Is long slow distance (LSD) training necessary for team sports athletes?
SUMMARY: LSD training is beneficial for team sports when utilised to build an aerobic base, but should not be implemented for prolonged periods of time. In intermittent high intensity team sports, interval training should be the primary form of conditioning prescribed
Here is a short summary of an article by Murach et al, published in the Strength & Conditioning Journal in 2013, entitled ‘Is long duration aerobic exercise necessary for anaerobic athletes?’
Pro Endurance Training
Endurance training has long been favoured over and above high intensity interval training to illicit aerobic physiological adaptations. Some of the known adaptations to aerobic or Long Slow Distance (LSD) type training include;
- Enhanced muscle blood supply through increased capitalization
- Increased mitochondrial density
- Fuel storage capacity (CHO sparing effect)
- Increased work capacity
Some strength and conditioning professionals around the world believe that too much endurance or LSD-based exercise is counterproductive for athletes competing in sports that are primarily anaerobic in nature (e.g. rugby, cricket, hockey etc.). These sentiments were brought to light many years ago during a study conducted on athletes performing aerobic and anaerobic training concurrently: in a study on [e.g. Rugby Union / League, Hockey, Cricket etc.] Hickson et al.  found that this method of exercise prescription “blunted” strength gains. The authors of this study concluded that this “blunted” effect on [muscle strength and/or hypertrophy] was due to interference with the muscle’s physiological adaptations. However, some recent research has shown that concurrent training can be very beneficial if constructed correctly, highlighting the importance of Periodisation (a future post will focus more on concurrent training).
Con Endurance Training
As has been previously mentioned, LSD-type training is associated with many beneficial physiological adaptations. However, more recent, in-depth research has showed that High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can not only illicit the same adaptations to the aerobic energy system that LSD work does but also allows for adaptations to the anaerobic energy system. However, the inverse argument does not hold true: i.e. LSD training does not illicit beneficial adaptations to the anaerobic system.
Therefore HIIT has been shown to have the following physiological benefits;
- Increased maximal aerobic capacity
- Increased ventilatory threshold
- Increased acid buffering capacity
- Increased time to fatigue
- Increased Peak Power output (PPO)
- Increased substrate utilisation
- Increase Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption
Practically, one of the main benefits of HIIT in comparison to LSD is that far less time is required to illicit these abovementioned benefits.
Other negative consequences of LSD include:
- Elevated cortisol levels due to high training loads
- Induced protein breakdown / catabolism
- Decrease rate of protein synthesis
- Inhibition of IGF-1 & testosterone
LSD type exercise may be beneficial for anaerobic dominant sports when utilised in the correct manner (i.e. to build a base to allow for the implementation of HIIT at a later stage). This holds true for anyone training for weight loss, improved work capacity or training to improve the athlete’s threshold potential. However, if time is limited HIIT maybe the most beneficial to illicit both aerobic and anaerobic adaptations. Furthermore, LSD training significantly increase training loads in athletes participating in High Intensity Interval Sports, increasing the risk of overtraining. Lastly, the old saying of “if you train slow, you become slow” holds true. Thus, the implementation of HIIT, while manipulating rest periods is preferred for sports such as rugby, hockey and cricket to name a few.
Let us know your thoughts if you’d worked with a team and have tried various training modalities?
Thanks for the article. Could not agree more. Time limitations within management of recovery during off-season and GPP definitely affects what is possible to do – efficient effective training/more buck for your bang plays a huge role in the decision making process during metabolic training drill selection and periodisation methods.
Absolutely agree, LSD is really poor match for the intermittent requirements of team sports. What I do think is a really interesting discussion though, is which energy systems we should be primarily training? A lot of coaches have taken the message that LSD is unnecessary for rugby, and translated that into aerobic training is unnecessary for rugby. This is a link to a chat by Keir Wenham-Flatt (Argentina Rugby S&C) on the topic.
My feeling is that large aerobic capacity provides a huge advantage for rugby players, allowing them to recover faster between intense efforts. While I wouldn’t recommend training this through LSD, I think its a really important component of a training programme.
Would love to hear everyone else on the site’s thoughts!
Hi Sean and Jason,
Thanks for your guys input on our blog.
I couldn’t agree more with both of your comments. Firstly, as Sean has mentioned, S&C’s need to understand that they have a limited amount of time with their athletes, and in sports that primarily involve intermittent high intensity burst of exercise, require very different metabolic conditioning than other sports. Hence to building in popularity in small sided games in soccer in recent times. I also think a lot of S&C’s are under the impression that more is more, a lot of the time. When in actual fact what the most “successful” (i know its hard to determine success in our field) S&C’s are able to do is determine what the minimum dose that is required to get the maximum physiological benefits out of their athletes. And even more importantly, approaching it in this manner allows you to schedule sufficient RECOVERY time!
However, as Jason has mentioned it is so important that these statements are not take as me saying that an aerobic base of some sort is not important. I fully support the physiology of aerobic base type training and its influence on recovery between high intensity bursts. But i do believe that the manner in which this “base” is developed in such sports is of utmost importance.
Let me know your thoughts!