Monitoring fatigue in athletes enables coaches to make appropriate alterations in training load prescription to facilitate sufficient recovery between training sessions. This is especially important during the in-season when full recovery is desired leading up to competitions. Recovered athletes will better be able to express their fitness and perform skills during matches in addition to being less likely to incur injury.
Resistance training has a variety of benefits that have both direct and indirect effects on performance in athletes. For example, increasing lower body strength can improve jumping ability, sprinting speed and change of direction. However, what is less known about strength is its potential role in limiting muscles damage following training or match-play.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Sports Sciences evaluated the effect of lower body muscular strength on indices of recovery in 10 professional male soccer players. Over a 5-month period, creatine kinase (a popular biomarker associated with muscle damage) was measured 48 hours post-match at three different time points throughout the season. Additionally, 4-repetition maximums in the half-squat were evaluated 3 days following each of these matches. The authors found that there were no significant changes in creatine kinase or muscular strength across the three time points. However, moderate to large inverse correlations were found between creatine kinase and strength levels. The authors conclude that stronger athletes show reduced levels of muscle damage two days following a competition.
Intuitively, a stronger lower body is more resilient to the stressors experienced during typical match-play in soccer. Stronger legs are less taxed when accelerating and decelerating the body compared to one with weaker legs. Let’s use an example to illustrate this point. Imagine two players of equal size and stature with the only difference between the two is that one can squat 315 lbs while the other can only squat 250 lbs. In both absolute and relative terms, the 315 lb squatter is stronger. When accelerating, jumping, landing and changing direction, the weaker athlete will be using a much higher level of effort and higher percentage of their maximal force production. This athlete not only runs the risk of being slower and less explosive, they may also fatigue easier, decreasing performance and potentially increasing injury risk. Therefore, developing high levels of strength in your athletes will not only impact performance, but also recovery following matches.
Owen, A. et al. (2015) The relationship between lower-limb strength and match-related muscle damage in elite level professional European soccer players. Journal of Sports Sciences, In Press.