Tag Archive for: Sports Science

The Perfect Physique for Throwing

One chapter of the David Epstein’s The Sports Gene discusses the role of body type in sports and how this has evolved in almost a Darwinian fashion over the last century. At the beginning of the modern Olympic era elite athletes tended to have the same body type. As Epstein explained, in 1925 the average Olympic volleyball player looked similar in stature to an Olympic discus thrower, high jumper, or shot putter. American Robert Garrett was the first modern Olympic discus and shot put champion standing just 6-foot 2-inches and 180-pounds. There is a reason he could easily be mistaken for a high jumper: he also won silver medals in the high jump and long jump. The scientists of the day even had theories of why this was the ideal athlete for each sport. Epstein notes that:

Anthropometrists felt that human physique distributed along a bell curve, and the peak of the curve-the average- was the perfect form, with everything to the sides deviating by accident or fault.

While short players like Nate Robinson can still find success in the NBA, the trend is towards taller and bigger athletes in the league and in the throwing events.

While short players like Nate Robinson can still find success in the NBA, the trend is towards taller and bigger athletes in the league and in the throwing events.

Fast forward a hundred years and each of those sorts has developed a distinct type of athlete that works best for it. Read more

Mr. Gravity – Super Athlete

Use Gravity – Don’t abuse it

Defy it – But you can’t deny it

Enhance Gravity – Don’t chance it

Resist Gravity – It will persist

You can cheat Gravity, but it’s tough to beat it Read more

The Sports Gene

sportsgene

Nature versus nurture topic has been a hot topic lately, and was frequently discussed at the International Festival of Athletics Coaching. That is due to David Epstein’s new book The Sports Gene: What Makes The Perfect Athlete, which I just finished last week. Epstein, a former collegiate runner and writer for Sports Illustrated, has put together a must read book on the topic. Since the book’s release in August it has been covered by almost everyone who can write. Mass media outlets like the New York Times, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal have all covered it extensively. The book has also been written about by those within the track and field community since the book spends much of its time looking at track and field topics like Kenyan distance dominance, Jamaican sprint success, the high jump, and other events (I recommend Epstein’s extensive interview with the House of Run). Therefore, other than a whole-hearted recommendation to read the book immediately, there is not a whole lot I can do to add to the conversation. But that won’t stop me from trying.
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IFAC 2013: What I Learned (Part 2)

Professor Vin Walsh of University College London

Professor Vin Walsh of University College London

Up to 20% of the body’s energy is dedicated to the brain, but it is often an overlooked element of training. And I’m not talking about the mind in a metaphysical sense, but the brain as a physical muscle sitting in our head. Each time we move, each time we learn, and each time we throw there are physical changes that occur in our brain. Over the past week I have summarized my own presentation and highlights from other presentations at the International Festival of Athletics Coaching. But with the brain playing such a central but often overlooked role, it is important for my last post about the conference to focus on this important topic.

Professor Vincent Walsh is a leading expert on the brain at University College London where he runs the Applied Cognitive Neuroscience. He gave two talks over the weekend that focused on how this 20% of our energy is being used and how to optimize it and maximize our performance. Much of the discussion centered around things we all have learned intuitively after years of experience. But it is reassuring that the science backs this up and helps provide some solutions on how to move forward.
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Getting It and Getting There

Why do some athletes get it and make it and others with equal talent and ability fall by the wayside. This is a lifelong fascination of mine. Talent and ability are a given to make it to elite status, but it is so much more than that. Some athletes navigate the path easily and directly and other struggle, but both still make it. Why? Certainly athlete development and passage through to elite status is a process. There is no one model or framework. Nor is there a set time like ten years or a time period like 10,000 hours. No doubt it is related to practice depth and quality. It is related to coaching guidance to first ignite the spark of interest, then inspire and guide the athlete. Read more

Heart Rate Variability and Training

Advances in technology over the past few decades have added a new element of training athletes and coaches: biofeedback devices to gather data about the body. More data is almost always a good thing and technology now makes it easier to track several aspects of life that have an impact on the body and training such as sleep, activity level, heart rate, and heart rate variability (“HRV”). Coaches can then use this information in a variety of ways to learn about the specific athlete and customize training to them. Of these new measures, I have been interested the most in HRV due to its potential ability to track an athlete’s state of “sport form” one of the concepts central to Bondarchuk’s periodization models. HRV is hardly a new concept. As this peer-reviewed article on the origins of HRV notes, scientists have been monitoring heart rhythms for hundreds of years. However, since many of the methods are dependent on technology, it was not until the 20th century that research really took off. Only in the past few years has the technology been made easily available for athletes and researchers to work with.
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The Future of Hammer Throw Research (Part 3)

I thought my series on the future of hammer throw research was done after Part 1 and Part 2. But that was until thrower Kevin Becker passed along the link below. Becker is currently finishing up his Ph.D. in Kinesiology at the University of Tennessee focusing on motor learning and the hammer throw. We will have more on his work in the coming months, but for now Becker sent me a CNN special from last month that focused on figure skating.

The special looked at the work of Professor Jim Richards at the University of Delaware. As a biomechanist, Richards recognized the value his field could offer figure skating, but also was well aware of its limitations.
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The Future of Hammer Throw Research (Part 2)

Dr. Bartonietz in Chula Vista last year.

Dr. Bartonietz in Chula Vista last year.

Last week I started to look at ways science could continue to help improve performances in the hammer throw. To start with, I ask renowned biomechanist Dr. Jesus Dapena what direction he thought hammer throw research should move. Dapena, who is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University wrote seven influential biomechanics papers on the hammer throw in the 1980s. His idea was also simple: we need to look closer at the role of balance in the throw.

To continue the discussion, I posed the same question to Dr. Klaus Bartonietz, a biomechanist who worked for more than 15 years at the German Olympic Training Center in Rheinland-Pfalz/Saarland. In addition to being a scientist, he was also a successful throwing coach who guided Boris Henry to over 90 meters in the javelin. His 2000 work “Hammer Throw: Problems and Prospects” for the International Olympic Committee is the best summary available of the current findings in research on hammer throw technique. Currently he is editor of the leading German track and field technical journal and works as a speaker and consultant on a variety of training topics. His comments are below and cover four areas of research. As I mentioned in the past post, if you are a student or scientist who would like to do research in this area, or are already doing research on another topic, please get in touch with me since I would love to follow your progress.
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The Future of Hammer Throw Research (Part 1)

Dr. Jesus Dapena is one of the worlds best athletics biomechanists.

Dr. Jesus Dapena is one of the worlds best athletics biomechanists.

Simultaneous with the growth in results, the 1980s produced a plethora of scientific research into the hammer throw. The Soviets had their teams of scientists, and, sports being central to the cold war, the Americans worked hard to decipher what the Soviets had discovered. East and West Germany were equally well invested in pushing the event forward. But since then new research has slowed. The best work in the past two decades has come from Marwa Sakr and Koji Murofushi, who have both used new technologies to measure many of the forces taking place in the throw, rather than simply looking at body positions. But most other papers seem to simply reanalyze old work or look at topics like effect of wind on a throw that are very interesting but offer few practical applications for athletes.

Research into training methods has been ever more sparse lately. While new translations of Dr. Anatoliy Bondarchuk’s work on the transfer of training and periodization have helped individuals like myself learn more about these topics, no one is continuing his research into event-specific training methods.

We obviously still have a lot that science can teach us about the event, but it is hard to determine what direction future research should head in. Recently I posed this question to some sports scientists. First up is Dr. Jesus Dapena. Dapena recently retired from Indiana University where he was a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and ran their Biomechanics Laboratory. While he has not published any recent work on the hammer throw, he produced seven influential biomechanics papers in the 1980s that were essential in helping the English-speaking world start to understand the Soviet advances in hammer technique. His comments are below. In Part 2 I chat with Dr. Klaus Bartonietz, a biomechanist who worked for more than 15 years at the German Olympic Training Center in Rheinland-Pfalz/Saarland and was the personal coach for 90-meter javelin thrower Boris Henry.

If you are a student or scientist that would like to do research in this area, or are already doing research on another topic, please get in touch with me since I would love to follow your progress.
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Coaching Art and Science

Good effective coaching demands a careful blend of art AND science. It is not an either or proposition. Modern coaching necessitates that the coach have a sound foundation in sports science which means the coach is educated in sports science, but is not a sport scientist. You can learn the science in school or by reading, you can’t learn to coach in a classroom, online or in a book. You must get out and practice coaching. Read more