Tag: Sports Science

Twenty years from the the first paper

Recently, I have been tidying up files on old hard drives to move the files to cloud based storage in order to have easier access and reduce cluttering. Going back to old files brings back lots of memories and it is a good exercise in learning back about the development and activities I did in my career/life so far. Old pictures appear and old manuscripts written and never submitted also show up. Finally, old analysis files, notes, correspondence reminds you of many hours spent discussing/debating/working on various projects with many people. Working in Sport and Science gave me tremendous opportunities to meet really clever people and learn from them. One of them was my old mentor Prof. Bosco. It is amazing how many things which are now relevant in the sports science industry were introduced by him in the 90s and still stand strong. One of the many realisations of going through old files was that our first paper on whole body vibration was published 20 years ago. Yes 20! I was at the beginning of the PhD journey and this was one of the first projects conducted with the team I was coaching at the time.

The paper was published on Biology of Sport, and I had the help of some great people to make sense of the data and improve the writing to make it good enough to be accepted and published. The article is here, and I still treasure the notes/comments of Professors Josefz Tihanyi and Atko Viru both working with Prof. Bosco at the time on various collaborative efforts to understand better many aspects of strength training.

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This paper was the beginning of a series of efforts to understand more about the possibility to use vibration as an exercise intervention, and it was a follow-up to the work performed by Vladimir Issurin on segmental applications in athletes. I still remember the pride of the first acceptance letter. I also remember the sudden interest this experimental modality (at the time) raised in the sporting and academic World. Since then, hundreds of papers have been published on this topic by many research groups around the World and most seem to suggest that our intuition of using such modality to improve strength in various populations was not far-fetched. Sadly, marketing has got in the way with many commercial interests which have somehow impaired the development of such modality in my view, rather than exploiting better applications and safer guidelines. Also, it is kind of gone out of fashion and replaced by “newer” modalities. I do see in fact in many places I visit (gyms, hotels, fitness centres) some vibration platforms in corners mostly unused. It is sad to notice that young practitioners don’t seem to be interested in the applications of vibration anymore, however I am still convinced that there is still plenty of scope for its use not only in Sport but also to help various populations as evidenced by my work with colleagues at the Italian Auxology Institute. Finally, there is a lot of potential for applications in rehabilitation and for the elderly.

I remember the beginnings, when speaking at conferences I met loads of skeptics (lots of heads shaking in my first few talks at conferences) and had quite a few grant applications turned down. Things got better later on in my career (but funding agencies don’t seem to like non-pharmacological interventions…). However, fact is that 20 years from that paper, there is now a scientific community studying vibration and successfully showing what works and what does not work. Many still trying to figure out the exact mechanisms. The number of papers has exponentially increased, and while I marginally contribute to that literature still as my interests have changed, I am proud to have been part of the “pioneers” which started the scientific debate and evolution which for sure is providing some patients and sports people with another avenue to improve performance and quality of life. On the other end, what I am less proud of, is the fact that an industry of gurus and pseudo experts developed as a consequence of the work done by many institutions which have “confused” the end users rather than improving the outcomes and have barely invested in the scientific developments. This is similar to many other “industries’ in the sporting/fitness World where “experts” tend to appear and disappear when commercial gains become available and/or disappear. But that’s a topic for another post…as now it is time to be grateful for the journey which started with that paper 20 years ago under the mentorship of some of the greatest sports scientists in history.


Time goes fast, things happen and time to write just goes

Since December I have been staring at the blog without much time to write. It is amazing how fast time flies by. It’s been busy time at work at the Aspire Academy. We are completing a move to a brand new facility which will be unveiled soon (it is pretty impressive by the way!) while carrying on with day to day activities to support the development of our young athletes. Results have been pretty impressive as we already have 5 athletes qualified for the World Junior Athletics Championships this summer and few hopefully to come, some have also won Asian Championships medals last night and things are going really well there. Our new Fencing programme is showing signs of improvement with some great placings and podiums in international competitions. Table Tennis and Squash continue to produce credible international performances and we now have some interesting athletes in Motor Sports and Shooting/Triathlon. Finally, our graduates are doing incredibly well showing that Aspire legacy is strong.


It’s been busy also completing some research projects and trying to get them published. A productive few months, but I have to say the whole publishing process is now starting to get on my nerves and I am not sure I still have the energy to endure such process when the reviews received show lack of understanding…but that’s probably a topic for another post.

One of the articles I am mostly proud of is this one on the Video Analysis of Injuries at the Handball World Championships played in Qatar 2015. This work is a true example of international collaboration with a lot of people involved in the project and an outcome which challenges the need to review refereeing in a sport in order to reduce the injury outcomes. This project is also one of the many published and led from Qatar which were all part of the Aspire Zone efforts during the World Championships in 2015 to do more work to enhance handball knowledge. New information and knowledge was in fact generated with regards to injuries, performance demands, goalkeepers performances and soon on passing/shoulder load. It is a long process to get data published and available but still all this work is a legacy for the Handball community to enhance our understanding of how to prepare players. I have further contributed to sharing more information about my beloved sport writing a chapter for the last book edited by Dr Anthony Turner on Strength and Conditioning.

The collaboration with my bioengineering colleagues in Tubingen to understand more about the implications of using vibration combined to exercise continues with a recently published work on an experiment conducted a couple of years ago on upper body vibration and H-reflex lead by Dr. Federica Sammali suggesting that fatigue mechanisms with vibration exercise may be different than typical resistance exercise. And finally this work from our unit reporting the typical variations in hematological parameters in adolescent athletes.

There are more papers currently under review and some about to be submitted which will hopefully see the light in the next few months on: Table Tennis and Squash performance, training load in adolescent athletes, new methods to assess training load and performance modelling and some work on Vitamin D. If the review process is not incredibly painful, they should become available this year.

Sporting season is in full swing, so time is even less, but every day is a chance to learn something new and help our coaching community in supporting the athletes to achieve their dreams.

In the sporting World, many things have been debated in the last few months. Doping stories triggered by the wonderful documentary Icarus (if you have not seen it yet, do so on Netflix) are continuing and hopefully some actions will be taken soon and everyone will get more clarity about some recent episodes.

The last aspect I will briefly touch on is expertise. I am not sure where the sports industry is going at the moment. The internet has clearly facilitated our way to access and share knowledge, however it has also generated a lot of confusion. I share the same worry many of my colleagues have.

Few years ago (showing grey hair here), it was important to have credentials before applying for jobs and/or having the right/possibility to speak about topics. Credentials in the World of science refer to academic degrees and publications and in the World of Sport in a combination of the above + experience. I see now a lot of individuals discussing/presenting/debating/writing books on aspects they have no expertise/experience on. There is also a proliferation of self-proclaimed experts offering advice/consultancies and running “educational” activities. I will write more about “expertise” in another post, but my feeling is that our profession is in need of help.

What is your view?