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What the experts say

Nigel Hetherington reviews the latest research material relating to coaching, exercise physiology, and athletic development.

Laying down the gauntlet for women

'Are their limits to running World Records' is the provocative title of a paper[1] that reflects on recent claims that in the future women will run faster than men. The claim was based on what the authors see as an oversimplification of trends. In this review of data using more relevant data analysis, both long and middle-distance events were re-analysed from data collected throughout the 20th century. The conclusion was that many of the established men's and women's endurance running world records are nearing their limits. As a result, women's times are unlikely ever to reach those achieved by men. Sounds like a challenge ladies?

Technique matters

A recent study[2] looked at coordination patterns of flat breaststroke swimmers at different levels up to elite. Using video analysis, the researchers identified that at increasing swim speeds for race distances between 200m and 50m the trend was for shorter glide phases, more rapid stroke rates, and shorter stroke lengths. However, in the elite swimmers, the glide time was significantly less at all speeds than in non-elite. This paper argues the point that developing the optimum technique for the event works and that the optimum technique for the flat breaststroke has been thus defined.

Interval training works with young children….

Reaction to different forms of training on aerobic power was investigated[3] in 10-year-old boys using a comparison between high-intensity interval training and moderate-intensity continuous training. After an 8-week program involving either steady-state cycling at 80 to 85% of maximum heart rate or 30-second sprints on a cycle ergometer, the outcome was that the boys from the interval training sessions showed significantly greater improvements in several key physiological factors including the ventilatory threshold.

…but I did not say that I advise it!

Strength and conditioning put through the hoops

A simple and yet interesting review[4] of the practice of basketball coaches, operating at a national level in the US, in strength and conditioning training revealed that 19 out of 20 use Olympic lifts, all used plyometrics, 17 out of 20 follow a periodised training plan with their athletes. The survey might suggest that the coaches all follow a prescribed approach; that they are all acting in best faith using good practice or that through experience, they have all arrived at the same conclusion as to what works best. It does not guarantee that the approach is best for all athletes. The review does, however, also serve as a source of applied information and new ideas - great for the open-minded coach as well as the one who just wants to do what is proven.

Carbs also make you 'feel' better in the long run

A study[5] revealed that not only does ingesting carbohydrates during prolonged cycle exercise attenuate the perception of exertion but that it also enhances feelings of pleasure during and following such physical exertions! The point is that it is 'how' an athlete feels that may be important in addition to what they feel.

Safe plyometric training for all in a swimming pool

A paper I am still trying to get my head around[6] reports that performing water-based plyometric training yielded improvements in vertical jump performance in female volleyball players not yielded from a parallel training program that used a stretching protocol. Both groups also took part in a traditional pre-season training program during the 6-week duration of the trial. After four weeks there was no difference but after six weeks the water trainers showed an 8% improvement in vertical jump performance. Given the potential for reduction in muscle soreness and load-bearing injury often associated with land-based plyometric training, the use of aquatic training is a well-worth investigation.

Running economy and the novice athlete

The impact of an 8-week training program on the running economy in terms of the energy cost of running fast or slow has been investigated[7] based on recreational runners. Data from the two-stage fitness test was collected at the start and after four and 8-weeks respectively. Maximum running time at v-fast was used as the performance measure. Energy cost was calculated from oxygen uptake above rest, blood lactate, and speed. The results showed that while the maximum running time increased the energy cost was reduced while running at the speed most commonly used in training. However, at v-fast, the energy cost can increase if the running time increases. This suggests that with novice athletes, more energy is initially consumed at higher speeds with which they are unfamiliar relative to lower speeds. This is due to both the incomplete development of the energy pathway and correct running action. A related paper[8] looked specifically at running 8000m at slow (70% aerobic threshold), and fast (90% aerobic threshold) speeds and concluded that though energy requirements differed at the two different speeds, they were comparable on a relative basis. The faster run leads to the metabolism of greater amounts of carbohydrates, whereas both runs consumed similar amounts of fats.

Cool running is not inhibited by dehydration

The impact of hydration status at reduced temperature and ambient temperature on endurance exercise has been studied[9]. Subjects were exposed to 3hr passive heat stress at 45 deg Celsius. Half of the group was allowed to remain hydrated with the consumption of fluids equivalent to 3% body mass while the other half were not allowed any fluid replenishment. Later subjects were exposed to either 2 deg Celsius or 20 deg Celsius for 1-hour. Subsequent 30-minute time trials revealed that the endurance performance of those exposed to reduced temperature and hypo-hydration lost less performance than those exposed to higher temperature and hypo-hydration. The data demonstrate that hypo-hydration impairs endurance exercise performance in the temperate, but not cold air but that cold stress alone does not.

Speed factors with youngsters

A paper[10] looked at anthropometric measurements and physical test results to provide possible reasons behind the domination of sprinting by Afro-American and Caribbean athletes. In a study involving a comparison of Caucasian and Afro-Caribbean pre-pubertal boys of an average age of 11.49 years, the researchers revealed that there were no significant differences in sprint performance over 30m. Interestingly a vertical jump measurement was the main predictor of performance for the Caucasian boys while the stride number to height ratio was the main factor in predicting performance with the Afro-Caribbean boys. The latter group had better jump test results and ratios. It was hypothesized that despite the fact the Afro-Caribbean boys seemed to be endowed to run faster, they did not. It was proposed that this group was, unable to use their greater leg strength at this age to develop an optimal stride.

Have you got the stomach for endurance?

A series of papers have appeared looking at gastrointestinal problems and factors to distance running. It has been reported that between 30 and 50% of participants experience one or more symptoms and that these symptoms are more prevalent in running than in other events involving less mechanical strain - e.g. cycling or swimming. The first study[11] looked at symptoms and identified a broad spectrum. Very often, an athlete will undergo physiological adaptation to or caused by these factors - a fact that must be considered by medical practitioners when treating endurance athletes. In the second study[12] health factors come under the microscope to nutrition which can potentially positively and negatively affect the status. The impact of both heat exposure and water loss is also considered. In a further study[13] the authors sought to examine the mechanisms behind gastrointestinal function in response to endurance exercise found from a review of the published literature. Key factors outlined included blood flow, motor function within the GI tract, and hormonal messenger changes. Finally, a significant review[14] paper examines the full range of gastrointestinal problems that may be experienced by distance runners, including disease and other factors. For diet, the pre-event meal may not critically assist performance, but it can harm performance. Care should be taken in making any dietary changes, and last-minute changes should be avoided.

Chronic fatigue syndrome

The response by a chronically fatigued body to abnormal exercise is reported in a study[15]. The paper supports previous beliefs that immune deregulation at the cellular level is the main factor. People living with chronic fatigue syndrome appear to react negatively to abnormal exercise potentially.

Mineral supplementation - some things work, some don't

Finally, this month, as promised last month, I provide details from a major review paper[16] looking at the effect of dietary supplements and sports performance. The paper reports that minerals are essential for a wide variety of metabolic and physiologic processes in the human body. Some of the physiologic roles of minerals important to athletes are their involvement in muscle contraction, normal heart rhythm, nerve impulse conduction, oxygen transport, oxidative phosphorylation, enzyme activation, immune functions, antioxidant activity, bone health, and acid-base balance of the blood.

The two major classes of minerals are macro-minerals and trace elements. The paper focuses on the ergogenic theory and the efficacy of such mineral supplementation. Because many of these processes are accelerated during exercise, an adequate amount of minerals is necessary for optimal functioning. Athletes should obtain an adequate amount of all minerals in their diet, for a mineral deficiency may impair optimal health, and health impairment may adversely affect sports performance.

Iron and calcium are the two micronutrients most likely to be low in the diet, particularly in young athletes. A mineral deficiency may impair performance. Iron deficiency is a clear example of this in terms of the effect on endurance performance. Calcium deficiency may be an issue, particularly in female athletes. IIn contrast to this, supplementation with magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and selenium does not appear to enhance performance in well-nourished athletes.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HETHERINGTON, N. (2005) What the experts say. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 28 / December 2005-January 2006), p. 13-15


  1. Nevill AM et al. 'Are there Limits to Running World Records? 'Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 37(10):1785-1788, October 2005
  2. Leblanc H et al. 'Arm-Leg coordination in Flat Breaststroke: A Comparative Study Between Elite and Non-Elite Swimmers' Int J Sports Med 2005; 26: 787-797
  3. McManus A et al. 'Improving Aerobic Power in Primary School Boys: A Comparison of Continuous and Interval Training 'Int J Sports Med 2005; 26: 781-786
  4. Simenz CJ et al. 'Strength and Conditioning Practices of National Basketball Association Strength and Conditioning Coaches' The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 495-504
  5. Backhouse SH et al. 'Effect of Carbohydrate and Prolonged Exercise on Affect and Perceived Exertion' Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 37(10):1768-1773, October 2005
  6. Martel GF et al. 'Aquatic Plyometric Training Increases Vertical Jump in Female Volleyball Players' Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 37(10):1814-1819, October 2005
  7. Beneke R and Hutler M 'The Effect of Training on Running Economy and Performance in Recreational Athletes' Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 37(10):1794-1799, October 2005
  8. Rosenberger F et al. 'Running 8000 m Fast or Slow: Are There Differences in Energy Cost and Fat Metabolism? Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 37(10):1789-1793, October 2005
  9. Cheuvront SN et al. 'Hypohydration impairs endurance exercise performance in temperate but not cold air' J Appl Physiol 99: 1972-1976, 2005
  10. Babel K et al. 'Influence of Ethnic Origin on Predictive Parameters of Performance in Sprint Running in Prepubertal Boys ' Int J Sports Med 2005; 26: 798-802
  11. Zoller H et al. 'Clinical investigation of athletes and gastrointestinal symptoms: Where is the starting line?' SportMed Journal. Vol.6 No.3 2005. pp. 141-150
  12. Deibert P et al. 'The gastrointestinal system: The relationship between an athlete's health and sport performance' International SportMed Journal. Vol.6 No.3 2005. pp. 130-140
  13. Strid H and Simrén M 'The effects of physical activity on the gastrointestinal tract' International SportMed Journal. Vol.6 No.3 2005. pp. 151-161
  14. Simons MS and Shaskan GG 'Gastrointestinal problems in distance running. International SportMed Journal, Vol.6 No.3, 2005, pp. 162-170
  15. NIJS, J 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Exercise Performance Related to Immune Dysfunction' Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 37(10):1647-1654, October 2005
  16. Williams MH 'Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Minerals' Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2(1):43-49, 2005

Page Reference

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About the Author

Nigel Hetherington was the Head Track & Field Coach at the internationally acclaimed Singapore Sports School. He is a former National Performance Development Manager for Scottish Athletics and National Sprints Coach for Wales. Qualified and highly active as a British Athletics level 4 performance coach in all events he has coached athletes to National and International honours in sprints, and hurdles as well as a World Record holder in the Paralympic shot. He has ten years of experience as a senior coach educator and assessor trainer on behalf of British Athletics. Nigel is also an experienced athlete in the sprint (World Masters Championship level) and endurance (3-hour marathon runner plus completed the 24-hour 'Bob Graham Round' ultra-endurance event up and down 42 mountain peaks in the English Lake District). He is a chartered chemist with 26 years of experience in scientific research and publishing.