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Martin Buchheit, Mathieu Lacome, Yannick Cholley and Ben Michael Simpson

Purpose: To examine the reliability of field-based running-specific measures of neuromuscular function assessed using global positioning system (GPS)–embedded accelerometers and their responses to 3 typical conditioned sessions (ie, strength, endurance, and speed) in elite soccer players. Methods: Before and immediately after each session, vertical jump (countermovement jump [CMJ]) and adductor squeeze strength (groin) performances were recorded. Players also performed a 4-min run at 12 km/h followed by four ∼60-m runs (run = 12 s, r = 33 s). GPS (5 Hz) and accelerometer (100 Hz) data collected during the 4 runs and the recovery periods, excluding the last recovery period, were used to derive vertical stiffness (K), peak loading force (peak force over all the foot strikes [Fpeak]), and propulsion efficiency (ie, the ratio between velocity and force loads [Vl/Fl]). Results: Typical errors were small (CMJ, groin, K, and Vl/Fl) and moderate (Fpeak), with moderate (Fpeak), high (K and Vl/Fl), and very high ICCs (CMJ and groin). After all sessions, there were small decreases in groin and increases in K, but changes in F were all unclear. By contrast, the CMJ and Vl/Fl ratio responses were session dependent. There was a small increase in CMJ after speed and endurance, but unclear changes after strength; the Vl/Fl ratio increased substantially after strength, but there were a small and a moderate decrease after endurance and speed, respectively. Conclusions: Running-specific measures of neuromuscular function assessed in the field via GPS-embedded accelerometers show acceptable levels of reliability. Although the 3 sessions examined may be associated with limited neuromuscular fatigue, changes in neuromuscular performance and propulsion efficiency are likely session-objective dependent.

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Mathieu Lacome, Ben Simpson, Nick Broad and Martin Buchheit

Purpose: To examine the ability of multivariate models to predict the heart-rate (HR) responses to some specific training drills from various global positioning system (GPS) variables and to examine the usefulness of the difference in predicted vs actual HR responses as an index of fitness or readiness to perform. Method: All data were collected during 1 season (2016–17) with players’ soccer activity recorded using 5-Hz GPS and internal load monitored using HR. GPS and HR data were analyzed during typical small-sided games and a 4-min standardized submaximal run (12 km·h−1). A multiple stepwise regression analysis was used to identify which combinations of GPS variables showed the largest correlations with HR responses at the individual level (HRACT, 149 [46] GPS/HR pairs per player) and was further used to predict HR during individual drills (HRPRED). Then, HR predicted was compared with actual HR to compute an index of fitness or readiness to perform (HRΔ, %). The validity of HRΔ was examined while comparing changes in HRΔ with the changes in HR responses to a submaximal run (HRRUN, fitness criterion) and as a function of the different phases of the season (with fitness being expected to increase after the preseason). Results: HRPRED was very largely correlated with HRACT (r = .78 [.04]). Within-player changes in HRΔ were largely correlated with within-player changes in HRRUN (r = .66, .50–.82). HRΔ very likely decreased from July (3.1% [2.0%]) to August (0.8% [2.2%]) and most likely decreased further in September (−1.5% [2.1%]). Conclusions: HRΔ is a valid variable to monitor elite soccer players’ fitness and allows fitness monitoring on a daily basis during normal practice, decreasing the need for formal testing.

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Julien Robineau, Mathieu Lacome, Julien Piscione, Xavier Bigard and Nicolas Babault

Purpose:

To assess the impact of 2 high-intensity interval-training (HIT) programs (short interval vs sprint interval training) on muscle strength and aerobic performances in a concurrent training program in amateur rugby sevens players.

Methods:

Thirty-six amateur rugby sevens players were randomly assigned to strength and short interval training (INT), strength and sprint interval training (SIT), or a strength-only training group (CON) during an 8-wk period. Maximal strength and power tests, aerobic measurements (peak oxygen uptake [VO2peak] and maximal aerobic velocity), and a specific repeated-sprint ability (RSA) test were conducted before and immediately after the overall training period.

Results:

From magnitude-based inference and effect size (ES ± 90% confidence limit) analyses, the current study revealed substantial gains in maximal strength and jump-height performance in all groups. The difference in change of slow concentric torque production was greater in CON than in SIT (0.65 ± 0.72, moderate). VO2peak and, consequently, mean performance in the RSA test were improved in the SIT group only (0.64 ± 0.29, moderate; –0.54 ± 0.35, moderate).

Conclusions:

The study did not emphasize interference on strength development after INT but showed a slight impairment of slow concentric torque production gains after SIT. Compared with INT, SIT would appear to be more effective to develop VO2peak and RSA but could induce lower muscle-strength gains, especially at low velocity.

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Mathieu Lacome, Julien Piscione, Jean-Philippe Hager and Christopher Carling

Purpose:

To investigate the patterns and performance of substitutions in 18 international 15-a-side men’s rugby union matches.

Methods:

A semiautomatic computerized time–motion system compiled 750 performance observations for 375 players (422 forwards, 328 backs). Running and technical-performance measures included total distance run, high-intensity running (>18.0 km/h), number of individual ball possessions and passes, percentage of passes completed, and number of attempted and percentage of successful tackles.

Results:

A total of 184 substitutions (85.2%) were attributed to tactical and 32 (14.8%) to injury purposes respectively. The mean period for non-injury-purpose substitutions in backs (17.7%) occurred between 70 and 75 min, while forward substitutions peaked equally between 50–55 and 60–65 min (16.4%). Substitutes generally demonstrated improved running performance compared with both starter players who completed games and players whom they replaced (small differences, ES –0.2 to 0.5) in both forwards and backs over their entire time played. There was also a trend for better running performance in forward and back substitutes over their first 10 min of play compared with the final 10 min for replaced players (small to moderate differences, ES 0.3–0.6). Finally, running performance in both forward and back substitutes was generally lower (ES –0.1 to 0.3, unclear or small differences) over their entire 2nd-half time played compared with their first 10 min of play. The impact of substitutes on technical performance was generally considered unclear.

Conclusions:

This information provides practitioners with practical data relating to the physical and technical contributions of substitutions that subsequently could enable optimization of their impact on match play.

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Mathieu Lacome, Ben M. Simpson, Yannick Cholley and Martin Buchheit

Purpose: To (1) compare the locomotor and heart rate responses between floaters and regular players during both small and large small-sided games (SSGs) and (2) examine whether the type of game (ie, game simulation [GS] vs possession game [PO]) affects the magnitude of the difference between floaters and regular players. Methods: Data were collected in 41 players belonging to an elite French football team during 3 consecutive seasons (2014–2017). A 5-Hz global positionning system was used to collect all training data, with the Athletic Data Innovation analyzer (v5.4.1.514) used to derive total distance (m), high-speed distance (>14.4 km·h−1, m), and external mechanical load (MechL, a.u.). All SSGs included exclusively 1 floater and were divided into 2 main categories, according to the participation of goalkeepers (GS) or not (PO) and then further divided into small and large (>100 m2per player) SSGs based on the area per player ratio. Results: Locomotor activity and MechL performed were likely-to-most likely lower (moderate to large magnitude) in floaters compared with regular players, whereas differences in heart rate responses were unclear to possibly higher (small) in floaters. The magnitude of the difference in locomotor activity and MechL between floaters and regular players was substantially greater during GS compared with PO. Conclusions: Compared with regular players, floaters present decreased external load (both locomotor and MechL) despite unclear to possibly slightly higher heart rate responses during SSGs. Moreover, the responses of floaters compared with regular players are not consistent across different sizes of SSGs, with greater differences during GS than PO.

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Mathieu Lacome, Christopher Carling, Jean-Philippe Hager, Gerard Dine and Julien Piscione

Purpose: To examine the effects of an intensified tournament on workload, perceptual and neuromuscular fatigue, and muscle-damage responses in an international under-20 rugby union team. Methods: Players were subdivided into a high-exposure group (HEG, n = 13) and a low-exposure group (LEG, n = 11) according to match-play exposure time. Measures monitored over the 19-d period included training session (n = 10) and match (n = 5) workload determined via global positioning systems and session rating of perceived exertion. Well-being scores, countermovement jump height performance, and blood creatine kinase concentrations were collected at various time points. Results: Analysis of workload cumulated across the tournament entirety for training and match play combined showed that high-speed running distance was similar between groups, while a very likely larger session rating of perceived exertion load was reported in HEG vs LEG. In HEG, high-speed activity fluctuated across the 5 successive matches, albeit with no clear trend for a progressive decrease. No clear tendency for a progressive decrease in well-being scores prior to or following matches was observed in either group. In HEG, trivial to possibly small reductions in postmatch countermovement jump performance were observed, while unclear to most likely moderate increases in prematch blood creatine kinase concentrations occurred until prior to match 4. Conclusions: The magnitude of match-to-match changes in external workload, perceptual and neuromuscular fatigue, and muscle damage was generally unclear or small. These results suggest that irrespective of exposure time to match play players generally maintained performance and readiness to play across the intensified tournament. These findings support the need for holistic systematic player-monitoring programs.

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Mathieu Lacome, Ben M. Simpson, Yannick Cholley, Philippe Lambert and Martin Buchheit

Purpose: To compare the peak intensity of typical small-sided games (SSGs) with those of official matches in terms of running demands and mechanical work (MechW) over different rolling average durations and playing positions. Methods: Data were collected in 21 players (25 [5] y, 181 [7] cm, and 77 [7] kg) belonging to an elite French football team. SSG data were collected over 2 seasons during typical training sessions (249 files, 12 [4] per player) and official matches (n = 12). Players’ locomotor activity was recorded using 5-Hz Global Positioning System. Total distance (m), high-speed distance (HS, distance above 14.4 km·h−1, m), and MechW (a.u.) were analyzed during different rolling average periods (1–15 min). The SSGs examined were 4v4+goalkeepers (GKs), 6v6+GKs, 8v8+GKs, and 10v10+GKs. Results: Peak total distance and HS during 4v4, 6v6, and 8v8 were likely-to-most likely lower than during matches (effect size: −0.59 [±0.38] to −7.36 [±1.20]). MechW during 4v4 was likely-to-most likely higher than during matches (1–4 min; 0.61 [±0.77] to 2.30 [±0.64]). Relative to their match demands, central defenders performed more HS than other positions (0.63 [±0.81] to 1.61 [±0.52]) during 6v6. Similarly, central midfielders performed less MechW than the other positions during 6v6 (0.68 [±0.72] to 1.34 [±0.99]) and 8v8 (0.73 [±0.50] to 1.39 [±0.32]). Conclusion: Peak locomotor intensity can be modulated during SSGs of various formats and durations to either overload or underload match demands, with 4v4 placing the greatest and the least emphasis on MechW and HS, respectively. Additionally, in relation to match demands central defenders and central midfielders tend to be the most and least overloaded during SSGs, respectively.

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Mathieu Lacome, Simon Avrillon, Yannick Cholley, Ben Michael Simpson, Gael Guilhem and Martin Buchheit

Aim:

To compare the effect of low- vs. high-volume of eccentric-biased hamstring training programs on knee-flexor strength and fascicle length changes in elite soccer players.

Methods:

Nineteen elite youth soccer players took part in this study and were randomly assigned into two subgroups. For 6 weeks in-season, groups performed either a low (1 set per exercise; 10 reps in total) or a high (4 sets; 40 reps) volume eccentric training of their knee flexors. After 6 weeks (MID), players cross-overed and performed the alternate training regimen. Each training set consisted in 4 repetitions of the Nordic hamstring exercise and 6 repetitions of the bilateral stiff-leg deadlift. Eccentric knee-flexor strength (Nordbord) as well as biceps femoris long head (BFlh) and semimembranosus (SM) fascicle length (scanned with ultrasound scanner) were assessed during PRE, MID- and POST-training tests.

Results:

Knee-flexor eccentric strength very likely increased from PRE to MID (+11.3±7.8% [low-volume] and 11.4±5.3% [high-volume]), with a possibly-to-likely increase in BFlh (+4.5±5.0% and 4.8±2.5%) and SM (+4.3±4.7% and 6.3±6.3%) fascicle length in both groups. There was no substantial changes between MID and POST. Overall, there was no clear between-group difference in the changes from PRE to MID and MID to POST for neither knee-flexor eccentric strength, BFlH nor SM fascicle length.

Conclusion:

Low-volume knee-flexor eccentric training is as effective as a greater training dose to substantially improve knee-flexor strength and fascicle length in-season in young elite soccer players. Low-volume is however likely more appropriate to be used in an elite team facing congested schedules.

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Bruno Marrier, Alexandre Durguerian, Julien Robineau, Mounir Chennaoui, Fabien Sauvet, Aurélie Servonnet, Julien Piscione, Bertrand Mathieu, Alexis Peeters, Mathieu Lacome, Jean-Benoit Morin and Yann Le Meur

Purpose: Preconditioning strategies are considered opportunities to optimize performance on competition day. Although investigations conducted in rugby players on the effects of a morning preconditioning session have been done, additional work is warranted. The aim of this study was to monitor changes in physical and psychophysiological indicators among international Rugby-7s players after a priming exercise. Methods: In a randomized crossover design, 14 under-18 international Rugby-7s players completed, at 8:00 AM, a preconditioning session consisting of a warm-up followed by small-sided games, accelerations, and 2 × 50-m maximal sprints (Experimental), or no preloading session (Control). After a 2-h break, the players performed a set of six 30-m sprints and a Rugby-7s match. Recovery–stress state and salivary stress-marker levels were assessed before the preloading session (Pre), immediately after the preloading session (Post 1), before the testing session (Post 2), and after the testing session (Post 3). Results: Experimental–Control differences in performance across a repeated-sprint test consisting of six 30-m sprints were very likely trivial (+0.2, ±0.7%, 3/97/1%). During the match, the total distance covered and the frequency of decelerations were possibly lower (small) in Experimental compared with Control. Differences observed in the other parameters were unclear or possibly trivial. At Post 2, the perceived recovery–stress state was improved (small difference) in Experimental compared with Control. No difference in salivary cortisol response was observed, while the preconditioning session induced a higher stimulation of salivary testosterone and α-amylase. Conclusions: The players’ ability to repeat sprints and physical activity in match play did not improve, but their psychophysiological state was positively affected after the present preconditioning session.

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Bruno Marrier, Yann Le Meur, Cédric Leduc, Julien Piscione, Mathieu Lacome, Germain Igarza, Christophe Hausswirth, Jean-Benoît Morin and Julien Robineau

Purpose: To describe the training periodization in rugby sevens players competing in the World Rugby Sevens Series during a non-Olympic season. Methods: Workload data were collected over a 33-wk period in 12 male players participating in a full competitive season. Workload was quantified using session rating of perceived exertion and global positioning system–derived data during training and competition. Self-reported well-being was assessed using a questionnaire. Each variable was analyzed weekly and through 5 mesocycles (preseason, in-season 1–4), each of which ended with competition blocks. Results: The perceived load decreased throughout the season for the full squad (−68% [26%] between preseason and final competitive block, large effect) and when unavailable players were removed from the analysis (−38% [42%], moderate). Weekly perceived load was highly variable, with a typical periodization in 4 phases during each mesocycle (regeneration, training overload, taper, and competition). During the preseason, the workload was higher during the overload training phase than during the competitive period (range: +23% to +59%, large to very large, for the distance covered above individual maximal aerobic speed and the number of accelerations). This observation no longer persisted during the season. The well-being score decreased almost certainly from in-season 3 (moderate). Conclusions: These results highlighted the apparent difficulty in maintaining high-load training periods throughout the season in players engaged on the World Rugby Sevens Series despite ∼4–7 training weeks separating each competitive block. This observation was likely explained by the difficulties inherent to the World Rugby Sevens Series (risk of contact injury, calendar, and multiple long-haul travel episodes) and potentially by limited squad-rotation policies.