Lactate testing on triathlete Ainhoa Murua

Lactate testing on triathlete Ainhoa Murua.

People are often surprised when they hear speak about sport science. Is there really such a thing as sport science? Is there a difference between sport science and exercise science? What do sport scientists actually do? I could try to answer these questions, but instead of that, I will let you read the abstract and conclusion of a 2008 paper by Dr. Bill Sands, who has been there, done that in the world of high performance sport. You can also read the entire article here.

“Sport science measurement presents some common and some unique challenges. Common challenges include those of funding, instrumentation availability, size and mass. Unique challenges involve working with celebrity athletes who are often reticent to serve as subjects, coaches who often will not give up training time for measurement, extraordinary demands on ease and speed of measurement and data return, and a different perspective of ‘success’ in conducting research. While the academic scientist’s success is usually measured in terms of publications on group data investigations, the sport scientist must improve the specific athlete(s) with whom he/she is working. For example, if an investigation of 20 athletes shows that 15 improved with the intervention, two stayed about the same and three showed worse performance results—statistical significance and/or confidence intervals would likely be achieved and the study would likely meet modern peer review standards. However, if the three athletes who got worse were the three ‘best’ athletes of the group—coaches and the sport scientist will consider the intervention a failure.”

“Studying elite athletes is one of the most rewarding and difficult investigations one can undertake. These research subjects are by definition extraordinarily rare. Thus the investigator is dealing with low statistical power and little interest in generalizing to a population; one is often studying the population. Finally, it is difficult to account for athlete performance variability, current fitness status, willingness to be tested, willingness to give a ‘best attempt,’ period of the training plan, and other factors from problems inherent in wearing unusual and unfamiliar equipment, being critically observed by scientists, and the varying importance test results may have on the athlete’s career. While the scientist may see the test results as something only to determine status, the coach and athlete may see the results as a means of selection thus producing a tension that was not intended by the scientist.”


Sands WA. Measurement issues with elite athletes. Sports Technol. 1: 101-104, 2008

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  1. We’ve missed 6 hours of tweets processing last night due to some changes in the Twitter API. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

    October 2, 2011
  2. Skipper

    Hey Inigo, have you read Figueiredo P, Zamparo P, Sousa A, Vilas-Boas JP, Fernandes RJ., “An energy balance of the 200 m front crawl race.” Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011 May;111(5):767-77. Epub 2010 Oct 27. What do you think? do you have a copy of the whole paper, I can find only references? What is your take on high intensity training? do swimmers get faster from the work they are doing prior to the taper or the work within the taper(lots of rest high intensity)?
    sorry for all the questions!

    October 13, 2011
  3. Iñigo Mujika

    Sorry Skipper, but I have not had a access to the paper yet. You can find out about my views on high intensity training in my paper: MUJIKA, I. Intense training: the key to optimal performance before and during the taper. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports 20 (Suppl. 2): 24-31, 2010.
    Research indicates that swimmers get faster during the taper because they recover from the intensive work they have done until then, but also because of the work they do during the taper, provided that they also get enough recovery from this work.

    October 23, 2011
  4. Barry Horgan

    How are you? I am a sport scientist / S&C coach in Ireland working in Gaelic football. I have seen your WCSF 2011 presentation regarding the individualization of cardiovascular training. I have to say that I found it very interesting and thought-provoking and would be very keen to implement a similar conditioning programme within the teams & squads that I am currently working with!
    Keep up the good work!

    November 10, 2011
  5. Iñigo Mujika

    That is great Barry, please keep me posted on the outcomes of your intervention.

    November 13, 2011