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Training & Testing 251

Game-based Training in Young Elite Handball Players

Authors M. Buchheit1, 3, P. B. Laursen2, J. Kuhnle3, D. Ruch4, C. Renaud4, S. Ahmaidi1

Affiliations Faculté des sciences du sport, Laboratoire de Recherche EA-3300: Adaptations Physiologiques à l′Exercice et
Réadaptation à l′Effort, Amiens, France
School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia
Sport Development and Analysis, Myorobie Association, Montvalezan, France
Picardie Handball League, Elite Player Training Center, Pont Sainte Maxence, France

Key words Abstract over a similar time period. Before and after train-
●▶ small-sided games ▼ ing, performance was assessed with a counter
●▶ handball
This study compared the effect of high-inten- movement jump (CMJ), 10 m sprint time (10 m),
●▶ intermittent endurance
sity interval training (HIT) versus specific game- best (RSAbest) and mean (RSAmean) times on a
based handball training (HBT) on handball repeated sprint ability (RSA) test, the VIFT and the
●▶ high intensity interval

training performance parameters. Thirty-two highly- intermittent endurance index (iEI). After train-
trained adolescents (15.5 ± 0.9 y) were assigned ing, RSAbest ( − 3.5 ± 2.7 %), RSAmean ( − 3.9 ± 2.2 %)
to either HIT (n = 17) or HBT (n = 15) groups, that and VIFT ( + 6.3 ± 5.2 %) were improved (P < 0.05),
performed either HIT or HBT twice per week for but there was no difference between groups. In
10 weeks. The HIT consisted of 12–24 × 15 s runs conclusion, both HIT and HBT were found to be
at 95 % of the speed reached at the end of the 30– effective training modes for adolescent handball
15 Intermittent Fitness Test (VIFT) interspersed players. However, HBT should be considered as
with 15 s passive recovery, while the HBT con- the preferred training method due to its higher
sisted of small-sided handball games performed game-based specificity.

Introduction Evaluation of the physical performance charac-

▼ teristics of elite handball players should also be
“Handball is a strenuous contact Olympic team conducted with specific tests that replicate the
sport that places emphasis on running, jumping, specific movement patterns and physiological
accepted after revision sprinting, arm throwing, hitting, blocking, and characteristics inherent to the game. Thus, using
October 1, 2008
pushing” [16]. In addition to technical and tacti- intermittent shuttle tests, such as the 30–15
cal skills, it has recently been shown that anthro- Intermittent Fitness Test (30–15IFT, which elicits
pometric characteristics and high levels of V̇ O2max while still taxing anaerobic pathways
DOI 10.1055/s-0028-1105943
Published online: strength, muscle power, and handball throwing [7]), the intermittent endurance index (iEI, which
February 6, 2009 velocity are the most important factors for suc- assesses intermittent aerobic endurance [8]) and
Int J Sports Med 2009; 30: cessful participation at the elite handball level repeated shuttle-sprint ability tests [10, 21], may
251–258 © Georg Thieme [17, 29]. Nevertheless, the importance of aerobic be of relevance.
Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York capacity for successful handball play should not Training at or near V̇ O2max is thought to be an
ISSN 0172-4622
be underestimated. Indeed, at least 90 % of the effective training stimulus to improve aerobic fit-
energy released during a 60-min match must be ness [26]. The most common way to achieve this
aerobically driven, and players run about 4 to is by performing high-intensity interval training
Dr. M. Buchheit
Faculté des sciences du sport 6 km at a mean intensity close to 80–90 % of max- [4, 23, 26]. High-intensity interval training is
Laboratoire de Recherche imal heart rate [25]. Significant associations effective because intensity can be individualised
EA-3300: Adaptations between maximal oxygen uptake (V̇ O2max) and and controlled using a reference workload, such
Physiologiques à l′Exercice et playing level have also been shown [17, 29]. as the running velocity associated with V̇ O2max
Réadaptation à l′Effort Although handball playing itself has a direct (vV̇ O2max [4, 26],) or the speed reached at the
Allée P Grousset
effect on most determinant qualities, it is today end of the 30–15IFT (VIFT), an alternative test for
80025 Amiens
believed that elite handball players must perform team sport athletes [6]. As run training can be
Tel.: + 333/22/82 89 36 additional handball-specific conditioning, includ- perceived as being unpleasant by some handball
Fax: + 330/90/24 34 44 ing strength, power, speed, agility and high-inten- players (personal observations), and because sity aerobic intermittent training [10, 11, 16, 22]. maintaining technical skills is primordial to

Buchheit M et al. Handball Specific Aerobic Training … Int J Sports Med 2009; 30: 251–258
252 Training & Testing

successful handball performance [9, 16], small-sided game- experienced investigator [24]. They were all free of cardiovascu-
based handball-specific training may be an alternative means for lar and pulmonary disease and were not taking any medications.
improving a player’s aerobic capacity whilst still maintaining The study, which was approved by the local research ethics com-
other important handball components, such as agility, reaction mittee, conformed to the recommendations of the Declaration of
time, and hand-eye coordination. Through using this type of Helsinki. Participants and their parents gave voluntary written
training, training time with the ball will be maximised, while informed consent to participate in the experiment.
training motivation should remain high [9]. Although acute
physiological responses [18, 19, 28] and long term effects on Experimental overview and randomization
aerobic function [20] of small-sided soccer games are well docu- Participants were divided into two training groups that per-
mented, there is very little data on the effectiveness of small- formed, in addition to their usual training sessions, either short
sided handball games [9]. Moreover, no data is presently available repeated high-intensity intermittent running (HIT; n = 19;
concerning the respective effects of specific versus generic girls = 9) or small sided handball games (HBT; n = 19; girls = 9).
training on repeated sprint ability or intermittent endurance Subjects within each group were matched according to their
capacity. It has recently been shown that specially designed maturation level, initial athletic performance and years of prac-
handball-specific games are an effective means of achieving a tice (which was effective for 2 × 12 players). The remaining 14
high percentage of V̇ O2max during training, and may be per- players were randomly added to each group while assuring that
ceived as being less painful by athletes compared with high- both groups displayed equivalent mean values for pre-cited
intensity interval training [9]. Nevertheless, the negative maturation and performance parameters. Tests were performed
correlation shown between individual cardiorespiratory fitness on an indoor synthetic track two weeks prior to the commence-
parameters and the percentage of V̇ O2max sustained during ment of training, and within two weeks following the training
handball games [9] suggests that small-sided handball games period. Ambient temperature for all testing and training ranged
might not represent an appropriate exercise stimuli for individ- from 18 to 22 ° C (●▶ Table 1). Tests included a counter movement

ual players (i.e., ceiling effect for the fittest players and overload jump (CMJ), a 10-m sprint time (10m), a repeated sprint ability
for those with poor aerobic capacities). As such, it is uncertain as test [10], a graded aerobic intermittent test (30–15IFT) [6, 7], and
to whether or not small-sided handball training is as efficient a the assessment of intermittent endurance capacity via three
training stimulus as high-intensity interval training throughout maximal intermittent tests performed in a random and balanced
the full macrocycle of the competitive season in adolescent order for each subject [8]. Players were familiarized with the
players [11, 16]. exercise procedures prior to commencement of each test, were
In light of the lack of research in this area, the aim of the present told not to perform intense exercise on the day prior to a test,
study was to compare the effects of high-intensity interval train- and to consume their (usual) last meal at least 3 h before the
ing versus specific small-sided handball training on the fitness scheduled test time. During all tests, HR was continuously
performance characteristics of young elite male and female recorded with a Polar S810 HR monitor (Polar Electro, Kempele,
handball players. As the tight control of exercise training inten- Finland) and an electrode transmitter belt (T61, Polar Electro,
sity using individualised high-intensity interval training is Kempele, Finland) fitted to the chest of each subject as instructed
known to be a successful stimulus for enhancing aerobic per- by the manufacturer.
formance, and because high-intensity interval training will also
stress anaerobic pathways, we hypothesized that it would be Training intervention
more efficient than game-based handball training at improving Subjects performed two specific training sessions per week
indices of (supra)maximal aerobic power (i.e., VIFT and time-to- (Monday and Wednesday for girls, Tuesday and Thursday for the
exhaustion during supramaximal intermittent runs). In contrast, boys), in addition to their usual training requirements, for five
due to the specific movement patterns required for successful and four consecutive weeks (separated by one ‘recovery’ week).
handball play (e.g., repeated sprints and jumps, all interspersed Training programs followed a typical periodized plan that incor-
with incomplete and active recovery) and because of the higher porated progression, prevented overreaching and used a short
time spent at or near V̇ O2max during game-based handball tapering period to maximize final performance (● ▶ Table 1). The

training compared with high-intensity interval training [9], we HIT program consisted of 6–12 min of intermittent running for
expected repeated sprint ability and the intermittent endurance 15 s (95 %VIFT) interspersed with 15 s of passive recovery, whereas
index (iEI; time to exhaustion during intermittent runs) to be specific HBT program consisted of small handball games (2 to
more enhanced by specific handball training. 4 × 2-min 30 s to 4-min games, ● ▶ Table 1) [9]. As described pre-

viously [9], small group play was organised in 4-a-side teams,

excluding goalkeepers. Coaches encouraged players to achieve a
Materials and Methods high intensity of exercise during these games [19, 28]. Typical
▼ handball rules were simplified to avoid game breaks that would
Subject recruitment unnecessarily reduce exercise intensity. For example, dribbling
Based on the assumption that a between group difference in VIFT and defence contacts were not allowed, infringements of minor
of 1 ± 0.9 km.h − 1 is meaningful [10], we used Minitab 14.1 Soft- technical rules (i.e., ‘walking’, ‘double dribble’) were not sanc-
ware (Minitab Inc, Paris, France) to determine that a sample tioned, throw-on after a goal was immediately made by goal-
size ≥ 19 subjects per group would provide a statistical power of keepers from their 6-m area, and coaches were always available
0.8 at an alpha level of 0.05. Thirty-eight trained female and to immediately replace the ball when it was kicked away from
male adolescent handball players, (girls, n = 18 and boys, n = 20) the playing area. Finally, all four players had to be in the oppo-
who trained 10 ± 2.1 h · wk − 1 in a regional centre, were recruited nent half of the court for a goal to be validated [9]. As the VIFT is
to participate in the study. Their maturational status was esti- always higher than one’s vV̇ O2max, HIT performed at 95 % of VIFT
mated via self-assessment questionnaires administrated by an can be quantified as high-intensity exercise (≈120 % of vV̇ O2max)

Buchheit M et al. Handball Specific Aerobic Training … Int J Sports Med 2009; 30: 251–258
Training & Testing 253

Table 1 Training programs for game-based handball training (HBT) and high-intensity interval training (HIT) groups.

Girls Boys Girls Boys
Pre tests Week -2 30–15IFT and explosive, sprint, RSA and throwing velocity tests
Week -1 iEI determination (Three intermittent runs to exhaustion)
Week 1 2× [2 × 2′30⬙] 2 × [2 × 3′15⬙] 2 × [5′30⬙ 15⬙(90 %)-15⬙p] 2 × [7′ 15⬙(92 %)-15⬙p]
Week 2 2× [2 × 2′45⬙] 2 × [2 × 3′45⬙] 2 × [6′ 15⬙(90 %)-15⬙p] 2 × [8′ 15⬙(92 %)-15⬙p]
Week 3 2× [3 × 2′40⬙] 2 × [3 × 3′] 2 × [9′ 15⬙(90 %)-15⬙p] 2 × [10′ 15⬙(92 %)-15⬙p]
Week 4 2× [2 × 3′15⬙] 2 × [2 × 4′15⬙] 2 × [7′ 15⬙(90 %)-15⬙p] 2 × [9′ 15⬙(92 %)-15⬙p]
Training period Week 5 2× [3 × 3′20⬙] 2 × [3 × 3′40⬙] 2 × [11′ 15⬙(90 %)-15⬙p] 2 × [12′ 15⬙(92 %)-15⬙p]
Week 6 Regeneration*
Week 7 2× [2 × 3′15⬙] 2 × [2 × 3′30⬙] 2 × [7′ 15⬙(92 %)-15⬙p] 2 × [7′30’’ 15⬙(93 %)-15⬙p]
Week 8 2× [3 × 2′40⬙] 2 × [2 × 4′15⬙] 2 × [9′ 15⬙(92 %)-15⬙p] 2 × [9′ 15⬙(93 %)-15⬙p]
Week 9 2× [3 × 2′40⬙] 2 × [2 × 4′15⬙] 2 × [9′ 15⬙(92 %)-15⬙p] 2 × [9′ 15⬙(93 %)-15⬙p]
Week 10 1× [2 × 2′30⬙] 1 × [2 × 2′45⬙] 1 × [5′30⬙ 15⬙(95 %)-15⬙p] 1 × [6′ 15⬙(100 %)-15⬙p]
Post tests Week 11 30-15IFT and explosive, sprint, RSA and throwing velocity tests
Week 12 iEI determination (Three intermittent runs to exhaustion)
Description of pre- and post-training test scheduling and details of training contents over the 10-week training period for girls and boys in handball specific (HBT) and high
intensity interval run training (HIT) groups. Between handball games: 30 s of passive recovery. During HIT, ‘p’ stands for passive recovery. Handball training in week 1 listed for
girls as: ‘2 × [2 × 2′30⬙]’ refers to 2 sessions per week, including 2 games of 2 min 30 s, interspersed with a 30-s passive recovery period. HIT training in week 1 listed for girls as:
‘2 × [5′30⬙ 15⬙(90 %)-15⬙p]’ refers to 2 sessions per week, consisting of 15-s runs at 90 % of VIFT interspersed with 15-s passive recovery periods, for a total duration of 5 × min
30 s. *For training content of the regeneration week, please refer to METHODS

[6]. Because time-to-exhaustion at V̇ O2max has been show to be Speed tests

slightly higher in adolescent males than in age-matched girls [3], Speed quality was evaluated by a 10 m standing-start run (10 m;
all specific training exercises (i.e., HIT or HBT) were on average s) recorded with photoelectric cells (Wireless Timing-Radio Con-
~10 % shorter for girls compared to boys (● ▶ Table 1). HIT and trolled, Brower Timing System, Colorado, USA).
HBT programs were matched for exercise duration at each train-
ing session. Except for the HIT and HBT, all other training ses- Repeated sprint ability
sions amongst the subjects were kept similar in both groups (in The repeated sprint ability (RSA) test was assessed through 6
addition to a weekly 1 h competitive handball game that partici- reps of maximal 2 × 15 m shuttle sprints (≈6 s) departing every
pants performed with their own club, common total training 20 s [10]. During the 14-s recovery between sprints, subjects had
time was 9.5 ± 2.1 h · wk − 1 and 8.5 ± 1.8 h · wk − 1 for boys and girls, a passive standing recovery. Three seconds before starting each
respectively; including technical, tactical, strength and speed sprint, subjects were asked to assume the ready position and
training). Strength training consisted of ~1 h of weight lifting for await the start signal. Strong verbal encouragement was pro-
upper and lower limbs (65–85 % of 1RM). Speed training con- vided to each subject during all sprints. This test was adapted
sisted of two 20-min sessions, including athletic drills, 8–10 from previous cycling and running tests [15, 21, 30] that have
standing starts of 3–5 m sprints and ≈10 in-depth jumps been shown to be reliable and valid to estimate RSA [30]. Three
( < 15 cm). The remaining training time was devoted to handball scores were calculated for the RSA test: the best sprint time
training. Pilot studies conducted prior to the present study (RSAbest; s), usually the first sprint; the mean sprint time
showed that technical and tactical training sessions can be qual- (RSAmean; s) and the percent sprint decrement (RSAdec; %) calcu-
ified as intermittent and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise lated as follows:
(45–75 % maximal oxygen uptake performed over 1–1.5 h). Dur- 100–(total time/ideal time × 100);
ing the recovery week (week 6; total training time = 2 ± 1.1 where the ideal time = 6 × RSAbest [30].
h · wk − 1), athletes were asked to perform two to three moderate
training sessions (i.e., 40-min Fartlek training runs, where ath- Maximal graded aerobic test
letes were asked to run at a subjective 6–7 level on a 0–10 Borg Maximal aerobic performance for each subject was assessed
scale, or any moderate recreational sport activity). using a 30–15 Intermittent Fitness Test (30–15IFT) [7]. The 30–
15IFT consists of 30-s shuttle runs interspersed with 15-s passive
Lower limb explosive power test recovery periods. This intermittent shuttle field test elicits peak
Lower limb explosive power was assessed using a vertical coun- HR and maximal oxygen uptake [7], and the reliable final run-
termovement jump with flight time measured by an Optojump ning speed (VIFT; intraclass correlation coefficient = 0.96; typical
(Ergojump, Globus Italia, Codogne, Italy) to calculate jumping error = 0.33 (95 CI, 0.26–0.46) km.h − 1) has been shown to be an
height (CMJ; cm). Since this method of measuring vertical power accurate tool for individualizing intermittent shuttle running
can be biased by some methodological flaws (notably landing exercise [6]. For this test, velocity was set at 8 km.h − 1 for the first
with leg flexion), an experienced investigator validated each 30-s run and speed was increased by 0.5 km.h − 1 every 30-s stage
trial visually. CMJ was performed three times, separated by 45 s thereafter. Subjects were required to run back and forth between
of passive recovery, and the best performance was recorded. two lines set 40 m apart at a pace which was governed by a pre-
recorded beep. The prerecorded beep allowed the subject to
adjust their running speed within a 3-m zone placed in the mid-
dle and at each extremity of the field. During the 15-s recovery
period, subjects walked in the forward direction towards the

Buchheit M et al. Handball Specific Aerobic Training … Int J Sports Med 2009; 30: 251–258
254 Training & Testing

closest line (at either the middle or end of the running area, in relative changes in performance were tested using a Student’s
depending on where their previous run had stopped); they unpaired t-test. Student’s unpaired t-tests were also used to
would start the next run stage from this line. Subjects were examine differences between groups for baseline and final
instructed to complete as many stages as possible, and the test measurements. For all analyses, the level of significance was set
ended when the subject could no longer maintain the required at P < 0.05. Due to the limited sample size of the present study,
running speed or when the subject was unable to reach a 3-m our statistical analyses may have been slightly underpowered
zone in time with the audio signal on three consecutive occa- for some of the performance-related variables. In order to better
sions. The velocity (km.h − 1) and a maximal HR attained during interpret our results, when no significant effects were observed,
the last completed stage were determined as the subject’s VIFT but a tendency towards significance (P < 0.10) was apparent,
and HRmax, respectively. The field test was thought to be maxi- effect sizes (ES) were calculated [13]. When calculating effect
mal if the following criteria were met: 1) HRmax attained within sizes, the pre-training standard deviations for the HBT and HIT
10 beats.min − 1 of the age-predicted maximum; and 2) volitional groups were applied. If the effect size was large ( ≥ 0.80), but the
fatigue [6]. statistical power was low, the likelihood of a type II error was
noted. Linear regressions with Pearson’s coefficients were used
Maximal intermittent tests-to-exhaustion to establish the respective relationships between improvements
All tests were preceded by a supervised and standardized warm- in physical performance indices. Since there was no interaction
up consisting of 5 min running at 45 % of VIFT along with a few on performance between ‘gender’ and ‘period’ factors (all
athletic drills and short bursts of progressive accelerations on P > 0.41), relationships are presented with girls and boys pooled.
the track [8]. Tests began two min after this warm-up. For the Other polynomial regressions were rejected on the basis of
three intermittent shuttle exercise tests, subjects were asked to importantly higher residuals. All statistical analyses were car-
continually repeat as many intervals as possible [10]. The tests ried out using Minitab 14.1 Software (Minitab Inc, Paris, France).
consisted of 15-s (15/15) runs at 100 % (Tlim100 %VIFT), 95 % Data in text and tables are presented as means and standard
(Tlim95 %VIFT) and 90 % (Tlim90 %VIFT) of VIFT alternating with 15-s deviations ( ± SD), while data in figures are presented as means
recovery periods ran at 45 % of VIFT. Although recovery intensity and standard errors ( ± SE) for clarity.
was originally passive [8], we chose an active recovery to reduce
exercise duration [14] and save time for handball training con-
tent. During the 15-s exercise period, athletes were required to Results
run back and forth over the 40-m area so that they covered the ▼
distance determined according to their VIFT (marked with cones). Subjects
Run interval pace was provided by a digital timer that produced Only subjects that participated in > 85 % of all training sessions
a sound every 15 s from the start to the end of the exercise inter- were included in the final analysis. As a result, six out of the
val. The recovery distance allowed participants to arrive at the 38 subjects (15 %) were excluded from analysis. Only 32 players
starting line within 12–13 s. Two seconds prior to the com- (girls: n = 16, 15.2 ± 0.9 y, 168.6 ± 5.9 cm, 63.1 ± 8.1 kg and 24.3 ±
mencement of each high intensity run, subjects were asked to 2.9 % body fat, and boys: n = 16, 15.7 ± 0.9 y, 179.6 ± 6.7 cm
assume the ready position and await the start signal. Subjects 71.8 ± 9.9 kg and 13.1 ± 3.6 % body fat) were included in the final
were verbally encouraged to run “to exhaustion” and were con- analysis. Their maturational status was estimated at Tanner
sidered fatigued when: 1) they could no longer maintain the stage III (n = 5 and 7 for girls and boys, respectively), IV (n = 8 and
required running speed, 2) their maximal heart rate (HR) was 6) or V (n = 3 and 3). The final sample size for each training group
greater than 85 % of its age-predicted maximal HR (HRmax) and was n = 17 (girls = 8) for HIT and n = 15 (girls = 8) for HBT. As a
3) their rating of perceived exertion was greater than 8 on a 10 result of the subject exclusions, some players were no longer
point Borg scale [8]. Effective exhaustion time (s) was measured matched within both training groups; however, there was no
for each intermittent exercise interval, including the recovery significant difference between mean maturation level, initial
period. Three participants stopped running without presenting athletic performance and years of practice between final groups
these criteria and were asked to perform the test again the fol- before and after training. The baseline anthropometric and out-
lowing week. The repeated test scores of these participants were come measures of the study drop-outs were not significantly
included in the analysis. different from those who completed the study.

Endurance Index for short intermittent runs HR response to the training sessions
iEI was determined as previously described [8], from the plot of Mean HR during the first training session in the HBT group was
the percentage of VIFT versus the logarithm of exhaustion time 86.8 ± 1.7 % HRmax, which was not significantly different
(Ln(ET)), with the slope of the resulting linear relationship being (P = 0.43) than the corresponding HIT group value (87.6 ± 1.1 %
▶ Fig. 2).
defined as iEI (● HRmax). Peak HR reached during HBT was 91.6 ± 1.2 % HRmax,
which was significantly lower (P < 0.01) than during HIT
Statistical analyses (94.9 ± 0.5 % HRmax). Mean HR during the last HBT session was
The distribution of each variable was examined with the Sha- 85.9 ± 1.5 % HRmax, which was not different (P = 0.42) than the
piro-Wilk normality tests. Homogeneity of variance was verified corresponding values in the HIT group (86.6 ± 1.5 % HRmax). Peak
by a Levene test. Since a gender interaction was not present HR reached during the last HBT session was 91.1 ± 1.1 % HRmax,
when comparing pre- and post-training performances across which was significantly lower (P < 0.01)) than with HIT
genders, data were analyzed with girls and boys pooled using a (94.6 ± 1.2 % HRmax).
2-factor repeated measure ANOVA with one between factor
(training type; HBT vs. HIT) and one within factor (period; pre-
training vs. post-training). Possible between-group differences

Buchheit M et al. Handball Specific Aerobic Training … Int J Sports Med 2009; 30: 251–258
Training & Testing 255

Table 2 Physical performance parameters measured in players before (Pre) and after (Post) the 10-wk training period in the handball specific (HBT) and
high-intensity intermittent training (HIT) groups.

HBT (n = 17) HIT (n = 15)

Pre Post Pre Post
10 m (s) 2.03 ± 0.10 2.00 ± 0.09 2.02 ± 0.16 2.00 ± 0.14
CMJ (cm) 38.1 ± 7.9 39.3 ± 7.7 40.7 ± 9.7 42.0 ± 8.4
RSAbest (s)* 6.19 ± 0.41 5.96 ± 0.31 6.27 ± 0.42 6.05 ± 0.37
RSAmean (s)* 6.48 ± 0.40 6.18 ± 0.35 6.52 ± 0.42 6.30 ± 0.36
RSAdec ( %)* 4.10 ± 1.59 3.14 ± 0.92 3.43 ± 1.25 3.34 ± 1.03
Shoot (km.h − 1) 69.3 ± 6.9 71.3 ± 8.7 64.4 ± 7.5 68.5 ± 8.5
VIFT (km.h − 1)* 18.4 ± 1.5 19.6 ± 1.4 17.9 ± 1.8 18.9 ± 1.3
Tlim100 %VIFT (s)* 155 ± 66 196 ± 102 180 ± 96 245 ± 115
Tlim95 %VIFT (s)* 274 ± 103 289 ± 104 275 ± 105 307 ± 117
Tlim90 %VIFT (s)* 315 ± 133 439 ± 178 351 ± 111 411 ± 133
iEI − 14.5 ± 5.1 − 11.9 ± 3.8 − 13.8 ± 2.6 − 17.4 ± 5.3
Mean ( ± SD) values for 10 m sprint time (10 m), counter movement jump (CMJ), best time during the repeated sprint ability test (RSAbest), mean of the sprint during the RSA
test (RSAmean), RSA speed decrement (RSAdec), handball throw velocity (Shoot), velocity reached at the end of the 30–15IFT test (VIFT), times-to-exhaustion running at 100
(Tlim100 %VIFT), 95 (Tlim95 %VIFT) and 90 (Tlim90 %VIFT) % of VIFT, and intermittent endurance index (iEI). *: significant ‘period’ effect for both groups pooled (P < 0.05)

Fig. 1 Values are means ± SE. Training-induced change in physical

performance, 10-m sprint time (10 m), best time during the repeated-
sprint ability test (RSAbest), mean sprint time during the RSA test
(RSAmean), countermovement jump (CMJ), throwing velocity (Shoot)
and velocity reached at the end of the 30–15IFT (VIFT) for high-intensity
interval training (HIT) and game-based handball training (HBT). RSA
decrement (RSAdec) has been excluded for figure clarity ( + 16.9 ± 70.1
vs. − 12.2 ± 43.3 % for HIT vs. HBT, respectively). *: significant ‘period’
effect for both groups pooled (P < 0.05). †: difference in relative changes
between training groups with large effect size (ES > 0.8).

Changes in physical performance after training

Fig. 2 Values are means ± SE. Times-to-exhaustion at 100, 95 and 90 %
Physical performance values before and after each training
of VIFT (expressed logarithmically; Ln(ET)) and associated intermittent
period are presented in ● ▶ Table 2. The 2-factor ANOVA revealed
endurance index (iEI) before and after high-intensity interval training (HIT,
neither a ‘training type’ effect (all P > 0.09), nor a ‘period’ × ‘training triangles) or game-based handball training (HBT, circles).
type’ interaction (all P > 0.20) for any of the measured variables.
A ‘period’ effect was only observed for RSAbest (P = 0.03), RSAmean
(P = 0.01), VIFT (P < 0.01), Tlim100 %VIFT (P = 0.04), Tlim95 %VIFT Intermittent endurance index (iEI) determination
(P = 0.03) and Tlim90 %VIFT (P = 0.02). Relative changes for both Mean HR during the intermittent runs-to-exhaustion before and
training groups were not different (all P > 0.14, except for RSAmean after training were 89.8 ± 0.7 and 89.4 ± 0.8 % HRmax during
where P = 0.09, ● ▶ Fig. 1). The effect size shown for the difference Tlim100 %VIFT, 89.4 ± 1.2 and 90.5 ± 0.8 % HRmax during Tlim95 %VIFT,
between training type, in terms of the relative changes for and 90.3 ± 0.9 and 91.5 ± 1.0 % HRmax during Tlim90 %VIFT. There
RSAmean, could be considered as large (ES = 0.79). was no significant difference between HR values for all intermit-
tent runs. The relationship between % VIFT and ln(ET) during the

Buchheit M et al. Handball Specific Aerobic Training … Int J Sports Med 2009; 30: 251–258
256 Training & Testing

three exercise sets was strong for each individual subject, both with high-intensity interval training may have represented a
▶ Fig. 2 illus-
before and after training (0.94 < r2 < 1; P < 0.01). ● strong enough stimulus to increase muscular power [2].
trates the iEI pooled gender values for both training groups Results from the present study revealed a significant increase in
before and after the training period. RSA after the training period when both groups were pooled
(i.e., − 3.5 ± 2.7 % for RSAbest and − 3.9 ± 2.2 % for RSAmean). How-
Relationships between physical performance indices ever, there was neither a significant ‘training type’ nor
The improvement of RSAbest was significantly correlated to the ‘period’ × ‘training type’ interaction, suggesting that both meth-
decrement in 10m sprint time (r = 0.37, P = 0.05), but there was ods were similarly effective. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that
no association with changes in CMJ (r = 0.06, P = 0.97). The relative changes tended to be slightly higher for handball train-
decrease in RSAmean after training was significantly correlated ing (● ▶ Fig. 1, P = 0.09 and ES = 0.79). The lower sample size after

with the decrease in 10m sprint time (r = − 0.46, P = 0.01), the training due to six drop outs reduced the statistical power of our
improvement of VIFT (r = − 0.40, P = 0.04) and Tlim90 %VIFT (r = − 0.70, analysis (i.e., statistical power = 0.25 for relative changes in
P < 0.001). Correlations between RSAmean and Tlim100 %VIFT and RSAmean), so definitive conclusions regarding the eventual supe-
Tlim95 %VIFT were close to significance (r = − 0.37, P = 0.07 and riority of game-based handball training over high-intensity run
r = − 0.35, P = 0.08 for Tlim100 %VIFT and Tlim95 %VIFT, respectively). training to improve RSA will need to be confirmed in a larger
There was no association between changes in RSAmean and CMJ population. The present study is however the first to demon-
(r = − 0.22, P = 0.26). Improvement in Tlim100 %VIFT and Tlim95 %VIFT strate the beneficial effects of specific small-sided game-based
were strongly related to changes in VIFT (r = 0.58, P < 0.01 and training on repeated sprint ability. It is likely that the high exer-
r = 0.57, P = 0.03 for Tlim100 %VIFT and Tlim95 %VIFT, respectively). In cise intensity of the sprints, jumps and direction changes inher-
contrast, there was no association between changes in Tlim90 %VIFT ent with small-sided games created an efficient stimulus that
and VIFT (r = 0.28, P = 0.22). There was no relationship between elicited improvement in RSA. It is also possible that improve-
changes in all athletic performance indices and iEI (all P > 0.21). ment in agility and coordination in response to handball training
improved the ability to change direction, which in turn increased
repeated shuttle sprint performance [32].
Discussion The positive effects of high-intensity interval training on
▼ repeated sprint ability are in accordance with those previously
While small-sided games have been used religiously by handball reported using a similar protocol as that of the present study
coaches for years [9], the present study is the first to investigate, (short repeated intermittent runs, resulting in a significant 2 %
using specific field tests and a controlled study design, a com- increase in mean repeated sprint performance [10]). However,
parison of the effectiveness of small-sided game-based handball our results are in opposition to another longitudinal 7-week
training versus high-intensity interval run training on the phys- study conducted in junior soccer players that showed no impact
ical performance capacities of elite young handball players. Due of high-intensity interval training on RSA [5]. It is possible that
to the different responses inherent with specific game-based training backgrounds of the players, high-intensity interval
handball training and high-intensity interval training, we training modality (i.e., straight line vs. shuttle runs, maximal vs.
hypothesized that the high-intensity interval training group supramaximal intensity, work/rest ratio), and exercise intensity
would obtain greater improvements in indices of (supra)maximal prescription might explain discrepancies in these results.
aerobic power, but that the game-based handball training group Whereas high-intensity interval training consisted of 4 × 4 min
would be more efficient at enhancing repeated sprint ability and of straight line running at 90–95 % of maximal HR in the study by
intermittent endurance. Our results show that both game-based Bravo et al. [5], we used a reference speed (VIFT) to determine
handball training and high-intensity interval training were sim- high-intensity interval training shuttle intensity [6]. Finally, the
ilarly effective at increasing most performance parameters in significant relationship shown between changes in 10-m sprint
young elite players, but suggest that game-based handball train- time and RSAmean (r = − 0.46, P = 0.01) suggests that improve-
ing games should be used preferentially due to their higher ments in speed via supplemental strength and velocity training
quantity of game-based specificity. sessions [12] should also be considered.

Effects on speed, explosive power and repeated sprint Effects on maximal aerobic power and supramaximal
ability intermittent performance
In the present study, both training regimens tended to be effi- Because high-intensity interval training intensity can be con-
cient at improving muscular power-related variables that pre- trolled with much more precision than that of handball games
dict handball performance [17, 29]. There was no significant [9], we hypothesized that improvements in maximal aerobic
change in 10 m sprint time or jumping height following both power would be greater in the high-intensity interval training
training regiments (● ▶ Table 2 and ●▶ Fig. 1). This is not surpris- group. Moreover, because high-intensity interval training is
ing, since both training programs were specifically designed to associated with a higher level of anaerobic participation than
improve aerobic capacities [9]. Nevertheless, in school-adoles- handball games (i.e., 11.6 vs. 8.9 mmol.l − 1 [9]), we also felt that
cents of similar age, high-intensity interval training has shown a high-intensity interval training would elicit a more pronounced
concomitant 3 % [2] and 14 % [1] increase in vertical jump per- impact on the long-term development of anaerobic capacity;
formance. While our players were highly trained school-adoles- this in turn, could improve time-to-exhaustion at a supramaxi-
cents, subjects from these previously mentioned studies likely mal intensity (i.e.; 100 % of VIFT, ~120 % vV̇ O2max [6]). By con-
had short training histories and moderate physical fitness levels. trast, our results showed that both game-based handball training
It is possible that the acceleration and deceleration phases, cou- and high-intensity interval training were effective at improving
pled with the maximal and supra-maximal velocities inherent maximal aerobic power, as inferred from equivalent improve-
ment in VIFT (● ▶ Fig. 1), and Tlim
100 %VIFT. Because of its high

Buchheit M et al. Handball Specific Aerobic Training … Int J Sports Med 2009; 30: 251–258
Training & Testing 257

correlation with V̇ O2max [7], it is now apparent that VIFT, in aerobic training might be a sufficient training stimulus to
addition to being a relevant tool for the individualization of improve maximal aerobic power and intermittent endurance
interval training [6], can be used confidently to assess maximal in young handball players. Although the importance of exer-
aerobic function [7]. While our comparison of high-intensity cise intensity individualization has been recognized for years
interval training versus specific handball training is novel, our as a determining factor of successful training, our findings put
findings parallel an investigation on soccer players that showed forward that spontaneous activity during small-sided games,
small-sided games to be as efficient as high-intensity interval with appropriate rules, can be at least equally effective at
training for improving maximal oxygen uptake [20]. Finally, enhancing aerobic and anaerobic capacities compared with
while obtainment of a high VIFT is associated with high blood more complex intermittent training protocols requiring refer-
lactate accumulation [7], which may be dependent on anaerobic ence tests. In young elite adolescent handball players, we thus
capacity, present results do not support the view that anaerobic recommend that game-based handball training be used over
pathways might be differently affected by high-intensity inter- high-intensity interval run training due to its higher specifi-
val training or game-based handball training, as relative changes city and valuable impact on handball performance-related
in maximal intermittent velocity and supramaximal endurance parameters.
were similar. Further studies evaluating changes induced by
both training regimens on anaerobic capacity via specific tests
[27, 31] might assist with our understanding in this area. Acknowledgements

Effects on intermittent aerobic endurance The authors thank Irmant Cadjjiov for his assistance with manu-
Because percentage of time spent at or near V̇ O2max has been script preparation, and the subjects of the study for their enthu-
shown to be significantly higher for game-based handball train- siastic participation.
ing versus high-intensity interval training (70 vs. 40 % for HBT vs.
HIT, respectively [9]), we expected specific training to be more References
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