Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Reduced training better than stopping altogether in a rest period

Kayakers who build in a rest period lose less condition if they continue to train gently three times a week. Reduced training is also better for the testosterone-cortisol ratio than no training at all, conclude sports scientists from the University of Murcia from an experiment they did with 14 male top kayakers.

The Spanish study started just after the subjects had completed the World Championship. Half of them did nothing for 5 weeks [training cessation, or TC]; the other half trained three times a week during the same period [training reduction or TR].

The reduced training consisted of a short strength training session once a week. The subjects only did bench-press, bent-over rows and squats, and for each exercise they did they did 3 sets of 10 reps. In another training session they did rowing, and in the last they cycled. Both endurance-training sessions lasted 40 minutes at an intensity of 80 percent of the VO2max.

Just before the World Championship [T1] the researchers gave the athletes a physiological examination, and they did the same again at the end of the rest period [T2]. They discovered that the VO2max and the oxygen intake at the second ventilatory threshold [VT2] had gone down in both groups, but that the decline was bigger in the athletes who didn’t train for five weeks.

And there were more conditional factors that deteriorated in the kayakers who didn't train, like the heart rate during exertion and the workload the subjects were able to shift. "Performing a minimal maintenance training program in the layoff between seasons seem to be an appropriate measure to prevent athletes from experiencing an excessive loss of aerobic performance", the researchers write.

That condition deteriorates during a period of complete rest rather than reduced training is not that strange. What was more interesting, however, was the effect of reduced training on the hormone levels. The values of the testosterone and cortisol concentrations are shown below in nanomol/litre.

In both the groups the testosterone level rose, but in neither case was the rise significant. The cortisol level went down in both groups too, but in this case the difference was significant. The level went down more in the RT group than in the TC group.

The relationship between cortisol and testosterone in the body says something about how quickly the body recovers and builds up. On the basis of the ratios that the researchers measured, you’d expect the RT group to recover better during the rest period than the TC group.

Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2009) 8, 622-628.

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