Saturday, April 13, 2013

Updates on Compression Clothing and Block Periodization

Joe Friel

 Compression clothing
I first wrote on compression clothing in October 2007 after seeing so many athletes in the Hawaii Ironman wearing them in the race that year. They continue to be used extensively in many endurance sports. There wasn’t much in the research literature on them then, and over the years only a little has been added. I’ve continued to follow the topic and done updates periodically (March 2009, February 2011, May 2011). Here are two more recent studies followed by comments.
de Glanville KM, Hamlin MJ. 2012. Positive effect of lower body compression garments on subsequent 40-kM cycling time trial performance. J Strength Cond Res, 26(2):480-6. 

Fourteen male triathletes were divided into two test groups. One group wore a full leg-length compression stockings and the other a similar looking non-compression garment continuously for 24 hours after a 40k time trial. Following the day of recovery while wearing the stockings they took them off and once again did the 40k TT. One week later the groups reversed the clothing worn and repeated the entire 40k time trial-24 hours of recovery wearing the socks-40k time trial protocol. 

After wearing the compression stockings performance time in the second time trial improved, on average, by 1.2% and average power increased 3.3% compared with wearing the non-compression stockings. The athletes’ rating of perceived exertion during the subsequent tests did not change significantly.
Born DP, Sperlich B, Holmberg HC. 2013. Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on performance and recovery. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 8(1):4-18.
This is a review of the existing literature on the effect of compression garments on performance and recovery. The review found little change in performance while wearing the garments, but they noted improvements in recovery when the subjects wore them.

My opinion on compression clothing has not changed since I first wrote about them five years ago. I doubt there is a significant improvement in performance while wearing them. In a triathlon, the time to put them on in T1 is probably greater than any time gained while wearing them. But there may be a post-workout benefit that could speed recovery prior to the next workout or race. I’ll keep watching for this topic in the literature and let you know what I find.

Block periodization
Back in 2011 I described a relatively new way of organizing training time for advanced athletes called “block periodization” (herehere and here). In block periodization the athlete focuses on only one or two aspects of fitness (what I call “abilities:” aerobic endurance, muscular force, speed skills, muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and sprint power) within a block lasting for a short time – usually three to six weeks. As explained in the above previous blog posts, block periodization is intended only for advanced athletes. Moderately trained athletes are best advised to follow a linear (“classic “or “traditional”) periodization plan as described in my Training Bible books.
There is very little research done on periodization and that which is available usually uses strength athletes as subjects. Such studies of endurance athletes are rare. But here is one that is a recent update on the topic of periodization.
Rønnestad BR, Hansen J, Ellefsen S. 2012. Block periodization of high-intensity aerobic intervals provides superior training effects in trained cyclists. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 
Nineteen experienced and fit cyclists were divided into two groups for this Norwegian study comparing block and traditional periodization. Each group trained for 4 weeks and did 8, high-intensity interval sessions and otherwise low-intensity aerobic training. Their training volume, both for high- and low-intensity workouts, was the same over the 4 weeks. The only difference was how the weeks were structured. 

The 10 riders following the block periodization protocol did 5 of their 8 interval sessions in the first week and then only one each in the last 3 weeks (along with the low-intensity sessions). This concentration on only one ability for a brief period of time followed by maintenance is common in block periodization.
The other group of cyclists who followed the traditional periodization plan spread the 8 intense workouts over the 4 weeks doing 2 each week along with the low-intensity sessions on the other days.
So what was the result? Those following a block periodization program improved their VO2max (one physiological indicator of aerobic fitness) by 4.6% (+/-3.7%). This group started with an average VO2max of 62.2 mLO2/kg/minute so they bumped the average up to just over 65. Their peak power at VO2max increased by 2.1% (+/-2.8%). And this group elevated their power at 2mmol/L of lactate (approximately their aerobic thresholds, similar to low zone 2) by 10% (+/-12%). The traditional periodization group saw no significant changes in these same metrics.
The block periodization group’s numbers are all remarkable given that the gains would have almost certainly been attained in just the first week with only 5 hard workouts. That makes me wonder. One of the problems with such a study is that it isn’t possible to use a double-blind protocol in which neither the subjects nor the researchers know who is following which protocol. This raises the question of a placebo effect. But also note that some of the block periodization subjects had decreases in both their VO2max (-0.7%) and aerobic threshold (-2%) power. That’s a good sign in a way as it confirms what happens in the real world – some positively respond to the protocol and some get worse. It happens in nearly all aspects of training. Such is life.

So far the few studies I’ve seen on the topic have indicated that there may be good reasons for advanced and highly fit athletes to follow a block periodization program. If you fall into this rather small club be sure to read my other blog posts listed above before making such significant changes to your training.

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