Thursday, 12 May 2016

New paper: Physical Predictors of Skeleton Performance

This week I had another paper published. This paper was part of the PhD studentship of Dr. Steffi Colyer in partnership with Bath University, GB Skeleton, UK Sport and my previous role at the BOA.

In this work we looked at the testing battery for strength and power assessment of bob skeleton athletes and identified predictors of skeleton performance. The analysis approach revealed that 3 tests scores can obtain a valid and stable prediction of bob skeleton start performance. More work from Dr Colyer's excellent PhD will be published soon, so follow her work as I am sure more applied approaches in other sports will be followed in the next years. I enjoyed working with a great group of colleagues, athletes and coaches for this project and the publication reminded me of how fortunate I was in my time in the UK.

This project is a good example of how some applied sports science projects can advance understanding of specific performance issues as well as provide meaningful advice for the coaches and practitioners involved in this particular sport.

The abstracts is below:

 2016 May 1. [Epub ahead of print]

Physical Predictors of Elite Skeleton Start Performance.



An extensive battery of physical tests is typically employed to evaluate athletic status and/or development often resulting in a multitude of output variables. We aimed to identify independent physical predictors of elite skeleton start performance overcoming the general problem of practitioners employing multiple tests with little knowledge of their predictive utility.


Multiple two-day testing sessions were undertaken by 13 high-level skeleton athletes across a 24-week training season and consisted of flexibility, dry-land push-track, sprint, countermovement jump and leg press tests. To reduce the large number of output variables to independent factors, principal component analysis was conducted. The variable most strongly correlated to each component was entered into a stepwise multiple regression analysis and K-fold validation assessed model stability.


Principal component analysis revealed three components underlying the physical variables, which represented sprint ability, lower limb power and strength-power characteristics. Three variables, which represented these components (unresisted 15-m sprint time, 0-kg jump height and leg press force at peak power, respectively), significantly contributed (P < 0.01) to the prediction (R2 = 0.86, 1.52% standard error of estimate) of start performance (15-m sled velocity). Finally, the K-fold validation revealed the model to be stable (predicted vs. actual R2 = 0.77; 1.97% standard error of estimate).


Only three physical test scores were needed to obtain a valid and stable prediction of skeleton start ability. This method of isolating independent physical variables underlying performance could improve the validity and efficiency of athlete monitoring potentially benefitting sports scientists, coaches and athletes alike.
[PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Friday, 29 April 2016

#TrainingLoad16 Videos Now Online

All the videos of the #TrainingLoad16 conference organised in Doha by Aspire Academy's department of Sports Science are now online and free to access for everyone here.

The conference was a great success and showed how much work has been done in this field as well as how much we need to do in order to provide more and better tools to improve our decision making when planning training activities in different sports.

Below is the video of my talk.

Dr. Marco Cardinale (QAT) - Monitoring Athlete Training Loads - The Hows and Whys from Aspire Academy on Vimeo.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Training Load Conference In Aspire

Last week we held a fantastic conference at Aspire: "Monitoring Athlete Training Loads, the Hows and Whys". We had attendees from all over the World and a pretty amazing line up of speakers, so I considered it a privilege to be able to give an overview of my experiences to the audience in the company of pretty amazing sports scientists.

The opening keynote was provided by Professor Carl Foster who gave an excellent overview of this area starting from his initial papers describing the session RPE method ending to recent papers using mathematical models as well as some aspects about how he sees the future of this field.

3 days full of activities followed with invited speakers, young investigators and free papers. The invited speakers were:

  • Prof. Carl Foster (USA) 
  • Dr. Dave Martin (AUS) 
  • Dr. Stephen Seiler (NOR) 
  • Dr. Bill Sands (USA) 
  • Dr. Darren Burgess (AUS)
  • Prof. Martin Buchheit (FRA)
  • Dr. Marco Cardinale (QAT) 
  • Prof. Aaron Coutts (AUS)
  • Dr. Tim Gabbett (AUS)
  • Assoc. Prof. Inigo Mujika (ESP)
  • Prof. Warren Gregson (QAT) 
  • Dr. Alberto Mendes-Villanueva (QAT)
  • Dr. Michael Kellmann (GER)
  • Mr. Andrew Murray (QAT)
  • Mr. Rod Whiteley (QAT)
  • Dr. Jos J. de Koning (NED)
  • Dr. Matthew Varley (QAT

  • Training monitoring was discussed within various sporting contexts: individual sports, team sports, combat and acrobatic sports as well as technologies and psychometric tools, mathematical models and injury prevention.

    We will provide online access to all the talks of the conference soon on the Aspire Academy website ( and we have agreed to publish a special issue of the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance with all the papers from the conference and mini/extended reviews of this area to make sure that we can capture and disseminate all the knowledge exchanged and acquired over the 3 days.

    In summary there was a lot of talk about the simple use of session RPE and how it could be used not only to track training load in many sports but also how it can be used to assess the likelihood of injuries in some sporting groups. Many (myself included) raised some issues with using just this measure as it is strongly biased by training duration and does not provide enough information to be able to change the content of the training. All speakers tended to agree that training monitoring needs an holistic approach with various measures used also according to the sport analysed, and the concept of dose-response it is something we need to revisit as many individual training sessions are prescribed without understanding the responses such sessions trigger. New technologies were discussed in terms of their validity and reliability and it was clear that too many manufacturers are too keen to sell and not keen to make sure their products are valid and reliable as well as having mostly black box approaches in which it is impossible or very difficult to extract raw data for advanced analytical capabilities. Finally, there was a call for standardisation of data collections as even in simple tools like RPE various scales are used also in various languages and not validated which permeate the literature and man felt this makes it difficult to compare studies conducted in various countries. The translation aspect of other psychometric tools was highlighted by Prof. Kellman which clearly stated that literal translation may not be appropriate in some countries as specific terms (and therefore anchors used in psychometric tools) might have a completely different meaning in the sociocultural context in which they are translated from English. Definitively more work is needed to a true international standardisation of many psychometric tools and visual analog scales.

    My prezi is available here (no voice):

    The conference attracted a lot of interest in social media and was trending on Twitter every single day. I have collected the most significant tweets and reactions in a storify file to facilitate access and it is accessible below.

    Friday, 11 December 2015

    Reflections about coaching, strength and conditioning and the emergence of cargo cult science in sport

    I have been thinking long and hard about writing this blog. Mostly because time to put in words what I have been thinking about in the last few months has been lacking but also because I wanted to reflect about what I have been seeing in the last 12 months around the World and take stock.

    For the readers, I am not having a go at any particular individual and/or association/group of people, I am just writing about my worries and they way I see things going.

    Before getting into some details, it is important to understand where this reflection is coming from. It is coming from my personal career history, where I started and how my journey is going, and how things have changed during my journey.

    When I started this career in 1993, right after graduating with my first degree in Sports Science, I was mostly a coach with an interest in the scientific applications of strength and conditioning. I was fortunate enough to have met Professor Bruno Cacchi who was the Head Coach of Italian Athletics which setup the first laboratory to study strength training in Italy in the then ISEF of Rome. What I learnt in the 4-5 years I was in that lab was to develop an inquisitive approach to training. Prof Cacchi was the most famous Italian track and field coach at the time and I remember him telling me that he organised the lab so he could learn more about what he was doing as he had many questions about the activities he did with his athletes on track. So he wanted to measure as much as he could and simulate sessions he was doing to separate the wheat form the chaff. Equipment was very limited at the time, computers were running MsDos and Windows 3.1. Very few laptops were available and the state of the art for our testing activities was the biorobot (the early version of Muscle Lab) and photocells mounted everywhere (with very basic software). My coaching was mostly on the track and on handball courts and I was starting to provide strength and conditioning support to various sports. What Prof Cacchi always told me was: "if we want to understand what we do as coaches we have to have a training programme, we have to know what the athlete completes and we have to assess how they progress". This lesson still drives me today but somewhat it seems lost.

    This was taken in 1998 in Sportilia in a training camp with the Italian Handball NT

    Despite the enormous advancements of sports science and the subsequent professionalisation of sports science specialists, things do not seem to get much better. I still see enormous improvisation in the coaching community, with far too many people not having a programme and a structured approach to assessing what works and what does not work. There is still a lot of improvisation in too many places. Coaches turn up and do something, completely unstructured, with not much clarity and knowledge over the implications of their sessions and unclear ideas about progressions. In many cases, I see coaches picking "sessions" in random order and with limited control over loading. This is why I believe we see many injuries still. Injuries are too many times the result of inappropriate loading patterns which is a consequence of poor planning and/or inappropriate training choices.

    Scientific support in these cases is challenging, as most of the times it is only necessary to point out inadequacy of the training paradigms used. And there is no way sports scientists can help improving the quality of a training programme if there is no programme.

    The other worry is the proliferation of cargo-cult science in coaching communities. The Internet is now full of courses, podcasts, articles, online access to content. Information is now available anytime anywhere. But sadly there is also a proliferation of coaching courses offered by various entities in different part of the World of dubious quality. International and national federations do offer coaching courses which should have some form of quality control/assurance, but clearly the big bucks are in courses and activities offered by private institutions and/or individuals. While I am a strong believer that knowledge comes form anywhere and confining it to rigid structures can be counterproductive, I also believe that somehow somebody somewhere should guarantee quality of the message. 

    Well, in many instances I see a lot of pseudoscience and absolute rubbish being "sold" to coaches. Some of the terminology I hear makes no sense, and the mutterings of aerobic, anaerobic, power, force, CNS etc etc in random order really drives me insane. Not to mention the non existing definitions and /or observations and definitions that have no evidence and are totally non-sensical. If you have ever heard about "CNS session" you know what I mean. This is not a war on semantics, it is about making sure that the distribution of bullshit stops. Too many coaches are now convinced about things that do not exist and in an era of high speed cameras are still convinced they can see stuff that it is not there (I will call it the "Nessie Phenomenon" to pay tribute to the monster nobody can see in the North of Scotland). 

    Training Philosophies are now turning into religious-like beliefs (are you a "believer" and a follower of coach X method? ) and this is probably the consequence of too many coaches teaching other coaches such beliefs not supported by evidence or sold on the basis of some athlete winning some medal somewhere. What I have rarely experienced is a coach which lectures about what they do (for real!) without too much philosophy but with evidence of what is the programme, what they assess and when, what are the typical changes in whatever indicators they have during the seasons and what evidence they use to predict performances for their athletes as the season progresses. Instead of this, I sit in too many lectures in which I hear about philosophies, I listen to non-existing pseudo-science, and I see few pictures or videos of successful athletes. But no idea of the content (what did the coach do? How was the load progressed? How progress was assessed, how did the coach "teach" the athlete", what did the athlete learn etc etc.).

    The worrying aspect is when coaches are also encouraged to branch out to other professions providing therapy, nutritional advice, medical advice, interpretation of clinical examinations etc etc. This is unacceptable and dangerous. This is the reason why sometimes athletes may fail a doping test and/or might delay rehabilitation following an injury and/or develop an injury. Coaches should be great at coaching and teaching as well as creating positive environments for athletes to improve. Everything else should be left to specialists, people that know what they are doing. Having a coaching philosophy is for sure a good idea (anybody needs a vision/beliefs/ways of approaching a problem), but at the end of the day sport performance is brutally simple, it is in fact about getting better and trying to be better than others. 

    Philosophies seem to permeate the development of the strength and conditioning community as well. When I started, it was pretty clear to me that my job was to try to make people stronger, faster, more flexible, I was driven by writing content and assessing outcomes and trying to understand what worked and what didn't. In my view after having seen quite a few lectures/presentations from strength and conditioning specialists, I hear a lot about philosophies but I rarely see content and I mostly see poor or non-existing outcomes. I fear the scientific approach is gone (and for science I do not mean the one you do to write a paper, I mean systematic approaches to documenting what you do and measuring some outcomes). While I see all this, the era of Big Data is upon us. Everyone talks about it, but many are struggling to see where the big data are. To me the biggest data still missing are the ones related to training content, what is planned vs what is executed and how things progress. I am also interested in knowing about technical development, how we should teach things to athletes and we should assess if they develop technically. In the Athletics World you hear a lot about techniques and how coaches "see" technical errors in sessions and in competition. What I am stil struggling to find is evidence about how true are such errors and most of all how and if such errors can be corrected. This to me is the art of coaching, but we can now build the evidence for it and we should strive to understand this aspect more.

    Sports science is evolving, we have more devices, more information, more ideas. However we are still lacking easy, simple, non-invasive ways to understand more about the implications of single training sessions as well as the effectiveness of different training schemes. We have to still rely on invasive approaches in physiology and some of the approaches in other aspects of science are not practical in the real world (have you ever tried to play table tennis with an EEG cap and wires?). So this is where the biggest gains will come, in the ability to understand more what happens in the real world moving the labs on the field as much as possible.

    So this is my pledge, I will try to understand more, learn more and try to develop better ways to work in sport. My advice to you working as a coach, as a strength and conditioning specialist or as an "ologist" with athletes at any level is to avoid the "Nessie Phenomenon" and try to critically analyse any information coming your way. Do not accept what you hear or what others tell you. Go and find the information, try things yourself, try to assess what works and what not, document your experiences, reflect. Only in this way you will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    We are exposed to B--sh-t every day, and there is science about it too, just read this paper and hopefully you can find a way to use appropriate filters.

    Monday, 2 November 2015

    From Protecting the Heart to Improving Athletic Performance - the Benefits of Local and Remote Ischaemic Preconditioning

    This review was also finally published. This is the second output of the last collaboration we setup with the Olympic Medical Institute before its closure. With colleagues from the Hatter Institute in UCL we started questioning the protocols employed in the clinical setting and in the sport setting for remote ischaemic preconditioning. Our first paper was a pilot study to look at the dose-response of common methods, this one is a comprehensive review on this topic with the hope that more and better studies are designed to define safe and effective protocols.
    The abstract is below, you can access the article online here.

     2015 Oct 19. [Epub ahead of print]

    From Protecting the Heart to Improving Athletic Performance - the Benefits of Local and Remote Ischaemic Preconditioning.


    Remote Ischemic Preconditioning (RIPC) is a non-invasive cardioprotective intervention that involves brief cycles of limb ischemia and reperfusion. This is typically delivered by inflating and deflating a blood pressure cuff on one or more limb(s) for several cycles, each inflation-deflation being 3-5 min in duration. RIPC has shown potential for protecting the heart and other organs from injury due to lethal ischemia and reperfusion injury, in a variety of clinical settings. The mechanisms underlying RIPC are under intense investigation but are just beginning to be deciphered. Emerging evidence suggests that RIPC has the potential to improve exercise performance, via both local and remote mechanisms. This review discusses the clinical studies that have investigated the role of RIPC in cardioprotection as well as those studying its applicability in improving athletic performance, while examining the potential mechanisms involved.


    Acute kidney injury; CABG; Cardioprotection; Exercise performance; Ischemia-reperfusion injury; PCI; Perconditioning; Postconditioning; Remote ischemic preconditioning; Sports
    [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

    Popular Posts


    Google+ Badge