Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

The Effect of Heavy- vs. Moderate-Load Training on the Development of Strength, Power, and Throwing Ball Velocity in Male Handball Players

Hermassi, Souhail1; Chelly, Mohamed Souhaiel1,2; Fathloun, Mourad3; Shephard, Roy J4

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: September 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 9 - p 2408-2418
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e58d7c
Original Research
Free

Hermassi, S, Chelly, MS, Fathloun, M, and Shephard, RJ. The effect of heavy- vs. moderate-load training on the development of strength, power, and throwing ball velocity in male handball players. J Strength Cond Res 24(X): 000-000, 2010-The aim was to compare the effect of 2 differing 10-week resistance training programs on the peak power (PP) output, muscle volume, strength, and throwing velocity of the upper limbs in handball players during the competitive season. The subjects were 26 men (age 20.0 ± 0.6 years, body mass 85.0 ± 13.2 kg, height 1.86 ± 0.06 m, and body fat 13.7 ± 2.4%). They were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: control (C; n = 8), heavy resistance (n = 9), or moderate resistance (MR; n = 9) training, performed twice a week. A force-velocity test on an appropriately modified Monark cycle ergometer determined PP. Muscle volumes were estimated using a standard anthropometric kit. One-repetition maximum (1RM) bench press (1RMBP) and 1RM pull-over (1RMPO) scores assessed arm strength. Handball throwing velocity was measured with (TR) and without run-up (TW). Both training programs enhanced absolute PP relative to controls (p < 0.05), although differences disappeared if PP was expressed per unit of muscle volume. Heavy resistance-enhanced 1RMBP and 1RMPO compared to both MR (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05, respectively) and C (p < 0.001 for both tests). Heavy resistance also increased TR and TW compared to C (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05, respectively). Moderate resistance increased only TR compared to C (p < 0.01). Thus, during the competitive season, the PP, 1RMBP, 1RMPO, and TW of male handball players were increased more by 10 weeks of bench press and pull-over training with suitably adapted heavy loads than with moderate loads. It would seem advantageous to add such resistance exercise before customary technical and tactical handball training sessions.

1Research Unit “Evaluation and Analysis of Factors Influencing Sport performance”, Higher Institute of Sport and Physical Education of Ksar Said, Tunis, Tunisia; 2Higher Institute of Sport and Physical Education of Ksar Said, Tunis, Tunisia; 3Higher Institute of Sport and Physical Education, El Kef, Tunisia; and 4Faculty of Physical Education & Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Address correspondence to Dr. Mohamed Souhaiel Chelly, csouhaiel@yahoo.fr.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Introduction

Team handball is an Olympic sport that has rarely been the object of scientific investigation. Available research suggests that successful players have well-developed aerobic and anaerobic fitness (6,10,29). The physical demands are for running, jumping, sprinting, throwing, hitting, blocking, and pushing. The game requires high-impact intermittent exercise, with many lateral movements, jumps, and throws (10). Throwing is a fundamental skill. Two basic factors influence the efficiency of shots: accuracy and throwing velocity. The faster the ball is thrown, the less time defenders have to save the shot. Handball coaches and scientists seem agreed that the main determinants of throwing velocity are technique, the timing of movement in consecutive body segments, and the strength and power of both the upper and lower limbs (11). Each of these factors can be improved by training, particularly resistance programs designed to enhance strength and power in both the upper and lower limbs. However, there is disagreement concerning the type of overload that is most likely to enhance velocity. Training programs that produce the greatest change in muscle cross-section typically involve loads of 70% 1 repetition maximum (1RM) (22), whereas programs designed to improve strength through enhanced neuronal coordination are typified by intensities of 85-100% 1RM (5,22). The use of moderate loads allows the trainee to attain greater velocities and accelerations, with a potential for transfer to such activities as handball (5). Nevertheless, many studies have argued that heavy training (>80% 1RM) can not only enhance power and strength but can also enhance the handball throwing velocity of the upper limbs (10,22,34).

In his brief review, Van Den Tillaar (34) summarized current knowledge on the respective benefits of various handball-training programs (training with overweight balls, training with underweight balls, training with underweight and overweight balls, and general weight training). He concluded that no clear answer could as yet be given as to the type of resistance training that was most effective in increasing throwing velocity. There was no consensus on the optimal loading for developing maximal strength, power, and thus throwing velocity. Moreover, the few published studies of programs intended to increase strength and throwing velocity in handball players have used only concentric exercises (10,13,18,24). However, most of the actions required during play-but especially throwing the ball-require a combination of eccentric and concentric contractions (a stretch-shortening cycle [SSC]). Use of SSC exercises seems important for enhancement of an individual's power. Because greater power outputs are developed, greater power adaptation is likely. Moreover, the velocity and acceleration profiles of the rebound movement simulate those that occur during throwing more closely than do the movements seen with nonrebound exercise (in particular, they have a higher velocity and a longer period of acceleration) (5).

Based on the technical limitations and inconclusive nature of the aforementioned studies, our aim was to compare the increases of performance induced when heavy resistance (HR) or moderate resistance (MR) training was added to the normal in-season regimen of experienced handball players. To incorporate the prestretch inherent to handball into both types of training, we used a succession of eccentric-concentric contractions. We hypothesized that 10 weeks of either HR or MR training performed twice a week would enhance handball throwing velocity, strength, and power in the upper limbs relative to players continuing with their normal in-season regimen, and we aimed to determine which of the 2 programs would be most effective.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

This study was designed to address the question: “How far does 10 weeks of HR or MR in-season training, performed twice per week, enhance the performance of handball players?” To examine the question experimentally, a team of experienced players was divided randomly into 3 groups: HR (n = 9), MR(n = 9), and control (standard in-season regimen) (C; n = 8). All participants completed 2 familiarization trials in the 2 weeks before definitive testing. Definitive measurements began 4 months into the playing season; data were collected before the start of the enhanced training, and after completion of the 10-week trial. On each occasion, the protocol included a force-velocity test to evaluate the muscle power of the upper limbs, a handball-throwing test, a 1RM bench press, pull-over, and detailed anthropometric measurements to assess the volume of muscle in the upper limbs. Testing sessions were carried out at the same time of the day, and under the same experimental conditions, at least 3 days after the most recent competition. Players maintained their normal intake of food and fluids during the trial. However, they abstained from physical exercise for 1 day before testing, drank no caffeine-containing beverages in the 4 hours preceding testing, and ate no food for 2 hours before testing. Verbal encouragement ensured maximal effort throughout the tests of muscle performance.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Subjects

All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Committee for the ethical use of human subjects, according to current national laws and regulations. Participants gave written informed consent after receiving both a verbal and a written explanation of the experimental design and its potential risks. Subjects were told that they were free to withdraw from the trial without penalty at any time. Our investigation was focused on 26 elite male handball players (age 20 ± 0.6 years, body mass 85.0 ± 13.2 kg, height 1.85 ± 0.06 m, and body fat 13.7 ± 2.4%), all drawn from a single team in the top National Handball League. Their mean handball experience was 8.2 ± 0.6 years. Before the study, all were examined by the team physician, with a particular focus orthopedic and other conditions that might preclude resistance training, and all were found to be in good health. The 26 individuals were randomly assigned between 3 groups: HR (n = 9), MR (n = 9), and control (standard in-season regimen) C(n = 8). These 3 groups were initially well matched in terms of their physical characteristics (Table 1).

Table 1

Table 1

Back to Top | Article Outline

Evaluation and Procedures

This study was performed during a 10-week period from January to March. All subjects engaged in the same training sessions, supervised by the 2 team coaches, from the beginning of the competitive season (September) until the end of the current study (March). They thus continued handball training 3-4 times per week and played 1 official game per week. Practice training sessions lasted 90 minutes; usually, they emphasized skill activities at various intensities, offensive and defensive strategies, and 30 minutes of continuous play with only brief interruptions by the coach. The controls maintained this normal frequency of training, and the 2 experimental groups supplemented these sessions by the specific resistance exercises. All subjects also engaged in weekly school physical education sessions; these lasted for 40 minutes and consisted mainly of ball games. All participants were tested before and after the 10-week trial, using identical protocols; tests were completed in a fixed order over 2 consecutive days. Care was taken to ensure that those undertaking resistance training were tested 5-9 days after their last strength training session to allow adequate recovery from the acute effects of resistance training.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Testing Schedule

The subjects were carefully familiarized with the techniques of circuit training and lifting for 2 weeks before measurements and training began. They were also familiarized with the 1RM test procedure, and a theoretical maximal load was calculated for each subject. Testing was integrated into the weekly training schedules. During the definitive tests, a standardized battery of warm-up exercises was performed before maximal efforts. On the first definitive test day, the force-velocity test was performed, followed by anthropometrical assessment, and finally the 1RM pull-over (1RMPO) was measured. During the second definitive test day, the 1RM bench press (1RMBP) was measured, and throwing velocities were determined with the subjects standing at their adapted chairs.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Day 1

The Force-Velocity Test

Force-velocity measurements on the legs were performed on a standard Monark cycle ergometer (model 894 E, Monark Exercise AB, Vansbro, Sweden). The instantaneous peak velocity was used to calculate the maximal anaerobic power for each braking force. The maximal velocity (Vmax) was defined as the greatest velocity attained without external loading. The peak power (PP) was defined as the greatest power output calculated for the different braking forces. The subject was judged to have attained the braking force corresponding to his maximal anaerobic power if an additional load induced a decrease in power output. Parabolic relationships were obtained only if we observed a decline of PP over 2 successive braking forces.

Arm tests were made using an appropriately modified version of the same apparatus. The ergometer pedals were replaced by hand cranks, and the saddle pillar was removed to avoid injuries. The modified ergometer was fixed to a metal support, bringing the crankshaft to shoulder level. The unrestrained subject stood freely in front of the ergometer, with the exception that the smallest subjects were allowed to stand on a step as needed. This posture was adopted to minimize activation of the lower limbs during test performance.

The parameters measured with the force-velocity test were PP expressed in W and W·kg−1 of total body mass, maximal force (Fmax), and maximal velocity (Vmax). The relationship between braking force F and velocity V can be expressed by the following equation:

where V0 is the intercept with the velocity axis, that is, the theoretical maximal velocity for a braking force of zero, and F0 is the intercept with the force axis, that is, the theoretical maximal braking force corresponding to a velocity of zero (36).

A valid force-velocity test requires short all-out sprints (duration about 7 seconds), using a suitable sequence of ergometer braking forces (1). Subjects were verbally encouraged to reach their maximal pedaling rate as quickly as possible. The peak velocity was noted and was used to calculate force-velocity relationships. Arm tests began with a braking force = 1.5% of the subject's body mass (3). After a 5-minute recovery, the braking was increased in sequence to 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9% of the body mass. The same sequence was performed again, until an additional load induced a decrease in power output at each of 2 repetitions; this value was accepted as the PP. In general, 6-8 short all-out sprints were performed in a given session.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Anthropometry

The muscle volume of the upper limbs was estimated as detailed previously, using circumferences and skin-fold thicknesses measured at different levels of the arm and the forearm, the length of the upper limb, and the breadth of the humeral condyles (20,32,33).

Muscle volumes were estimated as follows:

The total limb volume was estimated as the volume of a cylinder, based on its length (L), corresponding to the distance from the acromion to the minimum wrist circumference, and the mean of 5 limb circumferences (axilla, maximum relaxed biceps, minimum above the elbow, maximum over the relaxed forearm, and minimum above the styloid process) according to the following formula:

where ∑C2 is the sum of the squares of the 5 circumferences of the corresponding limb.

Skin folds were assessed using a standard Harpenden caliper (Baty International, Burgess Hill, Sussex, United Kingdom). The fat volume was calculated as follows:

where ∑S is the sum of 3 skin folds for the upper limb (biceps, triceps, and midforearm), and n represents the number of skin folds measured on each limb.

Bone volume was calculated as follows:

where D is the humeral intercondylar diameter, F is a geometric factor (0.21 for the upper limb), and L is the limb length as measured above.

Standard equations were used to predict the percentage of body fat from the biceps, triceps, subcapsular, and suprailiac skin-fold readings (37):

where ∑S is the sum of the 4 skin-fold readings (in mm), and a and b are constants dependent on sex and age.

Back to Top | Article Outline

One-Repetition Maximum Pull-Over

This exercise is much like the dumbbell pull-over, but intensity is added to the movement by using a barbell. The bar was positioned about 0.2 m above the subject's chest and was supported by the bottom stops of the device. The player performed a successive eccentric-concentric contraction from the starting position. The eccentric action took the weight over and behind the individual's head, with the elbow fully extended. At the end of the backward movement, when the upper limbs were approximately parallel to the ground and the elbows were again slightly flexed, subjects pushed the barbell to bring it back to the starting position, keeping their abdominal muscles well contracted and the body stable without bouncing or arching of the back. All subjects were familiar with the technique, as they had used it regularly in their weekly strength training sessions. A pretest assessment of 1RMPO was made during the final training session. Warm-up for the definitive test comprised 5 repetitions at loads of 40-60% of the pretest RMPO. Thereafter, 4-5 separate attempts were performed until the subject was unable to extend the arms fully. The load noted at the last acceptable extension was accepted as the 1RMPO. Two minutes of rest was allowed between trials.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Day 2

One-Repetition Maximum Bench Press

A detailed description of the maximal strength and muscle power testing procedures is found elsewhere (19). In brief, the maximal strength of the upper extremity was assessed using a maximum 1-repetition successive eccentric-concentric bench press action 1RMBP. Bench press (elbow extension) was chosen because it involves some arm muscles that are specific to overhand throwing (8). The test was performed in a squatting apparatus; the barbell was attached at both ends, and linear bearings on 2 vertical bars allowed only vertical movements. The bar was positioned 10 mm above the subject's chest and supported by the bottom stops of the measuring device. The subject was instructed to perform a purely concentric action from the starting position, maintaining the shoulders in a 90° abducted position to ensure consistent positioning of the shoulder and elbow joints throughout the test (19,28). No bouncing or arching of the back was allowed. Warm-up comprised 5 repetitions at 40-60% of the perceived maximum. Thereafter, 4-5 separate attempts with 2-minute rest intervals were performed until the subject was unable to extend the arms fully. The last acceptable extension was accepted as the 1RMBP.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Handball Throwing Test

Explosive strength production during a handball overarm throw was evaluated on an indoor handball court. One type of throw (without run-up, TW) was performed with 1 hand from a standing position, using an adapted chair. The trunk of the player was immobilized by a blocked belt; the shoulder was maintained in 90° of abduction and external rotation, and the elbow was flexed to 90°. For the second type of throw (with run-up, TR), subjects were instructed to use their preferred technique to throw a handball as fast as possible through a standard goal. Both throw tests were undertaken after a 15-minute standardized warm-up and using a standard handball (mass 480 g, circumference 0.58 m). To simulate a typical handball action, the players were allowed to put resin on their hands, and they were told to throw with maximal velocity toward the upper right corner of the goal. The coaches supervised both tests closely to ensure that the required techniques were followed. Each subject continued until 3 correct throws had been recorded, up to a maximum of 3 sets of 3 consecutive throws. A 1- to 2-minute rest was allowed between sets of throws and 10-15 seconds between 2 throws of the same set. Throwing time was recorded with an accuracy of 0.001 second, using a digital video camera (SONY, HVR -A1U DV Camcorder, Japan). The camera was positioned on a tripod 3 m above and parallel to the edge of the adapted chair. Data processing software (Regavi & Regressi, Micrelec, Coulommiers, France) converted measures of handball displacement to velocities. The reliability of the data processing software was verified previously (4). The throw with the greatest average velocity was selected for further analysis.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Training

Both HR and MR programs continued for 10 weeks. Two training sessions per week were performed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, immediately before the normal handball training sessions. A researcher supervised each workout to ensure that proper procedures were followed. Both 1RMBP and 1RMPO exercises were used to determine appropriate loads for training sessions. 1RM values were reassessed at the fourth week, and the loads were updated for both HR and MR groups as necessary.

Heavy resistance group: Each session included 2 exercises for the upper extensor muscles (pull-over and bench press), with subjects training at 80-95% of their personal 1RM. They performed 1-3 repetitions per set and 3-6 sets of each exercise with 3- to 4-minute rest between sets. Their program is detailed in Table 2. Both the pull-over and bench press exercises require successive eccentric-concentric loaded contractions performed at a slow velocity. The prescription of such loading intensities with such velocities is designed to produce the greatest increases in maximal strength (22).

Table 2

Table 2

Moderate resistance group: Each session included 2 exercises for the upper extensor muscles (pull-over and bench press), with subjects training at 55-75% of their personal 1RM. They performed 3-6 repetitions per set and 2-4 sets of each exercise with 1-to 1.30-minute rest between sets. Their program is detailed in Table 3. Both the pull-over and the bench press require successive eccentric-concentric loaded contractions, performed as rapidly as possible.

Table 3

Table 3

Back to Top | Article Outline

Statistical Analyses

Standard statistical methods were used to calculate means and SDs. Training-related effects were assessed by a 2-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with repeated measure (group × time). When a significant F value was observed, Sheffé's post hoc procedures were performed to locate pairwise differences. Percentage changes were calculated as ([posttraining value − pretraining value]/pretraining value) × 100. One-way ANOVAs tested any intergroup differences in percentage change. The reliability of TR, TW, 1RMBP, and 1RMPO measurements was assessed using intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs). The p ≤ 0.05 criterion was used for establishing statistical differences throughout (we accepted p ≤ 0.05, whether positive or negative differences, that is, a 2-tailed test).

Back to Top | Article Outline

Results

The ICCs for measurements of strength and throwing velocity were all quite high: 1RMBP = 0.99, 1RMPO = 0.98, TW = 0.98, TR = 0.96.

The muscle power of both training groups increased relative to the control regimen (Table 4). The typical parabolic relationship of power to velocity was seen in both training groups before and after training (Figure 1), with increases after training. Both programs enhanced absolute muscle power, although this advantaged disappeared if power was expressed per unit of limb volume (Figure 2).

Table 4

Table 4

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

Training increased 1RMPO and 1RMBP (Table 4, Figure 3), with HR gaining substantially relative to controls over the course of the trial (p < 0.001 for both comparisons). Moreover, HR induced larger strength increments than ML, because their 1RMPO and 1RMBP values were statistically different (p < 0.05 and p < 0.01, respectively). Both programs also enhanced the 2 indices of throwing performance (TW and TR) (Table 5, Figure 4), although the gain was significantly greater for HR than for MR (Figure 4).

Table 5

Table 5

Figure 3

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 4

Back to Top | Article Outline

Discussion

Our findings substantiate our hypothesis that short-term in-season resistance training enhances the PP output, throwing velocity, and upper limb strength of experienced trained male handball players, whether a heavy or a moderate loading is used (Figure 4). A few previous studies have examined the effects of concentric exercise on the muscle power, throwing, and strength of handball players (10,12,24), but to the authors' knowledge, this is the first study to compare the players gains of PP, throwing velocity, and strength adaptations at moderate and heavy loads, using successive eccentric-concentric exercises such as the pull-over and the bench press.

This group participated in a 10-week supervised in-season strength training program, with a frequency of 2 sessions per week. Each session included 2 exercises for the upper limbs (Pull-over and Bench press). Loads were 80-95% of the personal 1RM, based on a succession of eccentric-concentric muscle contractions at a slow velocity, and rest intervals of 3-4 minutes between sets. Relative to controls, HR showed improvements in both absolute muscle power (W) (11.3%; p < 0.01) and the relative power (W·kg−1) (11.6%; p < 0.01) for the upper limbs, but no changes when power was expressed per liter of upper limb muscle volume (W·L−1) (Figure 2). This might suggest that the gain in muscle power was largely attributable to an increase in regional muscle volume. However, this would be a little surprising, because resistance training with a heavy load does not usually induce a significant increase in muscle volume. In fact, the average percentage increase of muscle power per unit of muscle volume (W·L−1) for HR (8.3 ± 5.1%) tended to be higher than for MR or C (3.1 ± 4.8 and 2.9 ± 7.8%, respectively), although with the small size of our groups and the higher SD of the relative measurements, intergroup differences were not statistically significant (Figure 2). Moreover, increases in upper limb muscle volume over the course of the trial did not differ substantially or significantly between HR and C (2.9 ± 3. vs. 2.2 ± 3.6%) (Figure 2, Table 4). This leads us to suggest that HR training did not increase muscle bulk appreciably and that the increase in muscle power induced by the HR program reflects neuronal adaptation, a well-accepted response to HR training (31).

Schmidtbleicher (31) defined power as the greatest impulse the neuromuscular system could produce in a given time. Heavy loads are fundamental to power development, because high forces are associated with maximal motor unit recruitment according to the ‘size principle,’ with units also firing at higher frequencies (2,26). High force development may also inhibit force-feedback reflexes from the Golgi tendon organs or improve the synchronization of motor unit firing (16,21,30). In terms of muscle growth, the development of large forces is also important to the remodeling of muscle tissue (protein synthesis and degradation) (9,23). The development of large forces stimulates receptor and membrane sensitivities, and muscle growth factors, thereby triggering an increase in protein turnover and the accretion of muscle protein (5). Heavy loading, particularly when the muscle is actively stretched, may further mediate muscle tissue growth by inducing greater reversible tissue damage (such damage seems a stimulus to muscle hypertrophy). Given the importance of large forces to the adaptative process, heavy training loads would appear to offer the optimal stimulus to development of muscle power.

Although the prescription of a load based upon the maximizing of mechanical power output appears to be an attractive strategy to enhance the power of the limbs, performance may be critically dependent on the ability to exert force at speeds specific to a given athletic discipline. Although a powerful action is often associated with rapid velocities (e.g., in sprinting, jumping, and throwing), other activities such as lifting also have an important power component (5). In our study, longer contraction durations were associated with heavier loads; the prescription of such loads would seem best suited to maximizing strength (22). Many authors have replicated the finding of Gorostiaga et al. (12) that resistance training improves the strength of the leg extensors (12.2%; p < 0.01) and the upper extremity muscles (23%; p < 0.01), whereas no changes are seen in a nonresistance activity (team handball practice) or a control group. However, in our study, gains of maximal strength for the upper limbs were larger (HR: 57 and 16% for pull-over and bench press, respectively; MR: 28 and 6% for pull-over and bench press, respectively; C: 4 and 1% for pull-over and bench press, respectively) (Figure 3) than observed by Gorostiaga et al. (12). This could reflect differences in either the initial status of the players or the training programs and the training exercises.

Gorostiaga et al. (10) studied the effect of an entire season of play (45 weeks) on the power-load relationships for the arm extensor muscles of elite male handball players. They examined performance on 4 occasions: the beginning (T1) of the first preparatory period, at the beginning (T2) and the end (T3) of the first competitive period, and at the end of the second competitive period (T4). Training was periodized from a high-volume, low-intensity phase during the preparatory period to a low-volume, high-intensity phase toward the competitive period. Values of 1RMBP obtained at T3 increased significantly (p < 0.01) compared with T1 (10). This result agrees well with our findings, because we noted a significant enhancement (p < 0.001) in both 1RMPO and 1RMBP for HR relative to C (Figure 3). The closer increase of 1RM upper limb strength in our study could be explained by the greater number of weekly training sessions of Gorostiaga et al. (10). Moreover, it is more difficult to increase the strength of trained athletes than younger and inexperienced subjects (31). Recently Marqueset al. (24) examined the effect of 12 weeks of resistance training (2-3 sessions per week) in high-level handball; their loadings were in the range 70-85% of concentric 1RMBP. They noted a 28% increase of 1RMBP, However our HR group improved their 1RMBP by only 16% (Table 4, Figure 3), probably because of participation in fewer weekly sessions for a shorter period.

It is well known that MR training (around 70% 1RM) increases regional muscle volume (22). Our MR results are in agreement, showing significant increments of upper limb muscle volume relative to C and HR (Table 4, Figure 2). The loads were 55-75% of 1RM for both the pull-over and bench press exercises; subjects executed 3-6 repetitions per set of each successive eccentric-concentric exercise as rapidly as possible, with a rest interval of only 1-1.3 minutes between sets (Table 3). Ten weeks of moderate strength training yielded considerable gains in upper limb muscle volume, which could explain the significant enhancement of PP output relative to C (p < 0.05, Figure 2). This view is supported by the disappearance of the difference when PP output is expressed relative to body mass and especially to upper limb muscle volume (Table 4, Figure 2). Our observations further show that whether expressed in absolute units or relative to body mass or muscle volume, the power increases in the MR group did not differ significantly from HR. Although the percentage gain for MR was significantly greater than for C, it remained smaller than that for HR (Figure 2). This finding suggests that although short periods of MR training yield some gains of upper limb muscle power output, the response is less than could have been obtained with high resistance training.

As with power gain, upper limb muscle strength (whether assessed by 1RM pull-over or bench press) increased after moderate strength training, with gains of 24 and 6% for 1RMPO and 1RMBP, respectively (Figure 3). However, such gains did not statistically surpass the gains seen in those following the control regimen, and they were significantly less than those seen with HR training (p < 0.05 and p < 0.01, respectively). These results lead us to think that any trend to an increase of strength with MR training is insufficient to demonstrate a statistically significant and practically important difference. When training the upper limbs, heavy loads are important to enhancing strength.

The 10-week period of HR training led to a considerable gain in throwing velocities. The mean velocity of TR increased from 14.6 ± 1.4 to 20.8 ± 1.04 m·s−1 (Table 5), a 42% gain (p < 0.01). In contrast, the controls improved their throwing velocity by only 9% (Figure 4). Similarly, TW showed a statistically significant of 34% in HR (p < 0.05), whereas the change in controls was only 9%. It is difficult to compare the results of the few studies that have measured throwing velocities in male handball players because they differ markedly in a number of design factors, including the method of measurement (photoelectric cells, radar, cinematography) (8,12,25,35), handball weight, players' ages and skill levels (amateur or professional), and throwing techniques (standing, 3-step running throw, jump shot). Differences in the intensity of training may also have contributed to conflicting results. Our data seem in accordance with the findings of Gorostiaga et al. (12), who noted a significant enhancement (p < 0.001) of standing handball throwing velocity after 6 weeks of heavy upper limb resistance training. However, for these last authors, the training exercises were the supine bench press, half squat, knee flexion curl, leg press, and pec-dec, (12) quite different exercises from those used in our study. Given the training-induced adaptations observed in the present study, we would conclude that both of the programs that we evaluated boosted handball throwing velocity. However, the heavy load training was superior, in that it enhanced both throwing modes (TR and TW) (Figure 4). Certainly, a combination of strength, handball technique, and competitive skills training significantly enhanced maximal and specific-explosive strength of the upper extremity over the 10-week program. The increase in maximal upper limb strength should give players an advantage in sustaining the forceful muscle contractions required during actions such as throwing, hitting, blocking, pushing, and holding (10). The increased velocity in both modes of throwing (TR and TW) is likely of major importance to successful play, because elite handball players achieve substantially higher velocities than lower level competitors (8-9% advantage in men [11] and 10-11% advantage in women [13]). Our study demonstrated a considerable (43%) increase of throwing velocity in response to eccentric-concentric pull-over and bench press training exercises. A combination of high velocity and accurate throwing seem critical factors for success in handball (11,13). Although the neurophysiological mechanisms contributing to the increased throwing velocity are unknown, possible factors include more effective neural activation (17), a selective increase in cross-sectional area of the fast-twitch fibers (17), changes in intrinsic muscular properties (7), an increase in myosin-adenosine triphosphatase activity (14), better synchronization of motor units (27), and a higher firing frequency (15). Schmidtbleicher (31) attributed the increase of muscle performance after heavy training to the size principle of motor recruitment. In their view, heavy training was needed to ensure the recruitment of fast-twitch motor units; low loads did not overload the muscle sufficiently to induce an adaptation.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Practical Applications

The current study indicates that with only 2 sessions per week, 10 weeks of in-season bench press and pull-over resistance training with suitably adapted heavy loads elicits substantial enhancements in PP output, dynamic strength, and handball throwing velocity in male handball players. Moreover, this regimen is more effective than training at a lighter loading. It is quite practical to add this type of resistance training to traditional in-season technical and tactical handball training activities. We also recommend bench press and pull-over training for players who are regularly involved in other strength training programs to reduce the risk of injury during a game. There are many potential neuromuscular explanations of the observed changes in performance, and these merit furtherinvestigation; when the mechanisms are understood, it may be possible to realize even larger gains of performance.

Back to Top | Article Outline

Acknowledgment

The authors would like to thank the “Ministére de l'enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique, Tunisia” for financial support.

Back to Top | Article Outline

References

1. Arsac, LM, Belli, A, and Lacour, JR. Muscle function during brief maximal exercise: Accurate measurements on a friction-loaded cycle ergometer. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 74: 100-106, 1996.
2. Behm, DG. Neuromuscular implications and applications of resistance training. J Strength Cond Res 9: 264-274, 1995.
3. Bouhlel, E, Chelly, MS, Tabka, Z, and Shephard, R. Relationships between maximal anaerobic power of the arms and legs and javelin performance. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 47: 141-146, 2007.
4. Chelly, MS, Fathloun, M, Cherif, N, Ben Amar, M, Tabka, Z, and Van Praagh, E. Effects of a back squat training program on leg power, jump-and sprint performances in junior soccer players. J Strength Cond Res 23: 2241-2249, 2009.
5. Crewther, B, Cronin, J, and Keogh, J. Possible stimuli for strength and power adaptation: Acute mechanical responses. Sports Med 35: 967-989, 2005.
6. Delamarche, P, Gratas, A, Beillot, J, Dassonville, J, Rochcongar, P, and Lessard, Y. Extent of lactic anaerobic metabolism in handballers. Int J Sports Med 8: 55-59, 1987.
7. Duchateau, J and Hainaut, K. Isometric or dynamic training: Differential effects on mechanical properties of a human muscle. J Appl Physiol 56: 296-301, 1984.
8. Fleck, SJ, Smith, SL, Craib, MW, Denahan, T, Snow, RE, and Mitchell, MR. Upper extremity isokinetic torque and throwing velocity in team handball. J Appl Sport Sci Res 6: 120-124, 1992.
9. Fowles, JR, MacDougall, JD, Tarnopolsky, MA, Sale, DG, Roy, BD, and Yarasheski, KE. The effects of acute passive stretch on muscle protein synthesis in humans. Can J Appl Physiol 25: 165-180, 2000.
10. Gorostiaga, EM, Granados, C, Ibañez, J, González-Badillo, JJ, and Izquierdo, M. Effects of an entire season on physical fitness changes in elite male handball players. Med Sci Sports Exerc 38: 357-366, 2006.
11. Gorostiaga, EM, Granados, C, Ibáñez, J, and Izquierdo, M. Differences in physical fitness and throwing velocity among elite and amateur male handball players. Int J Sports Med 26: 225-232, 2005.
12. Gorostiaga, EM, Izquierdo, M, Iturralde, P, Ruesta, M, and Ibáñez, J. Effects of heavy resistance training on maximal and explosive force production, endurance and serum hormones in adolescent handball players. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 80: 485-493, 1999.
13. Granados, C, Izquierdo, M, Ibañez, J, Bonnabau, H, and Gorostiaga, EM. Differences in physical fitness and throwing velocity among elite and amateur female handball players. Int J Sports Med 28: 860-867, 2007.
14. Granados, C, Izquierdo, M, Ibáñez, J, Ruesta, M, and Gorostiaga, EM. Effects of an entire season on physical fitness in elite female handball players. Med Sci Sports Exerc 40: 351-361, 2008.
15. Grimby, L, Hannerz, J, and Hedman, B. The fatigue and voluntary discharge properties of single motor units in man. J Physiol 316: 545-554, 1981.
16. Häkkinen, K. Neuromuscular and hormonal adaptations during strength and power training. A review. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 29: 9-26, 1989.
17. Häkkinen, K, Alén, M, and Komi, PV. Changes in isometric force- and relaxation-time, electromyographic and muscle fibre characteristics of human skeletal muscle during strength training and detraining. Acta Physiol Scand 125: 573-585, 1985.
18. Hoff, J and Almasbakk, B. The effects of maximum strength training on throwing velocity and muscle strength in female team-handball players. J Strength Cond Res 9: 255-258, 1995.
19. Izquierdo, M, Häkkinen, K, Gonzalez-Badillo, JJ, Ibáñez, J, and Gorostiaga, EM. Effects of long-term training specificity on maximal strength and power of the upper and lower extremities in athletes from different sports. Eur J Appl Physiol 87: 264-271, 2002.
20. Jones, PR and Pearson, J. Anthropometric determination of leg fat and muscle plus bone volumes in young male and female adults. J Physiol 204: 63-66, 1969.
21. Komi, PV. Training of muscle strength and power: Interaction of neuromotoric, hypertrophic, and mechanical factors. Int J Sports Med 7: 10-15, 1986.
22. Kraemer, WJ, Adams, K, Cafarelli, E, Dudley, GA, Dooly, C, Feigenbaum, MS, Fleck, SJ, Franklin, B, Fry, AC, Hoffman, JR, Newton, RU, Potteiger, J, Stone, MH, Ratamess, NA, and Triplett-McBride, T. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc 34: 364-380, 2002.
23. Lieber, RL and Fridén, J. Muscle damage is not a function of muscle force but active muscle strain. J Appl Physiol 74: 520-526, 1993.
24. Marques, MC and González-Badillo, JJ. In-season resistance training and detraining in professional team handball players. J Strength Cond Res 20: 563-571, 2006.
25. Marques, MC, van den Tillaar, R, Vescovi, JD, and González-Badillo, JJ. Relationship between throwing velocity, muscle power, and bar velocity during bench press in elite handball players. IJSPP 2: 414-422, 2007.
26. McDonagh, MJ and Davies, CT. Adaptive response of mammalian skeletal muscle to exercise with high loads. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 52: 139-155, 1984.
27. Milner-Brown, HS, Stein, RB, and Lee, RG. Synchronization of human motor units: Possible roles of exercise and supraspinal reflexes. Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol 38: 245-254, 1975.
28. Newton, RU, Murphy, AJ, Humphries, BJ, Wilson, GJ, Kraemer, WJ, and Häkkinen, K. Influence of load and stretch shortening cycle on the kinematics, kinetics and muscle activation that occurs during explosive upper-body movements. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol 75: 333-342, 1997.
29. Rannou, F, Prioux, J, Zouhal, H, Gratas-Delamarche, A, and Delamarche, P. Physiological profile of handball players. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 41: 349-353, 2001.
30. Sale, D. Neural adaptation to strength training. In: Strength and Power in Sport. P.V. Komi, ed. London, United Kingdom: Blackwell, 1992. pp. 249-265.
31. Schmidtbleicher, D. Training for power events. In: Strength and Power in Sport. P.V. Komi, ed. London, United Kingdom: Blackwell, 1992. pp. 381-395.
32. Shephard, RJ, Bouhlel, E, Vandewalle, H, and Monod, H. Muscle mass as a factor limiting physical work. J Appl Physiol 64: 1472-1479, 1988.
33. Shephard, RJ, Vandewalle, H, Bouhlel, E, and Monod, H. Sex differences of physical working capacity in normoxia and hypoxia. Ergonomics 31: 1177-1192, 1988.
34. van den Tillaar, R. Effect of different training programs on the velocity of overarm throwing: A brief review. J Strength Cond Res 18: 388-396, 2004.
35. van den Tillaar, R and Ettema, G. Effect of body size and gender in overarm throwing performance. Eur J Appl Physiol 91: 413-418, 2004.
36. Vandewalle, H, Pérès, G, and Monod, H. Standard anaerobic exercise tests. Sports Med 4: 268-289, 1987.
37. Womersley, J and Durnin, JV. An experimental study on variability of measurements of skinfold thickness on young adults. Hum Biol 45: 281-292, 1973.
Keywords:

arm throwing; maximal strength; upper extremity; throwing performance

© 2010 National Strength and Conditioning Association