Research Review By Patrick Ward©

Date Posted:

July 2010

Study Title:

Physiological Responses to Shuttle Repeated-Sprint Running


Buchheit M, Bishop D, Haydar B et al.

Author's Affiliations:

Faculté des sciences du sport, Laboratoire de Recherche Adaptations Réadaptations, Amiens, France.

Publication Information:

Int J Sports Med Apr 2010; 402-409.

Background Information:

Many team sports place a high demand on repeated sprint ability. Repeated sprint ability refers to the ability to perform high-intensity efforts on short rest intervals. Additionally, these sports rely heavily on acceleration, deceleration, and change of direction. Research often focuses on straight ahead running or treadmill running as means to measure running performance, VO2max, lactate threshold, muscle damage, as well as other physiological markers of sport participation or exercise performance.

Unfortunately, these studies leave something to be desired, as they do not test the athlete under more realistic sport-specific demands. This study sought to evaluate differences in running performance, cardiorespiratory variables, muscle deoxygenation, and post exercise blood lactate levels between straight ahead, maximum effort sprints or change of direction, maximum effort sprints (shuttle-runs) in team sport athletes.

Pertinent Results:

  • Running times during the shuttle runs were slower than running times during the repeated sprints without change of direction by approximately 30%.
  • Fatigue development was lower in the shuttle runs.
  • Oxygen uptake and blood lactate were higher in the repeat shuttle runs compared to the repeated sprints without change of direction.
  • Neither protocol showed a difference in muscle deoxygenation measured at the vastus lateralis using near-infrared spectroscopy measurements.

Clinical Application & Conclusions:

This study evaluated the difference between repeated sprints with and without change of direction on a variety of physiological markers in thirteen team sport athletes. The ability to decelerate, change direction and re-accelerate is an important quality for team sport athletes, as very little running is done in a pure straight ahead plane. It would be advantageous for coaches to not only test their athletes in repeated sprints with change of direction (shuttle runs) but to also program these type of activities into the overall training plan to ensure the athletes adequately develop this quality, as it is a general quality important to team sports (1,2).

Although this study looked at several physiological markers – running performance, cardiorepiratory variables, muscle deoxygenation, and blood lactate levels – it did not look at markers of muscle damage. The high amount of eccentric contraction in deceleration activities like shuttle runs may increase muscle damage and delay muscle recovery.

Howatson and colleagues looked at muscle damage, maximum voluntary contraction (isometric force) and delayed on-set muscle soreness (DOMS) following a bout of repeated sports specific sprints (3). The athletes in this study performed 15 x 30m sprints, separated by 60 seconds rest, with each sprint having a 10m-deceleration zone, to simulate the eccentric forces placed on team sport athletes during game situations.

Creatine Kinase and DOMS were elevated above baseline for 72-hours post training, while maximum voluntary contraction showed a decline at 24 and 48-hours post training, and limb girth was elevated for 48-hours post training (3).

The total volume performed in the Howatson study was greater than the total volume used in Buchheit’s paper, however, the higher volume may be more indicative of an actual training session or competition. For this reason, it is important to keep in mind the overall stress that this type of training places on the body.

Program development should ensure that athletes are allowed appropriate rest time between maximum effort training sessions of this kind so that recovery can take place and overtraining is avoided. Adhering to a program that places low to moderate training days in between high intensity days would be advised.

Study Methods:

  • 13 well-trained team sport athletes (22 +/- years old)
  • The athletes were involved in soccer, basketball, or handball
  • The subjects performed two different protocols of six maximum effort sprints of 25m in length with 25sec rest between each repetition.
  • The first protocol consisted of repeated shuttle sprints conducted on a 12.5m course requiring the athlete to perform a 180? turn in order to complete the 25m sprints.
  • The second protocol consisted of repeated sprints of 25m in length without a change of direction (straight ahead sprints).
  • The two protocols were separated by 48 hours to ensure adequate rest.
  • Heart rate and respiratory gas exchange rate were measured.
  • Near-infrared spectroscopy measurements of the vastus lateralis were taken to evaluate changes in oxyhemoglobin, deoxyhemoglobin, and total hemoglobin.
  • Fingertip blood samples were used after the end of each sprint test to evaluate blood lactate levels.

Study Strengths / Weaknesses:

  • The total number of subjects in this study was low (n=13). The results may have been different if a larger sample of the population was tested.
  • This study did not look at markers of muscle damage, which have been known to be elevated during workouts of high eccentric stress, such as shuttle runs. Understanding how the athletes responded to this sort of training from a recovery standpoint would have helped us make greater conclusions about program design.
  • The volume of the training protocols was relatively low, and may not be indicative of a true workout or competition.

Additional References:

  1. Brughelli M, Cronin J, Levin G, Chaouachi A. Understanding change of direction ability in sport: a review of resistance training studies. Sports Med 2008; 38: 1045-1063.
  2. Clarke D, Clarke H. Research processes in physical education, recreation, and health. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall NJ 1970; 370.
  3. Howatson G, Milak A. Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage Following a Bout of Sport Specific Repeated Sprints. J Strength Cond Res 2009; 23(8): 2419-2424.