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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

USA trip and sports science "pilgrimage"

USA 2009 on the horizon, and some stats on cricket fitness

As promised the other day, I just wanted to reveal a little bit of my upcoming itinerary, which takes me on something of a "sports science" (and management) pilgrimage to the USA, starting on Monday next week.

My last trip to the USA was in January 2008, when I had the opportunity to get a taste of places like Chicago and Boulder, and so this trip is very much the main course, and I'm definitely going back to those places, plus a few new ones that I'm very hopeful will inspire many posts in the coming months!

So first things first - please don't worry, you're not going to get my "Diary of..." entries, where I tell you about the wonderful monuments and museums I visited. Rather, I hope that the trip gives me so much content that I'll be able to run a series of posts on people and topics that are inspired by the places and jobs I'm over there do to. So look at this more as a "Forthcoming attractions" post!

Chicago for the marathon - pacing and environmental research

First stop is Chicago, for the Chicago Marathon on October 11, and to give one or two lectures at Jonathan's university, UIC. Not to run (sadly), but to do some research in the medical tent, building on some of the work that Jonathan did last year. He and I will both be on the ground on race-day, where he'll be monitoring environmental and weather data from the route, and I'll be tracking the elite athletes and doing an intensive sample of their pacing.

The environmental data analysis was really a consequence of a really bad year in 2007, when it was so hot that the race was effectively ended early, and many runners were forced to abandon. Tragically, one athlete died. Since then, the organizers have made a point of monitoring conditions on the route, and Jonathan has headed this up - we'll post more on this in the coming weeks, and also some of the significant findings and implications of the measurements!

The pacing strategy data should be very interesting. By now, you have perhaps seen our typical marathon offering, where we do the 5km pacing strategy analysis of the elite fields. Well, in Chicago, we're going to try to be 8 times (well, 8.439 times) better and bring pacing splits for the elite fields EVERY 1KM.

That should be particularly entertaining if Sammy Wanjiru delivers on his promise to attack the world record. Word is that he's looking for pacemakers to hit half-way in 61:40, and we'll be tracking him, kilometer by kilometer, from the finish line!

So join us for those two analyses, in the build-up week and then on race day, 11 October!

Onto Colorado - Boulder and the US Olympic Centre

From Chicago, it's off to Colorado (13 October), and the highlight of the 2008 trip, Boulder. Boulder is one of the world's endurance sports meccas. I remember joining up with a training group last time (thanks Simon) and running out at the reservoir, and we saw hundreds of other runners, all in groups, all coached, doing their thing that morning.

It's a place that is a hub for innovation, a home to Training Peaks, who very kindly hosted me last time, who are now one of the leading lights in the monitoring of training quantity, quality and performance in the world. Magazines, authors, coaches, and a world-class university are all part of the Boulder charm, and so I will spend a few days there, meeting people, and hopefully doing a series of interviews to follow on from our previous interviews with Yorck-Olaf Schumacher and Prof Bengt Kayser.

From Boulder, I head down to the US Olympic Centre in Colorado Springs, at the kind invitation of Prof Randy Wilber. While I'm there, I'll be attending a Symposium on Altitude Training from 21 to 23 October, where some really great scientists and coaches will be speaking (they include Prof Wilber, Prof Christopher Gore of the Australian Institute, Bob Bowman and Terrence Mahon of swimming and athletics, respectively).

While there, I'm hoping to see inside the US system, particularly how they have integrated sports science into the preparation of the elite athletes. As you know, my current passion is really the management of science, strategic and scientific methods for high performance. So you can expect a fair share of opinion pieces and interviews from this phase of the trip as well!

Boston, Prof Dan Lieberman and barefoot running shoes

Finally, on October 30, I head to Boston where I'm going to take a visit to Harvard University, and a visit with Prof Dan Lieberman. To those who don't know, Lieberman is Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard. In his words, from his own website: "I study how and why the human body looks the way it does". Lieberman has looked in great detail at our ability to run long-distances, and his theories are really fascinating, warranting a series all on their own! One of his research papers (co-authored with Bramble) can be seen here.

What makes me particularly keen for this visit is that Prof Lieberman is also one of the big names who has endorsed the Vibram Five Fingers running shoe, which I'm sure many of you know about. The site above has some quotes from Lieberman in it.

I'm quite excited about this because I'm really looking forward to hearing the rationale from one of the men closest and most capable of explaining the concept. It's a topic we've covered many times on this site in our series on running shoes.

My opinion on this whole 'minimalist' shoe movement is that it is sound in theory, but it's been rushed to market too soon, and incorrectly. The biggest problem is not the concept, but its implementation (the same is true of Pose running, by the way), and so I'm really keen to hear Lieberman's views, which are far more balanced than many who've advocated in the past.

I know that he's of the opinion that we should move away from bulky, heavy shoes, which is an opinion I share, but that he recognizes some of the limitations behind the 'minimalist movement' claims to date, and the lack of "hard science" (his words). His own views are not 'diluted' and so a meeting with him should produce some fascinating posts and maybe an interview!

So do join us over the next five weeks, and perhaps I'll be able to meet many of you while on my trip!

Cricket fitness

In my last post on Monday, I commented on Graeme Smith's cramp problems during SA's loss to England. I also mentioned my OPINION on the fitness levels of cricketers in general, including those in SA.

I received an email this morning with some facts that need to be published, along with an apology from me for any unfair criticism or offense that I may have caused with those opinions.

It was revealed to me that Smith achieved "a Level 13 on the Bleep test three weeks ago which is excellent (for any team sport). We know that Graeme is susceptible to cramp, but this does not mean that he is unfit. Cramping is not primarily due to a lack of conditioning. It is related to fatigue and genetic susceptibility. Many of the fittest team sport players in the world cramp as a result of numerous factors including, the intensity of the game, environmental conditions etc. Professor Noakes wrote an article (attached) several years ago (to which I contributed) showing that the cricketers were just as fit as the rugby players and that 11 of the 15 players in the 1999 world cup had played provincial level or higher in other sports."

It's necessary to state that opinion, and again, if I was unfair in delivering my opinion, then I apologize. Certainly, that 1999 paper exists, and I would not dare question its validity. It was ten years ago, of course, and the whole issue is that this current team may not be as fit as its predecessors, but it illustrates an aspect of cricket fitness that I did not acknowledge in my post on Monday. Of course there are fabulously fit cricketers, and I should have mentioned this. Smith, having achieved level 13, may be one of them, and those in charge should take credit for this.

So perhaps a congratulations are in order for those responsible for preparing the team and players, for Smith did bat brilliantly, spending 95 overs in the field to make his 140, and an apology for not acknowledging this in my original post.

A disclaimer (again)

Finally (I wish it were finally, I seem to do this every few months), I must emphasize that you're reading an opinion piece on this site. And it's my opinion, pure and simple. In fact, after the Caster Semenya controversy, when I was 'reprimanded' by the Minister of Sport (before, I must point out, it emerged that Chuene was lying, which is what I was suggesting), I put a disclaimer on the site. It says: "The views expressed on this site are not those of UCT, Sports Science Institute of SA, or UIC"

One thing I have realised in the last few months is that everyone is 'objective' until you disagree with them. Then they become subjective, inaccurate and wildly accusatory. Between those who've said I should resign on the basis of views on Oscar Pistorius, and Ministers and others who think we should remove "science" from the website name, I guess we're plenty subjective...!

But thanks everyone for reading and for supporting the efforts!

Ross

17 Comments:

Pat said...

Ross:

Good luck on your trip. Having lived in Boulder for 6 years and Boston for 4, I am looking forward to reminiscing as I read about your experiences. Mostly, I am curious to hear about your conversations with Dan Lieberman, a brillant man. Many of your readers may be interested to know that he gave the Wolffe Memorial Address at the most recent ACSM Annual Meeting in Seattle(something your boy Noakes knows a thing or two about). Having downloaded the Meeting lecture, I have listened to it numerous times, now. In any case, I happen to be a proponent of many of the points that Lieberman makes, regarding how we have evolved to run efficiently, and to that effect he raises some very good points. In the coming years, I look forward to more research from individuals like Lieberman, supporting such aspects of running as a forefoot heel strike and its potential for improved running economy (an area of interest in my own research). I believe that someone in his area of expertise will help to make that connect between how other animals move efficiently, and how human can/should do the same.

Happy trails and make sure to grab a meal at the Mediterranean, while in Boulder. Also, tell Mark Plaatjes and Johnny Halberstadt (at the Boulder Running Company) that Pat says hello.

Owen Anderson said...

Ross - your trip sounds wonderful. Any chance you'll be able to spend a day here in Michigan?

Jon said...

Hi Ross,

I look forward to read your report after your meeting with Dr.Lieberman. (I urge anyone interrested in distance running to read his "Endurance running and the evolution of Homo", it's a interresting piece of paper)

Regarding minimalist running I don't agree with the "Rushed-to-Marked" sentence though. In fact, the shoeindustry seems rather reluctant to rush anywhere.

As a runner with preferrance of minimalist shoes I have a really hard time finding a shoe which meets my requirements in any regular sports store, shoe store or even specialized running store for that matter (and I live in a 3M+ city). The only available option currently available is ordering online which of course has its set of problems. (waitingtimes, shipping fees, no try before buy etc)

I think what we are seeing right now is a change in footware consumation driven by the grassroots rather than the established shoe giants.

Exciting times =)

Have a safe journy!

- Jon

Anonymous said...

great article, there is also a lot of information on barefootrunningshoes.org regarding those shoes and some articles that explain the barefoot running heel strike when running as well

Anonymous said...

Hello Ross,

Sportsscients is among the fist sites I open every morning. Thank you (also to Jonathan) for the numerous posts...

You have used a score of 13 for the bleep test as a benchmark for categorising Smith as fit. In your assessment I believe you have missed an important aspect of a cricketer's conditioning viz a viz other team games. Cricketers train over a 22 yard distance extensively. It is their bread and butter. Apart from working on shuttles they also work specifically on the turns, all this with a moderate weight (cricket gear). I am sure we can conclude that they have a conditioning advantage over other team players for the bleep test.

I could not find the article by Professor Noakes, nor do I have any numbers to back my claim. But what percentage of cricketers (take the top 8 teams in the world) look as well conditioned as football, hockey or handball players from the corresponding nations (an attempt to reduce any regional physical bias). I am sure you get the picture of David Boon, Arjuna Ranatunga, Virendra Sehwag, Insamam ul Haq et al. The picture is pretty bloated and clear. All in all I wonder if these batmen ever look how often they are runout by a small margin, easily fixed by weight control and moderate sprint training.

Rugby requires players to be more muscular, I assume natural selection puts a bias towards the ones with large, heavy, strong bones. Again nothing to back these claims. Big muscles and larger frames lead to a higher BMI which should work against a high Bleep test score. I wonder why Prof Noakes compared cricket with rugby and not football or even tennis.

There are numerous websites with unconfirmed records for the bleep test. I would assume distance runners would easily beat other athletes, but could not find any study confirming this.

Looking forward to your interaction with Prof Dan Lieberman. Good luck!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

hi Anonymous

Thanks for that.

You're preaching to the converted here - I went on record, I guess, on Monday, saying that in general, I did not view cricketers as having the same physical characteristics as the general football, basketball or hockey players. You're 100% correct. And I suppose people will take offence, but I think an objective analysis, all round, would confirm this. Like I said though, it's just an opinion, and the facts about Smith had to be revealed.

The quote that you refer to is one that is taken directly from an email that I was sent, saying that Smith is in fact very fit. I felt it necessary to publish, since I don't want to come across as unfairly accusing one person. And I guess the point is that there are very many questions that still need to be answered about the relative physical attributes of the different players.

So I felt the need to address that, apologize if I unfairly criticized anyone, but I'm with you and stand by the assertion (an opinion) that IN GENERAL, cricketers don't stack up very well. You've given a list of names, that list can be added to, I feel, but I wouldn't want to add names lest I unfairly group players together. I think most people have an intuition (ala Malcolm Gladwell in Blink) of what they're looking at.

As for the 1999 paper, it is from the Journal of Sports Sciences (2000), vol 18, pp 919-929. If you'd like it, let me know.

Thanks for the positive feedback!

Ross

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

hi Anonymous

Thanks for that.

You're preaching to the converted here - I went on record, I guess, on Monday, saying that in general, I did not view cricketers as having the same physical characteristics as the general football, basketball or hockey players. You're 100% correct. And I suppose people will take offence, but I think an objective analysis, all round, would confirm this. Like I said though, it's just an opinion, and the facts about Smith had to be revealed.

The quote that you refer to is one that is taken directly from an email that I was sent, saying that Smith is in fact very fit. I felt it necessary to publish, since I don't want to come across as unfairly accusing one person. And I guess the point is that there are very many questions that still need to be answered about the relative physical attributes of the different players.

So I felt the need to address that, apologize if I unfairly criticized anyone, but I'm with you and stand by the assertion (an opinion) that IN GENERAL, cricketers don't stack up very well. You've given a list of names, that list can be added to, I feel, but I wouldn't want to add names lest I unfairly group players together. I think most people have an intuition (ala Malcolm Gladwell in Blink) of what they're looking at.

As for the 1999 paper, it is from the Journal of Sports Sciences (2000), vol 18, pp 919-929. If you'd like it, let me know.

Thanks for the positive feedback!

Ross

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Owen

It's not planned at present. There are a few days free in the schedule, but travel is tight over there - too many flights in too short a time doesn't add up to a very good holiday!

I'll let you know though!

To Jon:

The comment about being too quick to market is not about the shoe companies, it is more about the "marketing" of the concept in what I see as a reckless and inappropriate manner.

I don't think I ever explained this properly, but when I did the Pose series, I tried really hard to explain that the problem was not the theory, it was the implementation, because here you had a technique that was taught in a personal interaction, 3 hours a day for 2 weeks (this is the study I was involved in) and still people broke down injured. Now, if the founders of the method could not teach it with 30 hours of personal interaction, then a book or DVD had a very small chance.

And so my issue was the implementation, and I guess what I'm saying about the minimal shoe thing is similar - I agree with it. I remember writing a post where I urged all the manufacturers to recognize the shift and the need for it. But the problem was that people were taking the opposite extreme and saying "don't wear those, wear these" and it left so much room for disaster (injury) that I think it was forced too much.

But you're 100% right, the shoe giants have not embraced it, and so good for the "little guys", they'll start the revolution. It's the advocates, who have shouted loudly without due consideration, who I feel have done a disservice - they've done exactly what the shoe companies have done, except on the other end of the spectrum...

Dan Lieberman will be fascinating!

THanks!

Ross

Anonymous said...

Hi Ross

OK, so it seems to me you're too polite to say this, and I get the feeling you may have been rapped on the knuckles a little over that last post on Smith and your Saffa cricket team (which looks more suited to second league baseball in the USA, if you ask me - I've never seen such an unfit LOOKING side), but here goes:

Let's say Graeme Smith is this fabulously fit cricketer, as you've been told in that email. And the rest of the team presumably follow suit and are so in shape...why have they been just about the only team to suffer with major cramping problems in the last few years? I recall that in the Caribbean, the same happened, a few of your guys came down with cramp. Then in India, it happens all the time.

Allied to this, there are loads of reports about your former players, like Hansie Cronje, Rhodes and Gary Kirsten being demons about fitness, and that the current crop are not. When I look at Kallis, Boucher, Smith, the new guy van der Merwe, I see guys who are talented, sure, but they're not respectable professional athletes.

So I agree with your earlier assessment, not this one. Not that I'm criticizing, I'm actually sympathizing because I suspect what has happened is that the guys responsible for training Smith have been shown up, and are reacting the only way they can - attack the messenger. Nothing like a guilty conscience...yes?

Anyway, from my side, keep up the awesome work, your site is a beacon of light, opinion or not!

Cheers

DBV

Oliver said...

Agree with 'anonymous'...DBV? re the conditioning of cricketers in general and specifically Smith.

Other than Ntini..who ran 10km a day early on in his career, apparently even on playing days, very few are enduarnce running fit.

Come on SA Cricket don't be so defensive, Smith , visually to any person looks out of shape as a professional sportsperson.

Sports codes always like to pretend that their players do more distance in a game than others, as if to say to distance runners 'we are fitter than you'...often attaching GPS as if to confirm, when that is extremely inaccurrate (over reading) over multiple short distances. What's the point?
It was even said that Michael Clarke did 12-15km in the field, when simple arithmetic shows it to be impossible..he would have to chase almost every ball to the boundary, whilst the others do nothing.

So what is this Level 13 bLeep (sic) test...see they can't even spell it. It means he has run 2.6km in 13min 45 sec and reached his limit.
That would put him to the back of the pack in a primary school's girls x-country (my daughter did 3km in around 14min aged 10)

I am over 50 and still do 5km under 18min...and I cop a whipping from the other old boys.

So cricketers aren't fit endurance wise.
What did Smith do on the day (batting innings)? Other than his batting effort, his running consisted of 152 runs between the wicket in ones, twos and threes (don't know that breakdown), for a total of approx 3.1km over 3hrs 36min
Make up your own mind.

Some cricketers are more prone to cramps than others, Smith is one. It is no use arguing that you have a lev 13 beep test if YOU are someone that cramps after doing the above, then YOU should either get more endurance by training, reducing weight (he is a big man) and/or pacing yourself slower in your activity.

It has absolutely nothing to do with what others do, nor what your beep is.

Their email is sort of to say that the cramp is a random ocurrence and should be treated like an injury.

Strauss is right...it is a consequence of you batting long, and he should have added "you haven't paced yourself accordingly for a long innings for your level of endurance, so tough luck"

btw...I can do level 21...there are no levels above that....not that it matters...I still don't win my age gp often enough. :)

Joe Garland said...

It seems to me important to distinguish between minimalist shoes on the one hand and devices, such as I understand Vibrams to be, or indeed barefoot-running that promote forefoot running on the other. Cannot one run in a minimalist shoe and still be a heel-striker? This would not be the case for barefoot runners.

In other words one can favor minimalist shoes without having to support forefoot running.

Your various articles highlight that there is a wide range of running methods at the elite level, skewing towards the heel. This variety suggests that there is no optimal technique, at least in terms of being a fast distance-runner, and that shoes allow a runner who would be well back if landing on her forefoot to compete if she heelstrikes.

Also, while you're in the US, could you give us an entry explaining the rules of cricket? And one for rugby would be good too. Assuming there are rules in rugby.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Joe

A post or a talk on the rules of cricket...? Now there's a challenge! THough I feel the same way about baseball, I must say!

Ciao!
Ross

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that they assume level 13 to be enough might indicate what the problem is in the first place.

I was hitting level 15 as a school boy just playing a bit of soccer on the side, embarrassing for profesional sportsman to not be able to reach that level.

To add to the fact, I find there pre-tournament preparation was really up to scratch as well ...

Can't wait for the chicago splits

r2d2 said...

This is Anonymous from the 5th post, just changed my identity to keep the flow of posts.

Oliver :

Great to hear that you run a sub 18 min 5k even at an older chronological age.

I run a 18 min 5k and manage a late 14s early 15s bleep test. Are you sure you are doing the right test, there are many variations. I have not seen anybody do a correct level 17 on the multistage fitness test, cant think of level 21.

I think a 12k is doable for an average cricketer (who bowls some) in 6-7 hours. Remember it includes everything. Batting: walking around the pitch. Running your runs as well as your partners', mid pitch discussions etc. Fielding: bowling, fielding, covering for throws, field position changes, walking after an over is completed etc. Note that during every single delivery a cricketer walks at least 10-20m even if he is not involved in the action.

Batsmen rely on balance, technique, bat speed and most of all on a combination of concentration and intelligence to be successful. Aerobic fitness is just a by product of long batting.

I think you are being too hard on Smith. He did a Minimum of 3.1k in 3 hours. Most the time one overruns the batting crease etc. He is not just running, he is accelerating, turning and sprinting, all with ~ 5 kgs of weight. I believe there is a certain nervous automation that kicks in during distance walking and running (from personal experience), a batsman cant make use of this. A recent study http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/uoc--usm091709.php alludes on this aspect with paraplegic rats regaining weight bearing capacity. Article in nature - http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v12/n10/full/nn.2401.html (i dont have access to this tho).

So here is my take on substitutes in cricket. No runners or bathroom breaks for players (read fast bowlers in tests). Provide an additional drinks break if required, prolong it to 10 minutes. If your player needs a break play with one man short. If a batsman is suffering from serious cramps, the team physio should take a call to retire hurt the batsman lest he develop a serious injury. If a fielder is seriously injured replace him for the match with a sub. The match referee needs to look through all such substitutions post match.

Lets hope the ICC gets a clue and discourages opportunistic batsmen who take advantage of the soft nature of the sport.

In Smiths case, lets give credit where it is due, he scored 140, that's what he does, he is not there to take on Gebreselassie at the Bleep test. Could he have done better ? As you rightly pointed out diet control seems to be a simple solution.

Some of the reasons why cricketers dont stack too well against other team sports
- Fitness plays a very small role in cricketing success (Shane Warne anyone ?)
- Too many match hours / year.
- Travel fatigue.
- Too much time spent away from ideal conditions (home ?) esp. on tour. Different facilities, food, hours, beds, weather patterns etc.


Ross:

I understand your reluctance to take names, as it goes on record. Meanwhile I enjoy the anonymity of the internet. Yes i would like to read the article.

Has anybody looked at cramps as some sort of injury prevention mechanism of the body ? Maybe a certain chemical is released that starts the occurrence of cramps.

Looking forward to your reply. Although I work in a completely non related field, I wish I had studied in sports science.

Jon said...

Thanks for the clarification Ross!

Joe said...

If the long range weather forecasts are too be believed, you're in for a treat on October 11. Accuweather and weather.com are both showing overcast, temps around 50, and the possibility of rain. In other words, ideal marathon conditions.

worldbeater22 said...

It is good that you are going to be getting the 1km splits for Chicago, I haven't heard of anything other than 5k splits for that distance. Also, it does not look like Wanjiru will be going after the record. (Read this article for more info:http://www.kbc.co.ke/story.asp?ID=60234). But who knows, it wasn't until the day before that Bolt decided to go for the 200 WR in Beijing.