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Effect of Recovery Mode on Repeated Sprint Ability in Young Basketball Players

Castagna, Carlo1,2; Abt, Grant3; Manzi, Vincenzo1; Annino, Giuseppe1; Padua, Elvira1; D'Ottavio, Stefano1

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2008 - Volume 22 - Issue 3 - p 923-929
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816a4281
Original Research

The aim of this study was to examine the effect of recovery mode on repeated sprint ability in young basketball players. Sixteen basketball players (age, 16.8 ± 1.2 years; height, 181.3 ± 5.7 cm; body mass, 73 ± 10 kg; VO2max, 59.5 ± 7.9 mL·kg−1·min−1) performed in random order over 2 separate occasions 2 repeated sprint ability protocols consisting of 10 × 30-m shuttle run sprints with 30 seconds of passive or active (running at 50% of maximal aerobic speed) recovery. Results showed that fatigue index (FI) during the active protocol was significantly greater than in the passive condition (5.05 ± 2.4, and 3.39 ± 2.3, respectively, p < 0.001). No significant association was found between VO2peak and FI and sprint total time (TT) in either repeated sprint protocols. Blood lactate concentration at 3 minutes post exercise was not significantly different between the 2 recovery conditions. The results of this study show that during repeated sprinting, passive recovery enabled better performance, reducing fatigue. Consequently, the use of passive recovery is advisable during competition in order to limit fatigue as a consequence of repeated high intensity exercise.

1School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy; 2Scuola Regionale dello Sport delle Marche, Italian Olympic Committee, Ancona, Italy; 3Department of Sport, Health, and Exercise Science, University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom

Address correspondence to Prof. Carlo Castagna,

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Basketball is a multifaceted game during which aerobic and anaerobic metabolic systems are heavily taxed (39). Time-motion analysis studies have reported that during an average basketball game, players attempt as many as 105 high-intensity short-duration (2-6 seconds) bouts with one occurring on average every 21 seconds of live time (39). This suggests that the ability to repeat high-intensity efforts, including sprints (RSA), may be of importance for basketball players (52).

Repeated sprint ability has recently been the issue of a number of physiological studies addressing the physiological basis of this team-sport specific ability (25,52). However most of these studies used cycling as the exercise mode, and the few running studies available made players run over distances (30-40 m) that are never performed by court-game players such as in basketball (court length 28 m) (52).

Recovery mode is of importance in the determinism of intermittent high-intensity exercise like basketball. This is because most of the high-intensity exercise bouts during basketball are performed from an active state and only rarely do players stand still before an explosive bout of activity (39).

Therefore, more information on the effects of recovery mode on RSA is of considerable importance for understanding the determinants of fatigue in basketball.

Recently a number of studies have been conducted comparing the effects of active versus passive recovery on supramaximal (110-140% of maximal aerobic speed) intermittent (15-15 seconds) cycling and running performance (20,22). These studies showed that during supramaximal (>100% VO2max) intermittent exercise, active recovery results in a decrease in performance when considered as the time to exhaustion. However, during competition, basketball players very often attempt short term maximal sprints (2-6 seconds) interspersed with a short recovery time performed with either passive or active recovery (39). More recently, Spencer et al. (53) showed that using a cycling sprint protocol (6 × 4-second sprint with 25-second recovery) active recovery resulted in a greater power decrements (53).

Ratel et al. (48,49) reported that young subjects fatigue less during repeated sprint protocol compared to adults. Given that, among young subjects, recovery mode might exert less effect on repeated sprint ability.

The intent of the present study was to evaluate the effects of active versus passive recovery on RSA performance in young basketball players using a sport-specific RSA protocol.

In light of the findings reported by Dupont et al. (20,22) and Spencer et al. (53) it was hypothesized that RSA performance would be negatively affected by active recovery in basketball players.

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Experimental Approach to the Problem

In order to develop a basketball-specific RSA protocol, an explorative time-motion analysis study was performed in the attempt to examine sprint-stride sequences during a basketball game. According to the methods of Barbero-Alvarez et al. (2,3) a first-division basketball match was videotaped (AG 7350 VCR, Panasonic, Tokyo, Japan) and players' movements tracked for distance and time. Using the methodology developed by Spencer et al. (54) analysis of sprint stride sequences were recorded and analyzed (Tracking System, AgonMensor, Ancona, Italy) in terms of average time and distance per bout and number of bouts per sequence. To account for time-out calls and free-throwing pauses, time-motion analysis focused on playing periods that included sequences with less than 1 minute of recovery between 2 successive sprint stride bouts (speed above 15 km·h−1). Results showed that elite level basketball players (n = 17) can sustain, during an official highly competitive (play-off qualifying) championship game, as much as 19-20 sprint strides in a row with a work-rest ratio of 1:10 ± 3. This occurs before a break of 1 minute or more. Interestingly, 93% of sprint stride sequences included no more than 10 consecutive bouts. Average sprint stride bout lengths and durations were 7.38 ± 0.86 m (range 5-32 m) and 1.41 ± 0.16 seconds (1-8 seconds), respectively (mean bout speed 19.12 ± 0.72 km·h−1). In light of this explorative time-motion analysis study a basketball-specific RSA protocol consisting of 10 shuttle-run sprints of 15 m (15 + 15 m) interspersed with 30-second recoveries was developed. Reliability of this RSA protocol was tested with 14 players performing the RSA protocol 1 week apart. Fatigue index (FI) (24) ICC correlation was 0.96 (p < 0.001).

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Sixteen male (age, 16.8 ± 1.2 years; height, 181.3 ± 5.7 cm; body mass, 73 ± 10 kg; VO2max 59.5 ± 7.9 ml·kg−1·min−1) and highly competitive (winners of the regional league championship the season of this study) junior basketball players (Adriatica Basket, Porto Recanati, Macerata, Italy) volunteered to participate in this study. Playing experience of each player was no less than 5 years. They refrained from heavy training for the 2 days preceding testing sessions. During the 2 hours preceding assessments, only ad libitum water intake was allowed, and subjects consumed a light meal at least 3 hours before the commencement of exercise. Familiarization sessions were implemented during the week prior to the beginning of the experimental procedures. The present investigation was performed during the regular competitive season, with testing sessions taking place at least 2 days after the previous match. During this period of the season, players were submitted mostly to skill and tactical training sessions, undertaken (4 training sessions per week with a championship match during the weekend) in view of the play-off finals. At the time of this investigation players did not perform any specific strength and condition program. The average training session (∼90 minutes) consisted in 10 minutes of self directed warm-up (5 minutes of jogging plus 5+ minutes of static stretching) followed by 20-minute individual ball drills and 40-50 minutes of teamwork at various intensities. Players were well motivated, and throughout testing sessions, verbal encouragements were granted by the test leader (present study first author) and by peers to induce maximal effort. Written informed consent was received from all participants and parents after a brief but detailed explanation about the aims, benefits, and risks involved with this investigation. Participants were told they were free to withdraw from the study at any time without penalty. The local Ethics Committee approved the study.

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Testing Procedures

On a separate testing day, players performed three 15-minute shuttle run sprints (15mS) with a 3-minute recovery between repetitions in order to assess maximal sprinting performance. The best time scored over 15mS was considered as reference to check players' efforts during the RSA protocol. It was assumed that players had to run the first of ten 15mS considered in the RSA test at or faster than 95% of the individual best time over the same distance (17,24). None of the basketball players involved in this study failed to comply with the minimum speed criteria set for this study during the RSA protocols.

After the maximal sprint performance assessment day, testing sessions were administered in random order, with at least 48 hours between testing sessions, and consisted of: i) a test for maximal oxygen uptake using an exercise mode specific progressive protocol (multistage fitness test) until exhaustion (47) performed on a basketball court (wooden surface); ii) an RSA protocol with passive recovery; and iii) an RSA protocol with active recovery.

All testing procedures took place in an acclimatized gymnasium where temperature (18-20 C°) and humidity (45-50%) were electronically controlled.

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Maximal Aerobic Power Assessment

During the multistage fitness test (MSFT), gas analyses were performed using a portable, lightweight breath-by-breath gas analyzer (K4 b2, COSMED, Rome, Italy). McLaughlin et al. (40), Pinnington et al. (45), and Duffield et al. (19) have reported the validity, reliability and accuracy of the K4 b2 portable gas analyzer. Before each testing session, K4 b2 was calibrated according to manufacturer guidelines (K4 b2 user's manual, COSMED, Rome, Italy). Expired gases were monitored online during the field-testing sessions by telemetry. All testing sessions took place at a similar time of day to the usual training session times of the participants. The variables selected for the analysis were Peak VO2 (VO2peak), maximal heart rate (HRmax), and respiratory exchange ratio (RER). The highest heart rate achieved at exhaustion was considered as the individual HRmax. Peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) was considered as the mean of the VO2 values measured during the last 15 seconds of exercise. The criteria for attaining VO2peak included any 2 of the following: volitional exhaustion; attainment of at least 90% of the age-predicted maximal heart rate (220-age); RER equal to or greater than 1.10; and a plateau in oxygen consumption (increase less than 2 ml·kg−1·min−1) despite increased exercise intensity. Maximal aerobic speed (MAS) was calculated according to Billat et al. (6).

The MSFT was performed according to the guidelines established by Bangsbo (1). In order to avoid possible tracking speed problems (36), audio cues of the MSFT were recorded on a CD (, Ancona, Italy) and broadcast using a portable CD player. Reliability and validity of this testing procedure has been reported elsewhere (4,29,33-35,47).

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Repeated Sprint Ability Testing

Prior to each RSA protocol, players performed a thorough warm-up consisting of 10 minutes of jogging at 60-70% of HRmax followed by 5 minutes of exercises involving fast leg movements (skippings, cariocas, etc.) over 5-10 m and 3-5 single 15mS with 2 minutes of passive recovery. No static stretching was allowed before RSA protocol (16,30).

Sprint performance during the RSA protocol was assessed using a photocell beam connected to a laptop computer (Muscle Lab, Bosco System, Rieti, Italy). During the passive RSA protocol (PRSA), subjects were encouraged to decelerate as soon as possible after passing over the finish line and to reach the starting line walking slowly and waiting still for the next sprint on a line set 50 cm before the starting line covered by the photocell beam. In the active recovery RSA protocol (ARSA), players had to quickly decelerate (5 m) after passing the finish line and run toward a cone set at half the distance calculated to be covered in 27-28 seconds at 50% individual MAS. In order to avoid momentum, players stood still 2-3 seconds prior to the next sprint, over a line set 50 cm before the starting line.

As previously reported, to progress over the ten 15mS, players had to score at least 95% of the individual maximal 15mS score during the first RSA sprint. This was checked with the aid of a computer program (Muscle Lab, Bosco System, Rieti, Italy). In order to avoid pacing, players were requested to exert the maximum effort possible during each of 15mS and strong verbal encouragements were provided throughout the RSA protocol by the test leaders (first author of this study) and peers. Fatigue index (FI) was assessed according to Fitzsimon et al. (24).

To assess the lactic anaerobic system involvement, fingertip blood samples were taken before (BLpre), and 3 minutes post (BL3post) RSA protocols (Lactate Pro, Arkray, Tokyo, Japan). Before each testing session and before each blood sampling, the Lactate Pro system and reagents were calibrated and used according to manufacturer guidelines. Reliability and validity of the Lactate Pro system has been reported elsewhere (13,37,42-44,46).

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Statistical Analyses

Means and standard deviations were calculated for each variable. Normality assumption was checked using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test and from the visual inspection of normality plots. Comparisons between 2 variable means were performed using paired t-test (1 tail). Differences between 15-m shuttle sprint bouts were assessed using ANOVA for repeated measurements with Tukey's HSD post-hoc test. The relationship between different variables was detected using Pearson's product moment correlation. Significance was set at p ≤ 0.05 a priori.

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The average sprint time during the Passive and Active protocols were 6.17 ± 0.10 seconds and 6.32 ± 0.10 seconds, respectively (p = 0.03). Sprint times significantly deteriorated from the seventh and fourth repetition in the passive and active conditions, respectively. Ideal total times (best 15-m shuttle sprint time × 10) (24), calculated using the first 15-m shuttle sprint of the RSA protocol, were not significantly different from the ideal total time calculated using the best single 15-m shuttle sprint performance in either recovery condition (p > 0.05). Mean VO2peak was 59.5 ± 7.9 mL·kg−1·min−1. Pre RSA protocols BL concentrations were 2.5 ± 0.7, and 2.4 ± 0.5 mmol·l−1 for the passive and active conditions (p = 0.56). No significant difference was found between the passive and active conditions for BL3post (14.1 ± 3.5 and 13.2 ± 2.9 mmol·l−1, respectively, p = 0.19). There was a significant difference between active and passive protocols FIs (3.39 ± 2.3 and 5.05 ± 2.4, respectively; p < 0.001; Figure 1). Significant differences were found between passive and active total sprint times (60.6 ± 1.6 and 62.2 ± 3.0 seconds, respectively; p = 0.04; Figure 2). Peak oxygen uptake was not significantly related to RSA variables in either protocols (r = 0.12 ÷ 0.26; p > 0.05).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

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The main finding of this study was that adopting a passive recovery between repeated sprints resulted in a lower total sprint time and lower fatigue index (increased performance) across 10 bouts of maximal sport-specific sprints.

These results are in accordance with those previously reported by Dupont et al. (20,22), who used cycling and running protocols to exhaustion consisting of high intensity bouts performed at 120% of VO2max. In fact, Dupont et al. (20,22) showed that passive recovery (standing) resulted in longer time to exhaustion in moderately fit subjects (physical education students and soccer players, VO2peak 57.8 ± 7.1 and 55.0 ± 6.3 mL·kg−1·min−1, respectively) using constant intensity protocols to exhaustion. Dupont et al. (20,22) justified the longer time to exhaustion, resulting from the use of passive recovery, to a lower metabolic power (22) and a slower decline in oxyhemoglobin compared to the active recovery (40% VO2max exercise) condition. This latter condition probably enabled higher reoxygenation of myoglobin and a higher phosphorylcreatine resynthesis, leading to the observed longer time to exhaustion (20,22). This supposition was recently confirmed by Spencer et al. (52) using a cycling sprint protocol similar to this study. In fact, in that study, Spencer et al. (52) showed that in the active recovery condition (25 seconds at ∼32% VO2max) there was strong trend towards lower postexercise phosphocreatine (PCr) concentrations.

PCr depletion is considered a limiting factor in repeated sprint exercise (11) and PCr resynthesis has been reported to occur primarily by oxidative processes (38). Therefore, it is not surprising that RSA performance has been found to be significantly correlated with components of aerobic fitness, such as VO2peak and lactate threshold (12,18,41).

Although several researchers have suggested that higher VO2max may foster recovery and promote multisprint performance (26,52,57) the results of the present study showed that no significant interindividual correlation occurred between VO2peak and RSA variables. On the other hand, it is well known that correlation coefficients are sensitive to standard deviation size, where homogeneous samples result in poor correlation coefficients (58). This was probably not the case for this study as 68% of VO2peak values ranged from 52 to 68 mL·kg−1·min−1.

Recently, training status has been reported to affect RSA (9). Bishop et al. (9,10) showed the existence of a stronger correlation between VO2peak and RSA variables in less fit individuals (42.3 ± 7.1 mL·kg−1·min−1) compared to well-trained team sport athletes (55.7 ± 3.2 mL·kg−1·min−1).

As the average VO2peak of players in the present study are in the upper end range of that usually reported for elite level basketball players (28,32,39,55,56), individual fitness probably played a role.

In this study, postexercise blood lactate concentrations resulted in no significant differences between the 2 recovery conditions. This finding is in line with what was previously reported by Dupont et al. (20,23), who found lower or no significant postexercise blood lactate concentrations in the passive compared to the active recovery condition. These findings were further supported by Spencer et al. (54), whose biopsy study reported no significant difference in postexercise blood lactate concentrations between the 2 sprint protocol recovery conditions. However, they did find significantly higher muscle lactate concentrations immediately after exercise as a consequence of the active recovery.

This study and other authors' investigations challenge the common assumption that active recovery is beneficial in fostering blood lactate clearance during exercise (20,21,53). Although this study design may not explain the reasons underlying this occurrence, several authors have proposed that this is the consequence of the reduction of O2 availability for lactate oxidation imposed by the additional exercise O2 demands during active recovery (20,22,53).

Recent studies (50) have questioned the role of lactate accumulation at the cellular level as a pH-lowering factor. Despite the new biochemical role attributed to lactate, namely, its appearance coincident with cellular acidosis, lactate still remains a good, indirect marker for the conditions that induce metabolic acidosis (50). Repeated sprint studies showed that muscle acidosis may impair RSA performance (8,9); however, recovery conditions do not seem different in terms of pH variations (53).

Ratel et al. (49) reported that children fatigue less during repeated sprinting compared to adults. As a consequence, a different pattern from adult studies was supposed to occur in relation to the recovery mode. This study's results clearly showed also that in young subjects active recovery impairs RSA. Consequently, the information gained in studies of adults to explain the detrimental effects of active recovery on RSA may apply to younger subjects as well (20,21,53). Cross-sectional designs using a selected population of basketball players are warranted to gain more insight about the possible age related difference in RSA performance.

The results of the present study are in line with those reported by Hoffman et al. (27), which showed no association between aerobic fitness components and recovery indices in basketball players (50.2 ± 3.3 mL·kg−1·min−1) performing prolonged (30 seconds) maximal sprinting exercises (“suicide drills”). As a consequence, it could be speculated that maximal aerobic power is not a limiting factor on RSA performance in basketball players who possess VO2max levels that are above 50 mL·kg−1·m−1. However, as no training study has addressed the issue of the effect of aerobic fitness development on basketball performance, aerobic training should not be neglected. In fact, the sprint protocols used in this and other authors' studies considered exercising periods rarely exceeding 10 minutes including recovery, which is an quite shorter than that usually observed during basketball games (39).

Recently, Dupont et al. (21) showed that repeated sprint performance may be positively affected by the individual level of on-transient VO2 kinetics, as individuals with faster O2 response to exercise showed better performance during intermittent high intensity exercise. In contrast with the present study, Dupont et al. (21) found a significant correlation between VO2peak and RSA performance in well trained soccer players possessing a mean VO2peak similar to that reported here for basketball players (59.4 ± 4.2 mL·kg−1·min−1). However, Dupont et al. (21) used a longer RSA protocol,l which probably caused the differences observed.

As a result, it could be speculated that other components of aerobic fitness, such as the O2 response or lactate threshold (9), might have a greater effect on RSA performance in basketball players. Due to the interest in this issue, future research projects should focus on the components of aerobic fitness on RSA in populations of basketball players competing at different levels.

Short term high-intensity intermittent exercises have been proposed as a tool for improving VO2max and anaerobic capacity (18,53). Although the training outcome may be affected by the interaction of a number of variables, such as exercise intensity, recovery mode, work-rest ratio, and number of repetitions, active recovery has been recommended in order to decrease blood lactate concentration (5,7). This is because reduced blood lactate concentrations have been suggested to enable increased training intensity and volume resulting in better training adaptations (5,7). In the present study, we did not find any significant effect of recovery mode on blood lactate concentration.

In light of this and other studies' results, the general assumption (31,51) of a positive effect of active recovery on very high-intensity (from 120% VO2max to maximal sprinting) intermittent performance should be revisited. In fact, the papers that reported the superiority of active recovery on repeated high-intensity performance mainly used exercise protocols that were nonspecific to team sport performance, in terms of either exercise ore recovery duration (52,53).

It is concluded that when dealing with repeated short term sprinting (∼ 6 seconds) passive recovery is advisable to enable better performance in basketball players.

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Practical Applications

Although this is a descriptive experimental design, valuable information to direct basketball training and competition may be drawn.

Firstly, the RSA protocols used in the present study elicited blood lactate levels in the upper range of those reported to occur during actual game play (39). Consequently, sets of 10x15-m shuttle running sprints may be used with well trained basketball players, in order to prescribe anaerobic capacity drills. In this regard, recovery mode should not be a main concern for the basketball fitness trainer, as no difference in blood lactate concentrations was observed.

Line drills, when repeated, have been reported to elicit blood lactate concentrations similar to those reported in the present study and may be used to induce short term anaerobic capacity as well (27).

Secondly, as recovery mode was shown to affect repeated sprint performance, basketball coaches should advise basketball players to develop a sort of “sparing behavior” to be applied during the game (14,15) to avoid unnecessary activity. On the other side, coaches should frequently substitute players when game intensity does not allow frequent game interruption for free throwing or ball out of play.

Further research should be performed in order to evaluate the physiological stress imposed on basketball players during basketball-specific high intensity intermittent exercise protocols and to evaluate the RSA external validity and sensitivity on actual game play.

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The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this manuscript.

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team sports; high-intensity exercise; intermittent running; fatigue

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