Training load monitoring in team sports: A novel framework for adaptation

Your weekly research review

James de Lacey

By James de Lacey
May 27th, 2020 | 3 min read

Contents of Research Review

  1. Background & Objective
  2. What They Did
  3. What They Found
  4. Practical Takeaways
  5. Reviewer’s Comments
  6. About the Reviewer

Original study

Vanrenterghem J, Nedergaard NJ, Robinson MA, Drust B. Training Load Monitoring in Team Sports: A Novel Framework Separating Physiological and Biomechanical Load-Adaptation Pathways. Sports Med. 2017;47(11):2135‐2142. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0714-2
Click here for abstract

Background & Objective

The aim of this paper was to propose a novel framework in which the physiological and biomechanical load adaptation pathways are considered separately and to present how some scientific evidence on measures of external and internal training load could be interpreted according to these separate pathways.

What They Did

The framework presented involves splitting training load into physiological and biomechanical internal and external loads. Some examples of these are: metabolic power (external physiological load), heart rate (internal physiological load), accelerations and decelerations (external biomechanical load), and perceived soreness (internal biomechanical load). When fatigue is taken too far in either domain, certain physiological or biomechanical “failures” can occur such as immune deficiency or bone fractures, respectively.

What They Found

External monitoring through devices such as GPS are a valid and reliable way of monitoring player activity. However, physiological loads are difficult to quantify accurately with metabolic power in non-steady state locomotive sports due to the constant acceleration and decelerations. Accelerometers may provide another metric where a summative measure of the kinetic demands may provide an estimate of external biomechanical load. Internal physiological loads are most often related to oxygen consumption and cardiac output. Simple heart rate (HR) monitoring can assess cardiorespiratory output, while blood lactate reflects an accumulation of efforts. RPE is also well correlated with HR based internal load. Monitoring internal biomechanical stress requires measurement of joint contact forces or muscle -tendon forces which is not possible in a field context. However, RPE for how the players ‘legs’ or ‘breathing’ were affected may be able to separate between biomechanical and physiological load, respectively.

Practical Takeaways

Athlete monitoring can be tracked through a range of devices and pieces of software. However, certain measures or devices may only track internal or external loading through either physiological or biomechanical systems. Internal loads can be difficult to measure directly from both a physiological and biomechanical perspective (e.g. blood lactate and muscletendon forces, respectively). However, subjective measures such as RPE may be a suitable alternative that reflects both types of internal loading.

It has been suggested that accumulated accelerometer based outcomes, such as Player Load, are valuable to estimate the extent to which the player, through their activities, experiences accelerations and hence biomechanical load of the body as a whole. Being able to differentiate between physiological and biomechanical loading may influence a training plan. For example, if players’ physiological loads are high, playing a small-sided game with a smaller pitch size reduces physiological load and likely increases biomechanical load. On the contrary, performing something like HIIT delivers a high physiological load, but a low biomechanical load.

Reviewer’s Comments

“With the amount of data you can potentially collect and the many various tools you can use to do so, it can be overwhelming as a coach when deciding what will provide value to your player monitoring. A simple RPE measure is a cheap, suitable monitoring tool that may reflect physiological and biomechanical internal loading. In turn, this will allow you to use the data to influence training for your athletes by reducing physiological or biomechanical loading, rather than guessing how you will reduce training load as a single metric. Furthermore, taking and recording RPE data costs nothing so it’s perfect for coaches with little-to-no budget. Monitoring external load is much tougher and more costly with the use of GPS and accelerometers. However, if you do have access to GPS, keeping track of distances run, high speed meters, acceleration/ decelerations etc can be good a way of monitoring biomechanical load and help inform the coach of players at a potential risk of structural injury.”

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James de Lacey

James de Lacey

James was the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Romanian Rugby Union. He has previously worked in America’s professional rugby competition Major League Rugby with Austin Elite and the NZ Women’s National Rugby League Team. He is a published author and has completed a MSc in Sport & Exercise Science from AUT, Auckland, NZ.

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