Wednesday, September 26, 2018

“Coach, let’s do HIIT today!” “Hmm, not a good idea”.

How many times have you heard this? Let’s do HIIT to make us feel better? It’s not uncommon. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is popular, but in fact its popularity resides mostly amongst the scientists. Coaches are more conservative, and fear implementation of HIIT, at least as it is described in scientific papers. Indeed, the very first studies of the revised HIIT model from Canada described a HIIT protocol with repeated 30-sec all-out bouts on the bike while pedaling against an external load of 0.075 kp per kg body weight (Burgomaster et al., 2005). As the area evolved, more real-world protocols were developed (Iaia et al., 2008). Here, participants performed 8-12 x 30 sec bouts at 90-95% of their maximal running speed, with 3-min rest between. Billat et al. (2001a & b) proposed another programme that consists of repeated 15 sec high intensity bouts with 15 sec of low intensity or rest in between. I believe we are now in a position to say that we have some realistic proposals to put on the table for consideration by coaches. Martin and Paul have further advanced our knowledge, proposing easy to use protocols and ideas (Buchheit & Laursen, 2013a & b), which will be extended further in the book and course across 20 sport application chapters provided by practitioners embedded at the coalface of elite sport.

We now have the program. Our next step is to read behind the lines before we talk to the coach. With that being said, I’d like to put forth some hidden issues that are like to arise when you defend your plan to the coach.

“Aren’t we at higher risk of injury doing HIIT compared to conventional football training”? The answer is both yes and no. We are at higher risk when we do HIIT if we haven’t respected the basic rule of progressive overload, which is fundamental to safe exercise training periodization. We recently showed this in a study, where conventional football training was complemented with adjacent HIIT sessions (Paul et al., 2018). Across 4 weeks, endurance performance was improved and no injuries occurred. It’s important to appreciate that injuries can be the consequence of lower than optimal fitness due to inadequate training. Indeed, the model proposed by Tim Gabbett suggests that low fitness itself may be a risk factor for non-contact injuries. In contrast, high levels of fitness may protect against injuries (Gabbett, 2016). Thus, a focus towards ensuring high aerobic fitness in our players should actually protect them from non-contact injury occurrence. Of course, this only occurs when we build the training program in a progressive manner.

Our limited resource – Time  
It’s important to appreciate that coaches have program to run. They are concerned more about training as a team, not as individual player. They have to be. That’s why today, most of our training time in football uses small-sided games (SSG), which are useful for building and maintaining match-specific technical and tactical elements (Lacome et al., 2018). Additionally, we know that playing SSG will assist to develop some of the match specific physical fitness elements at the same time. With full respect to use of this approach, SSG have limitations too. For example, SSG might not be specific enough to a player’s individual needs. Often, SSG won’t provide enough stimulus to build key football-specific elements like the ability to perform long intensive efforts.

The solution? 
Supplement your SSG with specific short interval HIIT. For example, you might use 2-3 sets of repeated 15-sec or 30-sec bouts at 90-95% of maximal speed (Billat et al., 2001a & b; Iaia et al., 2008). Another option would be to perform repeated bouts of either 30 sec at 110% of 30-15 intermittent field test (IFT) or 15 sec at 120% of IFT (Paul et al., 2018). All programmes do not require much time and bring great benefit.

After convincing yourself, the next step is to convince the coach. That’s either the easy or the hard part of the day, depending on your relationship. I’m talking about the human relationship, because that’s the foundation of any professional relationship. Building trust is key. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough, or give you advice on how to go about this. Its personal. Ultimately, the ability to build trust in human relationships incorporates everything; who you are, where you come from, what your life expectations are, your values and beliefs – ultimately seeing the other person for who they are and they, in turn, seeing you. Are you there on the team to satisfy your personal inner needs and professional ambitions, or are you there to contribute to making the common team dream a reality? Do you believe science is everything or do you feel we are part of the team, a member of the family, where using science can help to make it better?

Of course there are theories from the social sciences, like the diffusion of innovation theory, which can help you further build your skills in effective communication of science. For those interested please read a recent editorial on this topic (Nassis, 2017). I’m not sure if it is so much knowing the science behind or trusting your intuition. After so many years, I tend to believe sometimes it’s good to trust your intuition, provided you have enough experience to trust in it, it will lead you in the right direction.

Going back to where we started. Maybe instead of “Coach, let’s do HIIT today”! How about we try another approach with a subtle change in wording:

“Coach, what do you think about doing HIIT today? Do you like the plan? Any ideas on how we could make it better?”

This post was first published at HiitScience on September 22, 2018


Burgomaster KA, Hughes SC, Heigenhauser GJF, Bradwell SN, Gibala MJ. Six sessions of sprint interval training increasesmuscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans.  J Appl Physiol 2005;98:1985-1990. 

Lacome M, Simpson BM, Cholley Y, Lambert P, Buchheit M. Small-SidedGames in Elite Soccer: Does One Size Fit All? Int J Sports Physiol Perform 2018;13:568-576.

Nassis GP. Leadership in science and medicine: can you see the gap? Science and Medicine in Football 2017;3:195-196.  

Paul DJ, Marques JB, Nassis GP. The effect of a concentrated period of soccer specific fitnesstraining with small-sided games on physical fitness in youth players. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2018 Jun 27 [Epub ahead of print] 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Decelerations, accelerations, total workload and return to play: food for thought

Today, I had the chance to read a fantastic recent editorial on the nature of decelerations in football and their contribution on player's mechanical load. Here is the link to the full paper which I hope you enjoy.
With this opportunity, I had also the time to think more about the topic. No doubt that decelerations as well as accelerations should be taken into account when quantifying player's workload. With full respect to the great work published and despite the advances in knowledge regarding isolated risk factors for injuries, one of the key questions remains unanswered: what constitutes workload in football and team-sport athletes? Which indices should we trust in order to build effective injury risk estimation models? A couple of years ago we published an editorial with the hope to stimulate further discussions on the topic. I believe this paper is still relevant and hope you enjoy this read too