Purpose: Performing against a virtual opponent has been shown to invite a change in pacing and improve time-trial (TT) performance. This study explored how this performance improvement is established by assessing changes in pacing, neuromuscular function, and perceived exertion. Methods: After a peak-power-output test and a familiarization TT, 12 trained cyclists completed two 4-km TTs in randomized order on a Velotron cycle ergometer. TT conditions were riding alone (NO) and riding against a virtual opponent (OP). Knee-extensor performance was quantified before and directly after the TT using maximal voluntary contraction force (MVC), voluntary activation (VA), and potentiated doublet-twitch force (PT). Differences between the experimental conditions were examined using repeated-measures ANOVAs. Linear-regression analyses were conducted to associate changes in pacing to changes in MVC, VA, and PT. Results: OP was completed faster than NO (mean power output OP 289.6 ± 56.1 vs NO 272.2 ± 61.6 W; P = .020), mainly due to a faster initial pace. This was accompanied by a greater decline in MVC (MVC pre vs post −17.5% ± 12.4% vs −11.4% ± 10.9%, P = .032) and PT (PT pre vs post −23.1% ± 14.0% vs −16.2% ±11.4%, P = .041) after OP than after NO. No difference between conditions was found for VA (VA pre vs post −4.9% ± 6.7% vs −3.4% ± 5.0%, P = .274). Rating of perceived exertion did not differ between OP and NO. Conclusion: The improved performance when racing against a virtual opponent was associated with a greater decline in voluntary and evoked muscle force than riding alone, without a change in perceived exertion, highlighting the importance of human–environment interactions in addition to one’s internal state for pacing regulation and performance.
Marco J. Konings, Jordan Parkinson, Inge Zijdewind and Florentina J. Hettinga
Inge K. Stoter, Brian R. MacIntosh, Jared R. Fletcher, Spencer Pootz, Inge Zijdewind and Florentina J. Hettinga
To evaluate pacing behavior and peripheral and central contributions to muscle fatigue in 1500-m speed-skating and cycling time trials when a faster or slower start is instructed.
Nine speed skaters and 9 cyclists, all competing at regional or national level, performed two 1500-m time trials in their sport. Athletes were instructed to start faster than usual in 1 trial and slower in the other. Mean velocity was measured per 100 m. Blood lactate concentrations were measured. Maximal voluntary contraction (MVC), voluntary activation (VA), and potentiated twitch (PT) of the quadriceps muscles were measured to estimate central and peripheral contributions to muscle fatigue. In speed skating, knee, hip, and trunk angles were measured to evaluate technique.
Cyclists showed a more explosive start than speed skaters in the fast-start time trial (cyclists performed first 300 m in 24.70 ± 1.73 s, speed skaters in 26.18 ± 0.79 s). Both trials resulted in reduced MVC (12.0% ± 14.5%), VA (2.4% ± 5.0%), and PT (25.4% ± 15.2%). Blood lactate concentrations after the time trial and the decrease in PT were greater in the fast-start than in the slow-start trial. Speed skaters showed higher trunk angles in the fast-start than in the slow-start trial, while knee angles remained similar.
Despite similar instructions, behavioral adaptations in pacing differed between the 2 sports, resulting in equal central and peripheral contributions to muscle fatigue in both sports. This provides evidence for the importance of neurophysiological aspects in the regulation of pacing. It also stresses the notion that optimal pacing needs to be studied sport specifically, and coaches should be aware of this.