periodization within sport

» Quick summary: Whilst the underpinning characteristics of conventional periodization theory are based on shaky ground, it is well established that athletes have different requirements at different times of the training year. This ground-breaking paper explores the integration of a number of factors – physical, recovery, nutrition, psychological, and skill acquisition – into an integrated model for periodization to enhance performance.

Periodization is a concept that all coaches and athletes will be aware of, and indeed comfortable with. Essentially all training plans have some form of periodization present within them, from four year Olympic cycles to weekly training plans. Recently, there has been criticism of the traditional models of periodization, with a number of authors exploring the (lack of) evidence underpinning the conventional theory. Whilst the points made are both valid and highly useful, this isn’t to say that periodization is useless; clearly, we need to alter training variables across time in order to best prepare athletes. A recent review published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance takes a look at how we can best formulate a periodization plan, taking an innovative and integrative approach utilizing training, recovery, psychology, nutrition, and skill acquisition. The authors are truly world-leaders in their respected field, and the article is available freely, so you should definitely read it in full after finishing my summary here.

Whilst the physiological aspects of periodization are well established and widely discussed, the periodization of other factors is less well explored. One such area is that of recovery; here, the provision of recovery techniques can be manipulated to drive the desired adaptations at the desired times. This can be done in a number of ways; we can withdraw certain recovery methods in order to maximize training adaptations, or add recovery methods in order to enhance key session or competition performance, as well as support long distance travel. For example, in the general preparation phase of training, we’re less interested in absolute performance, and more in the development of fitness; as such, the accumulation of fatigue is less worrying than it would be at other times. This means that we can reduce, or even eliminate, certain recovery modalities. An obvious example is that of ice baths, which may reduce training adaptations; during the accumulation phase of training, where maximizing adaptations are the goal, fewer (or even no) ice baths are perhaps better. However, when adaptation is not a priority, such as between competitions, the use of ice baths to enhance recovery is a good idea, and should be utilised. This can extend into the preparation phase in order to prepare an athlete for key sessions, where adaptations may be enhanced by allowing some additional recovery above normal.

Dietary periodization is the manipulation of dietary variables across time. These variables include altering total energy or specific nutrient intake in order to derive certain adaptations, maximize recovery, and support performance. I’ve frequently written about carbohydrate periodization, whereby carbohydrate intake is cycled in order to allow a variety of different adaptations, unique to both high- and low-carbohydrate availability, to occur. This could logically be expanded to include variation in protein intake; higher intakes when the athlete is aiming to build muscle, or is pursuing an energy deficit in order to reduce body mass, for instance. Finally, we might vary the use of specific supplements across the training year. During more intensive training phases, we might increase our use of caffeine in order to offset the levels of fatigue associated with heavy training loads, as well as reduce feelings of pain. However, when the athlete moves to a decrease in training volume, we might take a more targeted approach to caffeine use to support competitive performance, but not expose the athlete to high levels of caffeine.

It’s also important to consider how we might periodize our approach to the development of psychological skills, of which there are different requirements at different times, although this approach is actually quite poorly researched. At present, we are perhaps limited to stating that athletes and coaches should identify what psychological aspects require the greatest amount of attention, most likely based on perceived short comings in their performance. These should ideally be practiced and developed in the off season, and refined in the early competition periods. During the season, there would likely need to be an increased emphasis on psychological recovery, especially around competitions, when the emotional load and stress is high.

Finally, we have the development of a periodization model for skill acquisition. Much like psychological periodization, there isn’t a great deal of research in this area. It seems logical to apply the SPORT (Specific, Progressive, Overload, Reversibility, and Tedium) principles to skill acquisition, which would fit into a periodization plan. For example, there would be a progression in skill over the course of a season; when practicing block starts, a sprinter might focus on achieving the correct positions early in the season, the applying large amounts of force and maintaining these positions as the season approaches, before focusing on both speed and reaction time during the season.

The main challenge within such a framework is managing to correctly integrate all the various aspects into a coherent and cohesive model. Clearly, you don’t want to be chasing one type of adaptation in one area, only to have the other aspects not supporting that adaptation. Arguably, this is the most difficult aspect of adopting such an integrated periodization model, and perhaps will bias more towards the art as opposed to the science of coaching. As research on psychological and skill acquisition periodization develops, we should get a much better idea of how we can best implement and enhance the model. These days, I very rarely get a strong sense of excitement from a paper, but I found this one really interesting and inspiring. Again, I’d fully recommend you read the full text, and hopefully it has the same effect on you!

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