Generally speaking, conditioning for sports performance should be specific to the demands of the sport in question. However, it’s important not to get too caught up in the “specificity” concept as things aren’t quite so simple in reality. Many individuals dismiss the importance of aerobic fitness for intermittent sports. The logic being that these activities are anaerobic and therefore, conditioning should largely be anaerobic in nature. Indeed, brief sprinting bouts derive energy from anaerobic metabolism (i.e. ATP/CP). However, it is through aerobic metabolic processes that CP is restored and hydrogen ions removed. Inefficiency in this regard will result in fatigue accumulation and reductions in repeated sprint performance.
Recent work by Jones et al. (2013) investigated the relationship between maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), the gold standard laboratory marker of aerobic capacity, and repeated sprint ability (RSA) in 41 professional male soccer players. The protocol was simple, VO2max values were collected in a laboratory for each athlete. Two days later, a valid and reliable repeated sprint ability test was administered to assess RSA. The RSA test involved a 20m sprint to a line with a change of direction and sprint back to the start (total of 40m). After 20s of active recovery, the athletes would repeat the sprint over a series of 6 sprints with each sprint being electronically timed. Prior to the test, maximum speed was assessed in each athlete to determine the changes in sprint performance across the RSA test. The results showed significant negative correlations between relative VO2max and mean and total sprint time.
This paper serves as a needed reminder that aerobic metabolism plays a critical role in intermittent sports. The controversy pertains to the manner of which aerobic fitness is developed during training. Some are avid opponents of low intensity, steady state work (i.e. 5km jog). Others demand that their athletes be able to complete great distances in pre-determined periods of time. The optimal method is context dependent. The nature of the sport and positional requirements should obviously be considered. Low intensity aerobic work can facilitate recovery and contribute to aerobic adaptations. A combination of intermittent and aerobic training will likely result in superior performance verses training one energy system exclusively. The take home message today is that aerobic fitness is an important determinate of team sport performance and should not be neglected during training.
Jones, R. M., Cook, C. C., Kilduff, L. P., Milanović, Z., James, N., Sporiš, G., … & Vučković, G. (2013). Relationship between Repeated Sprint Ability and Aerobic Capacity in Professional Soccer Players. The Scientific World Journal, Ahead of Print