Category: Periodization

Monitoring training load: Quo vadis? #3

The first two posts dealt with inexpensive and more expensive methods. I will now discuss the use of psychometric tools to get another dimension of monitoring training loads. I have not discussed the use of GPS or similar technologies, but will cover this in the next post.

I really want to present some info on various tools currently used and discuss pros and cons of them.

Profile of Mood States (POMS)

The Profile of Mood States (POMS) is a psychological rating scale used to assess transient, distinct mood states. The original scale, developed by McNair et al, has 65 items describing feelings people have.  There is a brief version,  comprising 11 of the original POMS items, developed by Cella et al, in 1987.  However, this version (Brief POMS) provides only one score for overall psychological distress.  There is yet another version called the short form of the Profile of Mood States (POMS-SF) developed by Shacham in 1983.  The short form version contains 37 items, selected from the original POMS.  It retains the six subscale information provided by POMS. The POM–Bipolar is the newest addition to the POMS. It measures moods and feelings primarily in clinical rather than nonclinical settings. It can help to determine an individual’s psychiatric status for therapy, or be used to compare mood profiles associated with various personality disorders. In nonclinical settings, the POMS–Bipolar can assess mood changes produced by techniques such as psychotherapy or meditation.

Here it is possible to download a POMS scale.

This scale has been used in a variety of populations with more than 2000 studies being performed using it. However there is a paucity of data on athletes and its links to other measures of overtraining and overreaching.

The POMS assessments are self-report inventories in which respondents rate a series of mood states (such as "Untroubled" or "Sorry for things done") based on how well each item describes the respondent’s mood during one of three time frames (i.e., during the past week, including today; right now; other). Normative data are based on the "during the past week, including today" time frame. The POMS Standard form contains 65 items and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. The respondent rates each item on a 5-point scale ranging from “Not at all” to “Extremely”. The POMS Brief form, which is ideal for use with patients for whom ordinary tasks can be difficult and time-consuming, uses the same scale as the POMS Standard form, but contains only 30 items. It takes only 5 minutes to complete. Both the POMS Standard and POMS

Brief assessments measure six identified mood factors:

• Tension-Anxiety
• Depression-Dejection
• Anger-Hostility
• Vigor-Activity
• Fatigue-Inertia
• Confusion-Bewilderment

The POMS-Bi form contains 72 items and uses a 4-point scale. It takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. Responses for the POMS-Bi range from “Much unlike this” to “Much like this”. Unlike the other POMS assessments, the POMS-Bi measures both positive and negative affects. For each of the six bipolar scales, one pole represents the positive aspects of the dimension while the other pole refers to the negative aspects:

• Composed-Anxious
• Agreeable-Hostile
• Elated-Depressed
• Confident-Unsure
• Energetic-Tired
• Clearheaded-Confused

Since 1971, numerous research studies have provided evidence for the predictive and construct validity of the POMS Standard and POMS Brief assessments. Alpha coefficient and other studies have found the POMS Standard and POMS Brief to exhibit a highly satisfactory level of internal consistency, while product moment correlations indicate a reasonable level of test-retest reliability. Factor analytic replications provide evidence of the factorial validity of the 6 mood factors, and an examination of the individual items defining each mood state supporting the content validity of the factor scores. Studies have also supported the bipolar nature of moods measured by the POMS-Bi assessment, and reliability studies have shown that POMS-Bi items demonstrate sufficient internal consistency.

One of the first encouraging studies by O’Connor et al. (1989) examined POMS scores and resting salivary cortisol levels in 14 female college swimmers during progressive increases and decreases in training volume, and were compared to the same measures in eight active college women who served as controls. Training volume increased from 2,000 yards/day in September (baseline) to a peak of 12,000 yards/day in January (overtraining), followed by a reduction in training (taper) to 4,500 yards/day by February. The swimmers experienced significant alterations in tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue and global mood across the training season compared to the controls. Salivary cortisol was significantly greater in the swimmers compared to the controls during baseline and overtraining, but was not different between the groups following the taper. Salivary cortisol was significantly correlated with depressed mood during overtraining (r = .50) but not at baseline or taper. Global mood, depression, and salivary cortisol were significantly higher during the overtraining phase in those swimmers classified as stale, compared to those swimmers who did not exhibit large performance decrements.

This was one of the initial studies suggesting a link between increasing training workloads, POMS scores and cortisol responses advocating the possibility of using this psychometric tool to understand how athletes were coping with training loads.

Urhausen et al. (1998) found that the parameters of mood state at rest as well as the subjective rating of perceived exertion during exercise were significantly impaired during overtraining in a follow up study with endurance athletes.

Filaire et al. (2001) used POMS together with endocrine markers to study soccer players and found that in such group decreased testosterone to cortisol ratio does not automatically lead to a decrease in team performance or a state of team overtraining. However, they suggested that combined psychological and physiological changes during high-intensity training are primarily of interest when monitoring training stress in relation to performance.

It seems therefore clear that POMS has the potential to be used to assess how athletes cope with training loads and POMS score can potentially have a link with hormonal  imbalances.

REST Q Questionnaire

The Recovery-Stress Questionnaire for Athletes [RESTQ-Sport] is a questionnaire reported to identify the extent to which athletes are physically or mentally stressed and their current perception of recovery (Kellmann & Kallus, 2000 and Kellmann & Kallus 2001). It has been used by many individuals and organizations throughout the world and can therefore be reasonably estimated to have been used on at least several thousand high-performance athletes as a diagnostic tool to detect under-recovery states and to plan recovery practices. The predecessor of this psychometric tool was a General Recovery-Stress Questionnaire (Kallus, 1995) formulated on the idea that people will respond differently to physiological and psychological demands depending on how well-rested they are when faced with these demands.

The RESTQ-Sport was constructed based on the notion that an athlete well recovered may perform better than one who is under-recovered. However, theoretical and practical concerns governed the methods used to determine the 19 subscales of the RESTQ-Sport (Kellmann & Kallus, 2000 and Kellmann & Kallus, 2001) used an a priori method of identifying each of the subscales, combining to form several scales that reflect various aspects of stress and recovery. The RESTQ-Sport was developed through research in the area of stress for the General Scale, and the Sport Scale was comprised of items observed to coincide with stress or recovery states in athletes (Kellmann & Kallus, 2001).

The test consists of 7 stress scales, and 5 recovery scales.

The scales are:

General stress
Emotional stress
Social stress
Lack of energy
Physical complaints
Social recovery
Physical recovery
General well-being
Sleep quality
Disturbed breaks
Burnout/emotional exhaustion
Fitness/being in shape
Burnout/personal accomplishment

If you are interested in knowing more about this test and have a software to score the results, I strongly suggest you buy Dr. Kellmann’s and Kallus’ book at Human Kinetics. The book also contains a software to score the questionnaire and provide you with a graph.

The graph normally looks like this one presented by James Marshall in his blog:

Figure 1

However, you can develop your own spreadsheet to score it and graph it as I did.


Many studies have shown how valid and reliable this test is. However one of the most interesting ones was published by Jurimae et al. (2004). They studied the effects of increasing training loads in competitive rowers and found significant relationships between training volume and Fatigue scores (r=0.49), Somatic Complaints (r=0.50} and Sleep Quality (r=-0.58) at the end of heavy training. In addition, significant relationships were also observed between cortisol and Fatigue scores (r=0.48) at the end of heavy training as well as between changes in cortisol and changes in Fatigue (r=0.57) and Social Stress (r=0.51).

It should be pointed out that this test cannot be performed every day as it asks the athlete about how often the respondent participated in various activities during the preceding three days/nights. A Likert-type scale is used with values ranging from 0 (never) to 6 (always) to rank the frequency of activities/experiences of the preceding 3 days/nights.

BORG scale and perception of effort

The concept of perceived exertion was introduced half a century ago and an operational definition presented with methods to measure different aspects of perceived effort, strain and fatigue. One very common method is the RPE-Scale for "Ratings of Perceived Exertion" ("the Borg Scale") officially known now as the "Borg RPE Scale®".

As Professor Borg explains: “Stevens’ "Ratio (R) scaling methods for determinations of S-R-functions have been improved in order not only to obtain relative functions but also direct ("absolute") levels of intensity. This was done by placing verbal anchors, from simple category (C) scales (rank order scales) such as "very weak", "moderate", "strong" etc at the best possible position on a ratio scale, a "CR-scale", covering the total subjective dynamic range, so that a congruence in meaning was obtained between the numbers and the anchors”.

If you are really interested in this you should read Dr. Elisabet Borg’s thesis here where she presents the innovative approach to develop the "Borg CR100 Scale®" (also called the "centiMax Scale"). I had the pleasure to listen to her lecture last year in Italy and I was impressed by the quality of work she has done to follow up her father’s intuitions on the original rate of perceived exertion.

You can read more about Dr. Elisabet Borg here and about Professor Gunnar Borg here.

Recommendations to use a "Borg Scale" is given by many professional societies, e.g. American Heart Association, American Thoracic Society, American College of Sports Medicine, British Association for Cardiac Rehabilitation

These scales can be obtained from the firm: "Borg Perception", Gunnar Borg, Rädisvägen 124, 165 73 Hässelby, Sweden. Phone 46-8-271426.

Other alternatives

There are various tools out there these days such as the following ones:

  • Life Stress (LESCA)
  • State trait anxiety inventory (STAI)
  • Athletic coping skills inventory (ACSI)

however I have no experience in using them…maybe some of you readers know more and what to write comments about any of them?

Enough info now for psychometric tools…next post will cover aspects connected to strength, power and speed.

Monitoring training load in Team Sports: Quo vadis? #1

It is the beginning of the season for many team sports and it is the typical time when sports scientists start to struggle with manipulating the training load and making sure the players can survive a long season producing great performances.

I will try to analyse the current trends in the literature and provide some comments and some possible advice on how to put in place a meaningful and practical monitoring system to be able to inform the coaching process.

It is widely recognised that appropriate periodisation of training is fundamental for
optimal performance in sport. Until recently, it has been very difficult to quantify the
training loads (TLs) in team sports players due to the difficulty in measuring the various types of stress encountered during training and competition. Wearable sensors and well established psychometric tools as well as easy access to field-based biochemistry nowadays allow the collection of various data to be able to quantify and understand the training load as well as track the progression of the players’ performances. This can provide the basis for a critical assessment of the training process and feedback to the players and coaching staff of the progression.


Few comments before discussing the methods for data collection.

Training monitoring is becoming a standard operating procedure for many strength and conditioning coaches and sports scientists which is a good thing. However there are certain aspects that needs to be taken into consideration in order to understand the limitations of some training monitoring approaches as well as the potential of such methods to impact practice.

The latter is the most important aspect to be taken into consideration. Training monitoring becomes a useful thing to do ONLY if guides practice and informs the coaching process. Otherwise it becomes just a data collection exercise. I have seen many S&C coaches use a variety of tools and tests and despite the fact they have some nice continuous data it is clear that such data did not affect practice as training programmes continued in the same way despite the information available on training load and some effects.

So, first rule: training monitoring is a great way to understand how much work your athletes are doing and how they cope with it. Great thing to do only if it helps you in changing and evaluating your training plans.

The other aspect to consider is the limitations of what you measure, when you measure it and how many time  you measure it. All this information helps in understanding what the information tells you and what parameter of your training programme you should change according to the results observed.

Training monitoring needs two main parameters to be measured:

1) The amount of training your athlete is performing (the INPUT)

2) How the athlete is coping with the amount of training (the OUTPUT)

The INPUT can be measured in various ways and should contain some information on how much work the athlete has performed (such weights lifted in each session, distance covered in training and also the perception of how hard the session has been). The list can be more extensive, but frankly your ability to collect more and better data is limited by the equipment you have access to. Heart rate monitors, GPS and accelerometers, power meters in the gym are all available nowadays and allow a lot of measurements to be collected in team sports to help you gain more info on the intensity and the amount of training performed. I have presented few technologies in this blog and aim to do more in the future, so plenty of solutions for you to try.

However, not many people have access to technology (in particular the expensive software and hardware kits for more complex multisensor data collection). So, let’s discuss some simple training quantification methods and their applications.

This will require the use of spreadsheets to facilitate the calculations and the data collection as well as provide you the possibility to create reports and graphs. If you don’t have access to Microsoft ® Excel don’t worry! You can in fact download open office for free from here and have access to a free suite which allows you to have spreadsheets, graphs and presentations at no cost!

The Session RPE method

The session-RPE method of monitoring TL in team players requires each athlete to
provide a Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) for each exercise session along with a measure of training time (as suggested by Foster et al., 2001).

To calculate a measure of session intensity, athletes are asked within 30-minutes of finishing their workout a simple question like “How was your workout?” A single number representing the magnitude of TL for each session is then calculated by the multiplication of training intensity (RPE from Table 1) by the training session duration (mins).

Table 1. The modified RPE scale proposed by Foster et al. 2001






Very, Very easy






Somewhat Hard





Very Hard





Training Load = Session RPE x duration (mins)

For example, to calculate the TL for a training session 60-minutes in duration with the
athletes RPE being 5, the following calculation would be made:

TL = 5 x 60 = 300 AU (arbitrary units)

With a simple spreadsheet it is is therefore possible to track the training load of a team very easily just by recording the duration of training and making sure that each player at the end of each session provides you with the perceived exertion for that session.

Here is an example of what a score of a typical training period could look like:


The Black dotted line represents the average Session RPE for the team and each colour represents one of the players. In this way, it is possible to track how the overall training load is progressing and how each individual compares to the team.

The data can also be useful to track down the team’s session RPE and understand if overall the training load is going in the direction planned.



Further simple calculations of training ‘monotony’ and ‘strain’ can also be made from
session-RPE variables.

Training monotony is a simple measure day to day variability in training that has been suggested to be related to the onset of overtraining when monotonous training is combined with high training loads (see Foster, 1998).

Training monotony is calculated from the average daily TL divided by the standard deviation of the daily TL calculated over a week.

MONOTONY= DAILY TL/SD of TL over a week

Training strain can also be calculated as follows:

TRAINING STRAIN = weekly TL x monotony

The table below provides a simple example of a weekly training load in a semi-professional handball team with all the variables calculated.


Recent work conducted using RPE from 20 soccer players during 67 small sided-games soccer training sessions (Coutts, Rampinini, Castagna, Marcora, & Impellizzeri, 2007a) has shown that  the combination of blood lactate and HR measures during small-sided games were better related to RPE than HR or blood lactate measures alone. This work suggested that RPE is a valid method of estimating global training intensity in soccer. There isn’t such evidence in other sports, however nothing stops practitioners to try and see if it helps with their coaching process.

This is the first article of a series aimed at discussing the issue of monitoring training. I aim to present practical solutions to be able to start quantifying and understanding adaptations in team sports athletes.

Enough for now, time to get your spreadsheets sorted and start calculating what your players are doing so you are ready to apply the techniques presented in the next article!

Training team sports athletes: Periodization and planning strategies. Part 1


I decided to write this article after reviewing an old set of slides of a presentation I gave to the English FA few years ago entitled: “Preparing for performance: League vs. tournament”. I have been reading/listening to few individuals talking and writing books about training in team sports and I would like to add my views on this issue. There are many strength and conditioning coaches and/or fitness specialists working with team sports in Europe (in particular Football [or soccer as our American colleagues like to define this sport]) who claim some miraculous training paradigms and/or describe amazing effects of their training regimes. It is absolutely a great sales pitch, however the reality most of the times is not as depicted. Just looking very simply at the competition schedule of an elite European Football Club we can understand that these athletes have very little time to train, hence, very little possibilities to get faster and stronger.

So, what I will write about in this brief article is:

•Planning issues

•How to establish realistic goals

•Establish Training Priorities

•Individualise training

•Acute vs. Chronic effects of Strength & Conditioning sessions

•Monitoring training effects is the only way to reduce mistakes


Let’s address the first one: Planning training in an elite football team [playing the European season]

Many people still like to read Eastern European literature on periodization and/or American books on this topic. All of the above publications describe a pedagogical process build on observations conducted on athletes competing in individual sports and mostly in endurance-type of sports where understanding training loading and tapering is of absolute importance. We could argue on the scientific merit of such observations and on the fact that maybe most of the athletes under observations were using all sorts of illegal “help”, but this is not the aim of this article so, will not discuss it here.

What we can argue is that all of the above publications tend to divide the planning of training in relatively long phases (Anatomical adaptation phase [few weeks], Pre competition/hypertrophy phase [few more weeks} and the list goes on). In reality, if we look at the official schedules of elite football teams in Europe, we realise that such process cannot be really applied to footballers. Professional teams in fact tend to start training few weeks after ending the previous season, and start competing very early with limited amounts of time to actually train the players hard enough to produce meaningful adaptations. I am not saying that footballers don’t work hard and/or don’t improve. What I am trying to say is that the workload is not big enough to produce massive changes in performance be it endurance capacity and/or strength and power abilities.

But, let’s look at some real information and add some material for discussion.

Here is the training and activities schedule of FC Barcelona as reported by their website in 2006:

1st Training session: 17th of July

July 2006

Denmark –> 28 Jul Pre-season friendly AGF – FC Barcelona (11 days after 1st training session-)

August 2006

Mexico 04 Aug Pre-season friendly Tigres – FC Barcelona

Mexico 07 Aug Pre-season friendly Chivas-FC Barcelona

USA 10 Aug Pre-season friendly Club America – FC Barcelona

USA 13 Aug Pre-season friendly New York Red Bulls – FC Barcelona

Spain 17 Aug Spanish Supercup Espanol – FC Barcelona

Spain 21 Aug Spanish Supercup FC Barcelona- Espanol

Spain 23 Aug Gamper Tropy FC Barcelona- Bayern Munich

Spain 25 Aug European Supercup FC Barcelona – Seville

So, if we look at this schedule, take into consideration travelling times and recover from travel and competitions, from the 17th of July to the 25th of August 2006, possibly the footballers of FC Barcelona performed approximately 20 training sessions.

If they were to lift weights to get stronger/more powerful/faster, and had a frequency of 3 sessions per week with some recovery in between (at least 1 day) as it normally occurs, they would have performed somewhere around 6 strength training sessions. Now, if the first session is used for testing and establishing 1RM and some progression of load occurs, probably…they are lucky if they could perform 4 serious strength sessions. So, where does periodization fits here?

There is no time for Anatomical Adaptations (as defined by some periodization gurus) and no time for hypertrophy…How much can athletes gain from such an hectic schedule of training, competing and travelling before the season actually start? (even if arguably Spanish Supercup is the first trophy to win).

This is not an isolated example, the readers just need to browse websites of big clubs to see their schedule and do the math. Let’s look at national teams now…again from the website (official information).

Italy won the World Cup with the following preparation schedule:

22 May 1st Training session (players are just at the end of a long season)

31st May Switzerland vs Italy (friendly in Switzerland)

2nd June Italy vs Ukraine (friendly game in Italy)

12th June Italy Vs Ghana (1st game of World CUP)

Assuming they trained twice a day each day:

20 days: ~38 sessions: 9 strength sessions?

Preparing the World Cup with players coming from a long season in 20 days…how much training can you actually do and how much improvements can you see? Should the focus be on maintaining performance and be able to repeat it over the competition (World Cup in this case)?

What I am trying to demonstrate here is that there are far too many individuals lecturing around the World and working with football teams that talk a lot about periodization, but actually they have no data and/or meaningful information to share to support what they are saying. Most of all, due to the duration of the preparation phase and the intensity and characteristics of training regimes they impose, it is virtually impossible (in my view) for them to make massive improvements in any area of performance. Unless of course footballers are so de-conditioned that they can improve easily (which is also something I am lead to believe sometimes). I would also like to point out that I am generalising here, of course there are some great sports scientists out there working with professional teams that do a great job, but there are far too many selling hot air.


Training planning is about establishing realistic goals



Before starting planning a training programme for team sports it is important to answer the following questions:

– How much time do I have?

– How many training sessions can I perform with the players?

– What should be the focus?

•Improve aerobic capacity?

•Improve strength?

•Improve speed/acceleration?

•Improve flexibility?

•Prevent Injuries?

In few words, what can I achieve with the amount of time and sessions I have available?

Here are two typical examples from a club and a national team:


Let’s look at the typical weekly distribution of workloads of two professional team sport teams I worked with in the past. I indicate as S&C sessions only sessions in which the workload is purely aimed at improving performance capacity with limited technical and tactical aspects. Everything indicated with “practice” has a strong technical and tactical requirement. Each training session lasted 2hours.


The above example is typical of weeks in the competitive season. As you can see, 16% and 22% of total training time was devoted to improving physiological aspects of performance, with most of the time spent performing technical and tactical drills. What does this mean?

If a team looks “not in shape”,as some journalists like to point out sometimes, it is either because they are tired (density of competitions and travels) or because the intensity of the technical and tactical practice is not high enough to represent a training stimulus. So, while most of the time the Strength and Conditioning Coach is seen as the culprit, the coaching staff is most probably to blame as they handle and plan more than 80% of the training process. So, the role of a sport scientist working with such teams should be to guide and advice the coaching staff on how to make sure the training load is always appropriate in each technical and tactical session.

What can we conclude by looking at typical weekly practices and plans of elite football teams?

  • Let’s not kid ourselves…it is impossible to improve aerobic capacity with 1h of “fitness specific” training per week!
  • The QUALITY of football specific practice needs to be improved in order to improve players’ fitness
  • Most of the S&C time needs to be dedicated to improve strength/speed/acceleration
  • Extra “training” time needs to be directed to injury prevention activities (pre-hab, proprioception, recovery activities etc.)
  • Individualised training programmes are necessary
  • Monitor training sessions is very important
  • Monitor how individuals adapt is crucial

Monitoring training and avoiding mistakes

It is at this point clear that monitoring training sessions is a necessary step to understand how effective the training process is and how the players are adapting/responding to the various stimuli.


What do we need to look for then when we want to implement some assessment strategies ?

  1. – Determine the effectiveness of football specific training drills
  2. – Gain information to be able to individualise the training program
  3. – Gain information to monitor an athlete’s progress
  4. – Gain information in case of injuries


Why do we need to monitor training in particular?


To make sure the loading is appropriate for what we are trying to accomplish.

What sort of testing and/or markers could be of use?

Physiological and Behavioural markers



 Biochemical Markers


Hormonal and Immunological markers 


What’s the cost/effectiveness?


… Part 2 coming soon…