This column features
short items about sport research in progress or in print,
highlights of recent or upcoming conferences, hot topics on
mailing lists, and anything else of interest to the
sport-science community. Content can range from
ground-breaking to gossipy. Send a paragraph or two to
ferret=AT=sportsci.org. Items will be edited and bounced
back to you for approval.
PERFORMANCE GENE DISCOVERED
To be a top athlete you need the right
genes. Sure, but until this year, no-one knew what those genes were.
Now one has been discovered. It's called the ACE gene, because it
codes for the enzyme that activates the hormone angiotensin--ACE is
short for angiotensin converting enzyme.
A group working in London knew that ACE is
active in muscle tissue, where it regulates blood flow, so they
figured it might have a role in endurance performance. They knew that
the gene comes in two forms--I (for insertion) and D (for
deletion)--so they did a study to find out if endurance athletes are
more likely to have one or other form. The athletes they chose were
elite mountaineers who could ascend above 7000 m without oxygen.
Bingo! The I form was much more prevalent amongst the mountaineers
than in the general population. What's more, the mountaineers who
could go to the highest altitudes without oxygen had two copies of
the I form (one from mom and one from dad). The researchers then
showed that the I form of the gene produced a greater response to
strength-endurance training in army recruits: after a 10-week
training program, time to exhaustion in a weighted elbow-flexion
exercise lasting 2 min increased by only 6% in the recruits with two
copies of the D form, by 21% in those with an I and a D, and by 66%
in those with two Is. The findings were published in the May 21 issue
of Nature (Montgomery et al., 1998). Two months later an Australian
group reported that the I form of the ACE gene was much more frequent
amongst elite rowers than in the general population (Gayagay et al.,
Ferret can think of several important
implications. First, athletes in endurance sports will show a better
response to training if they have two copies of the I form of the ACE
gene, so it won't be long before talent identification includes DNA
testing. Will that be any different from selecting on the basis of
maximum oxygen uptake? Secondly, other genes predictive of athletic
potential will soon be discovered, but no gene will ever substitute
for hard training, good coaching, and good sport-science support.
Finally, sport scientists doing training studies with endurance
athletes should think seriously about getting their subjects DNA
tested, because the presence of the I form will help explain
individual differences in the response to training.
Gayagay, G., Yu, B., Hambly, B., et al. (1998). Elite
endurance athletes and the ACE I allele - the role of genes in
athletic performance. Human Genetics, 103, 48-50.
Montgomery, H. E., Marshall, R., Hemingway, H., et
al. (1998). Human gene for physical performance. Nature, 393,
For another aspect of the impact of genes on sport
performance, see the item on African
genes in the July-August issue of Ferret.
Contributed by Will
IN THE FREEZER
If Professor Roald Bahr of the Norwegian
University of Sport has his way, that skeleton would take the form of
an extra blood sample drawn from athletes during testing for illegal
but currently undetectable substances such as injected erythropoietin
(EPO). The idea is to create a so-called C sample.
Currently, cross-country skiers and
professional cyclists in theory give two blood samples: the A sample,
which is analyzed immediately, and the B sample, which serves as a
verification sample in the event of an initial positive. Bahr
suggests that a third sample should be drawn and deep frozen
immediately for later analysis when new, more advanced detection
techniques are developed. He argues that the increased threat of
being retroactively caught for doping months or even years later
would serve as an added deterrent against the use of EPO and other
substances that currently cannot be detected in a judicially
air-tight manner. Today, a "positive" EPO test is based on hemoglobin
concentration or hematocrit being over a pre-defined limit. Because
of the uncertainty of this indirect method, athletes testing positive
are merely denied participation until they are back to a legal
Olympic gold medalist cross-country skiers
Thomas Alsgaard and Vegard Ulvang (retired) approve of the idea of a
C sample. According to Alsgaard, "All methods that scare are
positive. A lot of substances are currently used that the
doping-hunters don't even know about." Ulvang is now engaged at the
international administrative level by FIS, the International Ski
Federation. He adds, "A very clever suggestion. This can scare
someone from doing something illegal." The suggestion has also drawn
support from the Norwegian cycling community, including newly-crowned
U-23 world time trial champion Thor Hushovd. The suggestion is
currently under political and judicial evaluation by the Norwegian
Meanwhile, international steeplechaser Jim
Svenøy also welcomes a C sample, but points out the question
is moot within track and field. The International Amateur Athletic
Federation does not employ blood testing at all, despite suspicions
that EPO is widely used among distance runners.
Contributed by Stephen
ONE SET OR
For most folks a session of strength
training at the gym means a circuit of exercises repeated for three
or more sets. According to all the text books, performing multiple
sets of an exercise gives you greater gains in strength than
performing a single set of the exercise. But in a recent review
Carpinelli and Otto conclude that several sets of a strength-training
exercise are no more effective than a single set. Their method
requires you to choose a weight which you literally fail to lift
somewhere around the tenth repetition. All you do in your workout for
each exercise is one such set. It's a style known as
high-intensity training, or HIT.
Subscribers to the Sportscience mailing list
will recall a vigorous debate about this style of training in July
last year. It transpired that the devotees of HIT are widely regarded
as a commercially motivated fringe group whose ideas fly in the face
of experience and objective evidence. Ferret is now concerned that
some of their ideas will gain legitimacy from this review, which is
deeply flawed. In particular...
Ferret's advice: keep doing multiple
sets, periodize your training intensity, and watch for a thorough
- The gains in strength in almost all of the studies
reviewed by C&O are too small. For example, they
cited a study by Stowers et al. (1983) showing gains of
15%, 20% and 27% for 1 set, 3 sets, and a periodized
training protocol respectively. Stowers et al. suggested
that significant differences are more difficult to
produce when using small muscle mass exercises. More
recent evidence also supports this view (Stone et al.,
1991,1998). Multiple sets employing exercises that
involve greater muscle mass produce gains equaling
100-170% or more in previously untrained subjects (e.g.,
Fiaterone et al., 1990; Morgan et al., 1995; Nau et al.,
1998). Somehow the comparison studies in the C&O
review have been loaded against multiple sets, possibly
by restricting the review to studies of smaller muscle
mass. (Incidentally, C&O commented that there were no
differences between the groups in the Stowers et al.
study, but that is clearly not so.)
- Most of the studies in the review are of untrained
subjects, who gain strength with any form of training in
programs of 12 weeks or less. Most of the gains stem from
neural factors rather than muscle hypertrophy (Abernathy
et al., 1996; Hakkinen, 1985, 1994; Stone, 1993). But
when it comes to prolonged training programs--well beyond
the 12-week protocol typical of the studies reviewed by
C&O--recent and other studies not included in the
review favor multiple sets for both well trained and
sedentary subjects (e.g., Marx et al., 1998).
- In any case, gains in strength are only one aspect of
strength training. The majority of gym-going customers
want to LOOK strong. There is little doubt that multiple
sets produce bigger gains in muscle hypertrophy than
single sets, despite C&O's claim to the contrary.
- Injury and overtraining are known hazards of weight
training, especially if it does not employ periodization.
Both appear more likely when training to failure, whether
using one set or multiple sets. In a recent review Stone
et al. (1998) noted that training to failure produces
considerable fatigue. Fatigue increases the risk of
injury, probably through changes in movement patterns.
Additionally, the work of Nimmons et al. (1995) suggests
that training to failure and beyond (e.g., forced reps)
on a consistent basis can lead to overtraining.
Carpinelli, R.N. & Otto, R.M. (1998). Strength
training: single versus multiple sets. Sports Medicine, 26,
Kraemer, W.J. (1997). The physiological basis for
strength training in American football: fact over philosophy. Journal
of Strength and Conditioning Research 11, 131-142.
Kraemer, W.J. et al. (1997). Effects of single versus
multiple sets of weight training: Impact of volume, intensity and
variation. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 11,
Marx, J.O. (1998). The effect of periodization and
volume of resistance training in women. Medicine & Science in
Sports & Exercise 30(5), S164 (Abstract 935).
Sanborn, K. et al. (1998). Performance effects of
weight training with multiple sets not to failure versus a single set
to failure in women: A preliminary study. Presentation at the
International Symposium on Weightlifting and Strength Training,
Helsinki, Finland, November 10-12, 1998.
Retrieve the messages on the Sportscience list for
July 1997 by sending get sportscience
log9707 to listproc=AT=stonebow.otago.ac.nz,
then search for HIT in the files you receive.
Contributed by Fred
A friend of the Ferret posed this question
recently on the Sportscience mailing list. His original question was
focused on lab tests of performance. He doubted whether these tests
were precise enough to track the small changes in performance that
matter to an elite athlete. Field tests, time trials, or competitive
performances might be the only things worth monitoring.
He has combined the original question and the
replies into a single document, which you can access from
this link. Those who contributed
material have agreed to the publication of their messages. Here is a
summary of the most important points, drawn partly from the replies
and partly from further discussions with coaches and sport
- Regular systematic monitoring by a dedicated team of
support personnel is a key component of some successful
- Performance itself needs to be monitored, but so
do any factors that might impact even indirectly on
- Depending on the sport, these factors include
agility, anthropometry, biomechanics, musculoskeletal
status, nutrition, physiology, psychology, and skill.
- Where appropriate, these factors need to be
measured in sport-specific ways.
- Rapid, direct communication between athlete,
coach, and sport scientists will help in the
identification and prioritization of strengths and
- The ability of a test to track changes in an
athlete's performance depends on the variability in the
athlete's performance between tests. If this variability
is greater than the variability in the athlete's
performance between competitions, the test won't be able
to track small but valuable changes in performance.
- For endurance runners, several measures of
anaerobic-threshold speed derived from blood lactates
in an incremental test have a typical variability
between tests of only ±1.5% (Pfitzinger and
Freedson, 1998), which is similar to the variability
in competitive endurance performance of world-class
athletes. The anaerobic threshold is therefore well
worth monitoring. Another advantage of most
anaerobic-threshold tests is that the athlete does not
have to make a maximal effort.
- Non-competitive maximal lab tests or field time
trials probably have more variability between tests
than the anaerobic threshold, so they aren't as
- In one lab the variability in maximum oxygen
uptake between tests is ±2.0% (Rivera-Brown et
al., 1995). In most other places it ranges from
±3 to ±6%, or about ±2-4 ml/min/kg.
This test is therefore precise enough to identify
athletes with endurance potential. Regular monitoring
of maximum oxygen uptake with a standardized protocol
and equipment may also help delimit moderate-large
changes in an athlete's endurance conditioning. In
this respect it may complement peak power and
anaerobic threshold derived from a standardized
- An increase in the anaerobic threshold by itself
could indicate an improvement in fitness or the onset of
overtraining. But other measures will clarify the
situation (e.g. peak heart rate, peak lactate, effort,
body mass, skinfolds, mood state) and may even give you
advanced warning of overtraining.
- There is still no worthwhile published practical
hormonal or other blood test that can be used to diagnose
overtraining, let alone monitor for incipient
overtraining (Urhausen et al., 1998).
- But studies of overtraining and performance
enhancement are usually performed over a restricted time
frame, with insufficient pre- and post-testing to delimit
individual differences in the response to changes in
training or other intervention. When individual athletes
are monitored over several years, these individual
differences may become apparent to the coach and sport
scientist, who can then optimize training and other
treatments for the individual.
- Even if some lab tests aren't particularly reliable,
the interactions between athlete, coach, and sport
scientist during administration of the tests are
worthwhile. Regular testing also motivates the athlete.
- Through experience or formal research, some sport
scientists have found new methods to monitor athletes.
Some of these methods may be too valuable for
publication, but in general they probably confer only a
small advantage to the athletes lucky enough to be
monitored by them. Far more important is regular
systematic monitoring of the basics, which any
well-trained sport scientist can do.
Pfitzinger, P., & Freedson, P. S. (1998). The
reliability of lactate measurements during exercise. International
Journal of Sports Medicine, 19, 349-357.
Rivera-Brown, A. M., Rivera, M. A., & Frontera,
W. R. (1995). Reliability of VO2max in adolescent runners: a
comparison between plateau achievers and nonachievers. Pediatric
Exercise Science, 7, 203-210. [Coefficients of variation calculated
from correlations and standard deviations.]
Urhausen, A., Gabriel, H. H., & Kindermann, W.
(1998). Impaired pituitary hormonal response to exhaustive exercise
in overtrained endurance athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and
Exercise, 30, 407-414.
Contributed by Will
ferret=AT=sportsci.org · webmaster=AT=sportsci.org · Homepage ·
Edited by Chris Giles, Will Hopkins,
Mary Ann Wallace.
Webmastered by Chris Giles and Will
Hopkins · Last updated 24 Nov 1998