A trend of correlation was detected between The Yo-Yo IR1 performance (distance covered) and session-RPE scores (r = 0.68, p = 0.06, Figure 6).
The main finding of this study was the occurrence of different weekly TL profiles in elite male professional basketball. This difference was related to the number of game played per week. Specifically, when only a week-end game was planned, a clear precompetitive unloading phase was evident (6). This occurrence is similar to what previously reported by Impellizzeri et al. (32) in young soccer players that showed a progressive decrement of the individual response to training approaching the competitive day (i.e., Saturday). When 2 games per week where undertaken the first competitive (i.e., Thursday) task was tackled with a tapering approach similar to that adopted during the 1-a-week game scheme. Although the second pregame TL (Saturday) resulted in being higher than that reported for the single game periodization week, this difference was not significant (p = 0.77).
This occurrence may be because of the accumulated fatigue experienced by the players and/or by intervention of coaches. Training schedule analysis showed that the day before the second contest of the week, the team coaches tended to increase the external TL. This possibly is the attempt to compensate for TL lost because of previous tapering strategies (i.e., prefirst game). Because no external intervention was provided (i.e., sport scientist support) for load distribution across the training week, this load pattern may be attributed to coach experience. However, no evidence-based data are currently available on the effect of such a planning strategy on game outcome (6). Controlled research design to determine which is the best, if any, tapering strategy to prepare competition in basketball is warranted (40).
Analysis of load profile distribution across the week showed that during the single game microcycle (i.e., a week-end game), an exponential unloading strategy was used by coaches and fitness trainers (see Figure 3B). This tapering strategy has been reported to be most effective in inducing positive effects on performance in endurance sport (6). Because of the nature of this study (i.e., descriptive design) and the difficulty in assessing performance in team sports (33,49), it is was not possible to test the effectiveness of this tapering strategy. Future studies involving match and time motion analyses and or game simulations (26,29,31) may result in being helpful in assessing the effectiveness of different tapering strategies in basketball (6).
Interestingly, the session-RPE TLs reported by players as a consequence of competitive stress resulted in being lower than that reported by Impellizzeri et al. (32) for soccer postmatches (525-575 vs. 625 AU). Although the players of this study competed at professional level, the game responses seems to evidence sport-specific game demands. However, because session-RPE TLs are time dependent (23,24), difference in game involvement (i.e., substitutions) may have played a role in the lower perception of effort evidenced by the present study basketball players. Indeed, the basketball players were involved for an average total playing time (i.e., live time plus stoppages) (39) of 70 ± 4.8 minutes. In the Impellizzeri et al. (32) study, soccer match session-RPE TLs were calculated only in players that were deemed to play at least 80 minutes per match. This difference in playing time was probably the reason for the lower mean session-RPE TL score reported by the basketball players of this study. In collegiate male basketball players (n = 14, age 20.2 ± 1.5 years, height 191.4 ± 4.9 cm, and body mass 89.3 ± 7.8 kg), Foster et al. (24) reported session-RPE TL score of 744 ± 84 AU for basketball practices and games. These scores are significantly higher than the mean session-RPE TL scores found in this study in professional basketball players and by Dellatre et al. (16) in young cyclists (311.31 AU). Considering the accumulated weekly TL, it is possible to have more detailed information of the actual subjective response to training prescription (31,32). In this study, the weekly TL corresponded to 2,928 ± 303 and 2,791 ± 239 AU (p > 0.05) for the 1-a-week and 2-a-week game periodizations, respectively (p > 0.05). The weekly TLs experienced by this study basketball players lies within the upper-range of those reported in the international literature that ranges between 1,386 and 3,725 AU for average level and experienced elite endurance athletes respectively (22,23). In young male soccer players Impellizzeri et al. (31) reported mean weekly TL of 3,475 ± 249 AU performing specific (i.e., small-sided games) soccer training during preseason. The weekly TL suffered a significant decrement (from 3,475 ± 249 to 2 798 ± 322 AU, p < 0.05) in the Impellizzeri et al. (31) study showing a period dependent (i.e., preseason vs. competitive season) profile of training responses. In this study, the basketball players were observed during the most demanding phase of the basketball competitive season when players were completing the regular season (second place) and preparing to play off finals (fourth final place). This design was used with the assumption that the information gained in this period of the competitive season were more representative of the typical weekly TL development in professional basketball (i.e., functional balance between conditioning and team-skill performance development) (4,39).
Comparison between the weekly internal load over the 2 competitive weeks load profiles showed that despite a different distribution of loads across the training microcycle (7 days) the overall TL remained constant (i.e., training sessions plus games loads). This, despite the weekly TL imposed during actual training sessions (5 vs. 4 sessions for the 1 vs. 2 games week profile, respectively) resulted to be significantly different (2,436 ± 233 vs. 1722 ± 229, p = 0.001). This may mean that spontaneously coaches and fitness trainers may impose across the competitive season a similar weekly TL in the attempt not to overload players. This conflicts with the progressive overload principle usually adopted in endurance sports (20-23,47). A possible explanation of this occurrence may be found in that team sports requiring frequent competitive involvements (i.e., 1-3 games per week), the implementation of a progressive TL across the competitive season is perceived by coaches as detrimental. In this regard, the time of the competitive season where the analysis was performed may have surely played a role (i.e., one month before the play-off finals).
The results of the present study showed that the session-RPE TL may be considered as a valid method to assess individual training responses also in professional basketball players. This finding is similar to that previously reported by several authors for endurance athletes (22,23,47) and by Foster et al. (24) and Impellizzeri et al. (32) for college basketball players and young soccer players, respectively. Indeed, the session-RPE score resulted either strongly related to Edward-TL and Banister et al. (32) TRIMP considered as gold standards when assessing TLs. This occurrence once again supports the notion (22-24,32,47) that session-RPE is a viable method to characterize training responses in players even at professional basketball level where either the training or the competitive demands are more likely to be in the anaerobic domain and consequently less dependent on the physiological marker of the aerobic pathway (i.e. HRs) (13). However, recently, several researches have shown that the aerobic involvement during competitive basketball, played at either youth or professional level is higher than was previously thought (3,4,7,39,41). Also, team-sport studies have shown that the session-RPE method is correlated to anaerobic effort markers such as blood lactate (13).
The findings of the present study showed that despite investigating a group of players training, the individual training responses were similar (Figure 5). This challenged our working hypothesis that was logically supported by previously published research on endurance sports (20-23,47). However, no record of physical demands on ball drills was performed (i.e., acceleration deceleration, etc.), and consequently, although the subjective responses were similar, the objective performance may have resulted in being different (20-23,47). Interestingly, a trend was observed between the mean individual session-RPE TL and Yo-Yo IR1 performance indicating that the more endurance-fit players experienced a lower internal TL. This would mean that specific-endurance fitness probably might play a role in response to training in elite basketball with the fittest players performing similar tasks than unfit players with concomitant lower perceived fatigue (8). This issue is of importance in implementing conditioning strategies in basketball, and consequently, further studies are warranted.
In this study, a descriptive nonexperimental design was adopted in the attempt to examine the spontaneous TL distribution in elite professional basketball. Although 200 training sessions were examined, a definitive inference about the TL distribution across the competitive season in professional basketball player requires a randomized trial design.
Men's professional basketball imposes great physiological and psychological stress on players through training sessions and official competitions (2-3 per week) (39). Consequently, the importance of a practical and valid method to assess individual TL is warranted. In this research, we demonstrated that session-RPE TL may be considered as a viable method to assess TL without the use of more sophisticated tools (i.e., HR monitors). The session-RPE method enabled the detection of periodization patterns in weekly planning in elite professional players during the crucial part of the competitive season (1 vs. 2 weekly fixtures model). Different precompetition tapering strategies were provided by coaches with prevalence of a marked decrement of the TL the day before a championship week-end game with respect to the Euro-league in-week game.
The use of the session-RPE method may represent a valuable tool for basketball coaches and strength and conditioning professionals to plan the training week in accordance to players' subjective responses (24,32). This may result in a practical (i.e., just asking “How was your workout?” 20-30 minutes after training) and inexpensive way to profile the weekly TLs taking into account the subjective responses to training (i.e., TL individualization) (24).
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