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The Influence of Recovery Duration After Heavy Resistance Exercise on Sprint Cycling Performance

Thatcher, Rhys; Gifford, Rhys; Howatson, Glyn

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 11 - p 3089–3094
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318245beea
Original Research

Thatcher, R, Gifford, R, and Howatson, G. The influence of recovery duration after heavy resistance exercise on sprint cycling performance. J Strength Cond Res 26(11): 3089–3094, 2012—The aim of this study was to determine the optimal recovery duration after prior heavy resistance exercise (PHRE) when performing sprint cycling. On 5 occasions, separated by a minimum of 48 hours, 10 healthy male subjects (mean ± SD), age 25.5 ± 7.7 years, body mass 82.1 ± 9.0 kg, stature 182.6 ± 87 cm, deadlift 1-repetition maximum (1RM) 142 ± 19 kg performed a 30-second sprint cycling test. Each trial had either a 5-, 10-, 20-, or 30-minute recovery after a heavy resistance activity (5 deadlift repetitions at 85% 1RM) or a control trial with no PHRE in random order. Sprint cycling performance was assessed by peak power (PP), fatigue index, and mean power output over the first 5 seconds (MPO5), 10 seconds (MPO10), and 30 seconds (MPO30). One-way analysis of variance with repeated measures followed by paired t-tests with a Bonferroni adjustment was used to analyze data. Peak power, MPO5, and MPO10 were all significantly different during the 10-minute recovery trial to that of the control condition with values of 109, 112, and 109% of control, respectively; no difference was found for the MPO30 between trials. This study supports the use of PHRE as a strategy to improve short duration, up to, or around 10-second, sprint activity but not longer duration sprints, and a 10-minute recovery appears to be optimal to maximize performance.

1Department of Sport and Exercise Science, Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, United Kingdom

2Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, School of Life Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

3Department of Zoology, Center for Aquatic Science, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

Address correspondence to Dr. Rhys Thatcher,

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Before competition, it is standard practice for athletes to perform warm-up routines; these routines are used to both prepare the body for the physical demands of competition and maximize physical performance during the event. There are a range of practices that have been shown to have beneficial effects on subsequent sprint performance including dynamic stretching (6,14,19), passive heating of muscle (3), and active, movement specific, warm-up (3,21). Some commonly used practices have however been shown to have either no effect or a detrimental effect on sprint performance such as static stretching (2,5,27) and massage (1,8).

One practice that has received considerable interest but resulted in inconsistent findings is that of prior heavy resistance exercise (PHRE) (4,16,18,24,25,28,31). Direct comparisons between PHRE investigations are made difficult by methodological inconsistencies such as intensity of priming exercise, recovery duration between PHRE and performance trial, subject characteristics in relation to training status and muscle fiber type, and variation in performance measures.

The PHRE, or conditioning activation, initiates a postactivation potentiation (PAP) (26), which improves muscle contractile performance. The underlying mechanisms of PAP have been attributed to increased sensitivity of actin and myosin to Ca2+ and increased α-motorneuron excitability (12). Although PAP has the ability to increase contractile performance, the bout of PHRE can result in fatigue that negatively affects performance. The time course of recovery from the PHRE induced fatigue and the duration of the potentiated state results in a ‘window of opportunity’ during which muscle contractile performance may be increased (29).

Numerous studies have employed the vertical jump as a performance measure and reported both positive (13,17,18) and negative (10,15,17,18) effects from PHRE. Based on those studies that have reported improved performance in vertical jump, Kilduff (18) suggests 8–12 minutes of recovery between the completion of the PHRE and the vertical jump as optimal.

Sprint running performance over distances of ≤40 m has also been reported to improve after PHRE (4,20,25). Rahimi (25) used 2 sets of 4 repetitions at 60, 70, and 85% of 1 repetition maximum (1RM) with improvements in 40-m sprint time of 1.09, 1.77, and 2.98%, respectively. McBride et al. (20) reported a 0.87% improvement in a 40-m sprint after 3 repetitions at 90% 1RM followed by a 4-minute recovery. However, no improvement in sprint performance was reported after PHRE at resistances of 30% 1RM (20,24) and 90% 1RM (24), although in the study of Parry et al. (24), participants were given a 20-minute recovery between the PHRE and the performance trial, which may have been too long to maintain the potentiated state.

Performance during sprint cycling has also been the focus of several investigations (16,24,28). Both Jo et al. (16) who investigated the influence of recovery duration ranging from 5 to 0–20 minutes, and Parry et al, (24) who used a single recovery duration of 20 minutes, reported no effect of PHRE on mean power output during 30-second sprint cycling. Conversely, Smith et al. (28) reported an increase in mean power during a 10-second cycle sprint with 5 minutes of recovery after 10 repetitions at 90% 1RM.

Recommendations for athletic performance based on the current literature are problematic because of the previously highlighted methodological differences between studies. Those that have reported a beneficial effect of PHRE tend to use a conditioning activation, which involves lifting a resistance of at least 85% of 1RM for 3–5 repetitions. Recovery duration is also an important consideration, but most of the literature to address this issue has employed a vertical jump as the primary outcome. Those that have investigated sprint cycling performance either report no effect on relatively long duration sprint (∼30 seconds) or have employed a limited number of recovery durations. As such, the optimal recovery duration after PHRE for sprint cycling performance of varying length is unclear. The aim of this study was therefore to determine the optimal recovery duration after PHRE when performing sprint cycling. The experimental hypothesis is that PHRE will have a beneficial effect on the early stages of a 30-second sprint, and the maximum benefit will occur after 10 minutes of recovery.

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Experimental Approach to the Problem

This study employed a within-subjects repeated measures design in which 10 male subjects attended the laboratory on 8 occasions. During the first 3 visits, 1RM was established for the deadlift exercise and sprint familiarization was performed. The remaining 5 visits involved performance of a 30-second sprint test performed 5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes after a heavy resistance activity (5 deadlift repetitions at 85% 1RM) and a control trial with no conditioning activity. Sprint performance was assessed by peak power (PP), fatigue index ([PP − end power /PP] × 100) (FI) and mean power output over the first 5 seconds (MPO5), 10 seconds (MPO10), and 30 seconds (MPO30).

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Ten healthy male subjects volunteered to participate in this study; physical characteristics (mean ± SD), age 25.5 ± 7.7 years, body mass 82.1 ± 9.0 kg, stature 182.6 ± 87 cm, deadlift 1RM 142 ± 19 kg. Written informed consent was obtained and a PARQ completed by all subjects before they were admitted to the study, which was approved by Aberystwyth University institutional ethics committee. All the subjects took part in physical training or sport-specific activities (rugby and soccer) on 3–5 occasions per week but were not considered highly trained. They all had experience of weight lifting and were able to perform the deadlift with the correct technique. All testing took place over the summer months during the ‘off-season.’

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All testing was performed on an electromagnetically braked cycle ergometer (Lode Excalibur Sport, Groningen, The Netherlands) in a well-ventilated laboratory at a temperature of 21–23° C between 09:00 and 11:00 AM. The subjects attended the laboratory in a rested state after having avoided caffeine, alcohol, and strenuous activity during the preceding 24 hours on 8 separate occasions over a 4-week period. During the first visit, after the measurement of stature and body mass, the ergometer was adjusted to each subject and settings for seat height and handlebar position recorded and replicated during each subsequent visit. The subjects then completed an assessment of 1RM for the deadlift exercise, which involved a 5-minute warm-up at 60 W on the cycle ergometer followed by 5 lifts at 50% of the subject's self-estimated 1RM. This was followed 5 minutes later by a single lift at 90% of the estimated 1RM, the weight was then increased by 5 kg for each subsequent effort until the subject failed to complete the lift, a 3-minute recovery period separated each attempt. The 1RM was defined as the heaviest successful lift; if failure was not reached within 5 lifts, the procedure was halted and repeated during the second visit, starting with the final weight lifted during the first visit.

After the determination of 1RM, the subject completed a 30-second sprint on the cycle ergometer. During the sprint, the cycle ergometer was set to linear mode (linear factor [LF] = power ÷ cadence2). The LF was established relative to the subject's body mass so that it was equal to 0.00052 × BM kg; at 140 rpm this LF results in a power out that is equal to that produced during a standard Wingate Anaerobic test (WAnT) at the same cadence. This protocol was adopted in preference to the standard WAnT because the subject can accelerate more rapidly and the PP is not limited by the subjects' ability to further increase cadence (30).

The second and third visits, which acted as familiarization to the sprint protocol, involved completion of a 5-minute warm-up at 60 W and, after a 5-minute passive recovery, a 30-second sprint. During the sprint, the subjects were secured to the cycle ergometer by the use of adjustable toe straps and at the waist by a modified ‘sit’ climbing harness with the leg loops removed. The harness was secured to the cycle ergometer so that the subject once seated could not lift off of the seat. Thirty seconds before the start of the sprint, the subjects were asked to cycle at a cadence of 60 rpm with the ergometer set at 0 W, they were then given a 5-second countdown at which point they were instructed to cycle as fast as possible without pacing for 30 seconds. The subjects were given strong verbal encouragement throughout the 30 seconds but were given no indication of the time elapsed nor time remaining. Power output data were exported to excel and PP, FI, MPO5, MPO10, and MPO30 calculated.

Experiment trials, which were separated by a minimum of 48 hours, were performed in a randomized order. Each trial, with the exception of the control, involved subjects completing a warm-up of 5 minutes at 60 W on the cycle ergometer followed by 5 deadlifts at 50% 1RM. A timed 3-minute period separated the warm-up and the PHRE, which involved 5 deadlift repetitions at 85% 1RM at a pace of 1 lift every 10 seconds. On completion of the final deadlift, the subjects recovered passively for 5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes before performing a 30-second sprint on the aforementioned cycle ergometer. During the control trial (no PHRE), the subjects warmed up as previously described without the 5 repetitions at 50% 1RM.

A capillary blood sample was taken from a figure tip before the commencement of the warm-up and 7.5 minutes after the completion of the sprint because this has been shown to be when blood lactate values peak after sprint activities (22), samples were immediately analyzed for lactate (YSI 1500, Yellow Springs Instruments, Yellow Springs, OH, USA). Expired gas was collected via standard Douglas bag techniques for the duration of the 30-second sprint, the samples were analyzed using a paramagnetic oxygen analyzer and infrared carbon dioxide analyzer (Servomex 4100, Crowborough, United Kingdom). Gas volumes were measured by using a dry gas meter (Harvard, Edenbridge, United Kingdom) and corrected to standard temperature and pressure dry. Values were then calculated via the Haldane transformation for volume of oxygen uptake (V[Combining Dot Above]O2), volume of carbon dioxide produced (V[Combining Dot Above]CO2), and the respiratory exchange ratio. All the analyzers were calibrated before each trial with gases of known concentrations. A schematic of the experimental protocol can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1

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Statistical Analyses

All data were tested for normality of distribution and are presented as mean ± SD. Variability between sprint performances during familiarization visits 2 and 3 and the control trial was established by calculating coefficient of variation for each of the main dependent variables. Sprint performance parameters are represented as a percentage of performance during the control trial, and all the main trial comparisons were performed on these normalized data. Difference in sprint performance between the experimental trails was established by repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA). Blood lactate values were analyzed via 2-way repeated measure ANOVA (factor 1, time [2 levels] factor 2, trial [5 levels]). Any significant findings were further analyzed via paired t-test with Bonferroni correction applied, α was set a priori at 0.05.

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Coefficients of variation between familiarization visits 2 and 3 and the control trial for PP, FI, MPO5, MPO10, and MPO30 were 3, 5, 6, 3, and 4%, respectively. During the experimental trials, a similar pattern was observed in the data for PP, MPO5, MPO10, and MPO30 (Figure 2). A repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant difference in the PP (p = 0.05; Figure 2A), MPO5 (p = 0.008; Figure 2B), and MPO10 (p = 0.033; Figure 2C) with the difference in MPO30 across trials failing to reach significance (p = 0.287; Figure 2D). For each variable, the most noticeable effect was after 10 minutes of recovery with PP, MPO5, MPO10, and MPO30 reaching values of 109, 112, 109, and 104% of control values, respectively. When each was compared to the control condition via paired t-tests PP (p = 0.014), MPO5 (p = 0.05), and MPO10 (p = 0.007) were significantly different during the 10-minute recovery trial.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Although there was no difference between trials in FI (p = 0.196; Figure 3), the 10-minute recovery trial did result in higher levels of fatigue. The greater fatigue during the trial with the higher PP, MPO5, and MPO10 indicates that the total work performed during the sprint may have remained relatively constant, something which is supported by the MPO30 data (Figure 2D).

Figure 3

Figure 3

Metabolic responses to the sprint activity differed across the trials with V[Combining Dot Above]O2 increasing significantly (p = 0.01) after PHRE with the effect decreasing as the recovery period increased (Figure 4). Paired t-tests revealed that the when compared with Control the only trial to differ was after 5 minutes of recovery (p = 0.02) although the 10-minute recovery trial was approaching significance (p = 0.07). Two-way repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant interaction (p = 0.007) in the blood lactate data (Figure 5) with no change in the pre sprint data over the 5 trials (follow-up ANOVA, p = 0.102) while the postsprint values increased after the PHRE (follow-up ANOVA, p = 0.018). The only postsprint lactate value to differ significantly from the control trial was that of the 10-minute recovery trial (paired t-test, p = 0.041).

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 5

When sprint performances were examined for each subject, it was clear that the maximal performances varied across the trials. Table 1 shows the frequency of the subjects that had a maximal performance for each of the sprint parameters across the control and experimental trials.

Table 1

Table 1

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The aim of this study was to expand upon work examining recovery duration after PHRE and sprint cycling performance (16,24,28). The main finding was that 10 minutes after a PHRE PP and mean power during the first 5 and 10 seconds of a sprint were significantly improved over control, supporting the experimental hypothesis. This was reinforced by the level of improvement exceeding the random error as indicated by the CV. The effect was however not significant when examining mean power over the full duration of the 30-second sprint.

These findings support those of previous research indicating that the use of PHRE is beneficial to performance in short-duration sprint activities (4,28) but not longer duration sprints (16,24). Jo et al. (16) examined the effect of recovery duration, similar to those used in this study, after PHRE on sprint cycling. They reported no effect on mean power output during a 30-second cycle sprint, but they did not report on the early stages of the performance trial. This study develops this work by reporting an effect of PHRE on the early stages of a cycle sprint after 10-minute recovery, indicating a potential benefit to performance of shorter duration (<30 seconds) supporting the work of Smith et al. (28).

The proposed mechanism for this improvement is PAP (12), where the performance improvements after PRHE reflect a balance between potentiation and fatigue (29). Decreases in vertical jump height have been reported when performed 10 seconds (15) and 15 seconds (18) after PHRE indicating fatigue outweighing potentiation. Kilduff et al. (18) report that although performance had returned to those equating to control conditions by 4 minutes, the optimal duration of recovery was 8 minutes, which is in close agreement with that of this study. By 20 minutes, performance in this study had returned to that of the control condition across all measures of performance, again this is in close agreement with the findings of Kilduff et al. (18) who reported that vertical jump height had returned to baseline 12 minutes after PHRE, suggesting that the potentiated state was abolished.

The physiological responses to the PHRE, which result in the potentiated and fatigue states, are influenced by individual characteristics such as training status (23) and fiber type (9). The performance variable of interest will also determine the optimal priming exercise protocol. This study and those of Parry et al. (24) and Jo et al. (16) indicate that sprint performance of longer duration (30 seconds) does not benefit from PHRE. This is supported by higher FI in trials when the PP (16) and mean power during the first 10 seconds were higher. It appears that the physiological benefits from PHRE can influence short-duration activity but at the cost of sustained power output for longer durations.

The metabolic cost of the sprints is indicated by the lactate response with higher post sprint values after the trials with shorter-duration recoveries. It is not possible to identify from the current data whether the higher lactate values after the sprints were a result of elevated levels, which had not been cleared from the blood, in response to the PHRE or because of the higher power output during the early stages of the sprint. Although speculative, it is possible that the higher power output could be the result of greater anaerobic contribution facilitated by the potentiated type 2 fibers, which would explain the higher lactate. It has been suggested that there is an increase in the V[Combining Dot Above]O2 kinetics after prior contractions (11), which are because of acidosis-linked vasodilatation (7). This would explain the elevated V[Combining Dot Above]O2 after the trials with short recovery duration. The elevated V[Combining Dot Above]O2 did not however facilitate an improved performance over the 30-second sprint.

In conclusion, this study supports the use of PHRE as a strategy to improve short-duration sprint activity, and although there are individual differences in the response, a 10-minute recovery appears to be optimal to maximize performance.

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Practical Applications

The data presented suggest that when considering the optimal duration of recovery when employing PHRE before sprint activities, the characteristics of the performance need to be taken into account. Specifically, if the performance involves a maximal effort for durations of up to, or around, 10 seconds then PHRE appears to be beneficial and a recovery period of 10 minutes to be optimal. However, there is some variation in response between individuals so, although a 10-minute recovery would be suitable for most athletes, to maximize potential benefits a PHRE routine should be tailored to the individual.

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postactivation potentiation; warm-up; individual response; deadlift

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