Training to enhance the physiological determinants of long-distance running performance: can valid recommendations be given to runners and coaches based on current scientific knowledge?

Adrian W Midgley, Lars R McNaughton, Andrew M Jones
Sports Medicine 2007, 37 (10): 857-80
This article investigates whether there is currently sufficient scientific knowledge for scientists to be able to give valid training recommendations to long-distance runners and their coaches on how to most effectively enhance the maximal oxygen uptake, lactate threshold and running economy. Relatively few training studies involving trained distance runners have been conducted, and these studies have often included methodological factors that make interpretation of the findings difficult. For example, the basis of most of the studies was to include one or more specific bouts of training in addition to the runners' 'normal training', which was typically not described or only briefly described. The training status of the runners (e.g. off-season) during the study period was also typically not described. This inability to compare the runners' training before and during the training intervention period is probably the main factor that hinders the interpretation of previous training studies. Arguably, the second greatest limitation is that only a few of the studies included more than one experimental group. Consequently, there is no comparison to allow the evaluation of the relative efficacy of the particular training intervention. Other factors include not controlling the runners' training load during the study period, and employing small sample sizes that result in low statistical power. Much of the current knowledge relating to chronic adaptive responses to physical training has come from studies using sedentary individuals; however, directly applying this knowledge to formulate training recommendations for runners is unlikely to be valid. Therefore, it would be difficult to argue against the view that there is insufficient direct scientific evidence to formulate training recommendations based on the limited research. Although direct scientific evidence is limited, we believe that scientists can still formulate worthwhile training recommendations by integrating the information derived from training studies with other scientific knowledge. This knowledge includes the acute physiological responses in the various exercise domains, the structures and processes that limit the physiological determinants of long-distance running performance, and the adaptations associated with their enhancement. In the future, molecular biology may make an increasing contribution in identifying effective training methods, by identifying the genes that contribute to the variation in maximal oxygen uptake, the lactate threshold and running economy, as well as the biochemical and mechanical signals that induce these genes. Scientists should be cautious when giving training recommendations to runners and coaches based on the limited available scientific knowledge. This limited knowledge highlights that characterising the most effective training methods for long-distance runners is still a fruitful area for future research.

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