Irineu Loturco has a Ph.D. in sport science and a postdoctoral degree in Mechatronics Engineering and Mechanical Systems. He is the founder and director of the Nucleus of High Performance in Sport (NAR; São Paulo, Brazil), a high-performance training center that serves hundreds of top-level athletes from many different sports and develops social projects to help children and young people from low-income families.
Loturco has worked as a strength and conditioning coach in major Brazilian soccer clubs and with different Olympic and Paralympic sports, especially national teams. Currently, he is Professor of Methodology of Sports Training at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) and Visiting Professor at the University of South Wales, in Pontypridd, U.K. Loturco has a large range of scientific publications with elite sport, and the vast majority of his studies involve professional athletes, many of them competing at the Olympic level.
Freelap USA: Hamstrings and glutes are vital for sprinting, but how do you train them dynamically outside of doing Nordic hamstring curls and barbell hip thrusts? Is it possible to use other exercises to stimulate improvements in posterior leg and hip strength?
Irineu Loturco: The hip extensors are particularly important for sprinting performance, as they “push the body forward” during the stance phase, especially during the acceleration phase. Besides the use of Nordic hamstrings and barbell hip thrusts, we regularly prescribe numerous other exercises in our training center to improve leg and hip strength in professional sprinters. These include different variations of back squats, weightlifting derivatives (e.g., squat clean and squat snatch from the floor with a deep catch), reverse hyperextensions, stiff-leg deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts (and single leg Romanian deadlift), hex-bar deadlifts, and lunges, among others.
As examples of “more dynamic exercises,” and supplementary training strategies, to increase leg and hip strength and power, coaches are encouraged to frequently use:
- Resisted sprint training methods (e.g., sled towing)
- Uphill sprinting (we have a 75-meter, 1% inclined track at our facility)
- A combination of resisted and uphill sprinting
- Wearable resistance apparel (attached to the ankle or to the leg, according to the training objective)
For all these methods or variants, we use a typical “limit of speed reduction” to define and prescribe the individual training loads. (The loads should not lead to a speed reduction >10–15%). We use this limit to avoid substantial changes in sprinting mechanics—especially in relation to hip mechanics, since too much load will, for example, increase contact time and impair hip extension. This strategy is also important to reduce the accumulation of by-products of metabolism (the “side effects” of training), as the majority of these athletes compete at an international level and thus have a very congested training, travel, and competitive routine.
In addition, specifically for hamstrings, coaches are recommended to regularly include in their routines eccentric box drops (with or without weighted vests) and eccentric backward steps. In a general way, all sprinters in our training center systematically perform these exercises, with some slight variations according to the coach’s criteria and methodology.
Freelap USA: Barbell tracking technologies are popular, but what mistakes do you see that coaches and researchers may not be aware of? With your extensive experience, what do you think the majority of coaches and sport scientists could improve on? I see you have used MPV with some of your research, could you elaborate on the reason?
Irineu Loturco: Before answering this question, let me say that I was honored to have Professor Juan José González Badillo as a supervisor for my Ph.D. project. He long ago described what we now know as the “load-velocity relationship,” a concept that gave rise to “velocity-based training.” I recently watched an interview with Professor Badillo on social media, where he said we were entering an unnecessary and exaggerated zone of study, comparing variables and relationships that, in essence, are already extremely accurate and consistent.
Generally speaking, numerous studies have shown very strong linear relationships (R² > 0.95) between load and velocity for the vast majority of exercises. This seem to be independent of the measures used (i.e., MV, MPV, and PV), which are, in turn, highly precise and consistent (i.e., CV ≤ 5–7%; ICC ≥ 0.90). In this sense, I use MPV as a base (although I use PV in some research that involves only ballistic exercises) because of the need to standardize only one measure for works involving different types of exercises, and because of the influence of the classical (and for me, unsurpassed) studies of Badillo and Luis Sánchez-Medina. In relation to coaches, I believe that we, as researchers, have the fundamental role of simplifying the training process by offering uncomplicated, accessible, and, above all, efficient strategies.As researchers, I believe we have the fundamental role of simplifying the training process by offering uncomplicated, accessible, and efficient strategies, says @IrineuLoturco. Click To Tweet
Strength training is part of the daily routine of athletes of different individual and team sports. Thus, any unnecessary minimalism or complication is not well received, and this can turn coaches away from the scientific field. From years of experience working with literally hundreds of coaches and thousands of athletes in different sports, I realize that many of these professionals really know what they are doing, but they base their strategies above all on subjective perceptions. Therefore, it is essential to present simple and viable training strategies, bringing effective solutions (and not unnecessary complications) to these professionals.
At this point, I think sport science has lost control over velocity-based training; in a war of egos, in minimalism. So, I think the biggest mistakes here are ours as researchers, and not with the coaches. At our training center, our premise is to guide coaches on the major (and critical) differences that exist when athletes train in different velocity zones and, most importantly, which directions to follow in each phase of training, according to the goals of athletes, adapted to the needs of each sport. This is independent of equipment or measurement, but stems from complete, applied, and “real” knowledge about the training process.
Thus, we have “uncomplicated” this process and keep moving forward on different fronts. This even allows us to publish studies with dozens of Olympic-level athletes, including Olympic champions and world champions. In this way, we have achieved significant results, and today we serve a huge number of professional coaches and athletes, not only from Brazil, but from different countries in South America. For me, this is the fundamental and most important role of sport science.
Freelap USA: HRV as a monitoring tool requires a lot of interpretation and experience with athletes. Do you have any recommendations for teams that don’t have a sport scientist but do employ crafty fitness coaches?
Irineu Loturco: I agree with you. In my opinion, as with any other variable used with the purpose of monitoring athletes’ training status and evaluating adaptations (responses) related to training, HRV requires a solid statistical background for analysis and interpretation. Although HRV is a time-saving variable in terms of data collection (e.g., depending on the methodological approach, it requires less than five minutes), when collecting HRV for a team with athletes of distinct characteristics and responses to the training sessions, appropriate interpretation of the data is crucial.
Currently, there are several devices that facilitate data collection and promote a quick demonstration of the HRV outputs. In addition, more recently, several valid and reliable mobile apps have been developed with the purpose of increasing the practicality of the HRV assessment. However, a “simple HRV result” does not represent anything without understanding the training and competitive context and properly interpreting this data. For this reason, no matter which variable you are collecting, proper data management and interpretation are crucial in any situation.
For this purpose, for example, the use of practical statistical tools such as magnitude-based inferences can facilitate the analysis and interpretation of variables that require more detailed and robust interpretation. Fitness coaches can develop their own spreadsheets with the automatic calculation of the smallest worthwhile changes and confidence limits, which may allow them to perform an individualized analysis of the responses of each athlete and use this in their decision-making process in terms of training prescription and load control. Although it is not easy to customize and manage these spreadsheets (especially when the data is collected on a daily basis), this facilitates data analysis and increases the quality of interpretation. At the Nucleus of High Performance in Sport, we have a team specifically dedicated to supporting coaches and sport scientists with HRV measurements and data interpretation.
Freelap USA: Going more local to muscle groups rather than systemic with the autonomic system, can you explain how to use tensiomyography with teams with at-risk muscle groups over the week for soccer or rugby?
Irineu Loturco: Tensiomyography (TMG) is a very practical and useful method; however, in our facilities, due to our natural expertise and objectives, we primarily use this measurement to provide insight into muscle fatigue, readiness for training, and training adaptations. As you know, these insights are not always related to injury risk, and in fact, as a research team, we do not have studies that demonstrate (or even evaluate) the role of TMG in injury prevention. On the other hand, we frequently use this measurement as an alternative tool to provide coaches with more detailed information regarding acute and chronic training responses, on an individual and (in some specific cases) daily basis.We frequently use TMG as an alternative tool to provide coaches with more detailed information regarding acute and chronic training responses, says @IrineuLoturco. Click To Tweet
As a passive and rapid evaluation, TMG can be used in different situations, independent of the training phase and status, which is a great advantage in high-performance training settings. More recently, especially with professional soccer and rugby players, we have been using the TMG-derived velocity of contraction (Vc), a measure that simultaneously combines three different TMG outputs (muscle displacement, delay time, and contraction time), thus providing a more comprehensive view of the training adaptations (and changes over time).
In summary, among other things, we have observed that both increases and decreases in Vc are directly (and respectively) related to increases or decreases in speed and power-related capacities. We also regularly use this measurement with elite sprinters and jumpers, especially close to competitions, in order to precisely adjust their individual training loads and assess readiness for competition.
Freelap USA: Developing change of direction ability throughout a career with different age groups is tricky. What advice can you give coaches and clubs that try to properly develop this speed quality in their athletes?
Irineu Loturco: This is a very good question. We work with hundreds of athletes from distinct age categories and numerous sports. Nonetheless, one issue that is very common among all sports is that, from younger to older categories, these athletes do not become more efficient in changing direction. Although they “usually” improve their linear sprint capacity throughout the specialization process, the “change of direction deficit” (a measure that represents the additional time that one directional change requires when compared with a linear sprint over an equivalent distance) appears to progressively increase with increasing age.One common issue among all sports is that, from younger to older age categories, these athletes do not become more efficient in changing direction, says @IrineuLoturco. Click To Tweet
There is a series of issues that may be associated with this phenomenon, including mechanical aspects, as faster (and heavier) subjects probably present increased sprint momentum (thus, inertia), which may hamper their ability to execute sequential accelerations and decelerations when changing direction. But besides this, in my opinion, there is another critical factor contributing to this “lack” of improvement throughout maturation: the absence of effective and specific speed training practices, especially those focused on the context of the game. Despite the growing attention given to neuromuscular training in recent years, clubs and academies generally concentrate their efforts on developing training programs primarily related to injury prevention or to the development of more traditional speed and power qualities, such as straight sprints and vertical jumps.
As Ian Jeffreys states in many of his works, the transfer of these capacities to specific “game speed” cannot be guaranteed. Therefore—and, again, in my opinion—federations and youth sport academies should include in their scientific and technical staff, practitioners whose fundamental interest (and ability) is in understanding and improving the speed-related performance of young athletes, specifically focused on the context of the game.
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