Notes From Dr Barry Spiering: Minimum Effective Dose For Maintaining Peak Physical Performance

Barry Spiering

Barry A. Spiering, PhD, CSCS is a Research Physiologist in the Military Performance Division at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM). The overarching goal of his research at USARIEM is to optimise physical training strategies to maximize physical performance and minimise injury risk in soldiers. Previous professional appointments include Assistant Professor at California State University Fullerton, Exercise Physiologist at NASA – Johnson Space Center, Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Connecticut, Sports Physiologist at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY, Manager of the Human Performance Laboratory at Marywood University, and Strength & Conditioning Intern for the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League (NFL).

Barry spoke at the UKSCA Conference in 2012 on the minimum effective dose required for athletes to maintain peak physical performance when faced with limited training time – or what he called “The Goldilocks Effect”. Below are my notes:

Minimum Effective Dose

  • In a competitive season there are many demands on an athlete’s time:
    • Technical/Tactical practice
    • Team Meetings
    • Travel
    • Competitions
  • As a result S&C training is often reduced in either volume, frequency or intensity but what is the minimum dose of exercise necessary for maintaining performance while allowing for sufficient recovery?
  • Schmidt et al (2005) demonstrated that failure to perform in-season S&C training results in significant decrements in physical performance (10% loss in squat strength)
  • Equally Kraemer et al (2004) showed that too much in-season S&C training results in significant decrements in physical performance, potentially due to insufficient recovery (11% drop in strength, 13% drop in vertical jump performance and 4% increase in 20yd sprint time)
  • The studies that Barry used to demonstrate his points were based on subjects who were not athletes so he advised caution when interpreting the results. Whilst the precise percentages may vary in highly trained athletes the effect is the important point
  • Minimal Dose for Endurance Training:
    • Frequency – As little as 2 sessions per week can maintain VO2Max as long as intensity is high
    • Volume – As little as 13mins of exercise per day can maintain VO2Max as long as intensity is high
    • Intensity – As little as one third reduction in work rate seriously compromises the ability to maintain maximal aerobic capacity
  • As a result the key question is “Are your athletes getting sufficient endurance training with practice/competition?
  • In Women’s Ice Hockey as an example, games are 90%+ HRMax but training is often <80% HRMax (Spiering et al 2003)
  • Players therefore benefitted from supplemental interval training
Minimum Effective Dose

Click to enlarge

  • Interval training was used as Burgomaster et al (2008) showed that traditional endurance training and high intensity interval training were similarly effective in improving VO2Max but the interval training took 10% of the time to complete
  • Minimal Dose for Strength Training:
    • Frequency – As little as 1 session per week can maintain muscle size and strength for up to 8 months as long as intensity is maintained
    • Volume – As little as 1 set per exercise can maintain muscle size and strength for up to 8 months as long as intensity is maintained
    • Intensity – The minimum dose is unknown but as with endurance training a high intensity is key
  • Looking at an athletic population (Soccer) Ronnestadt et al (2011) showed that while one session of strength per week was sufficient for maintaining strength & speed, one session every other week was not
Minimum Effective Dose

Click to enlarge

  • Key message – While volume and frequency can be (and often are) reduced in season, intensity must be maintained whether it be endurance or strength training.

My thoughts:

Minimum Effective Dose is an important concept not only for time pressured coaches looking to maintain performance in season but for every coach at every stage of the athlete’s training plan. Many take the “Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut” approach to physical preparation thinking “More is Better” but why put more stress on your athletes than is absolutely necessary?

Charlie Francis used the analogy of a cup filling with water to explain that every athlete has a finite capacity (the cup) for dealing with the stress (the water) of fitness training, technical/tactical training and the pressures of work & family etc. If the cup overflows because too much water has been added then injury will occur. Often precious capacity is taken up with needless training and coaches should apply the test “What is the minimum effective dose I need to apply?” in order to allow a reserve of capacity for dealing with unforeseen stresses the athlete may encounter.

Athletes work hard in the off and pre-season to attain high levels of preparation that have a residual effect (as noted by Vladimir Issurin in his Block Periodisation work) and Miniumum Effective Dose training is the aim when looking to prolong these.

Intensity is the key, yet is often guessed at but with the increased availability of monitoring devices and systems such as Heart Rate, GPS and Linear Position Transducers coaches are able to more accurately measure and modify intensity to the appropriate level so that enough work is done to achieve a stimulus but not so much that they risk injury.

“All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.”

Paracelsus, Founder of toxicology

Posted in Blog Tagged with: , , , ,