Comment on Passfield et al: Validity of the Training-Load Concept

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance

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Shaun J. McLarenNewcastle Falcons Rugby Club, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom

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Tzlil ShushanSchool of Health Sciences, Western Sydney University, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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Christoph SchneiderDepartment of Training and Exercise Science, Faculty of Sport Science, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany
Department of Cardiology and Angiology, Contilia Heart and Vascular Center, Essen, Germany

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Patrick WardSeattle Seahawks, Seattle, WA, USA

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A recent review by Passfield et al1 critiqued the validity of the training load concept. They raise several interesting issues, many of which we agree with and have previously voiced.2 However, we contend that they did not criticize the concept of training load, as reported in their title and affirmed in various sentences of the article, but rather the metrics used to quantify training load. Training load is a higher-order, multidimensional construct that is not directly measurable but can be quantified in various ways according to how it is operationalized. For this reason, there can be no single “gold standard” criterion measure.3 Training load is the amount of physical training done or experienced by athletes.3,4 Internal and external training load are subdimensions of training load—each also a multidimensional construct—and can be operationalized to permit the use of measures as indicators of the construct(s).3 Questioning training load as a construct would require questioning its conceptualization, not the measures (operationalization of the construct).

In response to concerns that some measures of training load are not representative of training dose (which contrasts existing evidence5,6), Passfield et al1 propose that “one way to conceptualize a session’s training dose is by its immediate effect on subsequent performance” (referred to as acute performance decrement [APD]). A training effect is a consequence of the dose, among many other factors, and it is therefore not the dose itself.4 Training load (dose) and APD may be highly related in many situations, but they are distinctly different constructs. Identifying this dose–response relationship can support the validity of training load measures, but the opposite does not necessarily invalidate the measure. The absence of a dose–response association may be due to other factors, such as APD not reflecting all the mechanisms of training effects, or inappropriate modeling of the two constructs. Whether the APD can be useful to “conceptualize” training load needs to be presented in relation to relevant outcomes of the training process. This link was not presented or explained.

The APD is likely the consequence of fatigue at different levels, including neuromuscular and mental. The latter may explain the association with NASA Task Load. The NASA Task Load, however, is a multidimensional subjective experience of “workload” (task) according to 6 domains: mental demands, physical demands, temporal demands, performance, effort, and frustration level. The construct measured is unquestionably different to training load (dose). The relation between the various training load measures and APD may be interesting to understand the effects of fatigue but has nothing to do with the validity of the training load construct.

We commend Passfield et al1 for adding important discussion points to the topic of training load, but we argue, within a normal scientific debate, that they did not (1) challenge the concept of training load, (2) show the lack of validity of common measure of training load, (3) show the validity of APD as training load criterion, and (4) show the validity of NASA Task Load to quantify training load.

References

  • 1.

    Passfield L, Murias JM, Sacchetti M, Nicolò A. Validity of the training-load concept. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2022;17(4):507514. PubMed ID: 35247874 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2021-0536

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  • 2.

    Renfree A, Casado A, McLaren SK. Re-thinking athlete training loads: would you rather have one big rock or lots of little rocks dropped on your foot? Res Sports Med. Published online March 24, 2021. doi:10.1080/15438627.2021.1906672

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  • 3.

    Impellizzeri FM, Jeffries AC, Weisman A, Coutts AJ, McCall A, McLaren SJ, Kalkhoven J. The ‘training load’ construct: why it is appropriate and scientific. J Sci Med Sport. 2022;25(5):445448. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2021.10.013

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  • 4.

    Jeffries AC, Marcora SM, Coutts AJ, Wallace L, McCall A, Impellizzeri FM. Development of a revised conceptual framework of physical training for use in research and practice. Sports Med. 2021;52:709724. PubMed ID: 34519982 doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01551-5

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  • 5.

    Sanders D, Abt G, Hesselink MK, Myers T, Akubat I. Methods of monitoring training load and their relationships to changes in fitness and performance in competitive road cyclists. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2017;12(5):668675. PubMed ID: 28095061 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2016-0454

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  • 6.

    Manzi V, Iellamo F, Impellizzeri F, D’ottavio S, Castagna C. Relation between individualized training impulses and performance in distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(11):20902096. PubMed ID: 19812506 doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181a6a959

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McLaren (shaun@m-sps.com) is corresponding author.

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  • 1.

    Passfield L, Murias JM, Sacchetti M, Nicolò A. Validity of the training-load concept. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2022;17(4):507514. PubMed ID: 35247874 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2021-0536

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 2.

    Renfree A, Casado A, McLaren SK. Re-thinking athlete training loads: would you rather have one big rock or lots of little rocks dropped on your foot? Res Sports Med. Published online March 24, 2021. doi:10.1080/15438627.2021.1906672

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 3.

    Impellizzeri FM, Jeffries AC, Weisman A, Coutts AJ, McCall A, McLaren SJ, Kalkhoven J. The ‘training load’ construct: why it is appropriate and scientific. J Sci Med Sport. 2022;25(5):445448. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2021.10.013

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 4.

    Jeffries AC, Marcora SM, Coutts AJ, Wallace L, McCall A, Impellizzeri FM. Development of a revised conceptual framework of physical training for use in research and practice. Sports Med. 2021;52:709724. PubMed ID: 34519982 doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01551-5

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 5.

    Sanders D, Abt G, Hesselink MK, Myers T, Akubat I. Methods of monitoring training load and their relationships to changes in fitness and performance in competitive road cyclists. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2017;12(5):668675. PubMed ID: 28095061 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2016-0454

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 6.

    Manzi V, Iellamo F, Impellizzeri F, D’ottavio S, Castagna C. Relation between individualized training impulses and performance in distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(11):20902096. PubMed ID: 19812506 doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181a6a959

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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