Training load is one of the most critical factors in the sports field since it depends on whether we achieve the desired adaptations. The training load is divided by external or internal load, the first being the work completed by the athlete (e.g., distance, number of sprints, etc.). The second, the physiological or psychological response (e.g., heart rate, lactate levels, perceived exertion) imposed by the external load. Thus, training adaptations will depend on the combined effect between internal and external load. We will consider an improvement in physical shape when the same external load supposes a lower internal load than previous training sessions. On the other hand, we will consider a worse physical condition or a state of fatigue when the same external load results in a greater internal load.
More studies show the levels of internal and external load endured in team sports such as football or basketball. However, the evidence for this in a sport like roller hockey is much more limited. In this context, a recent study led by FC Barcelona professionals and published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology has analysed the internal and external load of nine FC Barcelona roller hockey players (without counting the goalkeepers) during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons, during which the team won the league. 1
Specifically, the researchers analysed during the training sessions and the matches external load markers using GPS. Some examples were the total distance travelled, the distance travelled at high speed (>18 km/h), variables related to the number of accelerations and decelerations conducted at high intensity, and the player load (a variable that tries to synthesise the total accelerations in any vector conducted by the player). By comparison, the athletes also answered their Rate of Perceived Exertion on a scale from 0 to 10 in each session (known as RPE). This value multiplied by the duration of the session in minutes was used to obtain the internal load. Using these variables, the authors tried to analyse the joint evolution of the internal and external load during a “standard” microcycle (the period between one game and the next), as well as differences in the load observed between sessions and matches, and the association between internal and external load markers.
The results of the study show, in summary, an inverse U-shaped load evolution throughout the microcycle. Thus, the athletes presented the highest external and internal load 2-3 days before the game and on the game day. However, the lowest values were observed 4 days before the game, especially the day before. It is important to mention that the RPE was similar throughout the week. However, the internal load (RPE multiplied by the duration of the sessions) did vary, due to the influence of the training volume or the combination of training sessions on track with strength training). Interestingly, the load observed in the training sessions conducted 2-3 days before the match was even higher than that endured by the athletes. In addition, a relation was observed between internal load and external load markers related to volume (e.g., total distance, player load). Still, the correlation was lower with variables more related to intensity, such as distance travelled at high speed (> 18 km/h).
Therefore, the study shows how we can integratively use internal and external load interaction to determine the athletes’ condition throughout the microcycle. At the same time, we should understand that a low external load, but a high internal load can be associated with a state of fatigue. The opposite trend can be related to an improvement in physical condition. In addition, the evolution during the microcycle shows us the tendency to reduce the load before a match, which can be an optimal tapering strategy. As Daniel Fernández, one of the authors of the study, comments, “The integration between external and internal load is one of the basic tools for evaluating the loads proposed in our athletes during the competitive microcycle. From the result of this load relation, we obtain information to adjust the training sessions, tasks, and situations that we present to the team to adapt them to the previously planned proposal.” This study shows us that we have numerous tools and markers at our disposal to monitor our athletes. Still, the evidence needs to continue to grow to determine how to manage these markers efficiently.
- Fernández D, Moya D, Cadefau JA, Carmona G. Integrating External and Internal Load for Monitoring Fitness and Fatigue Status in Standard Microcycles in Elite Rink Hockey. Front Physiol. 2021;12(June):1-10. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.698463
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