New article published on strength training for the elderly

In 2013 I was kindly invited by my colleague Dr. Urs Granacher in Potsdam to give a talk to his institution about science in sport. During my stay we discussed about many aspects of sports science and spent a lot of time talking about bilateral deficit and the fact that there was not much research on assessing it in various populations and also on the effectiveness of various training interventions on this interesting neuromuscular phenomenon. In particular, I was concerned with the amount of training prescriptions characterised by exercises involving two limbs, while most movements are performed with one limb. Also, we discussed how this was relevant for the elderly, as the risk of falls is large for older people and falls occur normally when most of the weight is supported by one leg.
Discussions moved to actions, and the project has been now published on Plos One. The abstract is below and if you want to read the article you can click on the image.


    The term “bilateral deficit” (BLD) has been used to describe a reduction in performance during bilateral contractions when compared to the sum of identical unilateral contractions. In old age, maximal isometric force production (MIF) decreases and BLD increases indicating the need for training interventions to mitigate this impact in seniors. In a cross-sectional approach, we examined age-related differences in MIF and BLD in young (age: 20–30 years) and old adults (age: >65 years). In addition, a randomized-controlled trial was conducted to investigate training-specific effects of resistance vs. balance training on MIF and BLD of the leg extensors in old adults. Subjects were randomly assigned to resistance training (n = 19), balance training (n = 14), or a control group (n = 20). Bilateral heavy-resistance training for the lower extremities was performed for 13 weeks (3 × / week) at 80% of the one repetition maximum. Balance training was conducted using predominately unilateral exercises on wobble boards, soft mats, and uneven surfaces for the same duration. Pre- and post-tests included uni- and bilateral measurements of maximal isometric leg extension force. At baseline, young subjects outperformed older adults in uni- and bilateral MIF (all p < .001; d = 2.61–3.37) and in measures of BLD (p < .001; d = 2.04). We also found significant increases in uni- and bilateral MIF after resistance training (all p < .001, d = 1.8-5.7) and balance training (all p < .05, d = 1.3-3.2). In addition, BLD decreased following resistance (p < .001, d = 3.4) and balance training (p < .001, d = 2.6). It can be concluded that both training regimens resulted in increased MIF and decreased BLD of the leg extensors (HRT-group more than BAL-group), almost reaching the levels of young adults.

    Ischemic Preconditioning Paper

    This paper was the result of an excellent collaboration with Professor Derek Yellon and his team at the Hatter Institute in University College London. We looked at different “doses” of ischemic preconditioning to understand better how to apply this conditioning intervention. The results are quite interesting and I hope this paper will be helpful for individuals designing RIPC interventions in various populations.
    The abstract is below and the article can be downloaded here
    Physiol Rep. 2014 Nov 20;2(11). pii: e12200. Print 2014 Nov 1.

    Characterization of acute ischemia-related physiological responses associated with remote ischemic preconditioning: a randomized controlled, crossover human study.


    Remote Ischemic Preconditioning (RIPC) is emerging as a new noninvasive intervention that has the potential to protect a number of organs against ischemia-reperfusion (IR) injury. The standard protocols normally used to deliver RIPC involve a number of cycles of inflation of a blood pressure (BP) cuff on the arm and/or leg to an inflation pressure of 200 mmHg followed by cuff deflation for a short period of time. There is little evidence to support what limb (upper or lower) or cuff inflation pressures are most effective to deliver this intervention without causing undue discomfort/pain in nonanesthetized humans. In this preliminary study, a dose-response assessment was performed using a range of cuff inflation pressures (140, 160, and 180 mmHg) to induce limb ischemia in upper and lower limbs. Physiological changes in the occluded limb and any pain/discomfort associated with RIPC with each cuff inflation pressure were determined. Results showed that ischemia can be induced in the upper limb at much lower cuff inflation pressures compared with the standard 200 mmHg pressure generally used for RIPC, provided the cuff inflation pressure is ~30 mmHg higher than the resting systolic BP. In the lower limb, a higher inflation pressure, (~55 mmHg > resting systolic BP), is required to induce ischemia. Cyclical changes in capillary blood O2, CO2, and lactate levels during the RIPC stimulus were observed. RIPC at higher cuff inflation pressures of 160 and 180 mmHg was better tolerated in the upper limb. In summary, limb ischemia for RIPC can be more easily induced at lower pressures and is much better tolerated in the upper limb in young healthy individuals. However, whether benefits of RIPC can also be derived with protocols delivered to the upper limb using lower cuff inflation pressures and with lesser discomfort compared to the lower limb, remains to be investigated.
    © 2014 The Authors. Physiological Reports published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of the American Physiological Society and The Physiological Society.


    Characterization; cuff inflation pressure; remote ischemic preconditioning; tolerability
    Finally, here is a picture of myself being a guinea pig for the pilot work (which I have done for almost all studies I published). If you are a young sports scientists running experiments, you should always experience what you will be asking your volunteers to do for you and for science. It will make your methods better but most of all you will make sure that your volunteers are well looked after.

    New Article Published

    This is a project we conducted before the London Olympics. Some interesting data on sweat rates in female handball players are presented.
    Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014 Jul 14. [Epub ahead of print]

    Assessment of Physical Demands and Fluid Balance in Elite Female Handball Players During a 6-Day Competitive Tournament.


    Little data exists on drinking behaviour, sweat loss and exercise intensity across a competitive handball tournament in elite female athletes. Heart rate (HR), fluid balance and sweat electrolyte content were assessed on 17 international players across a 6-day tournament involving 5 games and 2 training sessions played indoors (23 ± 2°C, 30 ± 2% relative humidity). Active play (effective) mean HR was 155 ± 14 bpm (80 ± 7.5% HRmax) with the majority of time (64%) spent exercising at intensities >80% HRmax. Mean (SD) sweat rates during games was 1.02 ± 0.07 L·h-1 and on 56% of occasions fluid intake matched or exceeded sweat loss. A significant relationship was observed between estimated sweat loss and fluid intake during exercise (r2 = 0.121, P = 0.001). Mean sweat sodium concentration was 38 ± 10 mmol·L-1, with significant associations observed between player sweat rates and time spent exercising at intensities >90% HRmax (r2 = 0.181, P = 0.001). Fluid and electrolyte loss appear to be work rate dependent in elite female handball players, whom appear well capable of replacing fluids lost within a tournament environment. Due to large between-athlete variations, a targeted approach may be warranted for certain players only.




    [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

    Tableau and Surveys

    I finally had some time to learn how to use Tableau. This is a fantastic software with immense capabilities! If you have not heard about it before, make sure you visit this website and download the free software to start developing amazing graphs. I have always been interested in visualising data better and I will start using this tool a lot more not only for my daily job but also to engage better with the readers of this blog.
    Here is my first attempt of using Tableau with some data I am collecting sending questionnaire to athletics coaches. This is an online questionnaire I developed to understand the educational requirements of Athletics coaches in Italy as part of an activity of the scientific commission of the Italian Athletics Federation to improve the support to coaches. I have then extended this questionnaire to coaches around the World and plan to make this available online soon for everybody working in any sport in order to experiment some crowd-based assessment of sports science in the real world in various sporting communities around the World. Here are some of the results. I will try to build a questionnaire and link it to a data dashboard for real time updates in the next few days and will launch the questionnaire on this blog and on twitter to see if we can build a map of sports science support in the real world.
    I want to make the most of social media and internet capabilities in order to conduct a large scale survey of our profession and also, in the future gather data on other aspects of Sports and Sport Science.
    The Tableau dashboard below presents some of the data gathered with the online questionnaire and it is my first attempt at using Tableau, so I hope you like it and I promise to get better at using it!
    Athletics Coaches and Testing

    Tips for job applicants

    I decided to write this post because I have been involved in recruitment many times in various countries and I am amazed by what I experience every time. You would think that people applying for jobs would take care to avoid any mistakes that might stop them being called to an interview. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact I come across so many CVs or job applications which would deserve an interview just to be told how bad they are. 
    I strongly believe this is somehow the result of many educational programmes which do not put any emphasis on what happens after somebody has obtained a degree. I strongly believe that writing a CV and a cover letter, experiencing an interview and interviewing people should be part of every university course as this is what people need to do in order to get jobs. 
    So, I decided to write this article to the benefit of the younger readers with the hope that some of the mistakes listed here will be avoided. I will use examples of what I have experienced and provide some advice.

    So, here it goes. Normally the job application process starts from having read/known about a job you would like to apply to. Here is what you need to do:

    1) Read the job advert thoroughly (I mean read it many times and thoroughly!). The main things that people miss are the job requirements and skills. 

    • If the job requires “at least 3-5 years experience in a similar role” and you graduated yesterday or are about to graduate you should not apply, it means it is not for you. 
    • If the job is relatively senior  such as a “Head of”, “Director of”, “Ceo” etc. etc. it means it is for somebody with A LOT of experience. 
    • For example, if the position is for a strength and conditioning coach with at least a master degree in sports science and relevant experience and you are qualified as a massage therapist, I am afraid the job is not for you.
    • Where in the World is this job? What language skills do you need? If the business language is English and your level is not enough to read/write/communicate effectively you have no chance to succeed.

    2) If you think your profile matches what the potential employer is looking for, it is now the time to do some research. 

    • What does the company/employer do? 
    • What is the history? 
    • Who works there? 
    • You need to find out as much as possible in order to use the information to really decide if you want to apply.
    • Also employers are likely to ask you in the interview about what you know of the company 

    3) So by now you found out everything about the company and you really think you should apply. It is now time to draft the cover letter. 

    • The cover letter is an incredibly powerful way to communicate with your new potential employer. It is in fact a letter you write to “sell” your CV and make sure somebody reads it. 
    • The cover letter is your  opportunity to tell the potential employer about yourself, about what you do and what you are good at and most of all it should provide details on why they should employ you instead of someone else. 
    • Everybody applying states that they are honest and reliable, what else can you write to capture the interest of the potential employer? 
    • Check how good is your cover letter, ask somebody to read it. Spelling/grammar mistakes together with poor formatting help directing your application to the bin.
    • Don’t name names if you have not worked with them (it is a small World, everybody can find out easily what you did or did not do!)
    • Don’t say you have done things you have not actually done (see above!)
    • Don’t claim knowing techniques or having skills you don’t (you will be found out at the interview if you get there)
    • Don’t sound too cocky
    • Don’t sound too desperate
    4) Cover letter done. Now it is time to sort out the CV

    • Get a dictionary and check the spelling! Have you ever heard of a “Strength and Cognitioning Coach”?
    • It’s a CV, not your life story. Potential employers may not be interested in your gardening efforts if you are applying for a job as a research assistant in a biochemistry department
    • Organise each section of your CV in a logical manner. In the Education section make sure degrees are listed first, courses/specializations after (again, a “5th Dan black belt course” in martial arts is not really what will get you a job in a physiology department, unless the lab has issues with security!)
    • In the work experience section only write jobs you have actually done (doing one massage session to an Olympic athlete does not give you the right to put on your CV “Team GB Massage Therapist”)
    • Make sure you provide your contact details (employers might not have telepathic powers and be able to contact you with the power of their minds)
    • If you use your personal contact details, make sure you use a “serious” email account. Potential employers might be uneasy in sending an interview offer to “”
    • Don’t use silly fonts!
    • Make sure the CV is written in the relevant language and it is not a computer translation (have somebody checking it before you apply!)
    • Wrong chronological order, bad formatting, spelling mistakes and misleading information have the deleterious effect of condemning your CV to the bin
    • References. This is my favorite, as few times I had the pleasure to find out that the references indicated in a CV did not know the candidate. If you decide to have references on your CV, make sure they know about you and your application. Don’t put someone’s name just because you met them once at a dinner party
    • Make sure you “clean” your social media profiles. Employers do check people out on social media! 
    5) Your CV and cover letter impressed the recruiters, you have received an invitation to attend an interview

    • Make sure you arrive on time and you are dressed appropriately
    • How NOT TO dress appropriately: ripped jeans, ripped T-shirts, see through tops/bottoms, excessively short skirts, and the list can go on. The potential employer needs to see you and talk to you. Unnecessary flesh should not be on show
    • If you have been asked to do a skype interview, wearing a PJ might not be the best choice of attire
    • Take your time to answer the questions. If you don’t know something, just admit it, potential employers have a bullshit radar which works well most of the times and people like honest answers (you wrote you were honest on your cover letter, didn’t you?)
    • Be careful when you say “we did…” your potential employer wants to know what YOU did
    • If you are given the opportunity to ask questions, ASK! You might want to know more about the place, the package, benefits, lifestyle (if you are moving to another country) etc. etc.
    What happens next? If your application was successful you will be contacted by the HR department for an interview. If not, you may not hear anything from the company and/or receive feedback. Sometimes the volume of applications is so large that HR departments and/or individuals involved in the hiring process would have no time to write back to each application and send feedback. If you were not shortlisted for an interview it is likely that:
    • Other people had a better CV/more relevant experience/better fit to the job ad
    • Maybe you do not have the relevant experience/skills/expertise (see above)
    Keep in mind that this is not a failure. Also, venting your frustration to the potential employer is not going to help you. Submitting a job application is just like a football competition. Sometimes you win (and get a job offer), sometimes you lose (nobody contacts you), sometimes you get an interview but no offer and/or you do not like the offer. Just like football if you protest once you have been shown the red card, the referee (the employer) is not going to change his/her mind, so it is pointless to remonstrate. Just accept it and ask for feedback, it might come handy when you apply to the next job.

    Finally, if you are trying to get a job in high performance sport and you think you will walk into a glamorous life, you should read this post by Gary Anderson (GB bobsleigh performance director). I totally agree with every single word written there. So, before you hit “send” on your email client, ask yourself if you are ready for it.

    I hope this advice will be helpful to job hunters!
    Good luck to everybody looking for a job.

    Excellent Article on Mathematical Modeling of Athletic Training

    I came across this wonderful article of and 
    A number of professions rely on exercise prescription to improve health or athletic performance, including coaching, fitness/personal training, rehabilitation, and exercise physiology. It is therefore advisable that the professionals involved learn the various tools available for designing effective training programs. Mathematical modeling of athletic training and performance, which we henceforth call “performance modeling,” is one such tool. Two models, the critical power (CP) model and the Banister impulse-response (IR) model, offer complementary information. The CP model describes the relationship between work rates and the durations for which an individual can sustain them during constant-work-rate or intermittent exercise. The IR model describes the dynamics by which an individual’s performance capacity changes over time as a function of training. Both models elegantly abstract the underlying physiology, and both can accurately fit performance data, such that educating exercise practitioners in the science of performance modeling offers both pedagogical and practical benefits. In addition, performance modeling offers an avenue for introducing mathematical modeling skills to exercise physiology researchers. A principal limitation to the adoption of performance modeling is a lack of education. The goal of this report is therefore to encourage educators of exercise physiology practitioners and researchers to incorporate the science of performance modeling in their curricula and to serve as a resource to support this effort. The resources include a comprehensive review of the concepts associated with the development and use of the models, software to enable hands-on computer exercises, and strategies for teaching the models to different audiences.

    This paper was published on Advances in Physiology Education which is a relatively new journal of the American Physiological Society.
    Here is the full reference: 
    Clarke DC, Skiba PF. Rationale and resources for teaching the mathematical modeling of athletic training and performance. Adv Physiol Educ. 37(2):134-52. June 2013.

    If you want to read more about Dr. Skiba’s work you can go here.
    Great paper and most of all great supplementary material, excellent job @DrPhilipSkiba!