The Three Important Steps for Dealing with the Crisis of a ‘Weight Room’ Injury

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 It is undoubtedly the worst feeling you can suffer through as a strength coach, trainer or movement specialist. Unfortunately, many who work in the profession of human movement and performance have or will encounter this experience to some degree. Regardless of how great you may be at delivering a safe and sound program and/or environment to your athletes/clients, there’s always a potential risk of injury to those individuals within your setting.

Injuries are an unfortunate fixture within the world of sports and they are also a perpetual issue in the world of movement and performance training for sports.  While the practice of exercise and movement training continues to grow, develop and evolve in both safety and potency, the risk of injury to individuals who engage in the potentially precarious practice of exercise remains.  We’ve seen or heard of the horrific headlines where athletes are exposed to life threatening and/or serious injuries such as rhabdoymyolis after engaging in exercise.  And there are of-course the gruesome accidents that can potentially leave indelible marks to both the athlete and training staff. Accidents happen all the time and the weight room is no exception. 

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On September 28, 2009, Johnson suffered an injury when the 275 pounds (125 kg) barbell he was lifting fell on his throat while performing a bench press during a routine team workout. Bleeding from his mouth and nose, he was rushed to California Hospital Medical Center and had three emergency surgeries to repair damage to his crushed vocal cord.

      While the risk of harm is rare, a potential for injury exists every time  an athlete steps in the weight room or performs a form exercise.  Take for instance, those athletes who engage in an increasingly popularly form of exercise called Crossfit, which incorporates high-intensity fitness program incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise. In a 2013 study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers demonstrated that just under 74% of individuals who engaged in Crossfit expressed an injury experience as a result of their training (Hak, Hodzovic, Hickey, 2013). This potential for injury has also been demonstrated in other forms of exercise training such as powerlifting. Researchers from the University of Cologne published a study in 2011 in which they concluded that 43% of powerlifters sustained a form of injury during their training (Siewe et al., 2011). Similarly, in a 2002 study published in the American journal of sports medicine, investigators showed that olympic weight lifters expressed a similar rate of injury during training (Raske & Norlin, 2002). Athletes in this study expressed an injury rate of, on average, 2.6 injuries per 1000 hours of activity.  Of these injuries, the most common forms were low back injuries, with an injury rate of 0.43 per 1000 hours (Raske & Norlin, 2002). To this end, regardless of training style, injuries can occur to the training athlete and depending on training stye they can occur relatively often. 

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In a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, investigators showed that olympic weight lifters experienced an injury rate of , on average, 2.6 injuries per 1000 hours of activity (Raske & Norlin, 2002).

Despite how common it may be within the sports realm the notion of an injured athlete has and will continue to evoke emotional distress from me.  The experience of dealing with an athlete injury in a training setting can often leave some of the most resilient and experienced coaches shaken. Injuries can wipe away potentially progressive plans and completely deride your confidence in people, programs, systems and/or environments.  Athletes injured in the weight room are like scarlet letters that you hold on for life and represent the antithesis of a strength coaches duty.  The ultimate role of a strength coach is to improve an individual’s  potential. Injury has little place in fulfilling this duty. Mike Boyle, world renown strength coach profoundly states that a Strength Conditioning System or Philosophy should rest on a famous principle of the Hippocratic oath – “Do no Harm”.   As strength coaches, athlete safety should be our number one objective and responsibility.

    It would be ingenuous, however,  to believe that the act of exercise and/or performance training does not involve some degree of risk of harm to an athlete.  Especially when consider that the foundation of  strength and mass development involves the breakdown and repair of tissue. While the physiology of tissue adaptation to stress is clear this process does not qualify the fear that all strength coaches, trainers and/or movement specialists experience when an athlete embarks within their training program. On the contrary this fear can have a powerful effect over the, practice, system and philosophy of a strength coach. 

      It is the fear of an athlete experiencing injury that forces strength coaches to make conservative decisions in their program design. The fear of an athlete experiencing injury which can often result in coaches making unfounded generalizations regarding certain movements or exercises. The fear of an athlete experiencing injury which can result in the adoption of certain Strength and Conditioning protocols or athlete requirements.  This fear can keep coaches up at night and restive in their search for best practice, injury free methodologies. However, this earnest search for efficient, effective, sound and safe forms of training does not belie the truth. Athletes can, have and will hurt themselves training.  It’s an uncomfortable truth especially since I am in the business of striving for improvements in athlete safety and potential in performance.  Thus, I must be clear in stating that I don’t mean to intimate that athlete injuries in the weight room is acceptable or expected. However, I must not misrepresent the fact that injuries occur to some degree at all levels and in various training settings and arenas regardless of one’s strength training expertise, experience or ethics. At the same, I would obviate the care and the sedulous efforts of our most talented, experienced and knowledgeable of strength coaches if I did not state that smart training leads to less injuries in the training facility/weight room. Regardless of these efforts, injuries occur in the pursuit  of performance and the development of potential. The question we must investigate is not only how do limit injury but also how do we respond when injury occurs. 

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“I would obviate the care and the sedulous efforts of our most talented, experienced and knowledgeable of strength coaches if i did not state that smart training leads to less injuries in the training facility/weight room. “


This post is a reflection on what should take place when strength coaches and trainers are faced with the unfortunate and horrible crisis of injury in the training environment.  I found Bill George’s “Leadership in a Crisis – How To Be a Leader” a very powerful resource for managing these often distressing and complicated situations. His words offer guidance  for the flurry of emotions, thoughts and responses that generally follow the crisis of an injury in performance training setting.

Bill George helps to highlight three important responses when dealing with an injury in the weight room. The first step is to “face reality.” He states that  “leaders need to look themselves in the mirror and recognize their role in creating the problems.” (George, 2017). This statement applies to all strength coaches who experience the crisis of a weight room injury. The first step is to accept responsibility.  A strength coach has a role in any injury that occurs within the strength training environment or under their supervision. In other words, the first step in dealing with a crisis  such as athlete injury under your supervision is to come to terms that you are responsible no matter how inscrutable the circumstances involving the injury.  Accepting responsibility provides the opportunity to move toward the necessary steps of understanding root cause, resolving root cause and taking steps to prevent the root cause of the issue. It is important to state that accepting responsibility is not the same as admitting culpability. Instead, it is the acknowledgement of a leader to seek and provide the truths regarding a situation.  George states “widespread recognition of reality is the crucial step before problems can be solved.” In other words, it is only after the discovery of veracity in a situation can we see a real form of  solution. Truth also breeds Trust as Craig Fugate notes in his article “The True Test of a Successful Crisis Response: Public Trust.” Building public trust is achieved by knowing what to tell the public and your peers. Knowing what to say largely involves the honest delivery of truth.

In acknowledging truths we must also understand the wide range of negative consequences that they can potentially produce – and we must prepare for the worst.  This is the second lesson Bill George provides for demonstrating leadership in a crisis. He states that in a crisis “no matter how bad things are, they will get worse.” (George, 2017) This mindset is integral to not only ensuring an effective solution or method of prevention but also in its execution.  When an injury occurs under our training environment it can be a natural response to avoid thinking of the severity of its consequences. This response may be an unconscious decision to avoid or lessen the pain associated with our role in the occurrence of an injury. As comforting as this strategy may seem, it is best to avoid this approach  for the purpose of developing more effective solutions toward the prevention of the issue. Thinking and preparing for the worst is a useful strategy which can help to eliminate or lessen threats to successful performance in the future. Consider, the process in which Strength Coach Mike Boyle took when removing  spine loaded squat movements as a resource for the lower body development of his athletes. Boyle states:

“The simple reason is that we found the back squat and front squat to be the primary causes of back pain in our athletic population. At any point, in any season, approximately 20% of our athletes would be dealing some kind of back pain that was either caused by squatting or exacerbated by squatting.”

It is safe to assume that Mike Boyle in developing this solution in response to episodes of back injury from his athletes, acknowledged that the injuries to his athletes were his responsibility and that his continued action could pose greater severity to the safety of his athletes. No matter how bad the injury sustained by his athletes were now, his continued approach could result in greater injury in the future.  The solution for Mike Boyle was to eschew squatting altogether in his program design for athletes.  It is a decision which in spite of criticism has help to limit the occurrence of back pain injuries in his facility. Mike’s honest assessment of his history with a particular exercise enabled him to  develop a policy that will likely reduce the incidents of back injuries within his training setting. Being honest with ourselves sometimes requires a change in our perspective and our principles.  This process can be challenging but can be alleviated through another important resource when dealing with crisis – the seeking of help. 

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The solution for Mike Boyle was to eschew squatting altogether in his program design for athletes.  It is a decision which in spite of criticism has help to limit the occurrence of back pain injuries in his facility.

During difficult moments it is important to lean on support and avoid isolation. Bill George states that during a crisis, many leaders attempt to  carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They go into isolation, and think they can solve the problem themselves. As a strength coach it’s important to communicate and reach out to former mentors, teachers and colleagues to help shape perspective and guidance. While a leader needs to acknowledge their responsibility and seek truth, he must also seek help from  his resources to devise solutions and to implement them.

In the end, injuries in the weight room are in many ways inexorable – they are destined to occur. However, our responses when they occur can be vital in limiting the frequency and/or severity of their occurrence. And that is an effort that requires us to take ownership, to be truthful, to treat situations with great severity and to seek the guidance and aid of others. In many ways the challenges and experiences of  athlete injury, can enable us to be a better at dealing with crisis, better in our duties as a strength coach and ultimately better at being a leader.

References

George, B. (2017). “Leadership in Crisis-How to be a Leader.” Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from guides.wsj.com/management/developing-a-leadership-style/how-to-lead-in-a-crisis. 

Hak, P. T., Hodzovic, E., Hickey, B. (2013). The nature and prevalence of injury during CrossFit training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1.

Jennings, C. (2017, January 17). Report: 3 Oregon football players hospitalized after ‘grueling’ workouts.Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/18491292/three-oregon-ducks-football-players-hospitalized-strength-conditioning-workouts

Siewe, J., Rudat, J., Röllinghoff, M., Schlegel, U. J., Eysel, P., & Michael, J. W. (2011). Injuries and Overuse Syndromes in Powerlifting. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(09), 703-711.

Smith, S. (2009, December 25). USC’s Stafon Johnson talks about injury. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/los-angeles/news/story?id=4769237

Raske, A., Norlin, R. (2002). Injury Incidence and Prevalence among Elite Weight and Power Lifters. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 30(2), 248-256.

23467262_10105572160467560_654197207509059858_oDan Liburd is in 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 his Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He has a Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also 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. For more articles please check out http://www.doyou-live.com 

“Living High, Training Low” and its implications for the NFL – A Proposal for Altitude Training Interventions in American Football” – Part 3

 

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Today, the New England Patriots play the Oakland Raiders. This game is important for many reasons. First, this is a matchup between two American Football Conference Power houses. As such, there are playoff implications for both teams. A win for the Patriots (with a record of 7 win and 2 losses) provides them a greater edge toward a top seed in the playoffs. On the contrary, a win for the (4 and 5) Oakland Raiders is needed to improve their chances for a playoff berth this season.

This game is also important because of the setting.  NFL athletes will be competing  in Mexico City. There are monumental growth and financial implications for the NFL as it reaches for a greater market pull in the country of Mexico.  As the NFL continues to take steps to grow the highly marketable and lucrative sport of American football to foreign audiences we will continue to see the exposure of NFL athletes to relatively new environments.

It is for this reason, however, that today’s game has a whole different meaning for Sports scientists, Coaches and NFL athletes or those interested in the boundaries of athletic performance. People from various parts of the the world will witness a matchup between elite football athletes in a high-altitude environment.  Mexico City’s elevation sits at 7,382 feet above sea level. That’s about 1.3 miles higher elevation than Foxboro, Massachusetts ( The home and training facility of the New England Patriots) and about 1.4 miles higher than Alameda, California ( The home and training facility of the Oakland, Raiders).  These changes in altitude environment have big league ramifications  for the potential competition performance of big name teams in America’s biggest league.

Elevation

Mexico City’s elevation sits at 7,382 feet above sea level. That’s about 1.3 miles higher elevation than Foxboro, Massachusetts and about 1.4 miles higher than Alameda, California. 

Sport competitions in Mexico City is of great interest to many who study sport science. Mexico City is recorded to be  2240 meters above sea level. This elevation is recognized by the scientific community as moderate altitude and has many implications to competitive athletes. In fact, the scientific discovery of potential physiological adaptations due to variations in altitude environments and their influence to competition and  training in elite athletes was popularized after the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Dr. McLean notes that results from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics suggested that competing at altitude made competition more difficult for certain athletes.  In fact, the differences in performance at altitude led many researchers to investigate the cause of these changes, as well as strategies to overcome the limitations associated with this environment (McLean, 2014).

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The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City would immediately lead to an explosion of research in the field of altitude training (also known as hypoxic training). In 1967, researchers first noted that Vo2 Max ( an indicator of endurance potential) reduced 1% for every 100 meter ascended above 1500 meters (Buskirk et al., 1967). In 1971, researchers from the University of California demonstrated that highly trained endurance athletes appear to be handicapped “ to an unusual extent” at altitude compared to lesser trained individuals (Dill & Adams, 1971). Years later scientist would discover various protocols that provide a boost to factors of performance as a result of the manipulation of altitude.  So what does this mean for the Patriots and Raiders competing today in Mexico City? One notable implication centers on aerobic potential. Scientific research suggests that both the athletes for the Patriots and Raiders will see a 7% drop in their endurance potential as a result of exposure to the moderate altitude environment of Mexico City (Buskirk et al., 1967).

Many will argue that the endurance demands of the largely anaerobic centered sport of Football is dissimilar to that of elite endurance activities. And thus, the litany of research findings on endurance limitations associated with altitude elevations such as that of Mexico City may be limited in application to the sport of American Football.  However these limitations, do not explain the potential impact of elevation to team and/or anaerobic sports and certainly do not limit the lengths at which teams and/or organizations will go to  prepare for competitions that take place at elevation.

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Practice Field at Colorado Springs, Colorado is approximately 1800 meters above sea level

Consider, the fact that the New England Patriots have been practicing all week at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado (which has an altitude elevation of  1,840 meters) in preparation for their matchup in Mexico City. Interestingly,  Mexico City is still four football fields higher in altitude or an elevation of 400 meters above Colorado Springs.

 

In a sport where, athletes only play for an average of 11 minutes a game for a maximum of 20 Games throughout the year, preparation is of the highest importance for ultimate success.   Thus, it should come as no surprise that teams are largely taking the setting of this matchup seriously.  In this blog post or  Part 3  of  “Living High and “Training Low” and implications for the NFL – A Proposal for Altitude Training Interventions in American Football”  we will learn of the various factors that can potentially impact play between NFL teams in Mexico City and learn of various strategies that can help athletes prepare for these conditions. This game can potentially serve as foundation for various altitude intervention techniques which can help improve performance potential of athletes in the NFL.  Our continued understanding of altitude training can provide the construct for a proposed resource that can enable athletes to benefit from elevation environments such as Mexico City. In the end, we may begin to view this Mexico city NFL matchup as much more than, a game with playoff repercussions or  a marketing and financial opportunity for the NFL but also as evidence for a resource to improve performance potential and opportunities for team sport athletes such as those in the NFL.

marshawn-us            As you sit down to watch this game between the Raiders and Patriots, it’s important to realize that this isn’t just any other NFL Football game.  You could center on any of the normal NFL story lines, like Marshawn Lynch’s beastly performance after a return from retirement or Tom Brady’s incredible evasiveness from factors that would warrant retirement. Instead, you should consider the competition environment of  these two dueling teams. Consider the fact that sprint athletes are estimated to be 1.7% faster at moderate elevation than they would otherwise have been if they ran at sea level (Ward-Smith, 1984). After the Mexico City Olympics researchers determined that sprinter times in the 100 meter, 200 meter and 400 meter events at the Mexico Olympics were approximately 1.7% lower than they would otherwise have been if the races had been run at sea level (Ward-Smith, 1984). This change in performance was attributed to the lower air resistance associated with higher elevation (Ward-Smith, 1984).  This lowered air resistance occurs from the fact that air density reduces by about 10% for every 1000 meter increase in altitude.

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Sprint athletes are estimated to be 1.7% faster at moderate elevation than they would otherwise have been if they ran at sea level (Ward-Smith, 1984).

The ascent in elevation to a location such as Mexico City produces relative changes in air density and resistance which results in various changes to both physical performance and player behavior such as sprint movement characteristics and velocity (Girard et al., 2013). It should be noted however, that this potential improvement in sprint performance potential can be offset by the increased metabolic challenges associated with arterial oxygen availability at altitude elevation. The ability for NFL  players to repeat high sprint speeds, common to the sport, is likely to be diminished  by the reduction in arterial oxygen saturation (oxygen consumption) associated with altitude elevation. This limitation in exercise performance can also rise as intensity increases (Clark et al., 2007).  In other words, the thin air common to the elevation of Mexico City is likely to provide lower air resistance allowing players to potentially reach higher speeds. However the reduced oxygen consumption associated with the thin air will likely limit speed and performance potential as a result of  the elevation-causing deficiencies to cardiorespiratory system and muscle function.

“The thin air common to the elevation of Mexico City is likely to provide lower air resistance allowing players to potentially reach higher speeds.”

Nonetheless,  If we play close attention to the speed analysis of this NFL game measured by zebra sports speed data we may notice higher absolute speeds within this match up in Mexico city. Pay close attention to the reported speeds of New England players (Jonathan Jones, Brandon Cooks, Matthew Slater, and Phillip Dorsett)  and Oakland Players (Jalen Richard, TJ Carrie, Amari Cooper, Cordarelle Patterson), who in addition to their roles on offense or defense also have high velocity roles on special teams such as punt and kick off where players are more likely to reach top speeds for a relatively longer duration in open space.

In addition to the speed of players, the altitude of Mexico City is likely to affect the flight time and characteristics of the football.  Researchers note that the decrease in air density associated with increasing altitude also results in changes in the drag and lift forces acting on flying objects such as a football (Girard et al, 2013). In other words, the thin air associated with the altitude elevation of Mexico City is likely to result in increased flight time of the football.  Assuming the footballs are properly inflated, pay close attention to it’s flight characteristics during punts, kickoffs and even deep downfield throws.  These characteristics may even play into the potential strategical use of kickers. Elevation changes and the increased flight potential of the football may result in Oakland Raiders Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio or New England Patriots Kicker Stephen Gostkowski hitting far longer kicks than they are normally accustomed to. The same can be said for punters.

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Marquette King who is on par to break an NFL Punting record.  King is is currently averaging 52.6 yards per punt with a net average of 47.5 yards per punt.  Elevation of Mexico City should help him in this pursuit.

As such, we should keep an eye out for Patriots Punter Ryan Allen and/or Raiders Punter Marquette King who is on par to break an NFL Punting record.  King is is currently averaging 52.6 yards per punt with a net average of 47.5 yards per punt.  Should he maintain this pace for the rest of the season, it will be the greatest season both in gross punt average and net average in NFL history (Damiean, 2017).

With all these events taking place also keep in mind of the individual variations of responses to altitude elevation exposure in athletes. Athletes have reported a wide range of negative responses when acutely exposed to moderate altitude elevations. These responses include higher physiological stress as well as negative impacts to sport specific decision making and perception of well-being (Girard et al., 2013). In addition, athletes have also reported exacerbated fatigue levels as a result of moderate altitude exposure (Bartholomew et al, 1999).

These potential responses to altitude elevation begs the question. What is the best way to prepare for a NFL game in Mexico City? After all, there’s a lot at stake for just 11 minutes of football play – especially if your team is looking to improve or searching for a spot in the playoffs.  Authors largely agree that suitable strategies to maximize physiological acclimatization should last 3–7 days for low altitude environments (500–2000 m), 1–2 weeks, for moderate altitude (2000–3000 m) and at least 2 weeks if possible for high altitude (>3000 m) (Girard et al., 2013). Thus, It seems that the New England Patriots are justified for spending 8 Days in elevation in preparation for their Mexico City Match up against the Oakland Raiders.

In fact, this approach to performance is not only a great way to improve preparation for competition at altitude but can result in a new and effective means of eliciting physiological benefits associated with aerobic performance before and/or during an NFL in season. This past training camp I investigated training camps across the NFL looking for teams that employed the use of altitude training as a method of preparation for their In season competition. In particular, I looked for sea level dwelling teams that used Training Camp locations situated at moderate altitude for the purposes of eliciting a physiological performance benefit for their athletes.  I was surprised to find that there were no teams that used training camp as a means of manipulation of altitude for potential physiological benefit. This discovery did not stop me from wondering about the potential for such a resource in the NFL. Similar to the limited manner in which the Patriots used the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Teams from all over the NFL could provide their athletes a beneficial physiological adaptation that results from living at high altitude by spending up to four weeks at a location of moderate altitude.  Researchers largely agree that three to four weeks is the minimum amount of time to elicit the red blood cell changes that occur in response to “living high” or at altitudes greater than 2000 meters above sea level.  However as we learned in “Living High and “Training Low” and implications for the NFL – A Proposal for Altitude Training Interventions in American Football” – Part 2  duration at moderate altitude is just one part of the equation for athletes looking to gain an edge in performance. The ability to train low or at sea level is also of great importance.

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I was surprised to find that there were no teams that used training camp as a means of manipulation of altitude for potential physiological benefit. While Denver Colorado provides their athletes the opportunity to train at an altitude of 1609 meters or low altitude there is no manipulation of altitude to allow for athletes to train at sea level.  In addition, research has suggested that an elevation of 2000 meters is needed to elicit the blood response associated with improve aerobic performance.

Thus, a location within the US that enables a team to logistically live high  or to hold various football operations such as meetings, study, dining  along with room and board at moderate elevation (2000 to 3000 meters) with easy and relative quick transport to practice and training facilities at sea level (0 – 1000 meters) would produce the most favorable conditions for eliciting the  hematological physiological adaptations  that allows endurance athletes to gain a performance edge in endurance sports as well as the non – hematological adaptations that can help boost performances in repeat sprint sports.

The goal of providing both forms of altitude intervention however is no easy task. It would require transportation that could quickly transport a large group of athletes a distance of 1.4 miles in elevation relatively quickly, safely, daily and consistently throughout the course of a 4-week camp. The creation of such a resource represents the next step for team sports looking to gain an edge in performance in a natural manner.  However, such an approach can also be attained through the formation of a normoxic normobaric practice chamber at moderate altitude.

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Potential Design for a Normoxic Normobaric Chamber at Moderate Altititude as a method of Facilitating “Live High, Train Low” for Teams at Altitude.

Envision a training camp practice bubble outfitted with technology to provide the arterial oxygen level and barometric pressure of a sea level environment.  Such a technological resource would enable teams living at altitude to gain the benefit of  “Living High and Training Low” resulting in the physiological adaptation while living at high altitude and protecting their ability to reach their maximum potential levels of cardiovascular intensity in a sea level environment.

In preparation for this Mexico City competition the Patriots organization took a trip out to Boulder Colorado. This highly successful organization is often known for working to the ultimate the boundaries in effort to win. Evidently, they found it useful to take a trip out to an environment that is recognize as a higher level of altitude than Foxboro Massachusetts. While there is limited evidence that a week (at least three weeks are needed for physiological benefit) spent in higher altitude conditions can elicit the needed adaptations for high altitude play, there are other advantages to surrounding oneself to a competition environment prior to competition. As mentioned earlier, factors such as flight time on ball, speed changes the farther up you travel up altitude. Getting accustomed to these factors can provide a benefit to teams prior to being exposed to these conditions.

In addition, while I respect the monotonous routine that comes with the NFL In season schedule, I also have a respect for the power of Team travel trips. Team trips away from monotony can sometimes serve as a “needed break  and if the conditions are right (cold weather teams traveling to warm locations) can provide both staff members and players a sense of relief from the daily doldrums of a season. More importantly, these trips can help to provide a sense of bond that individuals can sometime evade during a season.  It is for these reasons, that I believe an altitude training camp can also be used for teams during the in season for an extensive period for the objective of improving both physical and mental performance.

Today’s game in Mexico City is one which provides a break from the common settings of American football. It also represents a departure from common methods of preparation for athlete performance.  As you watch today’s game take interest in the challenges as well as the potential benefits that the settings of this matchup can elicit. Take interest in creating a beneficial resource for team sports athletes in the form of an Altitude Training Camp.

 

References:

Buskirk, E., Kollias J., Akers, R., Prokop, E., and Reategui, E. (1967) Maximal performance at altitude and on return from altitude in conditioned runners. Journal of Applied Physiology. 23: 259-266.

Clark, S.A., Bourdon, P.C., Schmidt, W., Singh, B., Cable, G., Onus, K.J., Woolford, S.M., Stanef, T., Gore, C.J., and Aughey, R.J. (2007). The effect of acute simulated moderate altitude on power, performance and pacing strategies in well-trained cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 102: 45-55.

Dill, B., Adams, W. C. (1971). Maximal oxygen uptake at sea level and at 3,090-m altitude in high school champion runners. Journal of Applied Physiology. 30(6), 854-859.

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.

Hamlin M.J., Hinckson, R.A., Wood, M.R., Hopkins, W.G. (2008). Simulated rugby performance at 1550m altitude following adaptation to intermittent normobaric hypoxia. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 11, 593–99.

Damien, Levi. “Marquette King on pace to break NFL record that has stood for 77 years.” Silver And Black Pride.https://www.silverandblackpride.com/2017/10/6/16439606/raiders-punter-marquette-king-on-pace-to-break-nfl-record-that-has-stood-for-77-years.

Horzera, S., Fuchsa, C., Gastingera, R., et al. (2010). Simulation of spinning soccer ball trajectories influenced by altitude. Procedia Engineering ;2:2461–6.

Kawahara, M. (2017). Raiders, Patriots take different approaches to preparing for Mexico City altitude. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from http://www.sfgate.com/raiders/article/Raiders-Patriots-take-different-approaches-to-12364306.php

Levine, B.D., Stray-Gundersen, J., Mehta, R.D. (2008). Effect of altitude on football performance. Scandinavian Journal of  Medical Science in Sports;18:76–84.

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

Ward-Smith, A. (1984). Air resistance and its influence on the biomechanics and energetics of sprinting at sea level and at altitude. Journal of Biomechanics17(5), 339-347.

Bartholomew, C. J., Jensen, W., Petros, T. V., Ferraro, F. R., Fire, K. M., Biberdorf, D., . . . Blumkin, D. (1999). The Effect of Moderate Levels of Simulated Altitude on Sustained Cognitive Performance. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 9(4), 351-359.

23467262_10105572160467560_654197207509059858_o.jpgDan 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 his Bachelor degree in Exercise Science from Boston University. He has a Master of Science degree from Canisius College in Health and Human Performance and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance at Concordia University Chicago. Liburd has worked with several professional teams such as the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liburd has also 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. For more articles please check out http://www.doyou-live.com 

 

Top 10 Notable Points from this Article:

  • There are potential training tools in the form of Altitude Training which can help to elicit positive adaptations for Team Sport Athletes.

    The Big Idea: A normoxic normobaric practice chamber at moderate altitude can provide football athletes the training environment to train “low” or at sea level (during training or practice) while “living high” at a moderate altitude environment. 

  • Mexico City’s elevation of  2240 meters above sea level is considered to be Moderate Altitude:

    Mexico City’s elevation sits at 7,382 feet above sea level. That’s about 1.3 miles higher elevation than Foxboro, Massachusetts and about 1.4 miles higher than Alameda, California.

  • Altitude Elevations results in a decrease in your VO2 max

    Researchers note that VO2 Max ( an indicator of endurance potential) reduces 1% for every 100 meter ascended above 1500 meters (Buskirk et al., 1967)

    Patriots and Raiders will see an estimated 7% drop in their endurance potential as a result of exposure to the 2000 meter above sea level or moderate altitude environment of Mexico City (Buskirk et al., 1967).

  • The greater aerobic shape you’re in the more altitude effects you.

    highly trained endurance athletes appear to be handicapped “ to an unusual extent” at altitude compared to lesser trained individuals (Dill & Adams, 1971). 

  • Notable steps were taken by Patriots in preparation – But is it enough to make a difference?

    Interestingly,  Mexico City is still four football fields higher in altitude or an elevation of 400 meters above Colorado Springs. Are adaptations formed below 2000 meter enough to produce a acclimatization for elevations above 2000 meters.  

  • Athletes are absolutely faster at moderate elevation

    Sprint athletes are estimated to be 1.7% faster at moderate elevation than they would otherwise have been if they ran at sea level (Ward-Smith, 1984).

  • Air Density Changes as we increase in Altitude

    Change in Sprint performance is attributed to the lower air resistance associated with higher elevation(Ward-Smith, 1984).  This lowered air resistance occurs from the fact that air density reduces by about 10% for every 1000 meter increase in altitude.

  • Thinner Air of Mexico will likely reduce sprint times

    The reduced oxygen consumption associated with the thin air will likely limit speed and performance potential as a result of  the elevation-causing deficiencies to cardiorespiratory system and muscle function (Girard et al, 2013).

  • Expect to see higher flight times

    Altitude of Mexico City is likely to affect the flight time and characteristics of the football.  Researchers note that the decrease in air density associated with increasing altitude also results in changes in the drag and lift forces acting on flying objects such as a football (Girard et al, 2013)

  • Moderate Altitude has been shown to negatively affect Athletes

    Athletes have reported a wide range of negative responses when acutely exposed to moderate altitude elevations. These responses include higher physiological stress as well as negative impacts to sport specific decision making and perception of well-being (Girard et al, 2013).  

 

5 Key Performance Tips and Strategies learned from Preparing for Ironman

22769632_10105524512284900_2559039511289659906_o      In the process of preparing for my sixth Ironman competition, I have increased my knowledge, refined my training techniques, and sharpened my perspectives on the training necessary to best prepare for an Ironman competition. Training for this super endurance race has enabled me to improve my understanding in various areas of sports science, methods of sports training and ultimately myself. As I approach Ironman Florida I am certain that the advancement in performance strategies, training techniques, and nutrition will allow me to best previous times in all three disciplines of the 140.6 mile endurance competition. More importantly, undertaking this monumental task has allowed me to adopt and reaffirm effective strategies that can potentially help improve the health and sports performance of my clients and athletes.

14199666_10104207690007300_8668785579854542734_n     Looking back, the most notable changes in this stint of Ironman training preparations has been a greater focus on training specificity, the adoption of new appraisal methods for performance and training compartmentalization to overcome the stressors common to a voluminous and technical event. Despite these changes, the most sizable part of this training preparation comes in the form of nutrition periodization, planning, and meal customization.  These three nutritional concepts have enabled me to accommodate greater levels of performance stress, reach higher levels of performance, and improved my body composition to elite level standards.

Strategies such as nutrition periodization combined with various exercise methods have led to training adaptations which have reaffirmed several key principles regarding nutrition and training. In this blog post, I will share these training principles and strategies and provide scientific evidence that supports its use. Adopting these key exercise, nutrition and training steps can significantly improve your performance potential and help you crush your next competition challenge.

22769662_10105524511576320_1765078582855897700_oAfter evaluating past Ironman performances one of the areas I focused on during this training preparation centered on training specificity. Past experience forced me to re-evaluate the specificity of my strategy and technique during my practice sessions. Experience has taught me that success for a given goal is incumbent on the specificity of training sessions for that particular goal. As such, I made sure to fine-tune training factors such as speed, intensity, and equipment to center closely on competition characteristics and demand. Researchers regard the principle of specificity approach as an important element of exercise physiology. This principle states that training responses/adaptations are tightly coupled to the mode, frequency and duration of exercise performed (Hawley, 2002). Furthermore, the principle of specificity predicts that the closer the training routine is to the requirements of the desired outcome (i.e. a specific exercise task or performance criteria), the better the outcome will be.

Tip 1: Train Specific to your Training Goal (Volume, Pace, Intensity)

Training specificity is integral to success within any sport competition, test or challenge. The more specific you are in preparing for the various challenges in a competition the greater the likelihood for success. While this strategy, may seem simple and obvious we can sometimes lose sight of or forget this basic premise during the training process.

Training specificity is demonstrated through your ability to:

  • Train at competition speeds and intensity.
  • Train for competition volume.
  • Train specifically for the particular stressors or unique characteristics of an environment.
  • Train specifically with the exact type of equipment for a given competition.

IMG_1027     If training specificity is part of your training program and performed correctly, competition days should be relatively routine and contain minimal surprises. Competition is nothing more than a reflection of your rehearsals produced during your practice. As you reach your competition resist the urge to deviate from the seemingly mundane tasks of practice.  One of the largest mistakes one can make during competition is to try something new. This can occur when individuals make changes to equipment, nutrition intake, or training strategy leading up to or during competition. Ultimately, training specificity is practicing your competition before your competition. It is the ultimate way to succeed before you succeed.

Training Specificity is the ultimate way to succeed before your succeed.

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Examples of strategies and Practical Applications for the “Training Specificity” Tip (based from training experience).

  1. Train in your competition gear with your competition equipment – The focus here is to eliminate as many surprises as possible and to be specific to the environment for which you train at. This mean getting our the fresh new gear you plan to wear the day of your event and practicing with it.
  2. Train at competition pace and volume – While this statement may seem a bit hackneyed it’s one that many choose to dismiss during their days of preparation. The consequences of competing at an unfamiliar pace or volume can be disastrous to performance and lead to potential injury.
  3. Train specifically to the environment of your competition – Mimicking training environments can be a challenging and sometimes impossible endeavor but it is a strategy that is sure to improve your chances of success come day of competition.

Tip 2: Compartmentalization of Training

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There are of course some limitations to training specifically for a lengthy, taxing and extensive competition like Ironman. Additionally, competition volume and intensities over a period of time can result in greater risk for injury and reduced performance. Compartmentalization or implementing multiple focused sessions with varied objectives and relatively shorter durations can help to alleviate the stress associated with competition training. They also provide the opportunity to break down various parts of competition training for appraisal.

 This strategy has a number of benefits.IMG_0778

  • It allows athletes to understand various areas of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Multiple sessions implemented throughout the day also means frequent rest and recovery periods which can enable an athlete to reach greater levels of intensity for meaningful competition training while lowering risk of injuries related to training volume.

In addition, varying the training stress and/or goals can enable athletes to focus on developing a specific discipline, or applying stress to a specific region while providing rest and recovery to another utilized from a previous training session. This can be achieved through changing training factors such as exercise modalities, training intensities, and training technique.  As you vary your objectives and focus on key factors or parts of competition during training it’s important to trust the process and meet the specific goals of a given training session.

Multiple, relatively short and varied sessions allow for improved efficiency, lower incidence of injury, and greater potential for improved performance.

Tip 3: Test, Assess, to Confirm and Trust the Process.

IMG_0832     As you compartmentalize training sessions and/or focus on the specifics of your competitive event it is always important to evaluate your overall progress. You shouldn’t “trust the process” without a reappraisal method. Thus, good training requires you to focus on establishing consistent, objective means of testing. Each phase, week or training cycle should focus on establishing a test day to determine if your process can indeed be trusted. This reappraisal method is important because it can also give you both insight for developing avenues or new objectives for various measures and a platform on how to create an effective measure for improvement.

Examples of Strategies and Practical Applications for the “Test & Assess” Tip (based from training experience)

  • Listed below are several assessments which helped me to to trust the training process. Consider adding the following assessments to your training routine
  1. Bi – weekly Body Composition Assessments
  2. Bi – weekly Speed/Pace Tests –
  3. Weekly Weigh – ins
  4. Weekly Nutrition dietary Assessments

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Every week or two weeks I performed assessments on factors important to my performance potential such as body composition and speed. These assessments helped me to determine if needed changes were necessary in my training program. Each area of assessment evaluated a specific objective in mind; whether it was to focus on improving or maintaining a certain amount of lean mass or decreasing completion time for a certain activity. Ultimately, by consistently measuring these factors I was able to build performance potential and confidence towards my goal.

Tip 4: Understand that Nutrition & Exercise are inseparable when it comes to Training

The most influential strategy towards improved performance potential for me resulted from the combination of exercise and nutrition. Preparation for this event reminded me of the symbiotic relationship between exercise and nutrition. When designing and/or implementing training programs these two factors of training should not be viewed as separate from one another. On the contrary, exercise and nutrition must be equally acknowledged in order to maximize training adaptations and potential. Changes to performance potential and body composition require contributions from both nutrition and exercise equally. As evidence for this statement consider the fact that nutrition responses can dramatically change in the presence or response to exercise and exercise response can dramatically change in the presence or response to various nutrition interventions. Furthermore, changes in any of these factors can greatly impact training status. Thus, it’s necessary to consider both nutrition and exercise equally when discussing training. As evidence for this relationship consider the fact that when a particular energy system is used by an individual during exercise, factors such as type and duration of exercise in concert with the consumption of certain macronutrients results in a cascade of chemical processes that tells the body how to respond. The responses that result from exercise and nutrition can influence training, body composition and ultimately performance potential.

Take for instance the responses from exercise, protein and resistance training in muscle development. Protein metabolism and synthesis depend on the demands of muscle mass and muscular activity as well as one’s ability to digest and absorb protein (Beradi, 2012). Additionally, in a 2017 study, researchers at the University of Toronto demonstrated that whey protein supplementation enhances whole body anabolism or growth, and may improve acute recovery of exercise performance after a strenuous bout of resistance exercise. These researchers demonstrated that a form of nutrition intervention combined with exercise can support potentially greater training adaptations through an enhancement of whole body net protein balance. This combination of exercise and nutrition can result in greater training quality and volume due to a more rapid recovery of exercise performance (West, Sawan, Mazzulla, Williamson & Moore, 2017).

As part of my training preparation, I was particularly mindful of protein intake in efforts to maintain a positive balance of protein intake in order to “protect” lean mass and to ensure the process of muscle growth and repair.  This nutrition intervention in response to exercise is a prime example of how we must regard exercise and nutrition within the same scope. In order to achieve favorable training responses, these factors are both necessary and equally important components.

This effect can also be seen in the training responses when exercise is combined with carbohydrate manipulation.  Carbohydrate loading or muscle glycogen “super compensation” for improved performance is another example where the combination of exercise and nutrition results in a training adaptation designed to improve performance. This particular strategy was first discovered by Scandinavian researchers in the 1960’s (Hackney, 2017). Super compensation involves a loading process over the course of 6 days. The process begins with a glycogen or carbohydrate depleting exercise followed by 3 days of a low carbohydrate diet and then 3 days of a high carbohydrate diet. The result of performing this procedure has been shown to substantially increase muscle glycogen levels during competition followed by producing a positive ergogenic effect on exercise performance in sporting events lasting longer than 90 minutes in duration (Hackney, 2017).  This training strategy requires the interaction of nutrition and exercise in order to produce a positive performance outcome. Training is required to deplete glycogen levels and the manipulation of carbohydrates is needed to rebuild carbohydrate stores for greater use during competition.

Nutrition and exercise can elicit a positive training response even during conditions when nutrition intake is purposely limited or eliminated under certain exercise conditions. Consider the impact of fasted cardio to fat and carbohydrate utilization. Researchers have demonstrated that chronic training in a fasted state may improve the body’s ability to use fats as a fuel source while also helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. In addition, the action of performing exercise in a fasted state may help to improve muscle glycogen post training. Ultimately, the combination of exercise and nutritional interventions results in the ability to improve the performance potential through improved fuel needs and/or improving factors related to body composition (Watson, 2016)

In highlighting the three aforementioned exercise and nutrition scenarios utilizing three different macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) I hope to demonstrate the strong relationship between nutrition interventions, exercise and the potentially adaptive response on training for improved body composition and performance potential.

Examples of Strategies and Practical Applications for the “Nutrition + Exercise” Tip (based from training experience)

  1. Fasted Cardio – During the final month of training as my volume of exercise begins to decrease, I begin to incorporate fasted cardio sessions as well as low carbohydrate/ high fat meals to help improve body composition, improve fat utilization during moderate intense exercise and to set the stage for glycogen super compensation.
  2. Glycogen Super-compensation – A week prior to competition my days are filled with relatively short intense pace sessions with a relatively low Carb/high fat diet during the first three days and a steady incorporation of high carb meals 3 days priors to competition.
  3. Protein Recovery Shakes paired with Training Sessions – Each of my training sessions is followed by the consumption of a complete protein. This is perhaps the easiest training intervention to incorporate and can potentially be the most effective training strategy towards improving body composition, decreasing negative factors associated with stress and enhancing athletic potential.

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 Tip 5: Nutrition Planning, Periodization and Customization

If one can except that nutrition and exercise are inseparable concepts then the idea of nutrition planning, periodization and customization become easier to grasp. Nutrition planning, periodization, and customization simply translate to having a training plan, training periodization, and training customization. As athletes approach competition dates various changes are made to both training and nutritional factors to help facilitate improvement in both body composition and performance potential. Nutrition periodization or simply “periodization” is a strategic construction of periods or phases with various objectives regarding both exercise and nutrition. These objectives can center on phases designed to improve strength, mass or focus on periods of relatively high-intensity sessions or low-intensity sessions. Planning, periodizing and customization requires athletes to both understand the demands of the exercise session and the appropriate macronutrients for a particular training response. Regardless, the success of these three factors all rest on the following nutrition factors.

  1. Athletes must have the energy to train optimally
  2. Athletes should focus on nutrient-rich foods  
  3. Provide a resource for recovery from stressful activity
  4. Help to reach or maintain body composition weight goals

For more on meal planning and nutrition periodization please visit the following website . http://www.dairyspot.com/health-wellness/refuel-with-chocolate-milk/sports-nutrition/ 

or check out the video below:

The strategies provided in this post are the result of repeated attempts at improving performance. They are the avenues for which I have selected to improve in athletic potential, body composition and to reach the always fleeting platform of success. As I undertake this next task I am confident they will allow me to surpass previous levels of performance and will provide you with direction and tools to surpass your next challenge.

References:

Berardi, J. M. (2012). Precision nutrition. Toronto: Precision Nutrition, Inc.

Hackney, AC. Human performance enhancement in sports and exercise: nutritional factors – carbohydrate and luids. Revista Universitaria de la Educación Física y el Deporte. 1(1): 27-31 (2008).

Hawley, J. A. (2008). Specificity of training adaptation: time for a rethink? The Journal of Physiology586(Pt 1), 1–2.

Watson, R. R., & Meester, F. D. (2016). Handbook of lipids in human function: fatty acids. Amsterdam: Elsevier/AOCS Press/Academic Press.

West, D., Sawan, S. A., Mazzulla, M., Williamson, E., & Moore, D. (2017). Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Nutrients, 9(7), 735. 

DLLDan Liburd is in 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. For more articles please checkout http://www.doyou-live.com

Understanding Causes, Strategies for prevention and Treatment of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps

   We are past the training camp months now and weeks into our respective football seasons. Teams have surmounted a number of grueling practices and physically taxing competitive games to declare themselves in “football shape.” At this point of the football season, teams are beginning to see cooler temperatures as Fall begins to make its presence known. By now, trainers, coaches, and players are fully aware and familiar with the rising intensities associated with football competitions along with the increasing rates of injury and also the consistent presence of athletes number one foes: exercise associated muscle cramps. In my years in the NFL I have witnessed the incredibly debilitating effect in which this seemingly innocuous physiological phenomenon can inflict to some of the most invulnerable football stars. It is a consistent challenge for training staffs and coaches across the nation who are not only concerned for both the health and well-being of their athletes but also their performance potential.

England v Italy: Group D - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
Giorgio Chiellini (L) and Claudio Marchisio of Italy help Raheem Sterling of England  during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between England and Italy at Arena Amazonia on June 14, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil. (Photo by Michael Regan – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Exercise associated muscle cramps (EAMC) can seize athletes during potentially vital moments such as the final quarter or period to end a game. They can limit the contributions of key players to their own performance and a team’s overall success. Exercise associated muscle cramps can also cause injury. Thus, it should be no surprise that muscle phenomenon can be costly for teams, coaches, training staffs and players. Yet with the rise of science, technology, and financial spending on the development and healthcare of our athletes, EAMC continues to thrive in sports. Even more perplexing is the fact that the cause, prevention and treatment of EAMC remains poorly understood, controversial and mired in conventional methods of practice. In other words, the understanding and methods of treatment for one of athlete’s and teams’ most challenging foes is limited, varied and potentially ineffective.    

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Why you should care to know about recent developments associated with EAMC

   

As we continue to delve deep into our respective occupations associated with athletic performance it is always important to reevaluate our approach to our work and the many challenges we face in caring for and developing our athletes. This task is even more important in the face of scientific growth. When we acknowledge and/or discuss developments in science, we can change the pillars of our foundation or reaffirm them. The ultimate result, however, is always, a greater platform for allowing our athletes and teams to succeed under great care. With respect to recent developments in science in addition to the care and success of our team and athletes I have centered on investigating the cause and potential strategies for the prevention and treatment of EAMC. This investigation provides us the opportunity to dispel previous established and/or ineffective frames of thought, enables us to step away from conventional practices and helps unify our approach to improving athletic care and performance.

EAMC Affects Individuals Across Various Levels and Age

   While exercise associated muscle cramps is a relatively common physiological phenomenon, it is also multifaceted and complex in nature. EAMC is understood as a painful, spasmodic, and involuntary contraction of skeletal muscle that occurs during or immediately after exercise (Nelson & Churilla, 2016). These muscle cramps can occur in healthy individuals who have no underlying metabolic, neurological, or endocrine pathology (Nelson & Churilla, 2016).

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It is a muscular phenomenon which affects athletes across various levels, ages and sports as well as those who engage in physical labor and recreational activity. EAMC is among the most common conditions that require medical intervention, either during or immediately upon completion of athletic events (Nelson & Churilla, 2016). Investigators of this condition report that 95% of physical education students have had some form of spontaneous muscle cramps in their lifetimes with 26% experiencing cramps after exercise (Miller, Stone, Huxel & Edwards, 2010).

     As further evidence for the wide ranging impact of this common affliction, EAMC was reported by investigators to affect more than half of triathletes in a variety of training conditions in a 1990 study (Miller, Stone, Huxel, & Edwards, 2010). While investigators continue to acknowledge the pervasiveness of EAMC within sport and recreational activity the cause for it’s occurrence remains unknown and controversial (Miller, Stone, Huxel, & Edwards, 2010). As a result, the incidence of EAMC continues to be a challenge for athletes, coaches, training and medical staffs across the nation who have had experience with this potentially debilitating condition

Latest Theories on the Cause of EAMC

Recent observations in the field of neuromuscular function is beginning to provide new information as to the potential cause of this phenomenon. Along with this developing insight are new strategies, tools and forms of treatment that can be used to help relieve, alleviate and potentially prevent EAMC from occurring in physically active individuals. As we continue to address the cause and treatment of EAMC from a wide range of perspectives we may begin to understand unknown factors important to physiological function and its development. This knowledge can potentially decrease EAMC occurrence in sports.

 The “Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance Theory” as cause of EAMC

It is useful to understand past methodology in treatment and prevention of EAMC in order to develop a greater understanding of etiology and to produce more effective models of treatment. EAMC is currently understood as a complex physiological activity which can be related to a multitude of factors that includes dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and factors related to neuromuscular dysfunction and or fatigue. However, previous investigators and sport medicine practitioners have attributed EAMC solely to factors related to hydration and electrolyte imbalance.

The “dehydration–electrolyte imbalance” theory was a popular and commonly understood theory for the cause of EAMC among health care professionals (Miller, Stone, Huxel, & Edwards, 2010). This theory explains that during physical activity the extracellular fluid compartment outside the cell becomes increasingly contracted due to sweating which leads to a loss of interstitial volume. This process when combined with excessive sweating can lead to deficits in micronutrients such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, and potassium (Miller, Stone, Huxel, & Edwards, 2010). The end result is a mechanical deformation of nerve endings and an increase in the surrounding ionic and neurotransmitter concentrations which leads to hyperexcitable motor nerve terminals, spontaneous discharge and the potential occurrence of EAMC (Miller, Stone, Huxel, & Edwards, 2010). In other words, sweating and corresponding loss of micronutrients and electrolytes cause physical and functional havoc to our muscular system.

Massimo+Maccarone+ACF+Fiorentina+v+UC+Sampdoria+D8Uh6XF5jVbl   Despite the popularity of this theory amongst practitioners, scientific evidence for its relationship to the cause of EAMC is lacking. Dr. Nicole Nelson states in a 2016 review that hydration status and electrolyte concentrations seem unrelated to the cause of EAMC as it is often relieved by stretching of the affected muscles or by activation of the Golgi tendon organs (Nelson & Churilla, 2016). In her review, she also adds that indicators of dehydration status such as plasma volume in runners with EAMC were not significantly different from those of runners without EAMC (Nelson & Churilla, 2016). Growing research has produced a number of limitations to the dehydration electrolyte imbalance theory. 

   

For instance, it is proposed that if EAMC were due to dehydration, the simple cure would be fluid replacement. This belief lies in contrary to observations from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In this study subjects ingested carbohydrate-electrolyte fluids at a rate that matched sweat loss. However, results showed that EAMC still occurred in 69% of athletes despite the carbohydrate and electrolyte intervention (Jung, Bishop, Al-Nawwas & Dale, 2005).

The “Altered Neuromuscular Theory”  as cause for the occurrence of EAMC

   

While EAMC may appear in the presence of significant electrolyte and/or fluid losses during exercise there are a number of variables which can impact exercise associated muscle cramps. These factors include the accumulation of metabolites, intensity of exercise, and various neuromuscular mechanisms related to fatigue. Doctor Martin Schwellnus is widely known for popularizing the “Altered Neuromuscular Control Theory” which suggests that EAMC results from altered reflex control mechanisms in response to neuromuscular fatigue. Specifically, this theory explains that muscle overload and fatigue create an imbalance of the excitatory drive from muscle spindles and the inhibitory drive from the Golgi tendon organ. This imbalance results in an increase in excitatory drive to the alpha motor neuron, which ultimately produces a localized cramp (Nelson & Churilla, 2016). In other words, intense activity and fatigue disrupt the communication that takes place within our neuromuscular system.

Observational investigations and experimental studies centered on cause and treatment of EAMC have continued to support the “Altered Neuromuscular Theory.” Evidence for this theory is supported by the finding that athletes with a history of EAMC are more likely to cramp during or shortly after exercise than those who had no history of EAMC (Schwellnus, Drew & Collins, 2011). Furthermore, investigators also report that triathletes who experienced EAMC while participating in an Ironman event, or in the 6 hours after the race, had a significantly higher reported history of EAMC compared with the triathletes who did not cramp (Nelson & Churilla, 2016). These observations are part of a number of scientific findings which suggest that a history of EAMC is a strong predictor for its manifestation in certain individuals. Growing research lends greater support to neuromuscular dysfunction as a potential cause relative to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. In addition, methods of managing EAMC have recently begun to center more closely on factors related to neuromuscular function and fatigue and produced positive results in support for the Altered Neuromuscular Theory.

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Furthermore, Dr Karen Schwabe et al. reported in a 2014 study that triathletes categorized as cramp-prone had faster overall finishing times compared with those categorized as non-crampers (Schwabe, Schwellnus, Derman, 2014). The finding reflected in this study suggested a role of muscle fatigue during the end of triathlons as cause for the occurrence of EAMC.

As research continues to reveal various methods for managing and treating EAMC we also develop a greater perspective to our understanding of neuromuscular function during exercise as well as factors central to fatigue. In the next post we will investigate various strategies that can be useful for both the treatment and prevention of exercise associated muscle cramps.

Top Three Things you should know about Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps

Scientific Evidence Is limited in support for the Dehydration and Electrolyte imbalance Theory and Exercise Associated muscle Cramps. 

     Exercise associated muscle cramps is understood as a complex physiological activity which can be cause and or related to a multitude of factors that includes but is not limited to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. In others words, if your treatment and prevention protocol for exercise associated muscle cramps relies solely on hydration and electrolyte intake you may be missing the target.   Don’t just take my word for it. Dr. Martin P Schwellnus one of the foremost experts on muscle cramps notes that scientific evidence for the dehydration and electrolyte depletion as a cause for muscle cramps is limited (Schwellnus, 2009). More importantly, the physiological mechanisms behind dehydration and electrolyte depletion does not offer scientific explanation for the treatment and/or management of exercise associated muscle cramps.

Neuromuscular function is the foundation for the leading theory on the cause of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps

     “Altered neuromuscular control” or factors associated with muscle fatigue is the leading theory behind the mechanisms which cause exercise associated muscle cramps (Schwellnus, 2009).  Researchers note that muscles that cross two joints (with greater potential for compensation and fatigue) during running activity such as the calves and hamstrings are at greater risk for muscle cramps.

EAMC are likely to occur in certain athletes more than others.

      Evidence for this theory is supported by the finding that athletes with a history of EAMC were more likely to cramp during or shortly after exercise than those who had no history of EAMC (Schwellnus, Drew & Collins, 2011). Furthermore, investigators also report that triathletes who experienced EAMC while participating in an Ironman event, or in the 6 hours after the race, had a significantly higher reported history of EAMC compared with the triathletes who did not cramp (Nelson & Churilla, 2016).

 

References:

Jung, A.P., Bishop, P.A., Al-Nawwas, A., Dale, R.B. (2005). Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of Exercise-Associated  Muscle Cramps, Journal of Athletic Training.40(2), 71–75

Miller, K. C., Stone, M. S., Huxel, K. C., & Edwards, J. E. (2010). Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention. Journal of Sports Health, 2(4), 279–283.

Nelson, N. L., & Churilla, J. R. (2016). A narrative review of exercise-associated muscle cramps: Factors that contribute to neuromuscular fatigue and management implications. Muscle & Nerve, 54(2), 177-185. 

Schwabe, K., Schwellnus, M. P., Derman, W., Swanevelder, S., & Jordaan, E. (2014). Less experience and running pace are potential risk factors for medical complications during a 56 km road running race: a prospective study in 26 354 race starters—SAFER study II. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(11), 905-911.

Schwellnus M.P. (2009). Cause of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) — altered  neuromuscular control, dehydration or electrolyte depletion. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 43(6), 401-408.

Schwellnus M.P., Drew, N., Collins, M. (2011). Increased running speed and previous cramps rather than dehydration or serum sodium changes predict exercise-associated muscle cramping: a prospective cohort study in 210 Ironman triathletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine,( 45), 650–656.

 

DLLDan Liburd is in 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. For more articles please checkout http://www.doyou-live.com

“Living High and “Training Low” and implications for the NFL – A Proposal for Altitude Training Interventions in American Football” – Part 2

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Hypoxico Altitude training systems provide the opportunity to train intermittently in hypoxic conditions. However this form of training should not be confused with “Live High” altitude training interventions which are largely associated with physiological changes necessary for improvement in aerobic performance.

In Part 2 of “A proposal to investigate the use of Altitude Training Camp Interventions for improved athletic performance in American Football”  we will examine the past research and build a foundation to help construct an effective vision and resource for the betterment of our athletes in regard to exercise performance.

“The more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future” – Theodore Roosevelt

     Paul Bert was a french physiologist who first reasoned that atmospheric changes at altitude resulted in physiological adaptations to those individuals who spent a period of time at certain altitudes (Levine& Stray-Gundersen,1997).  Years later scientists would identify the adaptations that take place at altitude as central to the improvement of performance when athletes return to sea level. Dr. Benjamin Levine and  Dr. James Stray-Gundersen were one of the first researchers to report that living at certain altitude environments aid to augment endurance performance through increases in red cell volume and associated enhancements to athlete’s ability to transport oxygen around the body. (Levine& Stray-Gundersen,1997).  Their work along with the dominance of altitude acclimatized athletes during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and early anecdotal training experiments in the USA in the 1970s, help to establish altitude training as an effective model for endurance athletes wishing to improve aerobic performance. Today, this form of training is being proposed as a resource for team sport athletes or those who compete in sports which cover a wide range of energy systems including the aerobic system.  Dr. Olivier Girard, Researcher at Athlete Health and Performance Research Centre in Doha, Qatar says “Athletes from different team sports worldwide are using altitude training more than ever before.” (Girard, Chalabi, 2013) 

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Athletes from different team sports worldwide are using altitude training more than ever before.”

What lies in the future of training for Team Sport athletics such as Football?

     Envision a setting where athletes saw improved cardiovascular function mediated through physiological changes within their blood simply from living and breathing the air of a specific environment.  Altitude training camps is a potential resource for many performance specialists and teams to utilize in their goal of providing the best environment for their athletes to succeed.  This form of training is  a common practice for endurance athletes prior to competition (Mclean, 2014). It is a performance tool which is increasingly being used in team sports from Australian Football to Rugby and Soccer.  Over the last few years researchers have increasingly reported  improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic measures of performance in team sports as a result of altitude interventions. In 2015, Researchers at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland found that altitude intervention improved physiological factors related to cardiovascular function and sprint performance in elite male field hockey players. In addition, these benefits lasted for three weeks after the altitude training intervention (Brocherie et al., 2015).   In another study, researchers at Victoria University published a study in 2015 where an altitude intervention was applied to fifteen Australian Footballers. The results showed  that after nineteen nights of an altitude training intervention athletes saw improvement in measures of performance as well as physiological measures associated with cardiovascular performance ( Inness, Billaut & Aughey, 2015).  Similar findings are reflected in a 2012 study where researchers in Melbourne Australia, investigated the performance and physiological measures of thirty elite Australian football players after a preseason altitude camp (Mcclean et al, 2012). Improvements in measures of performance and physiological factors associated with cardiovascular performance were also noted in these Australian football players. Interestingly enough, researchers demonstrated that the magnitude of improvements were similar to that of an endurance athletes undertaking an altitude training intervention (Mcclean et al, 2012). It has also been reported that the improvements in performance for these athletes lasted over 4 weeks (Mcclean et al, 2012).  The results reported in these studies leads us to a simple conclusion; Altitude training camps is a potentially valuable resource for preparing team sport athletes for the regular or competitive season.   

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What are the Traditional Models of Altitude Training Interventions available to Athletes?

     It is interesting to note that Altitude training interventions appear to be beneficial to athlete’s exercise performance despite the variation in models used in the aforementioned studies. For instance, one of the models used by researchers at the University Lausanne is known as the “Live-High”, “Train-High” altitude intervention as it requires athletes to live and train at altitudes more than 2000 meters above sea level. A more popular altitude training model used in past studies requires athletes to live at moderate altitudes but to train at sea level. This training intervention is known as the “Live-High, Train-Low” model. In addition to this model,  A number of studies have reflected the existence of altitude training interventions with variations in either frequency and/or duration of exposure to a range of altitudes or hypoxic ( low oxygen) environments  over a period of time.  However,  despite the array of altitude or hypoxic training programs, more traditional altitude models are commonly used by athletes and coaches such as the following models: “Live-High and Train-High (LHTH)”, “Live High and Train Low (LHTL)” as well as “Live Low and Train High” (LLTH) (Girard et al, 2013).

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Why “Living High” is necessary for improvement in athletic performance?

     The simple action of living high or maximizing exposure to altitude plays an integral role in the physiological and performance benefits associated with altitude training. Researchers report that hemoglobin mass or factors related to the function of cardiovascular performance increases at approximately 1.1% per 100 hours of altitude exposure at altitudes above 2100 meters (Girard et al, 2013).  It is also suggested that a greater than 5% increase in hemoglobin mass following altitude training is associated with an increase in exercise performance (Rasmussen et al., 2013). Hence, it is recommended that athletes should spend sufficient time at altitude to achieve a corresponding increase in hemoglobin mass to gain improvements in aerobic performance at sea level. These physiological changes associated with improved cardiovascular performance appear in both the LHTH and LHTL models because these models allow for a large duration of time exposed to hypoxic environments.  Therefore, both models provide an ideal environment for allowing the physiological changes necessary for improvement in oxygen delivery.   

Are improvements in oxygen carrying capacity the only benefit of altitude training interventions?

     It’s important to note that while improvements in blood factors such as hemoglobin mass have been associated with performance increases from altitude training, other studies have also mentioned improvements in physiological factors unrelated to oxygen carrying capacity of  blood.  It’s important to understand that in addition to hematological  factors there are also non-haematological mechanism associated with improved performance after altitude training or hypoxic exposure that may potentially improve exercise performance. Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport suggested in a 2001 study that altitude or hypoxic exposure resulted in increases exercise performance as a result of improved muscle buffering capacity( Gore et al., 2001). Improvements in muscle buffering capacity may help to improve endurance performance, as well as efficiency of exercise and lead to greater performance in high intensity exercise.  

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Improved muscle buffering capacity is a potential adaptation from altitude training interventions.

What is the best altitude model to use for football altitude training camp?

     However, for the purposes of this proposal the “Live-High” “Train-Low” (LHTL) model will be discussed at length. The majority of findings reported by researchers have suggests that the “LHTL” is the most effective altitude intervention for improvements in sea level cardiovascular performance and the physiological factors associated with improved aerobic performance ( Inness,,Billaut  & Aughey, 2015).  In fact, some researchers have referred to this model as the “gold standard” for altitude training for athletic performance enhancement (Brocherie et al, 2015).  The LHTL intervention has been reported by researchers to contribute to improvements in running economy, and hemoglobin mass in elite endurance athletes compared to athletes living and training at sea-level (Saunders et al., 2004).   In addition the LHTL model has extensive history in endurance performance. Athletes have used this model for more than half a century, attempting to improve  endurance performance at sea level (Mclean et al, 2013). 

Why is “Living-High”, “Training-Low” a better model for improving athletic performance?

     Despite the similarities in exposure to hypoxic environments between the LHTL Model and LHTH model, the LHTL model appears to be more effective than the LHTH model.  Researchers performed an extensive analysis of altitude training protocols in 2009 and determined that an enhancement of maximal aerobic power output was only possible with natural LHTL models (Girard et al., 2013). The superiority of the LHTL model to other altitude training models can be attributed to two factors: the ability to provide athletes extensive exposure to hypoxic (or low oxygen availability) environments and the opportunity to train in normoxic (normal oxygen availability) environments. In providing athletes maximum exposure to a partial oxygen environment the LHTL models helps to  elicit changes and/or increases to physiological factors associated with improve aerobic performance such as the augmentation of hemoglobin mass. In allowing athletes to train at lower altitude this model helps to limit the reductions in exercise capacity that occurs at high altitude.  Remember, as altitude increases there is limited availability of oxygen to tissue resulting in a greater limitation to  reach high levels of exercise performance (Clark et al., 2007).  In other words, as we train in environments with limited oxygen availability our ability to reach high levels of performance diminishes. In fact, training at altitude exposures can potentially result in a 7% decrease in VO2 max per 1000 meter altitude ascended(Girard et al, 2013). It can also slow down the process of energy recovery during exercise (Girard et al, 2013).

     On the contrary, training at lower altitudes produces an environment that allows for greater oxygen delivery and therefore improved ability to reach higher levels of exercise intensity.  Hence, training at low altitude prevents against degradations in exercise performance during training and helps to preserve muscle structure and function as a result.   The LHTL altitude training model enables athletes the potential for physiological changes or adaptation during rest and also facilitates an environment that allows for maximum exercise performance during training.  It places the athlete in a position to adapt for low oxygen availability while also maintaining high levels cardiovascular and muscle function through sea level training.  Understanding the details of this environmental position however is integral to providing the best construct for the inclusion of Altitude training to  team sports such as football.  Thus, in addition to understanding the best model for team sport athletes it’s also important to gain insight in to parameters such as the most effective duration and level of altitude for improvements in athletic performance. Thus the next few paragraphs will be devoted to developing an understanding of effective guidelines for altitude training interventions and their application to football training camps.

     When it comes to duration researchers have suggested that the best method for garnering the physiological effects (increased hemogloblin mass) associated with the “Living High” models is to be exposed to a hypoxic or moderate altitude environment of 2500 meters above sea level for greater than 16 hours a day for a period of approximately three to four weeks (Levine, Stray-Gundersen, 1997).  Other researchers have suggested that altitude training should take place at an altitude of 2,000 – 2,500 m for at least 22 hours a day and a minimum of 4 weeks to optimize the blood oxygen enriching adaptations for exercise performance. (Rasmussen, Siebenmann, Díaz, Lundby, 2013). Thus, it seems that leading research requires athletes to spend a minimum  three weeks at 16 hours per day at an altitude of 2000 meters above sea level to mediate positive effects towards physiological change and performance.  Three to four weeks is typically the time frame that NFL clubs spend in Training Camps. In addition, through the course of a training camp, much of an athlete’s day athletes is relegated to relatively low activity requirements such as meetings, film study, eating, sleeping and leisure.  These activities can take well over 20 hours of an athletes’s 24 hour day. The result, is an itinerary of  relatively low intensity activities that can take place at moderate altitudes with relatively low impact to the athlete and helps maximize their exposure to a hypoxic environment. Hence, the common football training camp schedule placed within a moderate altitude setting allows for effective exposures for physiological adaptations.

Aren’t there NFL teams already situated at “altitude”?

     At this point,you’ve probably thought about the implications for football teams that are already situated at relatively higher altitudes compared to the majority of football teams at sea level. For instance, a location like Denver, Colorado and a football team such as the Denver Broncos might immediately come to mind in reflecting on altitude training in football . Interestingly enough, Denver while recognized as the mile high city is not a high enough location to be considered for traditional “Live High” “Train Low” altitude interventions.  Denver Colorado has an altitude elevation of 1609 meters above sea level and is thus considered to be a low altitude environment.  However, it should be noted that low altitude environments or those which are lower than 2000 meters above sea level have been reported to produce favorable responses to blood parameters (Garvican-Lewis, Halliday, Abbiss, Saunders, & Gore, 2015).  Researchers demonstrated low altitude exposure or an altitude of 1800 meters above sea level resulted in a 3% in crease in hemoglobin mass in elite distance runners (Garvican-Lewis, Halliday, Abbiss, Saunders, & Gore, 2015). Despite this favorable response to blood parameters at low altitudes, it’s important to remember studies on athletes which have demonstrated  a greater than 5% increase in hemoglobin mass following altitude training generally report an increase in exercise performance (Rasmussen et al., 2013). While there have been beneficial increases in physiological factors associated with performance at low altitude, the majority of literature reports improvements in both physiological factors and performance at altitudes greater than low altitude. While it may seem intuitive to increase altitude levels to maximize physiological changes and exercise performance it is also important that we do not get carried away in our attempts to “Live High”.

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Altitude in Calgary, Alberta is 1044 meters and is considered to be low altitude

What level of altitude training is considered too High?

     Researchers place caution on altitude interventions above 3000 meters as these hypoxic environments have not been well received by athletes acclimating to this level of altitude (Rasmussen, Siebenmann, Díaz, Lundby, 2013). Researchers report that athletes expressed a need for increase recovery periods and poor quality of sleep at altitudes above 3000 meters. In addition, this level of altitude has been associated with stressful side effects such as loss of appetite, muscle wasting, and the potential for mountain sickness (Girard et al, 2013).  It should follow that in constructing a Altitude Training Training camp Intervention we must look for the following factors: 

  • Location that can accommodate a large team at an altitude between 2000 – 2500 meters
  • A football schedule  that allows for a minimum exposure of 16 hours a day for a period of approximately three to four weeks
  • Access to a normoxic or sea – level altitude environment for practice and/or training. 

     These factors can potential help create a resources that can football teams move forward in the increasingly competitive field of performance. With the advent of GPS Technology and analytics in football, performance coaches are beginning to realize the shear distance of yards that football players often cover during a practice and/or game session.  These realizations are helping to shift the perspective of  football  training and conditioning. With such an aerobic and volume demand placed on athletes performance specialists are searching for methods to both monitor, control, and prepare for the large conditioning demands of football.  Aerobic conditioning has proven to be an effective strategy for diminishing risk of injury and preparing athletes for the demands of their sports (Princevero and Bompa).  In other words, endurance capacity is growing in  importance in a sport where performance coaches were chiefly concerned with Anaerobic ability.  Teams can benefit from a resource which has been proven to improve factors of both aerobic and anaerobic function as hypoxic training has been associated with improvements in maximal oxygen uptake, phosphocreatine resynthesis and muscle buffering capacity (Girad et al., 2013).  The purpose in improving factors of aerobic and anaerobic capacities serves to decrease relative exercise intensity and serves to improve their tolerance for the repeated sprint activity that is common to their sport (Girard et al, 2013).  In other words athletes would be better able to handle high sprint efforts. Researchers also acknowledge that skill performance is impacted by fatigue. It should follow then that minimizing potential for fatigue may help to maintain high levels of skill efficiency. Therefore altitude training can lead to improvements in aerobic capacity thus limiting fatigue, improving performance and skill efficiency (Inness, Billaut & Aughey, 2015). 

     To create an effective vision for the future, it helps if you have an understanding of history. History seems is rapidly growing with research that demonstrates altitude training may be a growing vision for the future – Especially in the Team Sport of Football.  In part two of this proposal , we help to establish an understanding of altitude training models through past research. We were able to gain insight in to the various guidelines and parameters needed for the construct of an effective altitude training model. We learned for instance that Researchers have referred to the “Live-High” “Train-low” model as the“gold standard” for altitude training for athletic performance enhancement. It’s effectiveness is likely due to the creation of a dual environment that enable athletes to gain the benefits of  both a hypoxic and normoxic setting. While improvements in physiological factors such as hemoglobin mass have been closely associated with exercise performance in altitude training there are also factors unrelated to oxygen carrying capacity that may promote improved performance in athletes.  This information provided in this post serves as the foundation of a vision that i will continue to illustrate for the future of our athletes and their performance.  In my next post, i will further elucidate the image of NFL altitude training years from today.

Top 8 Statements from this Article:

  1. Altitude Training is becoming more popular today than ever
    • Olivier Girard, Researcher at Athlete Health and Performance Research Centre in Doha, Qatar says “Athletes from different team sports worldwide are using altitude training more than ever before.” (Girard, Chalabi, 2013)
  2. The effects of some altitude training interventions can last for weeks
    • In 2015, Researchers at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland found that altitude intervention improved physiological factors related to cardiovascular function and sprint performance in elite male field hockey players. In addition, these benefits lasted for three weeks after the altitude training intervention (Brocherie et al., 2015).
  3. You have to spend time at altitude to gain physiological adaptations associated with improve exercise performance
    • Researchers report that hemoglobin mass or the factors related to cardiovascular performance increases at approximately 1.1% per 100 hours of altitude exposure at altitudes above 2100 meters (Girard et al, 2013).  It is also suggested that a greater than 5% increase in hemoglobin mass following altitude training is associated with an increase in exercise performance (Rasmussen et al., 2013).
  4. Altitude Interventions can also improve factors unrelated to blood for the improvement of exercise performance.
    • Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport suggested in a 2001 study that altitude or hypoxic exposure resulted in increases exercise performance as a result of improved muscle buffering capacity( Gore et al., 2001).
  5. The Live – High Train Low model may potentially be the best altitude training method for improving exercisee performance.
    • Researchers have referred to the “Live-High” “Train-low” model as the“gold standard” for altitude training for athletic performance enhancement.   
    • Researchers performed an extensive analysis of altitude training protocols in 2009 and determined that an enhancement of maximal aerobic power output was only possible with natural LHTL models (Girard et al., 2013).
  6. Some researchers have demonstrated improvements in factors related to exercise performance associated with low altitude training interventions
    • However, it should be noted that low altitude environments or those which are lower than 2000 meters above sea level have been reported to produce favorable responses to blood parameters(Garvican-Lewis, Halliday, Abbiss, Saunders, & Gore, 2015).   
  7. Living at altitudes greater than 3000 meters can pose risks and challenges that may outweigh benefits
    • Researchers place caution on altitude interventions above 3000 meters as these hypoxic environments have not been well received by athletes acclimating to this level of altitude (Rasmussen, Siebenmann, Díaz, Lundby, 2013). 
  8. Aerobic and Anaerobic Conditioning  can help improve repeat sprint performance.
    • The purpose in improving factors of aerobic and anaerobic capacities serves to decrease relative exercise intensity and serves to improve their tolerance for the repeated sprint activity that is common to their sport (Girard et al, 2013).

References:

Brocherie, F., Millet, G. P., Hauser, A., Steiner, T., Rysman, J., Wehrlin, J. P., & Girard, O. (2015). “Live High–Train Low and High” Hypoxic Training Improves Team-Sport Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 47(10), 2140-2149. 

Clark SA, Bourdon PC, Schmidt W, Singh B, Cable G, Onus KJ, Woolford SM, Stanef T,Gore CJ and Aughey RJ. (2007) The effect of acute simulated moderate altitude onpower, performance and pacing strategies in well-trained cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 102:45-55.

Girard, O., Chalabi, H.(2013). Could altitude training benefit team-sport athletes? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(1), 4-5.

Gore C.J., Hahn, A.G., Aughey, R.J., Martin, D.T., Ashenden, M.J., Clark, S.A., Garnham, A.P., Roberts A.D., Slater G.J. and McKenna MJ. (2001) Live high:train low increases muscle buffer capacity and submaximal cycling efficiency. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica. 173: 275-286.

Garvican-Lewis, L. A., Halliday, I., Abbiss, C. R., Saunders, P. U., & Gore, C. J. (2015). Altitude Exposure at 1800 m Increases Haemoglobin Mass in Distance Runners. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 14(2), 413–417.

Inness, M. W., Billaut, F., & Aughey, R. J. (2017). Live-high train-low improves repeated time-trial and Yo-Yo IR2 performance in sub-elite team-sport athletes. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20(2), 190-195.

Levine B.D., Stray-Gundersen J. (1997) “Living high-training low”: effect of moderate altitude acclimatization with low-altitude training on performance. Journal of Applied Physiology. 83: 102-112.

Mclean, B. D., Buttifant, D., Gore, C. J., White, K., Liess, C., & Kemp, J. (2013). Physiological and Performance Responses to a Preseason Altitude-Training Camp in Elite Team-Sport Athletes. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 8(4), 391-399. 

Naeije, R. (2010). Physiological Adaptation of the Cardiovascular System to High Altitude. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 52(6), 456-466.

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

Rasmussen, P., Siebenmann, C., Díaz, V.,  Lundby, C. (2013) Red cell volume expansion ataltitude: a meta-analysis and monte carlo simulation. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 45(9):1767-1772

Saltin B., Kim, C.K, Terrados, N., Larsen, H., Svedenhag, J.,Rolf, C.J., (1995). Morphology, enzyme activities and buffer capacity in leg muscles of Kenyan and Scandinavian runners. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 5(4):222–230.

Saunders, P.U.,  Telford, R.D.,  Pyne, D.B.,  Cunningham, R.B.,  Gore, C.J.,  Hahn, A.G.,  Hawley, J.A (2004). Improved running economy in elite runners after 20 days of simulated moderate-altitude exposure. Journal of Applied Physiology, 96(3), 931-937 

 

DLLDan Liburd is in 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. For more articles please checkout http://www.doyou-live.com

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.

A time effective proposal for assessment and movement correction for the performance coach

Assessing and correcting movement in a performance setting with limited time.

By Dan Liburd, MS, CSCS, USAW, FMS

 

I would like to preface this presentation with the following statement. This article is an invitation for discussion and an opportunity to provide movement specialists (athletic trainers, physical therapists, and strength and conditioning coaches) with a potential valuable resource for assisting members of the fitness and performance community.

This proposal is especially pertinent to movement specialists and performance coaches who work with a large number of athletes and/or clients within a limited amount of time. It is for those individuals who are seeking to understand more about their clients’ potential without infringing on the time needed to develop that potential.

We are at an age now where we have innovative tools that can track useful information about an athlete’s speed, distance, strength and power without disrupting their field practice and performance. We can assess often valuable information about athletes or clients while they focus on their objectives without interruption within their activity such as sport. These advances have come in the shape of GPS units, Keiser machines, force plates and even recently the Nordbord.  However, when it comes to assessing a standard of movement with efficiency, ease, and without interruption to an athletes performance, we are still in need of improvement.

There are limitations in our current model for assessment. We approach assessment as the activity we do before correction and ultimately before performance. While the movement assessment model correctly explains that we should not build performance over movement dysfunction it does not offer a practical strategy on how we should accomplish this goal.  As performance coaches in a time limited setting we cannot afford the time to assess and then correct before we focus on improving factors related to performance.  Unfortunately, this is where the appeal for establishing or respecting an assessment or standard of movement begins to dwindle. When pressed for time, coaches will incorrectly focus all their attention on strength exercise (a measure of performance) rather than be relegated to a model that proposes an assessment first, correction second, and performance last.

It is important that we as performance coaches respect our role as movement specialists and continue to establish an effective standard for movement, assessment and correction. The development of the Functional Movement System (FMS) provided the opportunity and set the stage for understanding and evaluating movement.  While this concept is brilliant, its application to team sports is less than ideal.

This FMS Screen creates a limitation due to the fact that it takes away from the valuable time that athletes need to spend focusing on developing strength and improving performance.  As team performance coaches we are often tasked with the responsibility of developing large groups of athletes (upwards of 100) within a short period of time.  We simply do not have the time to effectively assess large groups of athletes in a short period of time without diminishing time dedicated to improving strength and performance skills for those same athletes.

An example of these time limitations can be reflected in the rules instituted by the National Football League (NFL) under the Collective Bargaining Agreement set forth in 2011. The Collective Bargaining Agreement states under Article 21 section 5 B:

“During the offseason program period, except for the ten days of organized team practice activity and minicamps, players may be (1) at the Club facility no more than four hours per day, no more than four days per week, and not during weekends; and (2) on the field no more than ninety minutes per day. In addition, the Club may not specify to any player more than two specific hours a day during which it suggests that the player be at club facilities.”

Four hours a day for four days may appear to be a great deal of time needed to accomplish the task of appropriately developing ninety or more athletes for the many challenges of a football season.  However, when we consider commitments such as film study and position meetings (which can often take two hours per day) we immediately begin to see the time needed for appropriate movement and performance development of ninety or more athletes diminish.  Consider again the many physical stressors of a football season. They include, but are not limited to, sprinting at high velocities, aggressive change of direction movements, physical strength and integrity needed to sustain forceful movements, and hits and/or activities.

It is no surprise that when performance coaches are presented with a scenario to spend valuable time assessing athletes, as opposed to developing athletes in the form of strength training and the various factors related to performance, coaches will choose the latter, without  spending much time evaluating and providing a standard of movement for their athletes. Who can blame them; our standards of measure when it comes to the evaluation of athletes are biased towards performance rather than movement. Despite this bias, we should be concerned with movement as much if not more than we are with factors related to performance.  The questions is how can we do both efficiently and effectively with regard to time and with respect to a large numbers of athletes.

The answer to this question is to provide a system and/or resource that allows for assessment, movement correction and the opportunity to improving factors related to performance all at the same time.  As performance coaches for large groups of athletes, we should no longer approach assessment as a task we perform prior to performance. Instead, we should focus on including assessments within our performance training programs.  Movement assessments should occur as we focus on improving all of the factors related to performance as well as movement.  By including assessments within our performance training setting we can do the following:

  1. Effectively appraise an athlete’s movement potential while also focusing on developing factors such as strength and speed.
  2. Take measurements against an objective standard providing us with a better understanding of the athlete’s needs and/or limitations.
  3. Provide assessment tests that challenge our athletes to move while also serving as exercises for improving movement.
  4. Change the perspective of movement assessment from the task you complete before you perform activities such as strength training to the task you complete while you focus on strength training, skill building and performance.

 

In order to understand the multiple benefits of this model let’s examine the football athlete as a training client. We know that in the course of a football season the athlete will go through multiple stressors that can potentially change their quality of movement.  The athlete can regularly experience mental and physical stress, pain, and may develop various other biomechanical restrictions. These are the factors that will have an impact on their fundamental way of moving.  For example, Joe athlete’s movement spectrum can differ day to day so it is important to provide him an assessment tool that measures his ability to move against an objective standard. In addition, it is important to provide him with a solution to his movement limitation(s) on a consistent basis.   Let’s take for instance an athlete who has gone through the stressors of a normal football practice session. By the time the football athlete has gone through several days or weeks of practice and competition, they may experience fundamental changes to their movement range which in turn will have an impact on their ability to perform and to execute certain skills.

As performance coaches we understand that It is imperative to the success of the athlete to consistently measure performance factors such as speed, sets, reps, and resistance weight and to modify them based on impactful elements such as stress, fatigue and the various occurrences of life. By the same token, we should aim to consistently assess movement ability and make immediate modifications to issues that can manifest themselves as tissue restriction based on elements such as stress, fatigue and the natural occurrences of life.

As we approach this offseason I have spent time evaluating our current approach to movement assessment and correction.  Taking into consideration our schedule and the limitations of time spent with large groups of athletes I have proposed a strategy that combines assessment with movement corrections in an effort to understand and improve the athlete’s movement potential while also respecting our responsibility as performance coaches.

This proposal comes in the form of a series of various tools and tests that can be easily implemented in a performance setting within a short period of time. Over the next few presentations I will detail how these tests and tools can play a role in movement assessment and also help your athletes and/or clients to improve movement without disrupting the time spent to improve performance. I will start by explaining this assessment and movement correction model for ankle dorsiflexion.

It is commonly understood that ankle dorsiflexion (flexion of the foot) is integral to functional movements such as walking, running and also an important factor for lower body force production. Restricted dorsiflexion can cause limitations to athletic performance and can be also be a factor for increase susceptibility for lower body dysfunction that can result in pain injury. Movement authors note that normal dorsiflexion can range from approximately 20 to 30 degrees.  However, some researchers suggests that ankle dorsiflexion range of up to 38 degrees may diminish the susceptibility of individuals to pain and/or injury risk.  Researchers in Sweden published a study in the American journal of sports medicine evaluating ankle dorsi flexion range in over ninety junior elite basketball players and their predisposition to a form of sports induced knee pain.   The results of their study demonstrated that individuals with a dorsiflexion range of less than 36.5 degrees had a significant risk ( up to 29% greater chance) of developing knee pain as compared to players who had a dorsiflexion range of more than36.5 degrees.   When mobility is limited in areas such as the ankle, it can negatively affect the function of other areas up the kinetic chain such as the knee or the hip.

This occurrence can result in limitations in mobility at certain joints and can negatively affect movement in the form of compensation, substitution, asymmetry, loss of efficiency and ultimately injury. This biomechanical relationship between joints is often referred to as the joint by joint approach and explains that particular joints such as the ankle, hip and thoracic spine are intended to be biased towards mobility while joint regions such as the knee and lumbar areas are intended to be stable. Limitations to the normal function of these joints can potentially lead to movement dysfunction or injury.

Despite this common knowledge among movement specialists, performance coaches are sometimes unaware of the potential stiffness that may negatively impact an athlete’s ability to move at the ankle. For those of you who work with large numbers of athletes in a limited time setting, when is the last time you took the time to assess your athlete’s range of motion at the ankle joint?

The first test of the eight part assessment/movement correction model measures an athlete’s dorsiflexion and stiffness in the posterior chain at the lower leg (gastroc, soleus). The test includes a measured slant board attached to series of marking poles which are in succession and evenly spaced apart.

To perform the test simply have the athlete start from a standing position and place one foot over the slant board with their toes pressed firmly against the edge of the wall placed at the end of the gradient (or end of the slant).  We want to measure the athlete in a standing and body weight loaded position because we want to understand the mechanisms that take place at the ankle joint in this functional position.  The angle of the assessment slant board is measured at 10 degrees.  As a result of this design, by simply placing your foot on the board (with the knee perpendicular or directly over the ankle at 90 degrees) with the heel placed firmly to the ground will result in 10 degrees of dorsiflexion.   From this position the athlete should be instructed to drive the knee as far forward as possible without elevating the heel from the board.  Coach the athlete to perform 8 – 9 reps on each side.

It is important to take this time to clarify that we are treating this activity as both assessment and also an opportunity to improve mobility (if needed). We are looking to improve mobility at the ankle by challenging any restrictions on the extensibility of the posterior chain in the form of stretching.

Along the board are four indicators or markers placed at various angles. As the athlete drives the knee forward (with the ankle placed firmly to the ground) they can potentially pass these set of markers at the knee. These differently angled indicators reflect varying degrees of range of motion at the ankle. They are expressed as follows:

  • Marker 1 – reflects a range of motion of up to 10 degrees at the ankle joint.
  • Marker 2 – reflects a range of motion of up to 20 degrees at the ankle joint.
  • Marker 3 – reflects a range of motion of up to 30 degrees at the ankle joint.
  • Marker 4 – reflects a range of motion of up to 40 degrees at the ankle joint.

From this test we can categorize dorsiflexion of our athlete while also providing them a means to improve dorsiflexion.  This strategy can provide the coaches with knowledge of their athlete’s ability to move by understanding potential limitations of movement characteristics

Consider implementing this assessment or mobility exercise as a paired activity with a complex movement or coaching intensive exercise such as a clean or front squat where a certain degree of ankle mobility and/or dorsiflexion is needed for good movement. This can give a coach the freedom to make quick inferences on potential movement while also spending time coaching performance.

We should look at this assessment tool with the same perspective we place on performance factor assessments such as weight lifted and reps.  As performance coaches we do not make any inferences on potential injury risk based on weight lifted and reps without understanding all other factors.  This perspective should also be applied to this assessment strategy. We are simply taking note of any movement restriction using a tool that provides a standard of measurement while also providing a resource to improve movement (if there needs to be improvement).  Finally and most importantly this strategy can be performed anytime without disruption to the time needed for performance.