Concensus on Short-Term Endurance Training Methods?

Introduction

In late 2009, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Team Danmark bought together the leading sport scientists in the world that were focused on high-intensity sport events lasting less than eight minutes in duration or team sports where frequent bursts of high intensity were needed. Such events require training that is a balance between high volumes and high intensity but is also technical as well. The objective was to develop consensus statements on preparing athletes for such events or sports. This article summarises the recently published outcomes of the three-day meeting of the minds.

The Consensus Statements

The meeting focused on high intensity sports lasting less than eight minutes (e.g. track running and cycling, 200 and 400m swim events, rowing, kayaking etc). Here is a summary of what they decided:

  1. Athletes should perform high–intensity interval training.
  2. These intervals should consist of repeated bouts of exercise performed close to or well above the intensity requiring maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max).
  3. Athletes should taper before major competitions by emphasising intensity of training at the expense of training volume.
  4. Heavy resistance strength training enhances performance in high-intensity sports.
  5. Heavy resistance strength training without muscle growth enhances endurance capacity in high-intensity sports or events lasting from a few minutes to several hours.
  6. Concurrent strength and endurance training prevents muscle growth but facilitates improved endurance capacity.
  7. Heavy training loads of 4-12 repetitions of 70-95% of maximum load are suggested.
  8. Adequate dietary carbohydrate and energy intake are essential for high-intensity training sessions.
  9. Small amounts of high-quality protein should be consumed soon after high-intensity training or events to enhance recovery and adaptation.
  10. Promote and monitor non-sport recovery strategies to enhance physical and mental recovery.
  11. Focus on long-term athlete development rather than short-term success.
  12. Create a social environment with open communication and a cohesive training group.
  13. Support athletes to balance sport, education, family and personal life.

Reference: Bangsbo, J. and others (2010). Performance in top sports involving intense exercise.  Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 20 (Supplement 2): ii-iv.

Shin Splints – A Pain in the Leg!

I remember them well-that dull ache at the front and side of my shins. I was 27 years old, in my prime and invincible! I’d always run pretty well and was doing 3 x 5k runs a week for health and Rugby fitness. At the time I was also a national surflifesaving champion and working as a PE teacher in Ipswich, Queensland.

I’d just heard about this new endurance event called an Aquathon – a 5k run followed immediately by an 800m swim. You run in your swim gear, kicked off your shoes and dived straight in for the swim! The national championships were being held at Oatley in Sydney. I had 3 weeks to get ready.

I’ll give that a go I thought! I’m already pretty fit. I know what I’ll do! I do interval training, everyone says it’s the way to get race fit fast!  Down to the local athletics track wearing  a pair of thin road racing shoes and into it. Warm-up with a lap easy, do some stretches and then 10 x 400m runs on 2 minutes then a lap warm-down and stretch again. Twice a week of intervals should do it on top of the normal 3 x 5k runs. And maybe a 10k run as well to get some endurance up!

Big mistake – shin splints big time! Never forgotten and never repeated! Young and dumb! So what does the research say about the causes, treatment and prevention of these very painful lower limb injuries.

Causes

Medically, shin splints are called Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). They are sometimes called “tibial stress syndrome”, “tibial fascitis”, or “anterior compartment syndrome”. Shin splints account for 10-15% of all running injuries and up to 60% of all the conditions that cause pain in athletes’ legs. Interestingly, women are three times more likely than men to get them, especially those who try and keep up with male training partners and have to work harder physiologically than the men at the same running speed.

While the cause of MTSS pain is unclear, most researchers agree the shin splints are related to either the covering (fascia) of the soleus muscle (see picture) connected to the covering of the tibia (shin bone) being damaged or the repetitive impact forces that fatigue the same muscle which create slight bending in the tibia bone and small microfractures in the bone.

Research has shown that there is no one cause but the proposed risk factors include: 

  1. Increased pronation of the foot
  2. “Tight” calf muscles that can lead to pronation
  3. Muscle strength imbalance between the front and rear of the lower limb with strong front of shin muscles compared to the calves
  4. Too big a jump in training intensity (in particular) or distance
  5. Training too much on hard surfaces
  6. Training too much on inclined surfaces such as hills, stairs or cambered roadsides
  7. Previous history of MTSS
  8. Genetic factors such as flat feet, high arches or leg length differences
  9. Inadequate calcium intake
  10. High body weight
  11. Having a training age of under 5 years – being relatively new to running
  12. Poor condition of shoes, especially poor shock absorption in the midsole

Looking at most of these risk factors, it becomes pretty obvious what we can do to misnimise the risk of getting shin splints.

Treatment

Rule number one, see a professional (e.g. physiotherapist or podiatrist). Ideally one that is a runner or works with athletes regularly. I’ve learnt over the years to see a podiatrist immediately I have any running issues. She is a runner herself and has videoed me side-on and from behind, looked at my foot and lower limb angles at rest, and looked at my (smelly!) shoes. She has identified some areas I need to work on to prevent any future injuries.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibobrufen, Brufen, Nurofen, Naprosyn, Voltaren, Advil), rest, taping and ice can help the pain.

Below are some other treatment options:

  1. Decreasing run distance, frequency and duration
  2. Replacing road runs with water running or running on grass
  3. Increase the strength and endurance of the soleus muscle through heel raises on steps
  4. Replace those old shoes or get insole inserts
  5. Arch taping or taping around the area of pain
  6. Ice massage
  7. Control pronation through orthotics or new shoes suggested or designed by the podiatrist

My advice is to try these as soon as you get any pain in the the areas shown in the picture above. However, if pain persists, trot along to your runner-friendly podiatrist for professional diagnosis and treatment specific to your individual case.

Prevention

Research has shown that no single prevention method is consistently effective in managing shin splints. Interestingly, stretching of the lower legs has consistently been shown not to prevent MTSS. However, several methods have proven useful including:

  1. Shock-absorbing insoles
  2. Replacing running shoes every 400-800 km depending on body weight and training surface
  3. Pronation-controlling insoles
  4. Lose body weight
  5. A gradual and progressive increase in running intensity and volume or type (e.g. hills or intervals)
  6. Run on softer surfaces. Here is a suggested order going from softest to hardest (grass > bush trails > grass trails > cinders > synthetic tracks > treadmills > asphalt > concrete).

Listen to your body, wear well-cushoined shoes, stretch before and especially after all runs, run on flatter and maybe grassed surfaces or trails, warm-up and down well, and gradually increase the intensity, frequency and distance of your runs. If pain persists, get along to a professional – a podiatrist.

Sources:

  1. Craig, D. (2008). Medial tibial stress syndrome: evidence-based prevention. Journal of Athletic Training, 43(3): 316-318.
  2. Hubbard, T. and others (2009). Contributing factors to medial tibial stress syndrome: a prospective investigation. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 41(3): 490-496.
  3. Moen, M. and others (2009). Medial tibial stress syndrome: a critical review. Sports Medicine, 39(7): 523-546.

Quality or quantity training for endurance athletes?

The IntroductionEndurance training zones

Success in endurance events involves the manipulation of training intensity, duration and frequency to maximise performance, peak at the right time, and minimise the risk of overtraining or injury. Smart endurance athletes and coaches manipulate training intensity by using training zones that might be based on heart rates, speeds, or power outputs. Usually these are based on a maximum endurance speed or intensities above, at or below a threshold level we call ‘anaerobic threshold’ – that ‘hurt but hold’ intensity all endurance athletes know. However, the question always arises: how much training should be done above threshold and how much below? A review of this area was recently presented and suggests 80% of endurance training should be below threshold and 20% should be dominated by periods of high intensity work such as interval training at or above threshold. 

The Research

The researcher, a Norwegian sport scientist, reviewed 60 papers that have examined training patterns and physiological and performance responses to endurance training in young endurance athletes.

The Results

He concluded that an 80:20 ratio of low-intensity endurance training to threshold and above training gives the best long term results in endurance athletes. He highlighted that increases in total training volume correlates well with improvements in physiological responses and performance but that high intensity training is a critical component of all successful endurance athletes. He suggested that two high intensity training sessions per week is optimal to improve performance and gain positive training adaptations without risking overtraining. Interestingly, he suggests that in well trained endurance athletes with a good training base and tolerance for high quality training (and ability to recover or use recovery techniques smartly), periods of intensifying training beyond the twice per week high quality work, is possible.

The So What?

This is one of the few papers I have ever read that attempts to collate the limited research examining endurance training methods, especially over the long term. I have always emphasised in my blog and my book, the importance of intensity of training in masters athletes. Indeed, my book suggests twice a week quality work for masters athletes and the need to be fresh for that work and recovery to be hard afterwards and the next day. Older athletes must learn to listen to their body. Train hard, but recover harder!

 Seiler, S. (2010). What is the best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 5(3): 276 – 291.

Photo Source: http://sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/hs025.snc3/11244_192590719521_47936809521_2770407_2684213_n.jpg 

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The Introduction

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The Introduction

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