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Sex Differences in World-Record Performance: The Influence of Sport Discipline and Competition Duration

Øyvind Sandbakk, Guro Strøm Solli, and Hans-Christer Holmberg

The current review summarizes scientific knowledge concerning sex differences in world-record performance and the influence of sport discipline and competition duration. In addition, the way that physiological factors relate to sex dimorphism is discussed. While cultural factors played a major role in the rapid improvement of performance of women relative to men up until the 1990s, sex differences between the world’s best athletes in most events have remained relatively stable at approximately 8–12%. The exceptions are events in which upper-body power is a major contributor, where this difference is more than 12%, and ultraendurance swimming, where the gap is now less than 5%. The physiological advantages in men include a larger body size with more skeletal-muscle mass, a lower percentage of body fat, and greater maximal delivery of anaerobic and aerobic energy. The greater strength and anaerobic capacity in men normally disappear when normalized for fat-free body mass, whereas the higher hemoglobin concentrations lead to 5–10% greater maximal oxygen uptake in men with such normalization. The higher percentage of muscle mass in the upper body of men results in a particularly large sex difference in power production during upper-body exercise. While the exercise efficiency of men and women is usually similar, women have a better capacity to metabolize fat and demonstrate better hydrodynamics and more even pacing, which may be advantageous, in particular during long-lasting swimming competitions.

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Comparison of a Traditional Graded Exercise Protocol With a Self-Paced 1-km Test to Assess Maximal Oxygen Consumption

Roland van den Tillaar, Erna von Heimburg, and Guro Strøm Solli

Purpose: To compare the assessment of the maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) in a traditional graded exercise test (GXT) with a 1-km self-paced running test on a nonmotorized treadmill in men and women. Methods: A total of 24 sport-science students (12 women: age 23.7 [7.7] y, body height 1.68 [0.02] m, body mass 66.6 [4.3] kg; 12 men: 22.1 [3.1] y, body height 1.82 [0.06] m, body mass 75.6 [11.0] kg) performed a traditional GXT on a motorized treadmill and a 1-km self-paced running test on a nonmotorized treadmill. VO2max, blood lactate, heart rate, and rating of perceived exertion, together with running velocity and duration at each test, were measured. Results: The main findings of the study were that the 1-km test produced significantly higher VO2max values (53.2 [9.9] vs 51.8 [8.8] mL/kg/min ) and blood lactate concentrations (11.9 [1.8] vs 11.1 [2.2] mmol/L) than the GXT (F ≥ 4.8, P ≤ .04, η 2 ≥ .18). However, after controlling for sex, these differences were only present in men (60.6 [8.1] vs 58.1 [8.0] mL/kg/min , P = .027). Peak running velocity was higher in the GXT than in the 1-km test (15.7 [2.7] vs 13.0 [2.8] km/h). Men had higher VO2max values and running velocities than women in both tests. However, men and women used approximately similar pacing strategies during the 1-km test. Conclusions: Higher VO2max values were observed in a 1-km self-paced test than in the GXT. This indicates that a 1-km running test performed on a nonmotorized treadmill could serve as a simple and sport-specific alternative for the assessment of VO2max.

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One Long Versus 2 Short Sessions? Physiological and Perceptual Responses to Low-Intensity Training at Self-Selected Speeds in Cross-Country Skiers

Rune Kjøsen Talsnes, Sigrid Nordgården, Jan Kocbach, and Guro Strøm Solli

Purpose: To compare self-selected speeds and corresponding physiological responses and perceived training stress between 1 long session versus 2 shorter sessions of low-intensity training (LIT) in 1 day among cross-country skiers. Methods: Thirteen national-level skiers performed 2 different LIT types during classical roller-skiing matched for the same distance in a counterbalanced order. The training consisted of either 1 long (approximately 3 h) session (1LIT) or 2 shorter (approximately 1.5 h each) sessions (2LIT) with 7 hours of recovery in between. Speed, heart rate, rating of perceived exertion, and blood lactate concentrations were measured, and perceived training stress (1–10) was assessed after sessions. Results: 2LIT was performed at mean (SD) 1.9% (2.0%) higher speeds versus 1LIT (P ≤ .01). Higher speeds were also found in the second versus first session of 2LIT and the second versus first part of 1LIT (1.9% [3.2%] and 3.2% [3.6%], respectively, both P ≤ .01). There were no significant differences between LIT types in heart rate, although rating of perceived exertion increased in the second versus first part of 1LIT (0.9 [0.8] point, P ≤ .01). Blood lactate concentration was reduced in the second versus first session/part of both LIT types (approximately 0.16 [0.20] mmol·L−1, P ≤ .05). There were no differences in perceived training stress between LIT types 7 and 23 hours after training, although higher perceived muscular exertion (2.0 [1.1] points, P ≤ .01) was found directly after 1LIT. Conclusions: Compared with a distance-matched long session, skiers perform 2LIT at slightly higher self-selected speeds with the same physiological responses elicited, although minor differences in perceived training stress were observed.

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The Effects of a Short Specific Versus a Long Traditional Warm-Up on Time-Trial Performance in Cross-Country Skiing Sprint

Guro Strøm Solli, Pål Haugnes, Jan Kocbach, Roland van den Tillaar, Per Øyvind Torvik, and Øyvind Sandbakk

Purpose: To compare the effects of a short specific and a long traditional warm-up on time-trial performance in cross-country skiing sprint using the skating style, as well as related differences in pacing strategy and physiological responses. Methods: In total, 14 (8 men and 6 women) national-level Norwegian cross-country skiers (age 20.4 [3.1] y; VO2max 65.9 [5.7] mL/kg/min) performed 2 types of warm-up (short, 8 × 100 m with gradual increase from 60% to 95% of maximal speed with a 1-min rest between sprints, and long, ∼35 min at low intensity, including 5 min at moderate and 3 min at high intensity) in a randomized order with 1 hour and 40 minutes of rest between tests. Each warm-up was followed by a 1.3-km sprint time trial, with continuous measurements of speed and heart rate. Results: No difference in total time for the time trial between the short and long warm-ups (199 [17] vs 200 [16] s; P = .952), or average speed and heart rate for the total course, or in the 6 terrain sections (all P < .41, η 2 < .06) was found. There was an effect of order, with total time-trial time being shorter during test 2 than test 1 (197 [16] vs 202 [16] s; P = .004). No significant difference in blood lactate and rating of perceived exertion was found between the short versus long warm-ups or between test 1 and test 2 at any of the measurement points during the test day (P < .58, η 2 > .01). Conclusions: This study indicates that a short specific warm-up could be as effective as a long traditional warm-up during a sprint time trial in cross-country skiing.

Free access

Training Quality—What Is It and How Can We Improve It?

Silvana Bucher Sandbakk, Jacob Walther, Guro Strøm Solli, Espen Tønnessen, and Thomas Haugen

Purpose: The concept of training quality reflects that the effect of training is dependent on more than the mere product of training load (eg, duration, intensity, frequency). The aims of this commentary are to (1) propose a practice-oriented framework to describe training quality and its general and context-dependent characteristics and (2) discuss how athletes and coaches can work to improve training quality. Conclusions: Training quality can be viewed from different perspectives. The holistic dimension includes the entire training process (goal setting, gap analysis, application of training principles and methods, etc), while a narrower dimension encompasses the specific training sessions and how they are executed in relation to the intended purpose. To capture the varying contexts, we define training quality as the degree of excellence related to how the training process or training sessions are executed to optimize adaptations and, thereby, improve overall performance. Although training quality is challenging to quantify, we argue that identification and assessment of quality indicators will increase our scientific understanding and consequently help coaches and athletes to improve training quality. We propose that the physical, technical, and psychological factors of training quality can be improved through an individualized learning process of systematic planning, execution, and debriefing. However, assessment tools should be identified and scientifically validated across different training sessions and sports. We encourage further interventions to improve training quality.

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Body Composition, Energy Availability, Training, and Menstrual Status in Female Runners

Johanna K. Ihalainen, Oona Kettunen, Kerry McGawley, Guro Strøm Solli, Anthony C. Hackney, Antti A. Mero, and Heikki Kyröläinen

Purpose: To determine body composition, energy availability, training load, and menstrual status in young elite endurance running athletes (ATH) over 1 year, and in a secondary analysis, to investigate how these factors differ between nonrunning controls (CON), and amenorrheic (AME) and eumenorrheic (EUM) ATH. Correlations to injury, illness, and performance were also examined. Methods: Altogether 13 ATH and 8 CON completed the Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire. Anthropometric, energy intake, and peak oxygen uptake assessments were made at 4 time points throughout the year: at baseline post competition season, post general preparation, post specific preparation, and post competition season the following year. Logs of physical activity, menstrual cycle, illness, and injury were kept by all participants. Performance was defined using the highest International Association of Athletics Federations points prior to and after the study. Results: ATH had significantly lower body mass (P < .008), fat percentage (P < .001), and body mass index (P < .027) compared with CON, while energy availability did not differ between ATH and CON. The Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire score was higher in ATH than in CON (P < .028), and 8 ATH (vs zero CON) were AME. The AME had significantly more injury days (P < .041) and ran less (P < .046) than EUM, while total annual running distance was positively related to changes in performance in ATH (r < .62, P < .043, n < 11). Conclusions: More than half of this group of runners was AME, and they were injured more and ran less than their EUM counterparts. Furthermore, only the EUM runners increased their performance over the course of the year.

Open access

Performance Effects of Video- and Sensor-Based Feedback for Implementing a Terrain-Specific Micropacing Strategy in Cross-Country Skiing

Trine M. Seeberg, Jan Kocbach, Rune Kjøsen Talsnes, Frederic Meyer, Thomas Losnegard, Johannes Tjønnås, Øyvind Sandbakk, and Guro Strøm Solli

Purpose: To investigate the performance effects of video- and sensor-based feedback for implementing a terrain-specific micropacing strategy in cross-country (XC) skiing. Methods: Following a simulated 10-km skating time trial (Race1) on snow, 26 national-level male XC skiers were randomly allocated into an intervention (n = 14) or control group (n = 12), before repeating the race (Race2) 2 days later. Between races, intervention received video- and sensor-based feedback through a theoretical lecture and a practical training session aiming to implement a terrain-specific micropacing strategy focusing on active power production over designated hilltops to save time in the subsequent downhill. The control group only received their overall results and performed a training session with matched training load. Results: From Race1 to Race2, the intervention group increased the total variation of chest acceleration on all hilltops (P < .001) and reduced time compared with the control group in a specifically targeted downhill segment (mean group difference: −0.55 s; 95% confidence interval [CI], −0.9 to −0.19 s; P = .003), as well as in overall time spent in downhill (−14.4 s; 95% CI, −21.4 to −7.4 s; P < .001) and flat terrain (−6.5 s; 95% CI, −11.0 to −1.9 s; P = .006). No between-groups differences were found for either overall uphill terrain (−9.3 s; 95% CI, −31.2 to 13.2 s; P = .426) or total race time (−32.2 s; 95% CI, −100.2 to 35.9 s; P = .339). Conclusion: Targeted training combined with video- and sensor-based feedback led to a successful implementation of a terrain-specific micropacing strategy in XC skiing, which reduced the time spent in downhill and flat terrain for intervention compared with a control group. However, no change in overall performance was observed between the 2 groups of XC skiers.

Free access

The Evolution of World-Class Endurance Training: The Scientist’s View on Current and Future Trends

Øyvind Sandbakk, David B. Pyne, Kerry McGawley, Carl Foster, Rune Kjøsen Talsnes, Guro Strøm Solli, Grégoire P. Millet, Stephen Seiler, Paul B. Laursen, Thomas Haugen, Espen Tønnessen, Randy Wilber, Teun van Erp, Trent Stellingwerff, Hans-Christer Holmberg, and Silvana Bucher Sandbakk

Background: Elite sport is continuously evolving. World records keep falling and athletes from a longer list of countries are involved. Purpose: This commentary was designed to provide insights into present and future trends associated with world-class endurance training based on the perspectives, experience, and knowledge of an expert panel of 25 applied sport scientists. Results: The key drivers of development observed in the past 10–15 years were related to (1) more accessible scientific knowledge for coaches and athletes combined with (2) better integration of practical and scientific exchange across multidisciplinary perspectives within professionalized elite athlete support structures, as well as (3) utilization of new technological advances. Based on these perspectives, we discerned and exemplified the main trends in the practice of endurance sports into the following categories: better understanding of sport-specific demands; improved competition execution; larger, more specific, and more precise training loads; improved training quality; and a more professional and healthier lifestyle. The main areas expected to drive future improvements were associated with more extensive use of advanced technology for monitoring and prescribing training and recovery, more precise use of environmental and nutritional interventions, better understanding of athlete–equipment interactions, and greater emphasis on preventing injuries and illnesses. Conclusions: These expert insights can serve as a platform and inspiration to develop new hypotheses and ideas, encourage future collaboration between researchers and sport practitioners, and, perhaps most important, stimulate curiosity and further collaborative studies about the training, physiology, and performance of endurance athletes.