In an April, 2012 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a research article supports an answer to a question that many parents and players have asked us for years. Can you improve speed and agility performance within a program by just coming to train 1 x per week?
Although I find the rates to purchase the rights to post the full article on this website are ridiculous and you would be bored to tears while reading it, I have added a lay summary and the link to the abstract for you here: long website address. The title of the research article is “Effect of Short Burst Activities on Sprint and Agility Performance in 11- to 12-Year-Old Boys”, by Pettersen and Mathisen.
The premiss of the article is to extract evidence on whether coordinative sprint drills and maximal short burst activities affects children’s sprint and agility performance. The testing groups consisted of dozens of soccer players separated into a Training Group set up with an additional 6-week, 1-hour-per-week, training program and a Control Group that did no additional training, other than their weekly team sessions. In the Training Group sessions, the boys ran through different short burst competitive sprinting activities very similar to the one’s within our programs at Performance Unlimited. Both groups were evaluated through pre- and post testing of linear sprints and agility. Although there were no differences in the pretesting between the groups, the Training Group showed significantly better performances in both linear sprint and agility tests after the training period. The only test that did not show a positive correlation of training progression for the Training Group was in the 10m sprint test.
The most interesting aspect of the research, to me, was the fact that they chose to do this “in-season”, during the times of competition and training for the players…and that they conducted one session for one hour each week. It surprises me, because the typical researcher wants to show absolute effect and does not want outside influence (weekly training/competition) to disturb the research outcomes. Nonetheless, it does reinforce the notion that a training program that follows research based, sports science systems can produce results with just a small amount of time given. I believe that the effect was due to consistency and a quality training program, much like the effect that we see from so many of our players.
Could the players have had additional effect if the frequency was upped to 2x per week or they added strength training? Oxyzoglou et al. “Velocity, agility, and flexibility performance after handball versus physical education program for preadolescent children” found significantly better agility test results in preadolescent boys engaged in 6-months, 3-hours·week, specific handball training compared with a mainstream physical education program. So the question remains, is more better?
Let’s take the following graph as an example of what players go through, in order to achieve performance results. This example can be similar for any learned skill, be that physical or cognitive.
On the bottom of the graph is the progression of stresses being put on the body. This can come in many forms, through social anxieties, training volume and intensity during a given time period, or even academic stresses from school. On the left side of the graph is the progression of the desired performance outcome…let’s assume that the desired outcome is in the form of increased power and thus sprint speed. So our goal is to become a more explosive athlete.
The traditional assumption is that our bodies react and adjust to stresses linearly, thus assuming the harder and more we work, the more results we get…right? This graph (used commonly in academic settings) shows that there is a fine line of increased performance, from the correct amount of stress, to the decrease in performance due to too much stress. Therefore, we can not ignore the holistic understanding of the athlete’s total stresses (in every form) throughout each week, to ensure the best program for increased performance.
I have often had clients come into our program that are playing club soccer (2x week training + 1-2 games on weekends), middle school soccer (3x week training + 1-2 games per week), as well as wanting to enter into our group training 1 x per week. Is it beneficial for the player to come into our sessions and for us to treat them as if they were not approaching or already beyond the peak of the bell curve seen in the graph? Absolutely not! Instead, our mission for every athlete is to do what is best for their increased improvement…therefore we automatically adjust these players’ training curriculum to recovery based training.
By introducing recovery techniques (flexibility, foam rolling, nutrition, etc…) we can increase the lateral size of the curve, so that the “sweet spot” for performance enhancement is larger. At the very least, we can move the player back towards the left side of the curve, knowing that they will be put under more stresses with their teams, throughout the week.
This is what separates our programs from many of the other, general athleticism, programs in existence. We are all players and coaches of the game of soccer. We understand the weekly process of being a student athlete and have direct empathy through a relationship within every club. Do not…I repeat, do not let your player workout with programs that have no understanding or do not care (more likely) what season you are in or what you are doing the rest of your week. Specific training yields specific results. Do not get better by accident.