Marco Cardinale was Head of Sports Science and Research for Team GB at the Beijing/Vancouver/London Olympics. He is currently Head of Physiology at Aspire in Qatar and has published many studies on human performance. He also served as an editor of the great resource Strength and Conditioning: Biological Principles and Practical Applications, a gold standard in the profession. His blog has many valuable suggestions to sports training and can be found here.
Freelap USA – Your study with Dr. Michael Stone looked at explosive jumping and hormonal profiling of different athletes and found sprinters had the best androgen metrics for power. One interesting finding was the different levels between handball and soccer. What may be confusing is how genetics (fiber type) and volume of aerobic work in a sport affect free testosterone. Could too much aerobic work create interference at the receptor level? I am sure coaches would love to split training into group practice for tactical reasons and split volumes based on athlete DNA (fiber profile) since the preseason is so short and seasonal training is essential.
Marco Cardinale – Let me clarify the paper and correct some terminology. The study found sprinters had the highest testosterone levels when compared to other athletes. I am not sure what “androgen metrics for power” means. Because the correlation coefficient between T levels and jump was 0.61 in the study, we can say that 37% of the performance in CMJ (Counter-Movement Jump) can be explained by testosterone levels. This is it, nothing more. The differences between the groups considered are specific to those groups, not necessarily that football players will always be different from handball players in team average values and every part of the world.
Now to the other questions. There is no doubt that to some extent T levels are regulated genetically (recent work here or here) or by genetic aspects connected to SHBG. These influence the bioavailable free testosterone as well as being regulated by pathological conditions (e.g. polycystic ovarian syndrome, common in some female athletes).
With regard to the volume of aerobic work and circulating testosterone levels, we need to differentiate what happens acutely (e.g. at the end of a training session) versus what happens as a consequence of chronic loading. With chronic loading (no matter if aerobic or mixed) alterations in various hormones (not only T) suggest the possibility of a status of overreaching and overtraining (see here for a study of military recruits).
The role of acute hormonal and other systemic responses in modulating muscle mass remodeling has recently been questioned. We should look at the meaning of T levels in a different way, as I have mentioned with other authors. Aerobic exercise has been suggested to interfere at the molecular level with mTOR in many molecular biology studies (which by the way do not replicate what elite athletes do in terms of volumes and intensity and concatenation of activities/nutrition etc.). For readers unfamiliar with molecular biology, I suggest the following:
- To explain exercise-induced phenotype from molecular data: rethink and reconstruction based on AMPK and mTOR signaling
- Mechanisms regulating skeletal muscle growth and atrophy
- Exercise- and nutrient-controlled mechanisms involved in maintenance of the musculoskeletal mass
Editors Note: Marco also suggests following the work being done by Professor Keith Baar on this topic.
I think coaches should individualize training according to the needs and characteristics of individual players. However, I have to say that in my previous life as an S&C coach I tended to sort athletes according to their characteristics (fast vs. endurance type) when I planned group activities. In the weight room, they all had loads/progressions and individualized programs. All S&C coaches should do this.
Too many people are hung up on testosterone and what it means. Testosterone is one of many things affected by training that contribute to the adaptive responses we see (or don’t see if the program is not effective). But it should not be the ONLY parameter we use in deciding what to do. Testosterone levels alone don’t tell us much unless they are way above or below the clinical ranges.
Freelap USA – In 2000, Viru, Bosco, and Bonomi did an experiment with explosive training and EMG with hormonal profiling. It was interesting to see the relationships between neuromuscular fatigue and testosterone. A clear relationship exists between deep sleep and testosterone with both “regular” adults and athletes, yet rock-star lifestyles and international travel can cripple athletes if they are not careful. Since the early 1990s, teams have spent money on sleep science. But few—if any—point out testosterone changes. Do you think athletes will be more receptive with infographics of their testosterone and sleep for compliance? It seems everyone knows what to do, but not many are changing their behavior.
Marco Cardinale – As I stated before, T is only one parameter of interest. Sleep causes many disturbances which affect cognitive and recovery abilities and trainability. Travel and sleep disturbance also affect the immune profile. We have much data on athletes traveling across multiple time zones and showing clear signs of immunosuppression. I think athletes will be more responsive when they understand that lack of sleep affects many things which negatively influence performance rather than just testosterone.
I would like to add that I am not sure teams have spent lots of money on sleep science. The only team I have seen investing in improving sleep quality and sorting out the basics (e.g. quality of beds! Sleep hygiene workshops! etc.) is the British cycling team. My colleague Matt Parker headed their sports science department. He is now doing similar work with the England rugby team. If coaches are serious about improving their athletes’ quality of sleep, they should make sure the athletes have good beds to sleep on before looking for magic supplements or potions. Get the basics right first!
Freelap USA – Some programs use the SJ (Squat Jump) and CMT (Counter-Movement Jump) as simple tests to help manage the development of power and monitor fatigue. Since doing vertical jumps daily can be monotonous and the training effect is slight, what do you think of using those options with load in the beginning of a weight training program to get a warmup, training status, and a small training effect? With so many tools now, this may be a good idea. What frequency would be needed to see good adaptation?
Marco Cardinale – SJ and CMJ don’t help manage power development. They assess vertical jumping ability and potentially monitor any effect of training and/or competition on this ability. They rely on the fact that the athlete performs a maximal effort. Yes, they might be monotonous. But so is much of any training. Weightlifters might call it boring, but they always have to work on the same lifts no matter how many variations one can apply! Changing the test is not the issue. Even with a weighted jump, the athlete still needs to perform a maximal effort to consider the value for any diagnostic purpose.
It is easier to embed testing within a training session. I used to have a Monday session with my teams which included CMJs. A testing station was part of their schedule. I monitored squats and bench presses, asking athletes always to lift as fast as possible in the concentric phase independently from the load. It was useful.It is easier to embed testing within a training session. Click To Tweet
Frequent assessment allows the determination of the normal variability of this measure. It, therefore, allows the practitioner to detect “true” changes, which may suggest serious alterations to the program. Each measure has an error (instrument/human) In order to see a “true” change, one needs to know what is the error of the measurement. Having longitudinal measurements might help in establishing the error. In reality, it takes few weeks to see a TRUE change in a vertical jump score (good dissertation from Bill Sands’s and Mike Stone’s lab here.)
Freelap USA – In your blog you talk about the recent not being new:
“Not all the recent literature is ‘recent.’ Lots of things have been done before, but they are ‘sold’ as new. If you are looking for examples, read the work of Professor Angelo Mosso and look at his ergograph, developed in 1890. You will find out that the use of dynamometry to measure fatigue is not a new idea after all.”
A lot of equipment is now consumer-friendly because of smart devices such as HRV for mobile devices, thermography for the iPhone, and wearable sensors using Bluetooth. Not all available products are medical or research grade, making conclusions very limited. Could you get into more detail about using measurements outside jumping in the weight room? Is bar velocity enough to get a decent indication of athlete progress?
Marco Cardinale – Bar velocity measurements are useful, though again just one of the many things needed in your toolbox). But they don’t make sense in linear types of lifts (e.g. squats/bench presses) unless the device can make corrections for the cable angle of pull. Otherwise, this would affect the noise of the measure.
But linear encoders with appropriate testing protocols and data reduction and analysis can provide information on the effects of training only on the exercises performed for testing. Such improvements need to be related to performance-specific aspects, just like any other assessment in the gym. Used appropriately, dynamometry can provide useful data on how training is progressing as well as having useful applications as a biofeedback tool.
So yes, I think when the aim of weight training is to improve speed/power, they definitively are useful and yes, having bar velocity data can provide useful information. Most of all, having the ability to determine F/V and P/V relationships can provide valuable information on the effects of training as well as on loading choices. I explained it here.
Freelap USA – In 2004, your presentation exploring neurotrophins and fatigue in Stockholm was very interesting. The brain is, of course, popular now, and every trendy science book is trying to hack the brain for better results. Without getting into deep chemistry of BDNF and other physiological areas, can you show the value of mood state as part of the equation of monitoring? Athletes nowadays find subjective questionnaires boring and tedious. Besides talking to the athlete, what do you think can make POMS and other methods more compliant with athletes? Also, what do we need to do to see the biomarkers to ensure we know the difference between lifestyle and training loads?
Marco Cardinale – POMS is a valid questionnaire, though as you say it might be boring to do it too routinely. The problems with biomarkers are cost and time. I don’t think they are within reach for most people. So simple questionnaires (wellness and POMS type or DALDA or RestQ or others) can be administered routinely and provide some information. However, just as with T, one needs to know the noise of such measurements to understand the TRUE variation which should trigger an intervention. To date, we don’t have one magic measurement which provides all the answers. We need to use various assessments to make informed decisions.
In extreme cases, some clinical assessments might uncover serious issues (depression/stress/pathological conditions) which are not manifested in a questionnaire nor clearly evident if a single biomarker is used rather than a comprehensive approach. Questionnaires should also be used according to the protocols to make sure they are valid, not in shortened/altered forms. I see so many wrong versions of questionnaires which are presented in the wrong way and poorly interpreted. Furthermore, attention should be paid to translated versions if you work in non-English-speaking countries. Questionnaires should be validated in the language in which they are meant to be used.
Sadly, the conclusion to all this is that there is no magic marker/measurement which can tell you everything. When implementing measurements, people need to understand what the test measures, what the data mean, and the limitations of that measure before jumping to conclusions. Too many times in the S&C community I hear strange and dubious terminology as well as various indices which make no sense. Jump tests measure the ability to jump with and without countermovement, and data tell us only about the lower limbs. The original papers about these testing methods date from the 1970s and their assumptions are still valid.
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