Last Updated on April 4, 2021 by Jimson Lee
Next week Iñigo Mujika will be speaking at the Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group and is one of the top sport physiologists internationally. His work on tapering and detraining is widely respected among his peers and coaches.
This is part 16 of the Freelap Friday Five Series, Season Three. To review the past 47 interviews, click here.
- Part 1 was Jeff Cubos, Chiropractor and Performance Therapist
- Part 2 was John Godina, World Athletics Center founder & Elite Shot Putter
- Part 3 was Questions & Answers from Peter Weyand’s Research
- Part 4 was Dr. Thomas Lam, focusing on Movement Based Sports Science
- Part 5 was Landon Evans, Strength & Conditioning Coach & Nutrition Coordinator
- Part 6 was Gabe Sanders, Assistant T&F coach of Boston University
- Part 7 was Dr Jess Greaux, on Rehab and Biomechanics
- Part 8 was Merlene Ottey – Queen of the Track
- Part 9 was So You Want to Be a Decathlete? w/ Eric Broadbent
- Part 10 was Jay DeMayo, U of Richmond’s S&C Coach.
- Part 11 was Jessica Zelinka, Heptathlete and SuperMom!
- Part 12 was James Smith, aka “The Thinker”
- Part 13 was Brian Theriot, UCLA Sprinter turned Pro 800/Mile
- Part 14 was Carl Valle, USATF Level 2 Sprints & Hurdles Coach
- Part 15 was Mark Kokavec, a footwear designer with New Balance
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Iñigo Mujika resume includes:
- Sport Physiologist, triathlon and swimming coach
- Associate Editor for the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
- Associate Professor at the University of the Basque Country
- Associated Researcher at Finis Terrae University
Iñigo earned his Ph.D.s in Biology of Muscular Exercise (University of Saint-Etienne, France) and Physical Activity and Sport Sciences (University of The Basque Country). He is also a Level III Swimming and Triathlon Coach and coach olympic distance, Ironman and XTerra World Class triathletes.
His main research interests in the field of applied sport science include training methods and recovery from exercise, tapering, detraining and overtraining. I´ve also performed extensive research on the physiological aspects associated with sports performance in professional cycling, swimming, running, rowing, tennis, football and water polo.
He received research fellowships in Australia, France and South Africa, published nearly 80 articles in peer reviewed journals, 3 books and 28book chapters, and have given over 200 lectures and communications in international conferences and meetings. He is the author of Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Performance.
Inigo was a Senior Physiologist at the Australian Institute of Sport in 2003 and 2004. In 2005 and 2013 I was the physiologist and trainer for the Euskaltel Euskadi professional cycling team, between 2006 and 2008, Head of Research and Development at Athletic Club Bilbao professional football club, and between 2009 and 2012 physiologist of the elite swim team of the Real Federación Española de Natación.Friday Five is sponsored by Freelap Track and Field, a leader in electronic timing.
Interview with Iñigo Mujika, an Expert on the Science of Tapering & Peaking
Question 1: The fine line between tapering and of course detraining is getting smaller as seasons are getting longer. With some metrics of fitness and power varying, how does one know if they are reaching a point of lost fitness in team sports? Some teams are monitoring fatigue but not managing training outside practice. What are ways to make non-specific training outside of practice a combination of both adaptation and monitoring physical abilities? Any good workouts for soccer that can help monitor power or conditioning that would be good for college and or professionals?
Iñigo Mujika: In my view, the key metric to assess where an athlete is at each point in time is performance in training and in competition. If an athlete is not performing at his or her expected level, we need to make some kind of performance-fatigue assessment. If performance is indeed declining, we should assess why this is the case, starting with exclusion criteria such as confounding illnesses. We should also assess whether there are clear errors in the athlete’s training program: insufficient training volume, intensity or frequency; excess or insufficient competition; nutritional errors; and other confounding factors such as psychological problems, social issues, travel fatigue, etc. We can of course make use of biological markers such as resting cortisol levels or maximal lactate production, but I have always believed that communication with the athlete is the most important way to assess what is going on.
Not assessing training or physical activities outside of formal team practice is equivalent to trying to make a nutritional assessment including only the foods ingested by an athlete at team meals, but ignoring what they eat once they are on their own. We need to know what the athlete does outside of formal practice, as this may have a huge impact on the way they adapt to training. All physical training should be included in the quantification of an athlete’s activity profile, and this can be done with the use of physical activity questionnaires, or by means of technological tools such as heart rate monitors or accelerometers.
In terms of tests or workouts that may help monitor power or conditioning, I am sure that every fitness coach has his or her own method, which could be a reference training set, a countermovement jump, a repeated effort test, a maximal or submaximal Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test, etc. The most important thing is that these reference workouts or tests should be carried out in standardized conditions, be relevant to the sport, valid, reliable and sensitive to changes in an athlete’s fitness level.
Question 2: Small Sided Games are popular ways to work on tactical and technical areas, but you mentioned years ago that longer sprints may be important to prepare for injury reduction. Linear sprints being the most common way of scoring as well as the most common cause of hamstring pulls, what can sport science do to help the medical and team coach with practices during the season by integrating a balance between skill and general training?
Iñigo Mujika: Small sided games can be very effective training exercises. As you say, they allow to work on tactical and technical aspects of the game, and they can also be effective at improving players’ fitness. Nevertheless, I consider that basing fitness training exclusively on small sided games is an error that is often justified by the wrong assumption that training should always be as similar as possible to the game itself. If that were the case, the best practice would simply be to play the game all the time. My philosophy is that we need to identify the factors that determine physical performance in the sport, then try to find the right training mix that includes proven methods to improve each and everyone of those factors. A soccer player, for example, requires high levels of endurance, speed, power, strength, agility, repeated sprint ability… We as coaches need to make use of the best training methods to improve each one of these qualities, and simply playing small sided games is certainly not the best possible way to achieve this. Of course we also need to be aware that the technical and tactical areas are also key to performance, and after assessing our team’s strengths and weaknesses, we need to determine the training time that will be specifically allocated to each of these areas, and the time needed to optimally integrate them to maximize each player’s contribution to the team’s overall performance. Within this framework, injury prevention is also a key aspect of daily training. In a sport like soccer, the physical qualities required from the players should be trained in conjunction with injury prevention (e.g. core training, proprioception, use of eccentric overload training of thigh muscles, dynamic stabilization through vibrations, uneven and unstable surfaces, etc.). In this respect, I believe that it is better to have your best players at 90% of their physical capacities on the pitch, than having them sidelined due to injury.
Question 3: You quoted Carl Foster with “The ability to monitor training is critical to the process of quantitating training periodization plans,” in your editorial. Carl has done a lot of work with Neurotransmitters and Subjective/Mood States and the brain is becoming a popular topic. Many athletes are very in tune with their bodies and technology seems to be focused on objective sensors. Is this a good direction? Where do you think things are going with monitoring the athlete as a person versus just a physiological body?
Iñigo Mujika: As I said in my recent editorial “The alphabet of sport science research starts with Q”, I consider the quantification of training a cornerstone of athletic preparation for competition and a key aspect of good sport science. In this respect, any type of quantification is certainly better than no quantification at all. Of course, quantifying the external load imposed on an athlete is necessary, but we all know that individual athletes will adapt differently to the same training load, so assessing the internal load is also important. In my early studies with elite swimmers we quantified up to 28 training variables for each athlete, daily, throught an entire season, year after year. We then applied a mathematical model to relate the training input with the performance output, and later assesed the impact of these training indices on various biological markers. This type of quantification requires a very methodical and systematic approach to training, and generates a huge volume of data, so we need to make sure that we can manage and interpret the data to make it useful. At the time, we did not include any psychological monitoring of the athletes, which was clearly an error. Athletes’ performances improve or decline not just due to physiological changes; psychological status and mood states also play a key role in an athlete’s ability to perform in both training and competition, so being able to continuously monitor their physiological and psychological status is extremely important. Whether this is done through technological gadgets, questionnaires or by means of open communication is less important, as long as the quantification process is methodical, systematic, and provides valid and reliable information to optimize an athlete’s adaptation and performance.
Question 4: American Football is growing with Sport Science, but sports medicine seems to be a separate department with most sports. Where do you see the fusion go in the next few years with non-contact injuries? Spain is a hotbed with medical expertise with muscle diagnostics and biomechanics, especially with companies like Podoactiva. If you were to suggest some fresh ideas to American Football besides looking at Rugby or Handball, what areas outside of GPS and HRV do you think they should look at to improve performance and reduce injuries?
Iñigo Mujika: I must admit that although I do enjoy American Football (I even played it for a year in high school back in 1986-1987; of course, I was a kicker!), I don’t really have a chance to follow the sport in the Basque Country, and I am not familiar with the way sports science and sports medicine (SSSM) are organized. I believe these areas should go hand in hand in providing support to the athletes. As an example, reference elite performance centers such as the Australian Institute of Sport have a SSSM section including service delivery departments grouping clinical services, sport sciences, athlete and career education and performance research. There is no doubt that continous elite performance is multifactorial, and such a section or department should work in a coordinated way to optimize all aspects of an athlete’s performance and well-being. Injury prevention is not just a matter of proper planning of the training process; other aspects such as nutrition, recovery, stress management, psychology, biomechanics, physical therapies and ergonomics can make significant contributions to injury prevention and post-injury recovery and return to play.
Question 5: Endurance training is obviously a specialty of yours but recovery and regeneration from speed and power is a growing need in team sports. What are the mechanisms we can exploit without attenuating adaptations. For example Cryosaunas, Electrical Muscle Stimulation, and Pneumatic Compression are popular ways to feel better but the cellular mechanisms are a mystery. Is legal regeneration outside of sleep, eating right, and not doing to much training possible? Are we just doing stuff to “feel” better and get a placebo or are their things to make changes to our bodies for the better?
Iñigo Mujika: This is certainly a very interesting issue. I have often stated that I see the training process as a cycle that includes both, the time spent training and the time needed to recover from a given training bout. Over the years, the first part of this cycle has been emphasized to enhance performance, with coaches and athletes looking for ways to train longer and harder. In the past fifteen years or so, however, there has been a growing interest in the second part the cycle, i.e. recovery, in an attempt to improve performance by recovering better in between workouts, training cycles, or even in between seasons. In this regard, various recovery modalities and strategies are gaining wide acceptance among athletes, and sport governing bodies, training centers and professional teams are investing financial and human resources to provide these recovery modalities to athletes. Individual athletes are also making use of popular proactive recovery methods. The big question here is whether by facilitating recovery processes athletes are blunting their adaptation to training. In other words, by making use of such recovery modalities, do athletes get more benefit from their training, or do they need to train more to get the same benefit? Research in this area is still inconclusive, so making general recommendations would not be wise. My view is that similar to physical training, nutrition or psychological skills training, athletes should use a periodized approach to proactive recovery: as my colleague Steve Ingham from the English Institute of Sport puts it, the focus should be on maximizing adaptation, not maximizing training. So when adaptation is more important (such as during the early and mid-season), athletes should focus more on training and less on proactive recovery; but when recovery is more important than adaptation (such as in the late season or in the lead-up to and during major championships), athletes should make use of all proactive recovery strategies proven to be physiologically and/or psychologically effective for them. All of this said, proper training, adequate sleep and sound nutrition are still the most important strategies to optimize training adaptations! In Bill Sand’s words, no recovery modality is powerful enough to overcome stupid coaching, bad planning and lack of talent.
SpeedEndurance: Thanks for taking the time to answer these tough questions. Enjoy next week, and be sure to say hello to Boo S, Gerry R, Derek H, Jay D and Gil B from InsideTracker. 6 of the speakers at BSMPG were interviewed here in this Blog!
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