What the Research Says: The Secret to Surviving a Long Season
So, I am a nerd and I love reading research. It is also very important to me that the latest scientific information gets out to young athletes, their parents, and their coaches. Honestly, even many professional softball players are not aware of the scientific basis of a lot of their training protocols. Science changes daily. We should do our very best to stay ahead of the pack and continue to apply the latest and most advanced tools to our arsenal. Recently, I came across this specific research study and immediately thought of softball players, so I thought I would share. Takaki Yamagishi and John Babraj came together for a study and their goal was to determine effects of recovery intensity on endurance adaptations during sprint-interval training over 2 weeks by examining endurance parameters. Basically, how does a recovery session influence our power and our endurance over the course of two weeks? I found this interesting because without knowing it, sprint interval training of some sort is worked into a lot of sport practices. If you are running, resting, and running again, you are doing sprint interval training. Whether this is infield drills, base running, or team defense, there is potential this research could be applied to all athletes. Below, I am going to outline, what the researchers did, what they found, and what it means for us. The results could potentially be a game changer for long weekend tournaments and the overall grind of a sport season. Check it out.
What they Did:
The researchers took 14 healthy active male and female subjects and had them take part in a minimum of 3-hour exercise per week participated in the study. The subjects underwent body composition testing, followed by an incremental cycle test measuring Vo2 peak (a standard measurement for oxygen uptake during exercise) and Max Heart Rate. This incremental test was then followed by a 3 minute all-out cycle test (to measure power output), and a 10-km time-trial performance (to measure endurance). After these baseline tests, subjects were assigned to either an active recovery group (ARG) or a passive recovery group (PRG). The exercise training protocol was identical for both ARG and PRG over the course of the 2 weeks. It consisted of a series of bike sprints against a certain percentage of body fat, with about 4 minutes recovery in between. The difference was, ARG continued to cycle at about 40% of their max VO2 after their sprints (active recovery), while PRG remained stationary or cycled unloaded at a low speed (minimal recovery). They did this for 6 sessions (3x/wk for 2 weeks). 48 hours after the last session, the subjects performed the post-intervention tests (identical to pre-intervention tests) to determine the difference between ARG and PRG.
What they Found:
The researchers found that both groups improved their 10-km time-trial performance with the training protocol, indicating that sprint interval training has a positive effect on endurance performance. ARG improved by 8.6% and PRG improved by 6.7%. However, ONLY the ARG group significantly increased their POWER numbers. This suggests that the arrangement of recovery mode would play a role in bringing about training benefits when performing sprint interval training. In addition, after only 2 weeks of sprint interval training, there was a 5.3% increase in maximal incremental power output in ARG.
What it Means for Us:
There are a few things that we can take from this study as athletes. The first is that we should be doing some form of active recovery after sprint based training (including sport practices and resistance training). The active recovery group in the study saw better power and endurance numbers simply by taking the body through a lower intensity cycle (about 40% of their Max). The second thing that we can learn is that sprint interval training can increase our power numbers even if we DON'T utilize an active recovery protocol. I have parents ask me quite often how to make their kids faster. It's not a speed ladder or "quick feet" drills. It is actually running at 100% effort. In addition, sprint training can also help throwing velocity and exit velocity off the bat. In a nutshell, sprints increase power, and power makes you a better softball player and overall athlete. The final takeaway is that active recovery will keep you performing better for LONGER. A sport season is a grind with traveling almost every weekend, limitations on sleep, and a high number of games in limited days. If we can prevent some of those fatiguing effects and be able to finish games and our seasons feeling more fresh, it will clearly make a difference in performance and outcomes of competitions.
Where to go from here:
Incorporate sprint interval training into your workout and training regimen. If you as an athlete want to see power and performance gains, sprints are perhaps the best and most convenient way to achieve it. All you need is some space! In addition, after every sport practice or game, perform an active cool down consisting of foam rolling, mobility work, body-weight exercises, and/or light cycle or jog. Here is a sample active recovery protocol I like to follow:
1. Foam Roll the following for :30s: Quads, Hamstrings, IT Bands, Calf
2. Jog 20 yards (home to first) at about 40% effort x4, full recovery in between reps
3. Stretch the following: hip flexors, Lats, low back, glutes about 1 min each
This should take about 15 minutes and will have you ready to go for your next training session or game. Incorporate this into your routine and you will be lightyears ahead of your competition in terms of power and recovery!
If you are interested and want to read the entire research study, you can find it here.