Aspire: How's and Why's of Training Load Monitoring
At the end of February, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the Aspire Academy conference for 2016, entitled Managing Training Loads – The How’s and Why’s’. Firstly, let me just say that the resources at Aspire’s disposal are incredible! An indoor athletics track, football pitch and Olympic swimming pool, several multi-sport courts, 6 outdoor football pitches, 7 gyms, altitude chambers, anthropometry, biochemistry and biomechanics labs and world class experts working in every department mean that the students of Aspire are given absolutely every opportunity to become world beaters.
The standard of excellence was maintained in the line up of conference presenters. In addition to the thought-leading pioneers of training load monitoring Carl Foster and Bill Sands, the conference managed to gather under one roof the most innovative thinkers currently in the field – Inigo Mujika, Steven Seiler, Darren Burgess, Martin Buchheit, David Martin, Marco Cardinale, Aaron Coutts, Tim Gabbett and Rod Whiteley. Each of these guys could be the keynote speaker at a conference on their own, but were also well supported by a number of young presenters already making waves in the world of sport science. It certainly felt like the larger portion of the world’s sport science intellectual capital had been assembled!
I have no doubt that the majority of my SSC posts this year will be inspired by presentations, or coffee break discussions, from this conference. There will be plenty of time to unpack some of these concepts in greater detail, but what I’d like to do in this post is just provide a summary of some of the most important topics.
Steven Seiler, who works with a number of the best winter sports endurance athletes in the world, revealed some enlightening information from long-term training surveillance of these athletes. A clear pattern was apparent in that these athletes all spend the vast majority of their extensive training time (>80%) training at submaximal intensities (<80% VO2 Max). Based on this research, modern trends of high-intensity interval training are at odds with what world-class performers do in practice.
WHY DO WE MONITOR – MEASURE WHAT ATHLETES DO, NOT WHAT THE COACH HAS PLANNED
A recurring theme within the conference is that coaches are not very good at estimating the intensity or load of their training sessions. Hence, any well-executed training program requires a feedback loop where the actual load experienced by athletes is compared with the planned load, and continual adjustments need to be made to keep practice aligned with the training plan.
TRUST YOUR DATA – AVOID BLACK BOXES
There were extensive discussions regarding the applications of various technologies to monitoring training. These technologies included GPS, accelerometers, heart rate monitors, video analysis and athlete monitoring systems. The largest area of concern was that regardless of the technology, it is important to understand how the reported information is derived and what is the level of “noise” (validity and reliability) intrinsic in the measure. In particular, be very concerned about devices that don’t allow you access to the raw data to be able to assess for yourself. Martin Buchheit, in particular, highlighted a number of inconsistent measures he had discovered within very high-end technology. The take home message here is, don’t just trust the technology you use. Test it rigorously within your own environment.
TRAINING STRESS BALANCE (TSB)
You would have to have been living under a rock for the past 12 months to avoid exposure to this concept in the fields of sport science and strength and conditioning. Briefly, the concept is that the loads that an athlete has performed in the preceding weeks (chronic load) determine the training load that can be safely managed in the current week (acute load). A large imbalance between the acute and chronic loads represents a significant injury risk. This work has been largely driven by the research of Tim Gabbett and I’ve included the references for some of the most important papers at the end of the section.
SCREENING IS DEAD
I recently had my own paper on the applications of the Functional Movement Screen to predict injuries in rugby players accepted for publication in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Hence, it was very disappointing to hear from Rod Whiteley that screening is a hopelessly ineffective way of affecting injury risk in athletes. I’m not sure that many practitioners out there are ready to hear this news, and I’m sure that it will ignite some interesting debate in the coming months. Here is a link to an infographic summary of Rod Whiteley’s very reasoned argument as to why screening tests don’t do what we would like them to.
Hopefully, this summary has provided some food for thought for all the readers of this publication. I plan to unpack a few of these concepts further in the coming months and would be very interested to hear from readers their thoughts on some of these concepts. Please mail or tweet me with your thoughts and I’ll use that correspondence as a guide to what sections to address first in future posts.
1. Drew MK and Purdam C. (2016) Time to bin the term 'overuse' injury: is 'training load error' a more accurate term? Br J Sports Med.
2. Gabbett TJ. (2016) The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? Br J Sports Med. 50(5):273-80.
3. Gabbett TJ, Hulin BT, Blanch P, and Whiteley R. (2016) High training workloads alone do not cause sports injuries: how you get there is the real issue. Br J Sports Med.