Category: Coaching

Conference in Italy in November

It is always a pleasure and a surprise to be invited in Italy to speak at a conference. I left Italy many years ago to pursue a career in sports science and research and being invited back home to speak to coaches and sports scientists is always a proud moment and an opportunity to speak my first language again for few days.

The invitation this time has come from the Italian Athletics Federation and CONI for a conference called “Atleticamente”. I have been invited to present in a special session to celebrate my PhD supevisor and mentor Professor Carmelo Bosco. I am very happy about the invitation to this conference and proud also because Bosco’s supervisor, Professor Paavo Komi will be there.

Over the course of my career both Paavo and Carmelo had a great influence. I was always hoping to become as good as they are and have been and to this day they are still a source of inspiration and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to meet them and spend time with them.

I will talk about my work with Prof. Bosco from the Lab to the field as well as my own research work on the present and the future of sports science in the applied setting.

The conference will be a great opportunity also to learn more about other sporting systems and catch up with colleagues and friends few months before London Olympics.

Muscle oxygenation in-vivo

Our paper on the possibility of using Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) to measure muscle oxygenation in-vivo in elite athletes has now been published ahead of print by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

This study is the first of a series of studies constituting the PhD studentship funded by the BOA to study the possibility of using NIRS in the field as a tool to understand performance demands and adaptations to training as well as developing innovative portable integrated brain and muscle devices. The research programme is a collaboration between ourselves, the University of Essex with Professor Chris Cooper and Professor Clare Elwell at University College London.

The main author of this work is Catherine Hesford and you can find more info and contact details here.

More work will be published in the next months and I will write more about this fascinating technique soon on this blog.

The abstracts is available below.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Sep 3. [Epub ahead of print]

Asymmetry of Quadriceps Muscle Oxygenation During Elite Short-Track Speed Skating.

Hesford CM, Laing S, Cardinale M, Cooper CE.


1 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, UK; 2 British Olympic Medical Institute, University College London, UK; 3 University of Aberdeen, School of Medical Sciences, Aberdeen, Scotland (UK), 4 School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Bangor University, UK.


It has been suggested that due to the low sitting position in short track speed skating, muscle blood flow is restricted, leading to decreases in tissue oxygenation. Therefore wearable wireless-enabled Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) technology was used to monitor changes in quadriceps muscle blood volume and oxygenation during 500m race simulation in short-track speed skaters.


6 elite skaters, all of Olympic standard (age = 23 ± 1.8 years, height 1.8 ± 0.1m, mass = 80.1 ± 5.7kg, mid-thigh skin fold thickness = 6.8 ± 2.2mm) were studied. Subjects completed a 500m race simulation time trial (TT). Whole body oxygen consumption was simultaneously measured with muscle oxygenation in right and left vastus lateralis as measured by NIRS.


Mean time for race completion was 44.8 ± 0.4 s. VO peaked 20 s into the race. In contrast, muscle tissue oxygen saturation (TSI %) decreased, and plateaued after 8s. Linear regression analysis showed that right leg TSI% remained constant throughout the rest of the TT (slope value = 0.01), whereas left leg TSI% increased steadily (slope value = 0.16), leading to a significant asymmetry (p<0.05) in the final lap. Total muscle blood volume decreased equally in both legs at the start of the simulation. However, during the course of subsequent laps there was a strong asymmetry during cornering; when skaters travelled solely on the right leg there was a decrease in its muscle blood volume whereas an increase was seen in the left leg.


NIRS was shown to be a viable tool for wireless monitoring of muscle oxygenation. The asymmetry in muscle desaturation observed on the two legs in short-track speed skating has implications for training and performance.

Winning margins in Vancouver

The 2010 Winter Olympics are over. It was absolutely brilliant! Great atmosphere, fantastic venues, and most of all for us a gold medal to remember for years.



A great show where incredible athletes do amazing things with state of the art technology. Science and technology play nowadays a crucial role for success in winter sports. Every move can be analysed in real time, every turn and the technology used can be dissected to show how good some athletes are. Shaun White won an impressive 2nd gold in the Half Pipe and everyone can see why he was better than everyone else.

Every technique can now be studied in details and athletes and coaches can receive feedback on the field of play. Despite the fact technology plays a big role in most of the winter sports I have to say that as usual, it is the athlete who wins.

Having the right mindset and being totally prepared is what makes the difference.

Physical preparation, nutrition, psychological preparation, fitness all play a role. However most of the times people forget that behind a great athlete there is always a brilliant coach. Coaching seems to be underrated in modern times. Reading some of the media during and after the games, it seems that an athlete wins because he/she is good or because he/she has the most advanced technology. What I can say is that many athletes win because they have incredibly good coaches, able to prepare them very well and most of all TEACH them something more or better than other coaches can do. They are the least celebrated individuals, and in my opinion the people who can really make the difference between winning and losing.

The margins between winning and losing are very small. Fractions of seconds separate a gold medal from a silver, bronze or no medal at all. What role can sports science play?

Sports science can only make an impact if a talented athlete has a talented coach and a structured programme is in place. Science can then help the coaching process pushing to reach the limits of the athlete’s potential and identifying the marginal gains.

There is more to be written on this topic, and I promise to write more in the next few months.