Recovery training: how should you rest from team sports involving repeated short-duration sprints

Recovery periods involving low-level activity are more beneficial than passive resting

How Recovery Training affects Muscle Recovery

Recovery periods involving low-level activity have been shown by many research studies to enhance subsequent performance by comparison with ‘passive’ – ie inactive – recovery. But now a new study from Australia suggests that the opposite is true for team sports involving repeated short-duration sprints.

Nine moderately-trained men, most of whom regularly competed in various team sports, performed four repeated-sprint tests on cycle ergometers (six 4-second sprints every 25 seconds), at weekly intervals. In two of the trials, the sprints were separated by 21s of active recovery, which involved cycling at around 32% of VO2max. In the other two trials, the sprints were separated by passive recovery periods, in which the athletes did nothing.

The researchers compared the athletes’ performances in the two sets of trials. They also analysed samples of muscle tissue before and after each of the four tests to check levels of phosphocreatine, creatine and lactate in the vastus lateralis muscle in the thigh. Key results were as follows:

  • Peak power outputs produced during sprints 2-6 were significantly lower than for the first sprint, regardless of what type of recovery was used;
  • However, there was a significantly lower peak power output and a greater power decrement for the sixth sprint with active recovery than with passive recovery;
  • Muscle lactate levels were significantly higher and phosphocreatine somewhat lower after the tests involving active recovery compared with passive recovery, suggesting a suboptimal effect on metabolism.

‘These data suggest,’ comment the researchers, ‘that active recovery does not improve performance and, in fact, may potentially have suboptimal effects on [muscle metabolism] and on performance during exercise that mimics the sprint and recovery durations of an isolated bout of repeated-sprint activity typical of team sports.’

However, since it makes no sense in terms of sport and competition to suggest that team players should stand still between repeated-sprint bouts, the researchers recommend that training for repeated-sprint performance should involve active rather than passive recovery periods. ‘This testing or training modification,’ they point out, ‘will be more specific too, and may better prepare athletes for, the physiological demands of team sport competition.’

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006; vol 38, no 8, pp1492-1499

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