Training upper body for lower body performance
The aerobic energy pathway is a significant contributing factor to many team and individual sports. Many team sports such as cricket, rugby and hockey place a large demand on the lower body during training and competition. With a high percentage of training and performance workload on the lower body it would be beneficial, in sports with a high volume of lower body contribution, to train for aerobic performance improvements via the upper body.
Training for improvements in aerobic performance
It is well documented in scientific literature that endurance or medium intensity training and high intensity interval training or sprint interval training are effective methods of training to improve aerobic performance. Changes in performance from endurance training are predominantly accounted for by central adaptation; whereas improvements from high intensity or sprint interval training have been identified by changes in both central and peripheral factors. In team sports high intensity interval training and sprint interval training can be seen as a superior method of improving the aerobic performance due to its ability to produce significant improvements in markers associated with aerobic performance in a short duration of time. These shorter forms of training can also be adapted to replicate both the work intensity and duration of the team sport.
Exercise crossover / the transfer effect
The transfer effect of training is when a trained body part, or limb, leads to improvements in performance not only in the trained limb, but also in the untrained part of the body. Research into this transfer effect when training using the arms has shown significant improvements in the legs performance when an increase of > 30% aerobic fitness (VO2max) has been made in the arm test. In the studies reviewed that investigated this crossover from arm training to leg performance the subjects had performed medium intensity training protocols.
A solution to off-load the team sport athlete?
So it has been identified that it would be beneficial to improve aerobic performance using the arms due to the high percentage of team sports that involve the lower body for the majority of training and performance. Additionally it has been highlighted that the previous literature has shown that an exercise crossover or transfer effect is possible when large improvements are made in central measures of aerobic fitness. However, what has not been investigated is if high intensity interval training can be applied to arm training to make improvements in the legs, during a period of training where no lower body aerobic training is performed.
Investigation into the transfer effect
At Glamorgan county cricket club eleven male professional cricket players were randomly divided in to two groups for a training period of 4 weeks. Both groups performed strength training 3 days a week for a duration of 4 weeks. One of the groups, let’s call them the ‘rope’ group, performed additional upper body high intensity interval training at the end of each strength session. The sessions were performed seated to eliminate lower body contribution and typically consisted of 2 sets of 12 reps of 15:15 (work : rest), combining to a total session time of 14 minutes. The other group, the ‘control’ group, performed no additional exercise following the strength sessions and did not do any additional lower body aerobic or strength training for the 4 weeks.
A variety of performance measures were taken prior to and following the exercise period. It was no surprise that the rope group experienced a 12% increase in upper body exercise capacity, which was identified by the duration of performance in an upper body aerobic maximal test. The exciting finding came when the groups performed a lower body aerobic maximal test (Yoyo IR1). The rope group experienced an improvement of 11% in the lower body test compared to 3% of the control group. This highlights a clear improvement in lower body aerobic performance in the group performing the rope training without actually exercising the lower body.
This study assessed multiple scientific measures in aerobic and anaerobic performance from the rope training, but the significant finding identified was the training’s ability to improve lower body aerobic performance without actually training the lower body. Additionally it was found that just three 14 minute sessions a week was enough exercise to stop any body fat gain while increasing lean mass on an increased calorie diet.
Give it a go
If you feel like giving your legs a break from pounding the treadmill or track but don’t want to lose your hard earned fitness gains, give high intensity interval rope training a go. You can perform it seated or standing and use multiple moves such as slams, uppercuts, twists, fast hands. Make sure for each 15s work interval you give it maximum effort to push that heart rate up. Preform 2 – 3 times a week alongside your weights training for an added boost to body composition and muscle mass goals.
||Between Set Recovery
||Double slam, uppercut, twist slam, fast hands
About the author
Tom Turner is the lead strength & conditioning coach at Glamorgan county cricket club. With an MSc in Strength & Conditioning under his belt, he is continually keeping his head in research in order to ensure that he is giving his players the best support possible. As you would expect he enjoys his training and has a keen interest in the role of diet and nutrition in both performance and physical development. @tomturner90