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GAINcast Episode 139: Training speed (with Brian FitzGerald)

When it comes to high school sprinting, few can match the credentials of Brian FitzGerald. The 2016 USA Today national track coach of the year has led athletes to California state titles in each of the past four decades, including athletes named Athlete of the Year by Track and Field News. Behind the high level results are some basic training principles. He joins this week’s GAINcast to lay out his eight basic principles of speed training. Read more

Creating and implementing template-based training

When becoming an athletic development coach there are many things you have to consider before developing a training plan for the athletes you are working with. These include the amount of athletes you are working with in each session, total number of teams you are working with, and how much time you have for each training session. There are so many things to think about, that it can often become overwhelming to start from scratch each time. This is where templates can come in handy. With useful templates, a coach help make sure they cover all the bases needed in a training session or week. Read more

Sports Science Monthly – October 2018

There are lots of hot topics covered in the October edition of Sports Science Monthly. We start off by looking at the transfer of different types of strength to sprinting, then see how monitoring can be taken best from theory to practice, before diving into density of high speed training, adductor strengthening, dehydration, transcranial direct current stimulation, and more. Read more

HMMR Podcast Episode 176: Throwing Q&A

Back to our roots on this week’s podcast as we answer listener questions on throwing and training for the throws. We start off by looking at some lessons team sports can learn from throws training (and vice versa), before diving into some more specific questions like tips for short throwers, comparing different shot put technique, our favorite underrated coaches, and more. Read more

Measuring caffeine consumption is harder than you think

Caffeine is a well-established performance enhancer; this is no secret, with many athletes using it to improve their performance. Non-athletes know this too, which is why almost 80% of the world’s population consume caffeine on a daily basis. As a result, caffeine is ubiquitous, and we are exposed to it in a number of different ways; primarily through hot drinks (such as tea or coffee), but also through foods (like dark chocolate) and medicines (many extra strength cold and flu or pain medicines contain caffeine). Read more

GAINcast Episode 138: In-season training

The season used to be thought of as a time to back off of training, but as seasons have gotten longer and longer coaches have needed to rethink their approach to in-season training. On this episode of the GAINcast we look at in-season training strategies for team and individuals sports. Read more

Talking tactical periodization with Dean Benton

I first met Dean Benton at the 2013 International Festival of Athletics Coaching in Glasgow. Benton was presenting about his work in rugby at a track and field conference and I was entranced at the dynamics of the sport. As we shared a mentor, Vern Gambetta, we kept in touch. Two years ago he moved to Europe from his native Australia to take over sports science at England Rugby. Since then I’ve had a chance to visit his training several times and see first hand how he puts some of his concepts in practice. Read more

HMMR Podcast Episode 175: Rediscovering play (with James Marshall)

Play is often disregarded as a form of training, but it is a lost art that can be a valuable tool in developing athletes. Over the past few decades, the rate of play has drastically declined among children worldwide. James Marshall has put this point front and center in his approach to long-term athlete development. On this episode of the podcast Marshall joins us to discuss play and how it can be incorporated into more formal training sessions. Read more

How much does your family impact your chances of winning an Olympic medal?

The Olympics represent the pinnacle of sport, and competing in one is recognized as a major achievement in an athlete’s career and winning an Olympic medal akin to the finding the Holy Grail. Given the importance of such an achievement to countries and governing bodies, there is an increased interest in understanding the factors that increase the chances of such an achievement. A recent study published in Frontiers of Physiology sheds some additional light on this as the authors explore the impact that having an Olympian in the family has on an athletes chance of winning a medal.

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Running the numbers

To determine how much of an impact family has, the authors carried out a huge study looking at data back to 1896. The authors gathered biographical information on every athlete who competed at an Olympic Games, both Summer and Winter, from 1896 to 2012. This is a massive undertaking, and the results make for interesting reading. The scope alone is amazing:

  • 125,051 athletes have competed at the Olympic Games from 1896 to 2012.
  • Out of this population 5,661 athletes (4.5%) were blood related to another athlete, and 1404 (1.1%) had more than one relative who competed at an Olympics.

Before looking at the impact of family, the authors defined the baseline: of the 119,390 Olympians without a blood relative who had competed at the Games, 24,319 won a medal. This means that the probability of winning a medal over the course of Olympic history is 20.4%. They then looked to see how the numbers changed depending on the relation to an Olympian.

  • If you had a relative who had competed at the Olympic Games, but not won a medal, your chance of winning a medal was about the same as everyone else – unless that relative was a sibling, in which case your chance was lower than average.
  • If you had a grandparent who had won a medal, your chance of winning an Olympic medal was ~37%.
  • If you had a blood related aunt or uncle who had won a medal, your chance of winning a medal was ~44%.
  • If you had a parent who had won a medal, your chance was ~43%.
  • If you had a brother or sister who had won a medal, your chance of winning a medal was ~65%.
  • If you had a non-identical twin who had won a medal, your chance of winning a medal was ~75%.
  • If you had an identical twin who had won a medal, your chance of winning a medal was ~86%.

What do all these numbers actually tell us? Well, firstly, you tend to have something in common with those you’re related to: genetics. You share about 25% of specific genetic variants with your grandparents and aunts/uncles. You share about 50% of your genetic variants with your parents, brothers and sisters, including non-identical twins. You share 100% of your genetic variants with an identical twin. It’s interesting that, as the % of relatedness increases, so too does your chances of winning an Olympic medal. This suggests that genes are an important modifier of sporting success. If genes weren’t the factor, then we’d expect to see no difference in medal winning performance between identical and non-identical twins – and yet, we do.

Beyond genetics

Of course, genetics aren’t all we share with our blood relatives. We tend to share socio-cultural and socio-economic factors also, which can no doubt have a huge influence on performance. Family support is also shared—hopefully equally—between siblings, as is opportunity to take part in sport. Clearly, it would be wrong to state that genes are all that matters, because they’re not the only shared aspect, but they are still important. This is especially true given that we know that many physiological, psychological, and anthropometrical traits have a genetic component, and that these aspects contribute to elite performance. We see further evidence of this in the fact that your chances of winning an Olympic medal are greater if you compete in the same sport as your relative than if you compete in a different sport; specific physical, psychological and anthropometrical traits are more advantageous in some sports than others.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can use specific genetic information to predict performance. Whilst it’s clear that genetic variation has an impact on performance, as of yet we don’t really know what those genetic variants are, meaning that we can’t test for them. I’ve just submitted a paper on this topic, so at some point I’ll delve into this in greater detail.

Key takeaways

In summary, if you want to win a medal at the Olympic Games, your best chance is if you have an identical twin that has already done so, in the same sport that you hope to. The lowest probability of winning a medal comes when you have a sibling who has competed in the Olympics who has not won a medal (apologies to my brother and sister for my poor performance); here, your chances of winning a medal are less than if you had no relatives who had competed at an Olympic Games – because the shared genetic and environmental factors that contributed to their lack of a medal are also likely present in you.

All this shows the importance of genetics within sports performance, but also the impact of non-genetic factors, such as parental support. As such, elite performance is a complex, multifactorial trait, and hopefully in the coming years we will be able to better understand what contributes to such a trait.

GAINcast Episode 137: The microcycle

If coaches sit around and talk about training, the discussion quickly focuses on either exercise selection and session design or periodization. In other words, we tend to focus on the small picture or the big picture. The microcycle is what connects the two. Coaches can get things right at both ends of the spectrum and still miss the mark if they do not connect them. On this episode of the GAINcast we talk about key the importance of the microcycle, key points to consider in designing the microcycle, and some examples from our own plans. Read more