A Proposal to Investigate the use of Altitude Training Camp Interventions for Improved Athletic Performance in American Football – Part 1

 

 

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      If one were to provide description of my current attitude to performance training it would be simple; “ A strength coach obsessed with conditioning”. In light of the historic exhibition event between MMA fighter Connor McGregor and boxing legend Floyd Mayweather, where conditioning level appeared to be a valued strategic weapon employed by the skillful Mayweather,  I think any obsession with fitness conditioning in the field of sport performance is understandable. If nothing else, the Mayweather/Mcgregor boxing match was above all else a statement to athletes all over the world –  “Conditioning precedes everything else”. 

Someone wiser than I first uttered this statement to me and it continues to grow in meaning as i observe athletic performance and sports. As a result, you will notice a deviation from my past write ups on topics related to performance training.  There’s a new focus for me and it is based on performance tools and strategies related to the improvement of conditioning or cardiovascular performance. 

A Proposal to investigate the use of Altitude Training Camp Interventions for improved athletic performance in American Football – Part 1

     As football training camps across the nation come to an end in preparation for the  Football “Regular” season, it’s important for Football coaches and performance specialists to ask the following three questions; Did we provide the best environment for our athletes to succeed and to improve their potential? Have we seen noticeable and measurable improvements in my team over the course of the off season development?  What can we do to reach or establish a greater level of performance and preparation for our athletes in the future?  In effort to provide a meaningful response to these questions related to my own experiences I went back to research a particular environmental performance resource that has been discussed widely in  numerous endurance sports and more recently in team sports such as Australian Football. Altitude training is an environmental training resource that can potentially provide performance improvements to athletes. 

     Altitude training has been a topic of interest amongst coaches and performance specialists since the early nineties. It can be described as an environmental intervention where athletes live and/or train at a certain distance above sea level resulting in a relative low oxygenation of blood. This training resource has been widely touted as an effective performance aid for endurance athletes ever since researchers first demonstrated a form of altitude training to be beneficial to aerobic performance (Levine & Stray-Gundersen,1992). Since then, altitude training also known as hypoxic training has surged in use by a variety of athletic bodies including team sports looking to gain a competitive edge in performance (Faiss, Girard, Millet, 2013).  This form of training has become so popular in team sports that in March 2013, an international conference was held in Doha, Qatar amongst leading experts on the subject of Altitude Training and Team Sports (Girard et al., 2013). Experts in the form of performance researchers, coaches and medical doctors from all over the world including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Qatar, Switzerland and the United States met to discuss a topic that has garnered interest from sports bodies such as FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) to the International Olympic committee (Girard et al., 2013). It is a form of training that has most recently been used in Australian Football performance practices. In 2012, authors note that more than half of Australian football players participated in some type of altitude as part of their pre-season training (Bishop, 2012).

     It’s interesting to note of this interest in this particular form of training by highly regarded sports programs such as FIFA, the International Olympic committee and Australian Football. And yet, there’s relatively little mention of this training tool as a resource for athletes within the sport of American Football.  This comes as a bit of a surprise especially  when we consider the relative similarities between Australian Football and American Football. Both sports can be described as “intermittent sport” characterized by periods of high-intensity exercise interspersed with periods of low-intensity activity.  Authors note that Australian Football athletes are required to complete many high intensity efforts over a 2 hour duration (Mclean, 2014). This is similar in practice to American Football athletes who participate in repeated bouts of exercise at maximum intensity over the course of four 15 minute quarters (Hoffman, 2008).  As a result of energy system demands on both aerobic or endurance potential and anaerobic or sprint potential, training programs for team sports such as Australian Football are designed to improve both aerobic and anaerobic capacity of the athletes.

     This approach to training should be no different to the team sport of American Football.  In fact researchers have suggested that in spite of American Football’s reliance on the anaerobic system for energy, aerobic conditioning would enhance performance and potentially play a key role in preventing injuries (Pincivero, Bompa, 1997). Thus, the role of aerobic demand in teams sports and the benefits garnered when conditioning interventions include aerobic training have resulted in greater interest in hypoxic or altitude training by sport performance coaches.  In addition, researchers have suggested that performance in team sports can potentially improve from the adaptations associated with hypoxic or altitude training (Girard et al., 2013). Experts in the field of altitude training have concluded that the adaptations associated with altitude training can lead to improvements in aerobic mechanisms such as enhanced VO2 max or oxygen uptake, increased oxygen economy, and phosphocreatine resynthesis as well as anaerobic system improvements such as improved muscle buffering capacity (Girard et al., 2013).  These potential adaptations are of benefit to sport and have led to an emerging interest in altitude training as a popular performance aid for many team sport coaches looking for innovative ways to improve their ability to win games. 

     Altitude training mediated through training camp interventions can potentially provide NFL teams a winning edge in its ability to improve aerobic and anaerobic performance. Traditional hypoxic/altitude strategies employed by elite endurance athletes can be a boon to a sport that is increasingly becoming aware of the power of aerobic conditioning. This strategy can be the next opportunity to create an environment that produces noticeable and measurable improvements in the performance of your athletes. In the next few posts I will discuss altitude training strategies that can potentially be used by NFL teams in search for a winning edge.

Liburd’s Opinion

     There’s an incredible growth taking place in sport science and related technology. Today teams are investing a tremendous amount of time, money and time on tools that are purported to improve performance.The views of aerobic conditioning as a form of training within the highly Anaerobic sport of Football is becoming less taboo and more accepted a potentially important resource. As interest and respect for sport science and it’s impact to performance continues to rise this form of training  will undoubtedly grow in America’s favorite sport – Football.  Altitude training camp could be the next weapon in the performance arms race amongst colleges and professional clubs.  After all, It’s a tool that is already  being used in Australia.

Top Takeaways from this Blog post:

  1. Altitude Training for team sports is a popular topic.
    • Altitude Training has become so popular in team sports that in March 2013, an international conference was held in Doha, Qatar amongst leading experts to discuss various factors on the subject of Altitude Training and Team Sports (Girard et al., 2013)
  2. Australian Football Players Participate in Altitude training camps.
    • In 2012, authors note that more than half of Australian football players participated in some type of altitude as part of their pre-season training (Bishop, 2012).
  3. Aerobic Conditioning may help to prevent performance and decrease injuries in football. 
    • Researchers have suggested that in spite of American Football’s reliance on the anaerobic system for energy, aerobic conditioning would enhance performance and potentially play a key role in preventing injuries (Pincivero, Bompa, 1997).
  4. Altitude Training supports various cardiovascular performance factors.
    • Experts in the field of altitude training have concluded that the adaptations associated with altitude training can lead to improvements in aerobic mechanisms such as enhanced VO2 max or oxygen uptake, increased oxygen economy, and phosphocreatine resynthesis as well as anaerobic system improvements such as improved muscle buffering capacity (Girard et al., 2013)

References:

Bishop D. (2012, March 23). Team altitude training and the AFL – it’s time to clear the air. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/team-altitude-training-and-the-afl-its-time-to-clear-the-air-5999

Faiss, R., Girard, O., & Millet, G. P. (2013). Advancing hypoxic training in team sports: from intermittent hypoxic training to repeated sprint training in hypoxia. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(1), I45-I50.

Girard, O., Amann, M., Aughey, R., Billaut, F., Bishop, D. J., Bourdon, P., . . . Schumacher, Y. O. (2013). Position statement—altitude training for improving team-sport players’ performance: current knowledge and unresolved issues. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(1), I8-I16.

Hoffman, J. R. (2008). The Applied Physiology of American Football. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 3(3), 387-392.

Levine B.D., and Stray-Gundersen J. (1992). A practical approach to altitude training.

International Journal of Sports Medicine. 13(1) 209-212.

McLean, B. D. (2014). The efficacy of hypoxic training techniques in Australian footballers (Doctoral thesis, Australian Catholic University). Retrieved from http://researchbank.acu.edu.au/theses/566

Pincivero, D. M., & Bompa, T. O. (1997). A Physiological Review of American Football. Sports Medicine, 23(4), 247-260. 

 

Blogger:

Dan Liburd is entering his ninth season as a NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach. Liburd has experience in designing, implementing and supervising Strength and conditioning programs for various athletic populations. Liburd also has experience in designing and overseeing team nutrition and dietary programs.  Liburd is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Boston University, A Master’s of Science from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working towards a Phd in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and held various positions in Collegiate Strength and Conditioning programs. He has worked with the Boston University Terriers, Springfield College Pride, American College Yellow Jackets and held positions at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning as well as Peak Performance Physical Therapy.

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