Study Designs to Reduce the Gap Between Science and Practice in Sport

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance

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Daniel BoullosaUniversidad de León, León, Spain

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While the scientific community generally agrees about what is considered the highest level of evidence, sport scientists with experience in both the field and in academia understand perfectly well that all the glitters is not gold.1 As an example, I have seen several times how the conclusions of a systematic review with meta-analysis changed dramatically after including a couple of articles. Furthermore, the discussions of selected systematic reviews with meta-analyses on applied topics sometimes seem somewhat naïve when considering the complexity of the topic. Scientism is a virus that has infected some academics to believe that science is infallible. However, although science is the best tool we have to understand and predict reality, it is not perfect and, of course, is performed by humans with all their human frailties. We should place trust in science but need to be careful about the true power of the scientific evidence in each case. The self-correction process of science is always present but often works slowly in a fast-moving world.

Another issue is the limited validity and reliability of selected protocols and monitoring tools in different sport settings at different times.2,3 Unfortunately, the universal characteristic of science, which is generalization, is not always applicable in all cases because of unknown confounders. This limitation is not the same as biological variability in individual responses, which means that, sometimes, the previously validated protocol doesn’t work well with some athletes because of unknown reasons related to biological variability. These 2 limitations were some of the justifications for our proposed taxonomy for postactivation performance enhancement (PAPE),4 where we suggested the presentation of the conditioning activity, the verification test, and the population of athletes. Therefore, while adaptations could be expected in most cases after different interventions in concordance with the scientific literature, we always need to check in every athlete the degree of agreement between purported and actual outcomes after a specific intervention.

The link between acute and chronic adaptations is another issue of concern.5 After scrutinizing the literature and considering my own experience as an amateur athlete, coach, and sport scientist, it seems there are lots of exceptions to this assumed link. We are referring to not only the contentious acute:chronic workload ratio for injury risk prediction but also the trivial relationship between what is observed as an acute response and what happens with chronic adaptations in many cases. For instance, there is no solid evidence demonstrating that PAPE is really necessary during training sessions to facilitate better chronic adaptations after complex training interventions.6 Simply performing different stimuli during the same session, or also in different sessions, seems to be sufficient for achieving a better adaptation when compared to a single stimulus, irrespective of the occurrence of PAPE. Another case may be when parasympathetic hyperactivity observed in heart-rate responses during the functional overreached state7 is interpreted as a positive adaptation without also considering other contextual and performance factors. Therefore, we need to revisit the assumption that there is a robust link between acute and chronic adaptations for athletes. At least, this assertion may not be true for specific cases that should be identified.

To overcome these challenges, I propose, whenever possible, that studies should report both acute and chronic adaptations. Then we can better understand if we need to monitor selected acute responses based on which related chronic adaptations may be expected after the training program is completed. This experimental approach would help verify if the widely accepted assumption of the link between acute and chronic adaptations is true in every case. Studies should also report the specific reliability metrics to identify the noise-to-signal ratio in each setting to objectively transfer this knowledge to coaches and athletes, who should subsequently elaborate on their own reliability metrics including the smallest worthwhile changes. Finally, sample and setting characteristics should be better described to identify potential confounders and covariates that could be verified in future interventions with appropriate statistical procedures. Better sample and setting descriptions would help us understand what happens after an intervention with both the average athlete and outliers.

While I understand that design and implementation of training interventions in sport science is not an easy endeavor, purposeful study designs will be helpful for both practitioners and researchers. Providing a better understanding of the real effects of training interventions on physiological and performance parameters would benefit both athletes and their coaches.

References

  • 1.

    Weir A, Rabia S, Ardern C. Trusting systematic reviews and meta-analyses: all that glitters is not gold! Br J Sports Med. 2016;50:11001101. PubMed ID: 26968215 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095896

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

    Lindberg K, Solberg P, Bjørnsen T, et al. Strength and power testing of athletes: associations of common assessments over time. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2022;17:12801288. PubMed ID: 35894923 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2021-0557

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 3.

    Lindberg K, Solberg P, Bjørnsen T, et al. Strength and power testing of athletes: a multicenter study of test–retest reliability. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2022;17:11031110. PubMed ID: 35477896 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2021-0558

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

    Boullosa D, Beato M, Iacono AD, et al. A new taxonomy for postactivation potentiation in sport. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2020;15:11971200. PubMed ID: 32820135 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2020-0350

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

    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. 2022;52:709724. PubMed ID: 34519982 doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01551-5

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

    Cormier P, Freitas TT, Loturco I, et al. Within session exercise sequencing during programming for complex training: historical perspectives, terminology, and training considerations. Sports Med. 2022;52:23712389. PubMed ID: 35816233 doi:10.1007/s40279-022-01715-x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 7.

    Le Meur Y, Pichon A, Schaal K, et al. Evidence of parasympathetic hyperactivity in functionally overreached athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45:20612071. PubMed ID: 24136138 doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182980125

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

The author (daniel.boullosa@gmail.com) is an Associate Editor of IJSPP.

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  • 1.

    Weir A, Rabia S, Ardern C. Trusting systematic reviews and meta-analyses: all that glitters is not gold! Br J Sports Med. 2016;50:11001101. PubMed ID: 26968215 doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095896

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

    Lindberg K, Solberg P, Bjørnsen T, et al. Strength and power testing of athletes: associations of common assessments over time. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2022;17:12801288. PubMed ID: 35894923 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2021-0557

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 3.

    Lindberg K, Solberg P, Bjørnsen T, et al. Strength and power testing of athletes: a multicenter study of test–retest reliability. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2022;17:11031110. PubMed ID: 35477896 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2021-0558

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

    Boullosa D, Beato M, Iacono AD, et al. A new taxonomy for postactivation potentiation in sport. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2020;15:11971200. PubMed ID: 32820135 doi:10.1123/ijspp.2020-0350

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

    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. 2022;52:709724. PubMed ID: 34519982 doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01551-5

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

    Cormier P, Freitas TT, Loturco I, et al. Within session exercise sequencing during programming for complex training: historical perspectives, terminology, and training considerations. Sports Med. 2022;52:23712389. PubMed ID: 35816233 doi:10.1007/s40279-022-01715-x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 7.

    Le Meur Y, Pichon A, Schaal K, et al. Evidence of parasympathetic hyperactivity in functionally overreached athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45:20612071. PubMed ID: 24136138 doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182980125

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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