Most team sports (soccer, basketball, handball…) can be considered as aerobic-based anaerobic activities in which, during a game, players are required to perform high-intensity actions such as jumping, sprinting or shuffling (Caprino, 2012; Castagna, 2007; Hermassi, 2011). Therefore, performance in team sports depends on both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism but also in high levels of muscular strength and power. This means that in order to prepare any team or player for competition it is necessary to develop a complete strength and conditioning program.
The problem many coaches face is: “How can I work on tactical and technical aspects of the game during the week, and still find time to develop maximal strength, power, aerobic and anaerobic capacity? I don´t want my players to spend all day in the workout room!”. There are two usual solutions to this problem, each one presenting its own problems:
- Traditional Circuit Training: 6-10 exercises, 12-18 RM. It is time-efficient and can impose a cardiovascular load that could help develop aerobic adaptations. But what about maximal strength and power gains??
- Concurrent Training: Strength training and Endurance training combined in the same session (one following the other). Can develop maximal strength and power as well as aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. But how do coaches feel about a strength and conditioning session that can last up to 2h to be effective?
So, is it possible to develop maximal strength, power, aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms in a time-efficient way in high performance athletes? The answer is yes! It can be achieved through a training method called High Resistance Circuit Training (HRC).
Recent studies (Alcaraz, 2008;2010; Romero-Arenas, 2013; Paoli, 2012) showed that HRC allows to achieve the similar gains in maximal strength and muscle power output as traditional strength training but while imposing a higher cardiovascular load (potential aerobic adaptations). Furthermore, a HRC session can be completed in a shorter time when compared with traditional strength training (TS) or concurrent training (CT) (HRC ~30 min; TS ~90 min; CT~120 min). Another upside of HRC is the specificity of the load imposed: aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms as well as force production occur simultaneously – the same that occurs in game situations. While playing, a player doesn´t use anaerobic metabolism for the first hour and then the aerobic pathway for the last 30 minutes. He may have to do a 20m sprint in the final minute of the game!
So what is the dynamic of a HRC session?
A typical HRC session consists of 6 exercises, divided in two blocks of 3. It is important to alternate the muscle group in consecutive exercises in order to allow a local recovery. This is a key aspect if maximal strength and power adaptations are to be achieved.
The intensity can range from 6RM to 10RM and the volume from 4-6 sets of each block. The ratio concentric:eccencentric should be 1:3, which means that the eccentric phase should be performed slower than concentric. When using this HRC it is crucial to tell the players to execute all the concentric movements at the maximum velocity possible (see Rate of Force Development, already mentioned in a previous post by Andy Kavanagh).
The rest period between each exercise is ~35” and local recovery (rest period between each time the same muscle group is exercised) is approximately 3 min (less than 3 min of local recovery won´t allow the Pcr resynthesis and so the muscle won´t be able to produce maximal force).
½ Squat35’’ rest
Talking about practical applications, in terms of periodization, HRC can be used early in the season to increase maximal strength, possibly 2 sessions per week. During the competitive period of the season, HRC can be a good option to maintain the levels of strength and power already achieved. 1 session per week could be enough stimuli.
An aspect to take into account in the weekly periodization is that HRC presents a high metabolic response as increased lactate concentrations were found post-exercise (Alcaraz, 2008;2011) and so, it could be better to perform this kind of session earlier in the week.
As a conclusion, HRC can be a good, time-efficient option to use in team sports to develop or maintain both maximal strength, power, aerobic an anaerobic metabolisms as it combines strength training while imposing a significant cardiovascular load.
Is it the only method to achieve this? Probably not. Is it the best? We don´t know. What we can say is that different studies have shown that HRC is effective and so it is an approach that all strength and conditioning coaches should at least consider.
MsC High Performance Sports: Strength and Conditioning