Tactical Periodization: Mourinho’s best-kept secret?


Delgado-Bordonau_Tactical Periodization Mourinho best-kept secret_SoccerJournal2012_Page_1I am definitely happy to share this excellent paper from my colleagues Juan and Alberto. A little less Sport Science- and more Coaching-oriented, this gives us a good framework to think on how to implement physical work within a very football-specific training approach. Enjoy !


Adding heat to the live-high train-low altitude model: a practical insight from professional football

aus-rule-football-2Finally! After 7 rejections, ‘one of the most rejected paper’ was accepted this morning in the Altitude for team sports BrJSM issue (following Aspetar conference in March 2013). I already see some readers saying “hum… a special issue? Aspetar is actually paying for it? This is why the paper was accepted!  – can’t be a good one with its rejection history!” Fair enough. But to be honest, I really don’t care why or where this paper is published today. The study ran with the Carlton FC (AFL) boys in November 2011 in Doha is probably one the very best study I ever had the chance to be involved in (competing with the 2012 Football project in La Paz for the first place). Results have to be published, because they matter to us (physiologists, sport scientists or strength & conditioning coaches). I would like to see someone working in elite team sports not interested in the results… any one?

The scientific publication process is a game; Sometimes you lose, Sometimes you win. The story of this study is worth taking a few minutes of your time, since it perfectly illustrates the problem that we have to face at each submission.

1. We are interested in practical studies, with practical results in elite players. I can’t be bothered conducting an altitude training study in recreational players, since these latter might definitively not be lucky enough to be given the opportunity (time and money) to do so. The problem is that with elite players in a real life scenario (i.e., pre-season camp), you have to do some concessions, which might partly affect the study design (e.g., group allocation, nature of the performance/physiological measures). However, the practical outcomes undoubtedly balance some of the possible methodological flaws/limitations. In the present study, our aim was ONLY to compare the MAGNITUDE of the effect on performance and some physiological variables of 2 different training approaches (heat only, or heat + altitude), that could be practically implemented in elite players. We definitively missed a control group (no heat, no simulated altitude) to assess the exact effect of heat per se. Fair enough. But from a practical point of view, this is not that of a problem. We just wanted to know whether adding the hypoxic stimuli is worthwhile, compared with heat only. Results show that the additional altitude training effect is very limited, which clearly answer our question – and again, I am sure that most practitioners would be happy with this. When compared with historical data from the previous years, we also documented a greater and faster improvement in performance, suggesting that the present intervention(s) were pretty awesome (likely because of the heat, but we can’t say it with absolute confidence…:)). Again, from a practical point of view, this is a cool result and this should be enough to deserve publication!?

–> Problem: Reviewers and editors want perfectly controlled study designs, and don’t care about the practical applications. They want you to answer physiological questions first. They don’t understand how load can be controlled outside the lab. They have never heard about session RPE, or GPS technology (actually this is the lady voice that asks you to do a u-turn when you missed the exit in your car). In short, the ignorance of reviewers and editors lead them to miss the fact that our field studies are actually much more controlled that they though. This attitude lead some editors to reject the paper at their level (didn’t want to waste reviewers’ time – MSS, EJAP – and even better, in Scan JMSS, S. Harridge, the editor in chief managed to disregard a quite positive review from a well-known AIS physiologist – pretending he didn’t get the review to justify his rejection. Yes, this is the reality!! This same editor had already rejected another paper because cold water immersion was not blinded in this study… !?). Just to show you how treated our papers are sometimes.

2. We have to use appropriate statistics, i.e., which highlight the magnitude of the training effects.

–> Problem: Reviewers in the altitude business spent too much time behind their desk, and simply want P values. With the 7 rejections and sometimes 3 reviews per submission, I had the chance to gather a few nuggets, as the legendary: “The study has some potential, but could you please run some stats?” What can we do? Will Hopkins wrote on another occasion: “I can’t be bothered addressing this kind of criticism. If you believe in God, no amount of evidence against His existence will disabuse you of your belief. Similarly, if you believe in null-hypothesis testing, the evidence for a better method of making inferences about true effects means nothing to you. In any case, has this person read the evidence? I doubt it.”

If I (we) had to do it again, I (we) would do exactly the same.

2011-10-20 14.45.16 2011-10-19 17.13.58

Buchheit, M., Racinais, S., Bilsborough, J., Hocking, J., Mendez-Villanueva, A., Bourdon, P.C., Voss, S., Livingston, S., Christian R.,  Périard J., Cordy, J., and Coutts, A.J. Adding heat to the live-high train-low altitude model: a practical insight from professional football. BJSM In press.

What is known on this subject
•    Hypoxic exposure (live-high, train-low model) can increase hemoglobin mass, especially in athletes with low baseline levels such as team sport players.
•    Short term heat acclimatization can increase plasma volume team sport players.
•    Combined, increased hemoglobin mass and plasma volume improve total blood volume and convective O2 delivery, which can, under some circumstances, improve high-intensity exercise performance.

What is this study adds
•    Pre-season outdoor football training in hot ambient conditions induces (at least) partial heat acclimatization in professional Australian Rules Football players, and is associated with very large improvements in high-intensity running performance.
•    The substantial increases in hemoglobin mass and blood volume observed immediately after a ‘live high-train low in the heat’ camp can last at least one month.
•    Compared with training in the heat only, an additional hypoxic stimulus during sleep and some training sessions has no high-intensity running performance benefits immediately after the camp. The possible greater delayed effects of the hypoxic exposure, if any, are only small in magnitude.


Objectives. To examine with a parallel group study design the performance and physiological responses to a 14-day off-season ‘live high-train low in the heat’ training camp in elite Football players.
Methods. Seventeen professional Australian Rules Football players participated in outdoor football-specific skills (32±1˚C, 11.5h) and indoor strength (23±1˚C, 9.3h) sessions, and slept (12 nights) and cycled indoors (4.3h) in either normal air (NORM, n=8) or normobaric hypoxia (14±1 h/day, FiO2 15.2-14.3%, corresponding to a simulated altitude of 2500-3000 m, HYP, n=9). They completed the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery level 2 (Yo-YoIR2) in temperate conditions (23±1˚C, normal air) Pre and Post. Plasma volume (PV) and hemoglobin mass (Hbmass) were measured at similar times and 4 weeks post camp (4WPost). Sweat sodium concentration ([Na+]sweat) was measured Pre and Post camp during a heat-response test (44ºC).
Results. Both groups showed very large improvements in Yo-YoIR2 at Post (+44%; 90%CL 38,50), with no between-group differences in the changes (-1%; -9,9). Post camp, large changes in PV (+5.6%; -1.8,5.6) and [Na+]sweat (-29%; -37,-19) were observed in both groups, while Hbmass only moderately increased in HYP (+2.6%; 0.5,4.5). At 4WPost, there was a likely slightly greater increase in Hbmass (+4.6%; 0.0,9.3) and PV (+6%; -5,18, unclear) in HYP than in NORM. Conclusions. The combination of heat and hypoxic exposure during sleep/training might offer a promising ‘conditioning cocktail’ in team sports.

Wellness, fatigue and physical performance acclimatisation to a 2-week soccer camp at 3600 m

2012-08-19 10.35.31 2012-08-16 12.18.56 2012-08-24 09.12.11

Buchheit M, Ben M. Simpson, Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Kristal Hammond, Marlen Kley, Walter F. Schmidt, Robert J. Aughey, Rudy Soria, Charli Sargent, Gregory D. Roach, Jesus C. Jimenez Claros, Nadine Wachsmuth, Christopher J. Gore and Pitre C. Bourdon. Wellness, fatigue and physical performance acclimatisation to a 2-week soccer camp at 3600 m (ISA3600). British J Sports Med, 2014, In press.

What is known on this subject

 The decreased oxygen availability at high altitude impairs aerobic exercise capacity; conversely, single sprint performance is acutely improved.

  • Psychometric and physiological measures, such as questionnaires or heart rate (HR) responses, can be used as indicators of acclimatisation to altitude.
  • At least 2 weeks of acclimatisation at the altitude of competition is generally recommended before playing matches, but information on team sports is lacking.

What this study adds

 Two weeks of acclimatisation at high-altitude is not long enough for native sea-level players to fully recover their high-intensity running performance, despite resting measures of HR, HR variability and wellness having returned to normal.

  • A two-week altitude training camp may impair sprint performance, probably as a result of the inability to maintain an appropriate neuromuscular load during training and matches.
  • The HR response to a submaximal running test can be used to estimate changes in high-intensity performance at altitude in native sea-level players.


Objectives. To examine the time-course of wellness, fatigue and performance during an altitude training camp (La Paz, 3600m) in two groups of either sea-level (Australian) or altitude (Bolivian) native young soccer players. Methods. Wellness and fatigue were assessed using questionnaires and resting heart rate (HR) and HR variability. Physical performance was assessed using HR responses to a submaximal run, a Yo-Yo Intermittent recovery test level 1 (Yo-YoIR1) and a 20-m sprint. Most measures were performed daily, with the exception of Yo-YoIR1 and 20-m sprints, which were performed near sea-level and on days 3 and 10 at altitude.

Results. Compared with near sea-level, Australians had moderate-to-large impairments in wellness and Yo-YoIR1 relative to the Bolivians upon arrival at altitude. The acclimatisation of most measures to altitude was substantially slower in Australians than Bolivians, with only Bolivians reaching near sea-level baseline high-intensity running by the end of the camp. Both teams had moderately impaired 20-m sprinting at the end of the camp. Exercise HR had large associations (r > 0.5-0.7) with changes in Yo-YoIR1 in both groups.

Conclusion. Despite partial physiological and perceptual acclimatisation, 2 weeks is insufficient for restoration of physical performance in young sea-level native soccer players. Because of the possible decrement in 20-m sprint time, a greater emphasis on speed training may be required during and after altitude training. The specific time-course of restoration for each variable suggests that they measure different aspects of acclimatisation to 3600m; they should therefore be used in combination to assess adaptation to altitude.

Physiological and Performance Responses to a Training-Camp in the Heat in Professional Australian Football Players

2011-10-21 11.49.17

Sebastien Racinais, Martin Buchheit, Johann Bilsborough, Pitre C. Bourdon, Justin Cordy and Aaron J Coutts. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, In press.


Purpose: To examine the physiological and performance responses to a heat-acclimatization camp in highly-trained professional team sport athletes. Methods: Eighteen male Australian Rules Football players trained for two weeks in hot ambient conditions (31-33ºC, humidity 34-50%). Players performed a laboratory-based heat-response test (24 min walk + 24 min seated; 44ºC), a YoYo Intermittent Recovery Level 2 Test (YoYoIR2; indoor, temperate environment, 23ºC) and standardized training drills (STD; outdoor, hot environment, 32ºC) at the beginning and end of the camp. Results: The heat-response test showed partial heat acclimatization (e.g., a decrease in skin temperature, heart rate and sweat sodium concentration, p<0.05). In addition, plasma volume (PV, CO-rebreathing, +2.68, 95%CI[0.83;4.53] ml·kg-1]) and distance covered during both the YoYoIR2 (+311[260;361]m) and the STD (+45.6[13.9;77.4]m) increased post camp (p<0.01). None of the performance changes showed clear correlations with PV changes (r<0.24), but the improvements in running STD distance in hot environment was correlated with changes in haematocrit during the heat-response test (r=-0.52,90%CI[-0.77;-0.12]). There was no clear correlation between the performance improvements in temperate and hot ambient conditions (r<0.26). Conclusion: Running performance in both hot and temperate environments was improved following a Football training-camp in hot ambient conditions that stimulated heat-acclimatization. However, physiological and performance responses were highly individual and the absence of correlations between physical performance improvements in hot and temperate environments suggests that their physiological basis might differ.

Keywords: acclimation; acclimatization; exercise; hot environment; temperature; football