Sharpshooting in Sport Science and Elite Sports Training

Por Iñigo Mujika , el 8 octubre 2015
Biathlon sharp shooting in Östersund, Sweden (Foto: Iñigo Mujika)

Biathlon sharp shooting in Östersund, Sweden (Foto: Iñigo Mujika)

A few months ago I read Harriet Tuckey’s wonderful book Everest—The First Ascent, reporting on the generally unrecognized contribution made by her father, Dr Griffith Pugh, to the conquest of Mount Everest back in 1953.1 Despite his outstanding scientific achievements over the years, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pugh’s problem-solving applied human physiology approach was regarded “as somewhat low level and unscientific”1(p300) by the scientific establishment.

Undeterred, Pugh had continued his research into the energetics of walking and running, heat stress, the changes the body goes through while exercising for long periods outdoors and many other topics. Athletes, cyclists and skiers regularly trooped to his laboratory for tests and met him at various sports grounds for outdoor trials and he continued to publish highly original academic papers up to his retirement in 1975.1(p301)

It wasn’t practical to study large numbers in the high Himalayas or Antarctica, and Pugh often deliberately chose to study small groups of exceptional people like Channel swimmers and Olympic athletes who were not available in large numbers. His research assistant John Brotherhood remembered him saying of Edholm’s huge projects: “Those people take a scatter gun approach, John, but we use a rifle. We are sharpshooters.”1(p302)

One highly original academic paper published by Pugh the sharpshooter2 became a key reference in our 1996 study on the validity of a velodrome test used to estimate maximal aerobic parameters of competitive road cyclists.3 I believe that even today such a sharpshooting approach is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary in the sport sciences.

Such an approach is even more appropriate and necessary in the training process of elite athletes. We know very well that individual responses to an exercise training program are highly variable and influenced by a multitude of determinants and interactions between factors affecting training efficacy.4 Individual athletes adapt differently to the same training stimulus, and there is currently no accurate quantitative means to describe the pattern, duration, and intensity of training required to produce specific physiological adaptations.5 Individualizing training prescription and continuous assessment of specific athlete adaptation is absolutely necessary to best prepare elite athletes for the demands of competition. This approach is well described by 4-time Olympic Champion Michael Johnson in his book Gold Rush6:

Since I retired and started Michael Johnson Performance, my training staff and I have been obsessed with the effectiveness of our training programmes. So we have taken the concept of “smart training” to a whole other level from when I was competing. We liken our philosophy to a rifle approach, as opposed to a shotgun approach. With a shotgun you get a lot of small attempts at hitting the target. With the rifle you have to put more time into aiming, but you have a much bigger and more effective bullet to hit the target. We have found that when we take this approach in designing all of our training programmes, and most importantly when we educate our athletes while training them, they improve more rapidly.6(p140)

Unfortunately, published studies reporting on the actual training programs of world-class Olympic-sport athletes are lacking in the sport-science literature, besides a few notable exceptions including examples on swimming,7 rowing,8 running,9 triathlon,10 cycling,11 cross-country skiing, and biathlon.12

Ever since Founding Editor David Pyne and I started the discussions to establish the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performanceback in late 2004, it was very clear to us that case studies reporting on the physiology, training, and/or performance characteristics of elite individuals should always have a place in the journal. This vision was stated explicitly in the September 2006 editorial.13 At the time of this writing, in July 2015, IJSPP has published over 50 case studies on a great variety of sports such as pool and open-water swimming, cycling, middle-distance and ultraendurance running, triathlon, most football codes, cricket, wrestling, volleyball, soccer refereeing, shot put, rowing, snowboarding, hockey, bobskeleton, natural bodybuilding, mogul skiing, and motorcycling. I have made a few sharpshooting attempts myself, publishing case studies inIJSPP on an elite youth association football player, a multiple Tour de France winner and Olympic-champion cyclist, a world-class female triathlete, and a world-champion paratriathlete.

The current editor of IJSPP, Ralph Beneke, encouraged authors to submit their case studies (now included in the broader article type “Brief Report”) in a very recent editorial,14 and I would like to emphasize that invitation again. As a reminder to authors,

Case studies should describe a single case or a small case series of physiological and/or performance aspects of a highly trained athlete, team, event, or competition. A case study is appropriate when a phenomenon is interesting, novel, or unusual but logistically difficult to study with a sample. The case can exemplify identification, diagnosis, treatment, measurement, or analysis.15 Sharpshooting in sport physiology, training, and performance is always welcome in IJSPP!

Iñigo Mujika, Associate Editor, IJSPP


1. Tuckey H. Everest—The First Ascent: The Untold Story of Griffith Pugh, the Man Who Made It Possible. London, UK: Rider Books, Random House; 2014.

2. Pugh LGCE. The relation of oxygen intake and speed in competition cycling and comparative observations on the bicycle ergometer. J Physiol Lond. 1974;241:795–808.

3. Padilla S, Mujika I, Cuesta G, Polo JM, Chatard JC. Validity of a velodrome test for competitive road cyclists. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1996;73:446–451.

4. Hecksteden A, Kraushaar J, Scharhag-Rosenberger F, Theisen D, Senn S, Meyer T. Individual response to exercise training—a statistical perspective. J Appl Physiol. 2015;118:1450–1459.

5. Borresen J, Lambert MI. The quantification of training load, the training response and the effect on performance. Sports Med. 2009;39:779–795.

6. Johnson M. Gold Rush. London, UK: HarperSport, HarperCollins; 2012.

7. Mujika I, Chatard J-C, Busso T, Geyssant A, Barale F, Lacoste L. Effects of training on performance in competitive swimming. Can J Appl Physiol. 1995;20(4):395–406.

8. Fiskerstrand A, Seiler KS. Training and performance characteristics among Norwegian international rowers 1970–2001. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2004;14:303–310.

9. Tjelta LI, Tonnessen E, Enoksen E. A case study of the training of nine times New York Marathon winner Grete Waitz. Int J Sport Sci Coaching. 2014;9:139–157.

10. Mujika I. Olympic preparation of a world-class female triathlete. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2014;9(4):727–731. http://dx.doi. org/10.1123/IJSPP.2013-0245

11. Pinot J, Grappe F. A six-year monitoring case study of a top-10 cycling Grand Tour finisher. J Sports Sci. 2015;33:907–914.

12. Tonnessen E, Sylta O, Haugen TA, Hem E, Svendsen IS, Seiler S. The road to gold: training and peaking characteristics in the year prior to a gold medal endurance performance. PLoS One. 2014;9:e101796.

13. Pyne D. Case studies in IJSPPInt J Sports Physiol Perform. 2006;1(3):193–194.

14. Beneke R. The brief report: a multitasking, concise feature of high quality. Int J Sports Physiwol Perform. 2015;10:417. http://dx.doi. org/10.1123/IJSPP.2015-0180

15. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.Submission guidelines for IJSPP. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; n.d.


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