The physiological responses to repeated upper-body sprint exercise in highly trained athletes

Øyvind Sandbakk, Tommy Fredriksen Skålvik, Matt Spencer, Mireille van Beekvelt, Boye Welde, Ann Magdalen Hegge, Terje Gjøvaag, Gertjan Ettema
European Journal of Applied Physiology 2015, 115 (6): 1381-91

PURPOSE: To study performance, physiological and biomechanical responses during repeated upper-body sprint exercise.

METHODS: Twelve male elite cross-country skiers performed eight 8-s maximal poling sprints with a 22-s recovery while sitting on a modified SkiErg poling ergometer. Force, movement velocity, cycle rate, work per cycle, oxygen saturation in working muscles and pulmonary oxygen uptake were measured continuously. A 3-min all-out ergometer poling test determined VO2peak, and 1 repetition maximum (1RM) strength was determined in a movement-specific pull-down.

RESULTS: Average sprint power was 281 ± 48 W, with the highest power on the first sprint, a progressive decline in power output over the following four sprints, and a sprint decrement of 11.7 ± 4.1 %. Cycle rate remained unchanged, whereas work per cycle progressively decreased (P < 0.05). m. triceps brachii and m. latissimus dorsi were highly desaturated already after the first sprint (all P < 0.05), whereas the response was delayed for m. biceps brachii and m. vastus lateralis. Correspondingly, increases in VO2 mainly occurred over the first two sprints (P < 0.05) and plateaued at approximately 75 % of VO2peak. 1RM correlated with power during the first four sprints and with average sprint power (r = 0.71-0.80, all P < 0.05), whereas VO2peak correlated with power in the last three sprints (r = 0.60-0.71, all P < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: The main decrement in upper-body sprint performance was evident in the first five sprints, followed by highly desaturated muscles and a plateau in pulmonary oxygen uptake already after the first 2-3 sprints. While high maximal strength seems important for producing power, aerobic capacity correlates with power in the last sprints.

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