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Comparison of In-Season-Specific Resistance vs. A Regular Throwing Training Program on Throwing Velocity, Anthropometry, and Power Performance in Elite Handball Players

Hermassi, Souhail1; van den Tillaar, Roland2; Khlifa, Riadh3; Chelly, Mohamed Souhaiel4; Chamari, Karim5

Author Information
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2015 - Volume 29 - Issue 8 - p 2105-2114
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000855
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Abstract

Introduction

Team handball is a strenuous contact sport and particularly the ability to make and repeat explosive muscular contractions required for sprinting, jumping, turning, changing pace, and ball throwing. In addition to technical and tactical skills, appropriate anthropometric characteristics and high levels of strength, muscle power, and handball throwing ability are important to success in team handball (13,19,22,38). Although by playing team handball itself can enhance many of these factors, elite competitors must train additional handball-specific conditioning, including exercises, which is a combination of speed and explosive strength that are needed to improve maximal anaerobic power and explosive capacity (3,9,20,43).

Overarm throwing is a typical example of an explosive action, which is important in team handball where both speed and strength play a central role. To improve overarm throwing performance, different training forms are used. These different training forms can be categorized according to the principles of overload by resistance or by velocity of the exercise (7,17,19,36,38). Van den Tillaar (2004) summarized current knowledge on the respective benefits of various throwing training programs (training with overweight balls, underweight balls, underweight and overweight balls, and general weight training). He concluded that no clear answer could be given as to the type of resistance training that was most effective in increasing throwing velocity but that the workload had to be high enough to get enhancement in throwing velocity. He further discussed that in many of the training studies, resistance training is introduced in addition to regular training and compared with controls who do not receive any form of additional training (9,18,19,28,39). Thus, from these studies, it is difficult to assess what aspect of resistance training causes the positive effect: the training form or added training load?

However, in most of these studies, children, high school student, and university students were used together with an overhead throwing movement (soccer ball throw in), which probably give other results than in athletes who train regularly with throwing such as in team handball. Only a few training studies have used experienced throwers in which the workload between the training groups was the same (7,27). In these studies, no significant difference between groups was found but some trends that specific throwing training has some advantages over training with only the medicine ball throws as a specific drive of training (27). However, van den Tillaar and Marques (38) showed that it is easy to double throwing workload with 3-kg medicine balls than by throwing training with regular balls and thereby also can increase ball speed with lighter regular balls. However, again in this study, only high school students were used and not experienced throwers.

Based on the technical limitations and inconclusive nature of the aforementioned studies, our intention was to compare increases of performance induced when specific resistance training was added to the normal in-season regimen of experienced handball players. Therefore, the main aim of this study was to compare the effect of specific resistance training (throwing with 3-kg medicine balls) with that of additional regular throwing training on the overarm throwing velocity with normal balls. We hypothesized that both groups would improve their throwing velocity because of the additional training. Any significant difference in performance enhancement between the groups would indicate the role these specific training contents (specificity or resistance) have on ball velocity. In addition, anthropometry, maximal strength, and general throwing power are investigated to study whether the training regime also influences these parameters. Eventual differences in anthropometrics, maximal strength, and power can perhaps help us to explain eventual differences because of the different training regimes in throwing velocity (1,10,12,35).

Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

To compare the effect of specific resistance training (throwing with 3-kg medicine balls) with that of additional regular throwing training on the overarm throwing velocity with normal balls, a repeated-measures design was conducted, in which 3 groups of elite male team handball players matched on throwing performance at the pretest was used. The first group did not train any extra throwing training and only continued with regular team handball training and served as a control group, whereas the next group trained extra throwing with a regular training load (throws with a regular weighted handball) and the last group trained resistance training (throws with 3-kg medicine balls) with the approximately same workload (7,37,39,41,43). The training bouts were performed in conjunction with the regular training as to fully allow for transfer of effects of the additional training. To test if the type of training had a positive influence on ball speed and other variables after a training period of 8 weeks throwing in 3 situations, maximal strength, anthropometrics, and throwing power were tested before and after the training period.

Subjects

In our investigation, 36 elite male team handball players (Age range: 18–19 years, body mass: 80.6 ± 5.5 kg, height: 1.80 ± 5.1 m, body fat: 13.4 ± 0.6%), all drawn from a single team in the top National Handball League volunteered. Their mean handball experience was 7.5 ± 0.5 years. All were examined by the team physician before the study, with a particular focus on orthopedic and other conditions that might preclude resistance training, and all were found to be in good health. The subjects were told that they were free to withdraw from the trial without penalty at any time and gave written informed consent after receiving both a verbal and a written explanation of the experimental design and its potential risks. For the subjects younger than 18 years, a parental or guardian consent was obtained. The study was approved by the institutional review committee for the ethical use of human subjects, according to current national laws and regulations.

Procedures

The study was performed from January to March (an 8-week period) in the middle of the playing season (from the 22nd to the 29th week). All subjects were engaged in the standard training program from the beginning of the competitive season (September) until the end of the study (March). This regimen comprised team handball training 3–4 times per week and 1 official game per week. Practice training sessions lasted ∼90 minutes; usually, they emphasized skilled activities at various intensities, offensive and defensive strategy, and some 30 minutes of continuous play. Subjects also participated in two 40-minute physical education sessions per week; these consisted mainly of ball games.

Two weeks before the pretest, 2 familiarizations sessions were undertaken with the purpose of emphasizing proper execution technique in the different tests assessed. Sessions took place at a neuromuscular research laboratory under the direct supervision of the investigators, at the same time of the day for each subject and under constant environmental conditions (20° C, 60% humidity). The pretest was performed when the participants were 4 months into the competitive season. As the time of the day can influence the aerobic and anaerobic performances, all tests were conducted at the same time of the day, from 17:00 to 19:00 hours. Data were collected before modification of training and after completing the 8-week trial. Pre- and posttest measurements were made 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, but before testing, they abstained from physical exercise for 1 day, drank no caffeine-containing beverages for 4 hours, and ate no food for 2 hours. Verbal encouragement ensured maximal effort throughout all tests.

A standardized battery of warm-up exercises was performed before the tests supervised by the head researcher and the coach. On the first test day, the ball throwing velocity and 1 repetition maximum (RM) pullover were determined, followed by the anthropometric assessment. On the second day, 1RM in bench press was assessed, and on the third day, the distance in the medicine ball throw was determined. During the execution of these tests, the players were verbally encouraged to give their maximal effort. The tests executed for the measurement of performance are explained in detail below.

On day 1, the 1RM pullover and anthropometrics were measured. The pullover exercise is much like the dumbbell pullover, 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. 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, having used it regularly in their weekly strength training sessions. Warm-up consisted of a set of 5 repetitions at loads of 40–60% of the perceived maximum. 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 attempts.

Anthropometry was measured in weight, height, fat percentage, and upper-body muscle volume. Weight and height were measured at the pre- and posttest by a portable digital scale Tanita Body Fat Analyzer (model TBF 105; Tanita Corporation of America, Inc, Arlington Heights, Illinois). Weight was measured with light clothes and without shoes. Height was measured without shoes. The precision of weight and height measurement was to the nearest 0.1 kg and 0.1 cm, respectively.

Total body fat was calculated by skinfolds assessed using a standard Harpenden caliper (Baty International, Burgess Hill, Sussex, United Kingdom). Standard equations were used to predict body fat from the biceps, triceps, subscapular, and suprailiac skinfolds (44).

The muscle volume of the upper limbs was using circumferences and skinfold thicknesses measured at different levels of the arm and the forearm, the length of the upper limb, and the breadth of the humeral condyles (21,33,34).

Muscle volumes were estimated as:

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 formula (44):

where ΣC2 is the sum of the squares of the 5 circumferences of the corresponding limb.

On day 2, the 1RM bench press and handball throwing test were performed. Bench press (elbow extension) was chosen because it involves some arm muscles that are specific to overhand throwing (26). The test was performed in a Smith machine; 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-degree abducted position to ensure consistent positioning of the shoulder and elbow joints throughout the test (1,19,31). 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.

Handball throwing test consisted of 3 types of overarm throw on an indoor team handball court: a standing throw or also called a 7-m throw, a throw with run, and a jump throw. The standing and 3-step throws have been described by Hermassi et al. (19). In the jump shot, players made a preparatory 3-step run before jumping vertically 9 m from the goal, releasing the ball while in the air. Throwing times were recorded by a digital video camera (Sony Handycam DCR-PC105E; Sony, Tokyo, Japan), positioned 3 m above and parallel to the player. Data processing software (Regavi and Regressi; Micrelec, Coulommiers, France) converted the duration of ball displacements to velocities. Throws with the greatest starting velocity were selected for further analysis. The reliability of the data processing software has been verified previously (2); timing was accurate to 0.001 seconds, and the test-retest coefficient of variation (CV) for throwing velocity was 1.9%.

On the third day of testing, upper-body power was tested. An overhead medicine ball throw was used to evaluate the upper-body ability to generate muscular actions at a high rate of speed. While standing, subjects held a 3-kg medicine ball in both hands in front of the body with arms relaxed. The athletes were instructed to throw the ball over their heads as far as possible. A countermovement was allowed during the action (28). Five trials were performed with a 1-minute rest between each trial. An average of the best 4 throws was subsequently used for analysis. The distance of the throw was recorded to the closest in meter. The ball throwing distance had an intraclass correlation (ICC) of 0.95 and a CV of 5.7%.

After the pretest, the 36 subjects were randomly assigned to 3 groups: resistance training group (n = 12), regular throwing training group (n = 12), and control group who continued with their standard in-season training regimen (n = 12). However, in the control group, 2 players were injured during the investigation period and were removed from the group ending up with n = 10 for the control group. These 3 groups were initially well matched in terms of their physical characteristics (Table 1). Both the resistance and regular throwing training programs continued for 8 weeks. Three training sessions per week were performed on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, immediately before the normal handball training sessions. A researcher supervised each workout to ensure that proper procedures were followed. All training sessions began with a 15-minute warm-up and lasted for some 20 minutes. Subjects were instructed to perform all exercises with maximal effort.

T1-5
Table 1:
Number of throws per training 1session for the regular throwing and resistance throwing training groups in which the regular throwing group threw with a regular weighted ball (0.45 kg), whereas the resistance training group threw with 3-kg medicine balls.*

The regular throwing training group conducted additional throwing training consisting of an extra number of throws using the 3 different throwing techniques (standing, throw with run, and jump throw) with the presence of goal keeper as specified per training session in Table 1. The resistance training group performed additional overhead throws with the medicine ball (3 kg) against a wall (Table 1). The subjects performed these exercises 3 times a week for 8 weeks in addition to the regular training sessions at their clubs. Approximately, the same workload was used for both training groups. To establish the same workload for each group, the practice load was calculated by the net impulse generated per throwing attempt as performed in earlier studies of van den Tillaar and Marques (37,41,43) and Ettema et al. (7). Comparison of the pretest scores for throwing with 0.45-kg and 3-kg balls resulted in that the total workload per session at the start of the intervention was around 1,320 N·s for both groups when throwing 150 times with the 0.45-kg handball or throwing 20 times with the 3-kg medicine ball. Furthermore, the principle of overload was used for increasing the workload during the training period resulting in a training program shown in Table 1.

Statistical Analyses

To show whether anthropometrics were different between the 3 training groups and thereby could be a confounding parameter, 1-way analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were performed on weight, height, and maximal ball speed in 3 situations at the pretest. To compare the effects of the training protocols, a mixed-design 2 (test occasion: pre-post: repeated measures) × 3 (group: control, regular throwing, and resistance training) ANOVA on each variable was used. A post hoc test (using Holm-Bonferroni procedure) was used to locate significant differences. The percentages of change from the pre- to posttest was also calculated for comparison with other studies. Calculation of the effect size was evaluated with

(partial eta squared), where 0.01 < η2 < 0.06 constitutes as a small effect, a medium effect when 0.06 < η2 < 0.14, and a large effect when η2 > 0.14 (4).

The reliability as indicated by ICCs was 0.92 for 0.97 (Table 2). The level of significance was set at p ≤ 0.05. Statistical analysis was performed in SPSS version 18.0 (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).

T2-5
Table 2:
ICCs showing the reliability of throwing ball velocities, 1RM scores for upper limbs, and distance medicine ball throw.*

Results

Pretest data indicated no statistically significant differences (p ≥ 0.34) in anthropometrics between the 3 groups (Table 3) together with the throwing speed with the different balls (p ≥ 0.28). A significant main effect from pre- to posttest was found for maximal ball speed (F ≥ 30.7, p ≤ 0.001, η2 ≥ 0.499; Figure 1), maximal strength exercises (F ≥ 44.6, p ≤ 0.001, η2 ≥ 0.59; Figure 2), medicine ball distance (F = 126, p < 0.001, η2 ≥ 0.803; Figure 3), and anthropometrics (F ≥ 28.9, p < 0.001, η2 ≥ 0.48; Figure 4). Furthermore, a group effect was found for all the variables (F ≥ 14.8, p ≤ 0.001, η2 ≥ 0.489; Figures 1–4). Post hoc comparison revealed that only resistance training group increased the ball speed with the standing throw (+24.2%), jump throw (+22.1%), and throw with run (+22.4%), whereas the regular throwing training group only increased ball speed significantly in the jump throw (+16.7%). No significant increase in maximal ball speed was observed for the control group (Figure 1). Maximal strength was also significantly increased in the resistance training group (bench press: 19.1%, pullover: 29.1%) and in the regular throwing group (bench press: 13.0%, pullover: 20.3%), which was significantly higher than in the control group who did not had any significantly increase in strength (Figure 2). No significant differences in increases between the 2 training groups were found (p ≥ 0.074).

T3-5
Table 3:
Anthropometrics and peak ball speeds of the different balls of all groups at the pretest (mean ± SD).
F1-5
Figure 1:
Maximal throwing speed (mean ± SD) with the handball from a standing position, jump- and run throw per group at the pre- and posttest. *Significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) in ball speed from the pre- to the posttest in this group. †Significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) in throwing speed with the control group. ‡Significant higher increase (p ≤ 0.05) in throwing speed of this group compared with the other 2 groups.
F2-5
Figure 2:
Maximal 1RM (mean ± SD) in pullover and bench press per group at the pre- and posttest. *Significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) in ball speed from the pre- to the posttest in this group. †Significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) with the control group. RM = repetition maximum.
F3-5
Figure 3:
Mean (SD) throwing distance with medicine ball per group at the pre- and posttest. *Significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) in ball speed from the pre- to the post-test in this group. †Significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) with the control group.
F4-5
Figure 4:
Mean (SD) (A) body Mass, (B) muscle volume, (C) fat percentage per group at the pre- and posttest. *Significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) in ball speed from the pre- to the posttest in this group. †Significant difference (p ≤ 0.05) with the control group. ‡Significant higher decrease (p ≤ 0.05) of this group compared with the other 2 groups.

Medicine ball distance increased also significantly in the resistance group (+18.8%) and in the regular throwing training group (+17.6%), whereas no significant change was observed for the control group (−2.6%). Again, no significant difference in increase between the 2 training groups was found (p = 0.49; Figure 3).

Anthropometrics as measured by body mass, muscle volume, and fat percentage changed significantly different per group (Figures 4A–C). The resistance training group significantly decreased body mass (−6.2%) and fat percentage (−5%) and increased muscle volume (+33.1%). The regular throwing training group only significantly decreased fat percentage (−1.9%) and increased muscle volume (+26.6%), whereas the control group significantly increased their body mass (+0.9%) and fat percentage (+0.4%) with no significant change in muscle volume (−4.8%). The resistance training group decreased body mass and fat percentage significantly more than the other 2 groups, whereas no significant differences for these 2 variables were found between the regular training and control group (p ≥ 0.086; Figures 4A, C). For the muscle volume, no significant difference in increase between the 2 training groups was found (p = 0.47; Figure 4B), whereas these were significantly different from the changes of the control group (p < 0.001).

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to compare the effect of a specific resistance training program (throwing movement with a medicine ball) with that of regular throwing training on ball velocity, anthropometry, maximal upper-body strength, and power. The main findings were that throwing speed, maximal strength, power, and muscle volume increases for the specific resistance training group after the 8 weeks of training, whereas only maximal strength, muscle volume, and power and in the jump throw increases were found for the regular throwing training group. No significant changes for the control group were found.

The 8-week training period led to a considerable gain in throwing velocities in the specific resistance training group, whereas the regular throwing training group only showed increases in the jump throw. This indicates that the total workload with the medicine ball throws was high enough to get a positive transfer to throws with regular balls, whereas the extra throws with regular balls did not give much throwing enhancement (Figure 1). Newton and McEvoy (31) also used 3-kg medicine balls in their study on national baseball player and did not found any increases after a training period of 8 weeks when training throwing with 3-kg medicine balls, whereas van den Tillaar and Marques (38) found increases when training with 3-kg medicine balls. The different findings can be explained by several factors such as age, training experience, and level (16-year-old high school students vs. 18-year-old national level baseball players). But, the main explanation is possibly the total increased workload. Van den Tillaar and Marques (38) showed that when the workload is high enough (enough throws with the 3-kg medicine ball), this will have a positive effect on throws with a regular ball. In the study of Newton et al. (31), most likely the total workload with the 3-kg medicine ball was not high enough: only 2 sessions per week vs. 3 sessions per week in this study. Our results were also in accordance with the findings of Gorostiaga et al. (11), Ettema et al. (7), Hermassi et al. (18,19), and Chelly et al. (3) who used a plyometric training program on the upper and lower limbs. Even if in these studies the exercises (bench press, wall pulley, and pec dec) were not directly the same as in this study, the increased workload had a positive transfer to throws with the regular ball. Certainly, a combination of strength, handball technique, and competitive skills training significantly enhanced maximal and specific explosive strength of the upper extremity over the 8-week program. The increase in maximal upper-limb strength should give players an advantage in sustaining the forceful muscle contractions required during such actions such as throwing (3,5,6,9,15,19).

The regular training group in our study only demonstrated significant improvements in ball speed in the jump throw and not in the other 2 types of throws, which was surprising because earlier studies with less increased workload with regular weighted balls in experienced throwers showed increased ball velocity after the training period (7,27,35,40). However, in the training sessions, the subjects mainly used the jump throw as throwing technique against a goal keeper to simulate a real team handball situation. Together with performing the jump throw in regular training and competition, this could have a positive effect on the throwing performance in this type of throws as found in this study (Figure 1). The standing and the throw with preliminary steps are not used so much in competition like the jump shot is (42) and during the extra training sessions, because these were not chosen so much (the subject could choose what type of throws they wanted to throw during the additional throws).

However, the increased number of throws in the regular throwing training group had the same positive effect on the maximal upper-body strength (Figure 2) and power (Figure 3) as the specific resistance training group indicating that the increased workload (even if it was lower than the resistance training group) was high enough for adaptation in maximal upper-body strength and power even when they did not train these exercises. An explanation for these increases can be neural adaptation, such as synchronization of motor units (11,23,25,30), higher nerve activity (8,16,29), and firing frequency (14). These neural adaptations of muscles can provide a carryover effect when applied to lower velocity exercises, that is, bench press, etc. Furthermore, these adaptations would give the same stimuli as with the specific resistance training group because of the size principle of motor recruitment (32).

Neural adaptations were not possible to measure, but anthropometric adaptations were found in this study that could explain the performance changes after the training period. Both training groups decreased their total body mass, increased muscle volume, and decreased fat percentage, whereas the control group did not have any changes after 8 weeks. This indicates that both training groups, because of their increased workload, physically adapted to withstand the extra training load. The throws (regular and medicine ball) resulted in more muscle volume in the upper body and less fat percentage. However, the total body mass decreased more in the specific resistance training group than in the regular throwing training group. This difference was caused by the significantly higher decrease in fat percentage. A good reason for this is that the workload was also much higher for the resistance training group than the regular throwing training group. Thereby, the body had to adapt more to this increased workload resulting in a larger decrease in fat percentage (Figure 4).

In this study, medicine ball throws were used as resistance training and compared with regular throwing ball training, which resulted in a considerate higher workload between the groups and in better results in 2 of the throwing types (Figure 1). As already suggested earlier by van den Tillaar and Marques (38) that it is easier to increase workload by introducing higher throwing weights, this study shows this clearly. Because of the high load per repetition, a relatively low number of repetitions and thus less training time is required to obtain training effects. However, it is very important that it is combined with regular training to get the best transfer to throws with throws with regular balls (27). In future studies, kinematic analysis should be included to investigate what exactly changes after the training period: is it kinematics, strength, or a combination (42).

Practical Applications

This study indicates that training 3 times per week for 8 weeks in-season resistance training with 3-kg medicine balls had positive effects on throwing speed, maximal strength, power, and anthropometrics, because of the increased workload. Moreover, it is more effective than training with approximately the same work load with a lower throwing mass (regular weighted handballs), but more repetitions (regular throwing training group) that only increased maximal strength, muscle volume, and power and in the jump throw in elite male team handball players. Some advantages of implementing this resistance training program with medicine balls for trainers and experienced handball players are that number of throws with 3-kg medicine balls is much lower than the additional throws with a regular handball necessary to match the workload. The explanation of the lower number of throws with a lower throwing velocity will probably the stress the shoulder and arm be less than throwing with the regular weighted balls. Another advantage is that the resistance training also changes other variables such as maximal strength, specific power, and anthropometrics, which all also are very important for other actions in team handball such as blocking and defense. Moreover, it has proven quite easy and practical to implement the proposed regimen into the traditional routine of technical and tactical training, without detriment to other aspects of performance, because only medicine balls are needed and no other more expensive resistance training equipment such as barbells and weights.

Acknowledgments

This study was conducted without any funding from companies or manufacturers or outside organizations. The results of this study do not constitute endorsement by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

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Keywords:

medicine ball; pull over; speed; bench press; muscle volume; upper limb

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