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10 2014
  • Comments: 0
  • Author: Phil Anthony
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Want an Evidence Based Approach to Training? Get in the Lab…

In my last post I talked about the physiological attributes required to make a successful marathon runner from a scientific, evidence based, perspective; focusing on the four main attributes that contribute to this success. Following on from this, the problem many amateur athletes face is how to identify the attributes in themselves on which they need to work on in order to improve.

Simply attempting to design a programme aimed at improving all of these attributes simultaneously is unlikely to result in improvements. Research shows that, for maximum benefit, training should be focused on improving one area at a time. Trying to improve too much at once is likely to lead to over training, increased risk of injury, lower improvements rates than expected, low motivation, and thus a greater chance of simply giving up on training altogether. So how do you accurately identify these attributes?

The measurement of the four attributes discussed in the previous post, such as VO2max (your bodys ability to absorb oxygen and utilise that oxygen) requires extremely complex and expensive laboratory equipment that can only be operated by trained professionals. This places most of these tests out of reach for many amateur athletes. There are however, ways that you can have access to this technology without the hugely expensive price tag.

Option 1: Get involved with your local University

As a PhD student at Canterbury Christ Church University researching training interventions for endurance runners, I am always on the hunt for runners to participate in my research. These opportunities benefit both the researcher, in this case me, as I am able to work with experienced runners, but also benefits the runner. As a research study participant you will be provided with access to cutting-edge lab assessments for free, usually only accessible to elite level athletes. Findings from these assessments can then be used to maximise your sporting performance in areas relating to physiology and nutrition.

Each year the Sports Science department at Canterbury Christ Church University run a number of different studies for which they require trained athletes from a range of sporting backgrounds.  These studies can vary in length from a single visit to the laboratory for a one off body composition test, to a full training intervention lasting up to 12 weeks. Upon completion of these studies the researcher will provide each participant with a full report of the tests conducted, containing information that will identify potential limiting parameters for improvement. This information will then provide evidence on which to base the design of a tailor made training plan. In some cases, such as a training intervention study, the researcher will even provide the participant with this information, giving their professional advice for free. Getting involved in a research study, as described above will save you hundreds of pounds in coaching costs. 

Option 2: Seek out a Sports Consultancy Unit

Another, more athlete focussed, way of discovering the areas limiting your sporting performance is to seek the services offered by a Sports Constancy Unit such as SportsLab at Canterbury Christ Church University. For a competitive price, this service offers tests tailored to you as the athlete, rather than built around a current research project as discussed in Option 1. This method, therefore, puts you as the athlete in control and, as a paying customer, you will receive bespoke testing and advice tailored to your needs at a time that is convenient to you.

This option can often be over looked due to the perceived costs of a one off test. However, these tests are far more affordable than you think, especially when consider it in relation to other sports you may have invested in. For example, most athletes will think nothing of paying hundreds of pounds on the latest GPS/Heart Rate monitor but then quickly realise that they are not actually sure what speed or heart rate they should be training at. Some athletes will pay for a monthly subscription to a running magazine in order to use their generic weekly training plans that in many cases can lead to hours of training attempting to improve an area that may not need to be worked on.

A lactate threshold test will cost around £100 and could be the best £100 you have ever spent. You will only be required to visit the laboratory once and you will then receive a full report highlighting strengths and weaknesses and training plan suggestions. You will then be safe in the knowledge that your valuable training time is not being wasted and have clear reasons motivating you to complete that long run at a certain heart rate.

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