Preparation for competition starts weeks, months and even years in advance. At the microcycle level, all training throughout the week is set up to allow for optimal performance on the day of competition. Training loads are managed properly, sufficient recovery before the match is given, nutrition is in check, etc. What about strategies that can be implemented on game-day for enhancing performance? A recent review paper by Kilduff et al. (2013) from the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance outlines some evidenced-based techniques that have been used to illicit performance improvements in athletes on the day of a competition. Today’s blog will list the highlights from this review paper.
– This may seem obvious, but a well developed warm-up protocol can have a direct impact on performance. Increases in muscle temperature are related to improvements in power output. Muscle temperature increases of approximately 3 to 4°C will have the optimal effect. A higher intensity warm-up protocol 15 minutes prior to competition appears to be the way to go. Waiting too long after the warm-up may result in decreases in body temperature.
- Passive Heat Maintenance
– This technique is used to offset this issues pertaining to body temperature decreases after a warm-up but before competition actually starts. 40% of body temperature increase from the warm-up can be lost in as little as 20 minutes. The use of specially designed heated garments, survival jackets and heating pads can be used to prevent decreases in body temperature and subsequent performance.
- Post Activation Potentiation (PAP)
– Following pre-loading, subsequent performance can be improved acutely provided that the rest period is within the sweet spot of allowing fatigue to dissipate but before the effect is lost. An example would be performing a heavy set of squats prior to performing a vertical jump. Post activation potentiation is thought to work through increases in myofilament sensitivity to calcium ions; enhanced recruitment of high threshold motor neurons; and an increase in CNS input to motor neurons. It is possible that PAP can also be caused by high intensity plyometrics (i.e., depth jumps). Obviously, the PAP technique applies mostly to individual sports that are brief in duration and require explosive ability (i.e., jumping, sprinting, throwing, etc.).
- Strength Training
– This probably goes against everything you’ve learned about sports training. But, early evidence suggests that a strength training session earlier in the day of a competition can prime same day performance. It is thought that the training session keeps testosterone levels high, preventing the natural diurnal decline later in the day.
- Hormonal Priming
– Piggy-backing on the testosterone theme mentioned above, there is evidence to suggest that showing the athlete film of themselves performing well with positive feedback from the coach can acutely increase testosterone. In contrast, showing the athletes film of the opposition with strong performance and listening to cautionary feedback from the coach has the opposite effect. Another study showed that having male subjects view intense training footage acutely raised testosterone levels and was related to improved 3RM performances in the back squat.
For team sports, it appears that coaches should pay close attention to warm-up protocols and focus their pre-game lecturing on building the confidence of the players.
Kilduff, L. P., Finn, C. V., Baker, J. S., Cook, C. J., & West, D. J. (2013). Preconditioning Strategies to Enhance Physical Performance on the Day of Competition. International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance, 8(6): 677-681.