Establishing the validity of methods for quantifying training load in endurance athletes

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Athletic performance is improved via the systematic application of successive bouts of exercise. However, there is no current consensus on the most accurate method to assess the cumulative effects of physical training. Therefore, the overall aim of this thesis was to determine the criterion validity and reliability of commonly used training load methods to quantify the dose-response relationship between physical training and athletic performance. To achieve this, a series of three studies were completed. Study 1 determined the ecological validity of the session-RPE method for quantifying training loads in elite swimmers. The findings demonstrated strong relationships between session-RPE, heart rate (HR) methods and distance. These results suggest that session-RPE may provide a practical, non-invasive method for quantifying internal training load in competitive swimmers. The purpose of Study 2 was to compare the criterion validity and test-retest reliability of common methods for quantifying training load in endurance exercise. Participants completed either steady state or interval cycle training sessions where oxygen consumption, HR, rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and blood lactate measures were taken to assess the workload of each exercise bout. The results of this investigation showed that external work was the most valid and reliable method for quantifying training load. Heart rate measures were found to be the most valid and reliable measure of internal training load. Finally, the ability of these measures to quantify the training load accumulated over successive training sessions was examined in Study 3. A mathematical model was applied to the physical training completed by male runners over a 15 week period. The findings of this study showed that each of the training load methods investigated are appropriate for quantifying endurance exercise. Collectively, this thesis shows that the validity of the training load measure is influenced most by the reliability of the device used for measuring training intensity and the degree to which the weighting factors for the calculation of the training load methods are customised to individualised performance parameters.
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