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Concurrent Training – The Effect of Intensity Distribution

Periodization and planning of training is a topic that fascinates me as I enjoy studying how good coaches structure training and develop athletes. Lots of thoughts exist regarding the best periodization strategy to use (e.g., Linear, Block, Conjugate, Vertical Integration, Undulating, Daily Undulating, Fluid, etc.).

Concurrent training is one approach to structuring a training program where multiple qualities are trained within the same session. Of course, this may present problems where one quality (e.g., strength) may interfere with another quality (e.g., aerobic training) that you are looking to also develop in that session. For more on this issue, referred to as the interference phenomenon, see THIS blog post I wrote about 4 years ago.

A new study by Varela-Sanz and colleagues evaluated the effect of concurrent training between two programs that had equivalent external loads (volume x intensity) but differed in training intensity distribution. This evaluation may provide practitioners with a better understanding of the optimal dose and intensity needed to minimize the interference phenomenon. In team sport athletes, this may be essential as training and developing multiple qualities needed for sport is crucial and the shortened offseason periods can make program planning a challenge.

Study Overview

Subjects: 35 sport science students (30 men / 5 women)
Duration: 8 weeks
Independent Variable: External training load
Dependent Variables:

  • Counter Movement Jump
  • Bench Press (7 – 10 RM was performed and used to estimate 1 RM)
  • Half Squat (7 – 10 RM was performed and used to estimate 1 RM)
  • Max Aerobic Speed (Université de Montréal Track Test)
  • Body Composition (body weight & skinfold measurements)
  • HRV
  • RPE
  • Feeling Scale
  • Training Impulse (TRIMP)

Training Groups

  • Traditional Training Group
    • N = 12
    • This group followed the exercise guidelines recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which suggests that moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic exercise is performed on most days of the week.
  • Polarized Training Group
    • N =12
    • This group followed a polarized training program. Polarized training programs have been recommended for endurance athletes as a method of distributing training intensity. Despite this polarized approach, external load was matched to the Traditional Training Group.
  • Control Group
    • N = 11

Training Program

  • Training Frequency: 3x/week (Mon, Wed, Fri)
    • Monday & Friday sessions were ~120min
    • Wednesday’s session was ~60min
  • Training Set Up
    • Monday/Friday Training
      • Cardiovascular Training
      • Resistance Training
    • Wednesday Training
      • Cardiovascular Training

      Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 2.41.03 PM

Results

  • No differences for total workload, RPE, TRIMP, or Feeling Score were found between groups over the 8-week period.
  • The traditional training group was the only group to see a decrease in resting HR (both supine and standing) following the training program. No changes in HRV were seen for any group.
  • Both training groups saw improvements in 1RM for the bench press, half squat, and Max Aerobic Speed.
  • The polarized group saw an increase in body weight (without a change in body fat) following the 8-week training program and was still able to maintain their vertical jump abilities.

Practical Applications

I don’t know that this study moves us any closer to understanding the optimal distribution of training intensity when performing a concurrent training program. The polarized group performed easier cardiovascular training on days where they performed resistance training (Monday & Friday) and on Wednesday’s they performed easy cardiovascular training followed by high intensity interval training. The traditional group performed the same training session each day, with the same intensities for the duration of the 8-week program. Despite the differences in intensity distribution, both groups appeared to make improvements so it is really difficult to tell which method may be more beneficial (or perhaps, they are really just the same).

There are a number of things to consider when reading this study:

  • The subjects are not high-level athletes and it is possible that any form of training is going to provide a positive training effect.
  • Resistance training volume was low (they only used two exercises – Bench Press and Half Squat) so we don’t know what would happen if there were more resistance training in the program.
  • The polar training group trained opposite qualities during their training sessions, which is interesting given that a commonly held belief amongst coaches is to try and group similar qualities together in one session rather than mix them (IE, sprinting + heavy strength training or aerobic training + lower intensity resistance training).

Probably the most important thing that I think about with papers like this is that we need to begin to dig down into understanding individual differences. Comparing group means doesn’t really tell us how the individual’s responded and then allow us to make better inference to our own athletes about what sort of outcome we might expect to get when we write a training program. Training is a very individualized process and how someone responds to the program we apply to them is dependent on a number of factors – some that we might be able to measure and quantify and others which we might not be able to measure and quantify (and a few others that we might not even be aware of yet). In the process of evaluating individual differences we may find that some athletes in each group got better, a few stayed the same, and some may have gotten worse. Without understanding these individual differences and then attempting to unpack the deeper question of “why” it will be hard to plan individualized training programs in the future. If we can get to the bottom of how people respond to training and we can start to go down the road of figuring out the factors that influence that response we will start to have a better idea of the impact our training program will have for that athlete, allowing us to make individual adjustments that may lead to more favorable outcomes.