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What the experts say

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

Athletes respond to coach behaviour

In a study[1] exploring the relationship between coaches' behaviour and statements, and athletes' self-talk 243 athletes (106 females and 137 males) representing a variety of sports participated. Subjects completed the Athletes' Positive and Negative Self-Talk Scale, which assesses the frequency of positive and negative self-talk; the Coaches' Positive and Negative Statements Scale, which assesses the frequency of coaches' positive and negative statements; and the Coaching Behaviour Questionnaire, which assesses two dimensions of coaches' behaviour, supportiveness, and negative activation. Structural equation modelling of the results showed that coaches' positive statements were found to mediate the relationship between coaches' supportiveness and athletes' positive self-talk. Similarly, negative statements made by the coach were found to mediate the relationship between coaches' negative activation and athletes' negative self-talk. The bottom line here is that the behaviour and statements of a coach have a direct impact on an athlete's confidence.

In the swim with leg-kicking training

A study[2] investigated adaptations in leg muscle metabolism of swimmers following a six-week, leg-kicking swimming training program. Fifteen male competitive swimmers were randomly assigned to an experimental group (E) or a control group (C). E performed normal leg-kicking training three times per week, whereas C performed reduced leg-kicking training (20% and 4% of weekly training distance, respectively). Before and after the training program, all swimmers performed a 200 m leg-kicking and a 400 m full-stroke freestyle time trial, and a dry-land exercise test to assess peak oxygen uptake and oxygen uptake 60W and exercise intensity at the ventilatory threshold. After training, there were improvements in leg-kicking time at 200 m (-6.0s ± 2.0), oxygen uptake (-20.4 L·min-1± 3.0%) and exercise intensity at the ventilatory threshold (+28.0W ± 5.0) in E swimmers. In contrast, time in 400 m and peak oxygen uptake remained unchanged. There were no changes in any of the measures for C swimmers. These results suggest that normal leg-kicking swimming training positively affects the conditioning of the legs but does not improve aerobic power during the dry-land, leg-kicking exercise test or middle-distance, full-stroke, swimming performance. So, now the obvious question - why do it?

More bicarbonate work needed

A paper[3] examines some of the research and practical issues of bicarbonate loading used to enhance both training and competitive performance. Bicarbonate loading is a popular ergogenic aid used primarily by athletes in short-duration, high-intensity sporting events, and competitions. Controlled experimental trials have shown that small (worthwhile) benefits can be obtained from acute doses of bicarbonate taken before exercise. However, gastrointestinal problems encountered by some athletes limit the widespread use of this practice. The transfer of positive research findings to the competitive environment has proved problematic for some individuals. More recent applications involve serial ingestion of bicarbonate over several days before competition or during high-intensity training sessions over a few weeks. The paper concludes that several research questions need to be addressed to enhance applications of bicarbonate loading in the elite sports environment.

Vests improve the performance of jumpers

The acute effects of 3 different warm-up protocols with and without a weighted vest were investigated[4] on vertical jump (VJ) and standing long jump (LJ) performance in athletic women. Sixteen subjects participated in three testing sessions in random order on 3 non-consecutive days. Before the testing the subjects performed 1 of the following 10-minute warm-up protocols: (a) low- to moderate-intensity stationary cycling followed by 4 lower-body static stretches (SS) (3 × 20 seconds); (b) 12 moderate- to high-intensity dynamic exercises (DY); and (c) the same 12 dynamic exercises with a weighted vest (10% of body mass) worn for the last 4 exercises (DYV). Analysis of the data revealed that VJ performance was significantly greater following DYV (43.9 ± 6.7 cm) and DY (43.6 ± 6.5 cm) as compared to SS (41.7 ± 6.0 cm). Long jump performance was in the order DYV (186.8 ± 19.5 cm), DY (182.2 ± 19.1 cm), and SS (177.2 ± 18.8 cm). The authors concluded that warm-up protocols that include dynamic exercise might be a viable method of enhancing jumping performance in athletic women compared to stationary cycling and static stretching. These data also suggest that it may be desirable for athletic women to perform dynamic exercises with a weighted vest on some movements before the performance of the long jump.

Perceptive questioning needed to determine exertion levels

The effectiveness of the session rating of perceived exertion (RPE) to measure effort during different types of resistance training was evaluated in a study[5]. Fifteen male subjects performed three other strength training protocols, consisting of the same five exercises but with different intensities, rest periods, and numbers of repetitions. The session RPE method (i.e. perceived exertion recorded during the session) appeared to be useful in monitoring different types of resistance training. In contrast, after 30 min, session RPE was a better indicator of the overall resistance sessions than average RPE. So, when you ask the question will determine the relevance of the response!

Resistance training order affects performance

A study[6] investigated the influence of different resistance exercise orders on the number of repetitions performed to failure and on the ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) in 23 women with a minimum of 2 years of resistance training experience. Data were collected in 2 phases: (a) 1RM determination of leg-press (LP), bench press (BP), leg extension (LE), seated machine shoulder press (SP), leg curl (LC), and seated machine triceps extension (TE); and (b) execution of 3 sets, with 2-minute rest intervals between sets and exercises, until fatigue using 80% of 1RM in 2 exercise sequences of the exact opposite order-Sequence A: BP, SP, TE, LP, LE, and LC, and Sequence B: LC, LE, LP, TE, SP, and BP. The RPE was accessed immediately after each sequence. Statistical analysis showed that RPE was not significantly different between the sequences. The mean number of repetitions per set was always less when an exercise was performed later in the exercise sequence. The data indicate that in trained women, both large and small muscle group exercises are affected by exercise sequence.

Speed-strength - a universal commodity!

Research[7] compared 1RM strength, maximum power (MP), linear momentum (Mp), and loads of 1RM responsible for maximum power (MP%) and linear momentum (Mp%) generated in an explosive concentric bench press (CBP) motion among athletes from different sports. A total of 56 athletes (13 sprinters, 16 basketball players, 16 handball players, five volleyball players, and six bodybuilders) performed CBP in loads of 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80% of 1RM with 1-minute rest intervals. MP and Mp were assessed during CBP by customized apparatus. There were no significant differences in MP, Mp, MP%, and Mp% among the athletes. The only significant positive correlation was found between overall 1RM and Mp for athletes. In conclusion, long-term sport-specific training adaptations do not play a major role in speed-strength parameters in athletes with similar strength from different sports backgrounds. In other words, a special form of strength is speed-strength and contributes to the performance of many sports.

Balance eccentric and concentric workloads to progress

Although research has demonstrated that isokinetic eccentric (ECC) strength is 20-60% greater than isokinetic concentric (CON) strength, little data exist comparing these strength differences in standard dynamic resistance exercises. A study[8] determined the difference in maximal dynamic ECC and CON strength for six different resistance exercises in young men and women. Twenty subjects who were regular exercisers with resistance training experience performed two sessions to determine CON and ECC 1 repetitions maximum for latissimus pull-down (LTP), leg press (LP), bench press (BP), leg extension (LE), seated military press (MP), and leg curl (LC) exercises. Maximal ECC and maximal CON strength were determined on weight stack machines modified to isolate ECC and CON contractions using steel bars and pulleys such that only 1 type of contraction was performed. Within two weeks, participants returned and completed a retest trial in a counterbalanced fashion. Test-retest reliability was excellent for all resistance exercise trials. Men demonstrated 20-60% greater ECC than CON strength (LTP = 32%, LP = 44%, BP = 40%, LE = 35%, MP = 49%, LC = 27%). Women's strength exceeded the proposed parameters for greater ECC strength in 4 exercises, (LP = 66%, BP = 146%, MP = 161%, LC = 82%). The authors conclude that ECC/CON assessment could help coaches capitalize on muscle strength differences in young men and women during training to aid in program design and injury prevention and to enhance strength development

Women defy scientific logic

Eight men and six women of the Australian Institute of Sport Road Cycling squads participated in a study[9] to quantify the fluid and food consumed during a professional road-cycling tour. The men competed in the 6-d Tour Down Under (Adelaide, Australia), and the women, in the 10-d Tour De L'Aude (Aude, France). Body mass was recorded before and immediately after the race. Cyclists recalled the number of water bottles and the amount of food they had consumed. Men and women recorded body-mass losses of ~2 kg (2.8% body mass) and 1.5 kg (2.6% body mass), respectively, per stage during the long road races. Men had an average fluid intake of 1.0 L/h, whereas women only consumed on average 0.4 L/h. Also, men consumed CHO at the rate suggested by dietitians (average CHO intake of 48 g/h), but again the women failed to reach recommendations, with an average intake of ~21 g/h during a road stage. Men appeared to drink and eat during racing following current nutritional recommendations, but women failed to reach these guidelines. Both men and women finished their races with a body-mass loss of ~2.6% to 2.8%. The question is - how do women do it?

Caffeinated sports drinks are good for hydration

Caffeine is regarded as a diuretic despite evidence that hydration is not impaired with habitual ingestion. A study[10] aimed to determine whether a caffeinated sports drink impairs fluid delivery and hydration during exercise in warm, humid conditions (28.5 °C, 60% relative humidity). Sixteen cyclists completed three trials: placebo (P), carbohydrate-electrolyte (CE), and caffeinated (195 mg/L) sports drink (CAF+CE). Subjects cycled for 120 min at 60-75% VO2 max followed by 15 min of maximal-effort cycling. Heart rate and rectal temperature were similar until the final 15 minutes when these responses and exercise intensity were higher with CAF+CE than with CE and P. Sweat rate, urine output, plasma- volume losses, serum electrolytes, and blood deuterium-oxide accumulation was not different. Serum osmolality was higher with CAF+CE vs P but not CE. The authors concluded that CAF+CE appears as rapidly in blood as CE and maintains hydration and sustains cardiovascular and thermoregulatory function and CE during exercise in a warm, humid environment. You pay your money, and you take your choice!

Carbo-loading with a woman's menstrual cycle

This study[11] compared 3d of carbohydrate loading (CHOL; 8.4 g·kg-1·d-1 carbohydrate) in female eumenorrheic athletes with 3d of an isoenergetic normal diet (NORM; 5.2 g·kg-1·d-1 carbohydrate) and examined the effect of menstrual cycle phase on performance, muscle-glycogen concentration [glyc], and substrate utilization. Nine moderately trained eumenorrheic women cycled in an intermittent protocol varying in intensity from 45% to 75% VO2 max for 75 min, followed by a 16-km time trial at the midfollicular (MF) and midluteal (ML) phases of the menstrual cycle on NORM and CHOL. The time-trial performance was not affected by diet (CHOL 26.10 ± 1.04 min, NORM 26.16 ± 1.35 min) or menstrual cycle phase (MF 26.05 ± 1.10 min, ML 26.23 ± 1.33 min). Resting [glyc] was lowest in the MF phase after NORM (575 ± 145 mmol·kg-1·dw-1), compared with the MF phase after CHOL (728 mmol·kg-1·dw-1) and the ML phase after CHOL and NORM (756 and 771 mmol·kg-1·dw-1, respectively). No effect of phase on substrate utilization during exercise was observed. These data support previous observations of greater resting [glyc] in the ML than in the MF phase of the menstrual cycle and suggest that lower glycogen storage in the MF phase can be overcome by carbohydrate loading.

Marathon preparation - ignoring the evidence?!

A revealing study[12] aimed to describe and compare the training characteristics of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifiers. 104 men and 151 women received questionnaires. 93 (37 men, 56 women) responded and were categorized as elite (men <2 hours 15 min, women <2 hours 40 min) or national class. Analysis of the data showed that men and women ran 75% and 68% of their weekly training distance, respectively, below marathon race pace. Men trained longer than women (12.2 ± 5.3 vs 8.8 ± 5.6 years), run more often (8.7 ± 2.8 vs 7.1 ± 2.5 times/wk), and ran farther (145.3 ± 25.6 vs 116.0 ± 26.5 km/wk). Elite women ran more than national-class women (135.8 ± 31.5 vs 111.3 ± 23.3 km/wk). Distances run at specific intensities were similar between the sexes. For men and women, respectively, 49% and 31% did not have a coach, and 65% and 68% trained alone. Marathon performance correlated to 5-km, 10-km, and half-marathon performance and years of training, average and peak weekly distance, number of weekly runs, and number of runs over 32 km for women. Among U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifiers, there is no consensus on preparing for the marathon beyond running at a pace slower than race pace. Weekly training distance seems to influence women's marathon performance more than it does men. Because many of these athletes train alone and without a coach, further research is warranted on why these athletes train the way they do.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HETHERINGTON, N. (2007) What the experts say. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 42/ May), p. 12-14


  1. Zourbanos N et al. 'A Preliminary Investigation of the Relationship Between Athletes' Self-Talk and Coaches' Behaviour and Statements, International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 2 (1), March 2007, 57-66
  2. Konstantaki M & Winter EM 'The Effectiveness of a Leg-Kicking Training Program on Performance and Physiological Measures of Competitive Swimmers' International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 2(1), March 2007, 37-48
  3. Burke LM & Pyne DB 'Bicarbonate Loading to Enhance Training and Competitive Performance' IJSPP, 2(1), March 2007
  4. Thompsen AG et al. 'Acute effects of different warm-up protocols with and without a weighted vest on jumping performance in athletic women' J. Strength Cond. Res. 21(1):52-56. 2007
  5. Singh F et al. 'Monitoring Different Types of Resistance Training Using Session Rating of Perceived Exertion' IJSPP, 2(1), March 2007
  6. Simão R et al. 'Influence of exercise order on the number of repetitions performed and perceived exertion during resistance exercise in women' J. Strength Cond. Res. 21(1):23- 28. 2007
  7. Alper Asic A & Açikada C 'Power Production Among Different Sports With Similar Maximum Strength' The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 10-16.
  8. Hollander D.B et al. 'Maximal eccentric and concentric strength discrepancies between young men and women for dynamic resistance exercise' J. Strength Cond. Res. 21(1):34-40. 2007
  9. Ebert TE et al. 'Fluid and Food Intake During Professional Men's and Women's Road-Cycling Tours' IJSPP, 2(1), March 2007
  10. Millard-Stafford M et al. 'Hydration During Exercise in Warm, Humid Conditions: Effect of a Caffeinated Sports Drink' IJSNEM, 17(2), April 2007
  11. McLay RT et al. 'Carbohydrate Loading and Female Endurance Athletes: Effect of Menstrual-Cycle Phase' IJSNEM, 17(2), April 2007
  12. Karp J 'Training Characteristics of Qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials' IJSPP, 2(1), March 2007

Page Reference

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  • HETHERINGTON, N. (2007) What the experts say [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

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 10 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.