1. An S2S exclusive – Q&A with an Olympian

    August 15, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    As Olympic fever comes to a close, Team GB and Britain as a whole can feel very proud. The London 2012 Games has been a great success and huge credit must be given to all those involved, from the athletes to the Games Makers and everyone in between. One particular highlight of the Olympic Games has been how previously unknown sports have captured the hearts and imaginations of our nation!

    One such sport was Handball. Referred to as a ‘sleeper sport’ in this country, Handball has a very niche existence. Handball in many European and North African countries is the national sport. So, for these Games the aim of Team GB Handball wasn’t to finish in a medal position (although that would have been amazing!) but to ‘Inspire A Generation’ and get more people involved with handball.  As GB captain, Bobby White, told BBC Radio Northampton, “We might not have the ability to compete with these teams properly yet but in a few years we definitely will be”

    I was fortunate enough to catch up with Mark Hawkins, who was part of Team GB’s Handball Olympic squad and Matt Lee, an aspiring Handball Olympian who is at the Games as part of the Olympic Ambitions Programme to discuss all things Olympic Handball…

    (1) How long have you been playing Handball and how long have you been involved with GB Handball?

    MH: I have been playing Handball for 4 and a half years, been involved with GB the whole time.

    ML: I’ve been playing Handball for just over 5 years now. I used to play basketball, but got into the sport through a talent ID programme advertised on TV, similar to the ‘Sporting Giants’ campaign launched shortly afterwards by Sir Steve Redgrave.

    (2) What has your journey been like from initially taking up the sport to representing GB Handball internationally?

    MH: I was a ‘special’ case fast tracked straight to the national team through the UK sport talent transfer program ‘Sporting Giants’

    ML: I’ve had quite a different journey to the ones of many of the lads who made the Olympic squad, because I also stayed in full-time education alongside training. After the talent ID trials in 2007, I joined Ruislip Eagles HC, and played for them for 2 seasons. The I moved up to Liverpool, to study Sport Science at LJMU and played for 2 seasons with Liverpool HC, before last season switching clubs to play for Salford HC, and enjoyed a pretty successful season, winning the league undefeated and coming runners up in the cup.

    I’ve only recently been involved in the senior squad, after representing GB U21s and England U23s during 2010-2011. I was invited to a trial camp with them during a tournament in April 2012, when I got my first cap against Tunisia. After that I was put on the long squad list, and selected to go on the Olympic Preparation Camp, the first leg being a fortnight of S&C training in the Serbian mountains of Kopaonik. Unfortunately I didn’t make it past the first cuts, but I was a great experience in itself to be part of the preparations.

    (3) What has your training, particularly in getting ready for the London 2012 Olympics, been constructed around?

    MH: Largely full time daily training with a club team in Europe for the last 3 years

    ML: I’ve been training with my club Salford 3 times a week. During the preparation camp, the first 2 weeks were focussed on S&C. So we worked closely with our S&C coach, training 2-3 times a day, interval training, weights sessions, core and shoulder stability work. After those first two weeks the focus in training turned more handball specific, working on set moves etc., still with some emphasis on conditioning alongside.

    (4) In terms of nutrition (and supplementation) is there anything specific to Handball?

    MH: Not particularly, from January this year I re-worked my diet so I got everything I needed from nutrition instead of having to take additional supplements due to risks in drug testing etc.

    ML: I don’t know if there’s anything specific to handballers. I think a lot of the time it’s going to depend on preference, the time of the season and the training goals.

    (5) What sort of Sport Science support is involved? What role does Sport Science have in terms of aiding and improving your performance?

    MH: A great deal in handball, as players require needs from all areas, obviously related to injury and strength and conditioning there is a great deal of biomechanical information and the two work very closely together. Nutritionists play a key role with physios and S&C coaches to get the right benefits and also performance analysis is widely used to reflect on performance and scout opponents.

    ML: The support staff on camps usually includes the coaches who take footage from training and matches for performance analysis; our S&C coach, who also works with players on their biomechanics, nutrition and psychology (bit an all-rounder!); our physiotherapist, who is crucial given the contact element of the sport; and our team manager.

    (6) The Olympics, rightfully so, is the greatest sporting show on Earth. As someone fortunate enough to be there, how does it feel that all the hard-work has paid off?

    MH: It’s incredible, every tough day and training session and all the times you asked yourself why you were doing it were completely worth it!

    (7) From an athlete’s point of view, what have been your experiences and feelings so far? What is the atmosphere like around Team GB?

    MH: It’s been amazing for us and Team GB as a whole has had a really great atmosphere, everybody is hugely supportive of each other and it’s made for a great, bigger team atmosphere.

    ML: I wasn’t actually selected as part of the final 14, but I have still been able to experience the Olympics through the TeamGB Olympic Ambitions programme, organised by the BOA. The programme is for athletes aspiring for future summer and winter Olympics games, and provided us with an opportunity to experience what it would be like to be an athlete and an Olympic Games.

    (8) With Team GB doing so well can you see the legacy of the London 2012 games inspire the British public to embrace sport?

    MH: Absolutely, the amount of great public feeling and national pride is visible and the amount of people wanting to take up sports and being inspired to play is beyond what anyone could have expected, I hope that the feeling is capitalised on!!

    ML: I think they already have! Right from the opening ceremony there’s been a real sense of national pride, the crowds at all the events have been amazing, getting behind all of our teams. It’s been a fantastic 2 weeks for the smaller sports such as ours to get nationwide coverage and show the British public what they’ve been missing out on all these years! Many people have been enquiring about where to play and how to start up clubs, and I imagine it’s the same with other sports. We just need to make sure we capitalise on the interest.

    (9) Unfortunately Team GB men’s Handball didn’t qualify from the group stage, but participation in these games was more about exposure for Handball. With Handball warming the hearts of the nation, what do you hope to be the legacy for Handball in this country?

    MH: More people playing and continued exposure, we have got well in the minds of the nation but we need to capitalise on it immediately and keep the momentum building, I hope it gets more kids playing regularly and then in 10-15 years time we have teams competing in major tournaments and qualifying by right much more frequently

    ML: I want to see more people getting into the sport, from grassroots levels, in schools, right the way up to elite level. But we need the financial support in place for that, which will be up to the authorities that control the funding, after the Olympic is over. But it would be fantastic to see new clubs forming all around the UK (and some already have since the beginning of the Games!). I look forward to the day when we see a weekly Match of The Day for handball!

    (10)….And finally, what is next for you and GB Handball?

    MH: For me I am assessing club options for next season and for the national team we start with Euro 2016 qualifiers in October!

    ML: After the Olympics the focus will turn again to European Championship qualifiers in October. For me, I’ve just got to focus on my training, and get to a level where I can become a regular squad member and be part of those qualifiers.


    I would like to thank Mark Hawkins and Matt Lee for taking the time to speak with me. Also, I’d like to thank Matt again for making this opportunity possible. Team GB Handball may not have won a medal, but in getting the sport in the hearts and minds of the nation, they can take great glory from this.

    I’m sure everyone has thoroughly enjoyed the past few weeks and discovered events or role models they weren’t previously aware of. Now we look forward to a great, and hopefully just as successful, Paralympics Games. 

    Thanks for reading!

    Mubz (follow on twitter @MubzKamaluddin)


  2. ‘Lactic acid – innocent until proven guilty (the defence)’

    August 6, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    Guess what readers? Your PE teachers, coaches, gym instructors, TV presenters & Colin Jackson are all wrong! It was yesterday evening around about 7 o clock when Colin Jackson was providing his glitzy overview of the physiological/biochemical underpinnings behind the 400 metres. A passing note from Colin went along the lines of  ‘….and that is when the lactic acid builds up, causing fatigue to set in’. Colin’s victimization of lactic acid angered me, prompting me to act, in order to defend and repair the broken reputation of  our very own Mr Lactic acid. Everyone is entitled to a defence lawyer!

    Since the early 1900′s it has been known that isolated muscles made to contract until fatigue accumulate lactic acid. In addition, if oxygen is present in recovery, lactic acid levels decline while glycogen concentration & contractile function are restored. Hence, the rise of the well publicised association between oxygen insufficiency, lactic acid and fatigue.

    More recently, beneficial effects of lactate and lactate acidosis have been reported. For example, lactate can act as a substrate for energy production and is involved in cell-cell signalling. Further, lactic acid clearance during exercise has been thought to provide a beneficial, alkalising, effect on blood pH. Lactate transport across membrane barriers are now known to be facilitated  by lactate transport proteins that co-transport lactate and hydrogen ions (hydrogen ions are a major cause of fatigue). More over, several lactate transporter isoforms are expressed in different tissues and occupy specific cells. Therefore, production and exchange of lactate infact has many beneficial roles, with some aiding the reversal of fatigue.

    Results for Nielsen et al (2001) require us to once again re-evaluate our notions of lactate and its acidosis as some sort of fatigue inducing monster. Granted the study was performed on rats, Nielsen et al describe how muscular contractions cause both lactic acidosis and loss of intracellular potassium ions with accumulation of extracellular potassium ions. They observed that high potassium ion levels lead to a loss in muscular force. However, when lactic acid levels were high muscle fatigue wasn’t evident. In contrast, lactic acid actually countered the effects of potassium ions, that are observed with fatigue.

    Such discoveries challenge the notion that lactic acid is the main cause of fatigue.  I suggest we all stop victimising lactic acid and start ganging up on those nasty potassium ions and hydrogen ions instead! (Note – Science2Sport doesn’t promote victimising, bullying or any related behaviours).

    ‘Your honour, I propose my client, Mr Lactic Acid innocent’ 

    Thanks for reading! Keep tuned for your next dose of Science2Sport! Coming up we have an exclusive interview with a GB handball player, courtesy of our very own guest blogger Mubz (follow on twitter @MubzKamaluddin).


  3. ‘Hamstring strains – causes and prevention’

    July 16, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    Apologies for the lengthy delay in blogging action. I have been celebrating my recent graduation and haven’t found time to get my blogging hat on (may have something to do with excessive alcohol consumption). I hope you all enjoyed the guest blog last week! Follow Mubz on twitter for more S2S action! (@mubzy4 & @MubzKamaluddin)

    This blog will cover the causes of those annoying, niggling hamstring injuries and provide you with a guide to prevent such injuries from occuring!

    Within the world of football, hamstring strains are the most frequently occurring injuries. Hamstring strains account for approximately 12% of all injuries and on average result in 18 days out of action. Studies show that 91% of hamstring strains are non-contact, with 57% occurring in the late swing phase. The late swing phase is the point at which muscle activity is the highest and the hamstrings are working eccentrically, to decelerate the forward movement of the quadriceps.

    Risk factors for hamstring strains:

    - Inadequate warm-up & fatigue (extrinsic factors)

    - Agonist-Antagonist strength imbalances (i.e. quadriceps-hamstrings ratio)

    - Bilateral strength imbalances (i.e. differences between opposing legs)

    - Lack of flexibility

    - Age

    - Low back pain

    - Sacroilliac joint dysfunction

    In order to reduce your chances of suffering a hamstring strain, it’s important to address the risk factors above. A number of studies have looked to reduce the occurrence of hamstring strains by balancing the quadricep:hamstring ratio. One such study, separated 462 soccer players into 4 different groups, after assessing strength imbalances (47% were classified as imbalanced). The 4 groups were: 1) Balanced prior to intervention 2) Imbalanced prior to intervention (no compensation training) 3) Imbalanced prior to intervention (compensation training until balance achieved) 4) Imbalanced prior to intervention (compensation training, but balance achieved unknown). The results showed that injury frequency was 4 fold higher for participants in the imbalanced group (group 2) compared with participants from the balanced group (group 1). Furthermore, compensation training reduced injury frequency to the same rate as participants from the balanced group.  The group who received compensation training, but balance unknown (group 4) didn’t attain as strong a reduction in injury  occurrence. This study shows that compensation training to achieve a more balanced Q:H ratio is successful in reducing injury frequency, and that it’s vital for progress to be monitored.

    Many studies have demonstrated a reduction in hamstring strains following hamstring eccentric strength training. As mention earlier, hamstring strains most frequently occur during the late swing phase, when the hamstrings are working eccentrically to decelerate the forward acceelration of the quadriceps. Therefore, increasing the hamstrings eccentric strength is likely to reduce the risk for injury. Nordic hamstring curls are a great way to increase eccentric strength. Have a search on ‘youtube’ for some great demonstrations!

    Concluding statement: 

    In order to reduce your chances of suffering a hamstring strain Science2Sport recommends taking a holistic approach that targets the risk factors. You should include a sufficient warm up, core stability work, flexibility exercises, proprioception exercises, agility exercises and neuromuscular exercises (i.e. increase hamstring eccentric strength, balanced Q:H ratio, balanced opposing legs).

    Thanks for reading! Follow on twitter (@SciencetoSport or click the icon at the top) for insights, debates, questions and answers on the world of science and sport!

    Best wishes




  4. Nitrate Supplementation: The Bitter Truth

    July 4, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    Unless you have been on Mars recently you would have heard some mention of nitrate supplementation. The current hot topic of the sport nutrition world has reached boiling point and has everyone salivating, apart from me. (That’s only because I can’t stand beetroot!)

    The supplement of focus is Nitric Oxide (NO). NO, the ‘Molecule of the Year, 1992’, has for some time now been suspected to aid performance capabilities; particularly during sub maximal aerobic exercise. Over the last year or so its support has increased, to the point where it is being used by many high level athletes across an array of sports. Performance nutritionists at The English Institute of Sport advocate the use of beetroot shots in their triathlete’s and swimmer’s training programmes in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympics Games.

    Beetroot shots have recently arisen as a naturally occurring ergogenic aid, which assist and enhance aerobic exercise performance. Beetroot supplementation prior to exercise has been shown to decrease O2 demand during sub maximal intensities, resulting in a higher exercise tolerance. It has even been reported in some research that beetroot shots work to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in healthy volunteers.

    The idea is that during exercise NO plays a fundamental role in maintaining normal vascular function, as it diffuses into muscles and blood vessels resulting in vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels). The consequential increase in blood flow means more O2 to working muscles, resulting in a ‘harder/better/faster/stronger’ performance, right? Well, in a way yes!

    The literature suggests NO levels are important in O2 consumption rates in active muscles. NO has been found to influence O2 utilization, modulating muscle contraction and muscle glucose uptake. Nitrates allow blood flow to match O2 requirements, providing regular supply within skeletal muscles, thus increasing muscle function. NO also interacts with enzymes in the mitochondrial respiratory chain. This is a process by which energy (ATP) is generated in aerobic activity.

    NO supplementation lowers the O2 cost (the amount of O2 used by the muscles during exercise) of sub maximal activity, suggesting an increase in the ability to meet exercise demands of intensities between 44-89% of VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximum volume of O2 the body can consume per minute.Research shows that on average VO2 (not to be mistaken for VO2 max!) decreases from 2.98Lmin-1 to 2.82Lmin-1 during nitrate supplementation over lower exercise intensities. These findings agree with previous mentioned literature, in that O2 cost of sub-maximal exercise is reduced following NO supplementation.

    So, as you can see NO’s emergence as one of the hottest sport nutrition supplements is warranted. The benefits and advantages provided by NO, especially for athletes in aerobic sports are very impressive. However, beetroot shots are not some magical potion and its key they are integrated into and used alongside a correctly constructed training programme. Also, it must be noted that nitrates are essential micronutrients that everyone must have as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Beetroot is excellent, but spinach, rocket and lettuce are a fitting alternative for the health-aspiring non athlete.

    There you have it; the power of NO!

    Thanks for reading,

    Mubz Kamaluddin

  5. “No carbs before marbs”

    June 4, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    Yes, I suppose I have just admitted to shamefully watching  TOWIE (The Only Way Is Essex), but there is nothing wrong with a bit of light entertainment.

    So, what is the deal with the whole no carbs argument? Everytime you go to the gym you will always hear ‘Joe Bloggs’ talking about how they are cutting out carbs to loose weight. However, I bet Joe Bloggs doesn’t have a clue as to why he is cutting out carbs! Well ‘Joe’, I am here to reveal all…

    Emerging evidence suggests that reducing the intake of dietary carbohydrates is a critically important step in promoting both greater weight loss and greater loss of body fat.

    Now for the why part:

    The supposed mechanisms underpinning a reduction in carbs leading to weight loss are likely to be related to lower blood glucose, and in turn blood insulin concentrations. Carbohydrates, increase glucose concentration in the blood, which then triggers release of insulin.  Insulin’s primary functions as a hormone are to promote storage of blood glucose in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue and to inhibit lipolysis (fat breakdown) and promote triglyceride (storage form of fats) synthesis and storage rather than release, therefore leading to fat gain!

    You are now equipped with the rationale behind the BAFTA award winning shows catchphrase “No carbs before Marbs”. Arent they a clever bunch….

    Unfortunately not, whilst carbs do increase fat gain I wholeheartedly disagree with the motto of no carbs, in order to loose weight. Carbs should never be void from the diet. Carbohydrates play a vital role in many of the bodies processes, just to name one, glucose (a carbohydrate source) is the brains only fuel, so yeah, it is not wise to be cutting those carbs out!

    I advise you to decrease your carbohydrate intake (not get rid of it entirely), and consume the majority of your carbs when you wake up and around your workouts/training. Most of your carbohydrate intake should come in the form of low G.I. foods, such as lentils, beans and figs. This is because low G.I. foods trigger a less sharp and pronounced rise in blood insulin levels.

    To make up for your reduced carohydrate intake, you may want to consider replacing it with protein. Diets moderately high in protein and modestly restricted in carbs and fats may have more benefits in maintaining body weight. Increasing your protein intake will help you to retain more lean body mass when partaking in periods of weight loss. This is because protein has the best satiety (feeling of fullness) promoting effects and the highest thermogenic effect, aswell as the obvious synergism between resistance exercise and increased protein intake, in terms of increasing lean body mass.

    At the end of the day, weight loss boils down to the simple equation: Energy balance = Energy input – Energy expenditure! In order to loose weight your energy expenditure needs to be higher than your energy input (food). In order to maintain weight they need to be equal. Word of warning – do not start some ludicrous diet that restricts your calorie intake to nothing. A healthy balanced diet with regular exercise is the best way to go about things! “All in moderation” ladies and gents!

    Thanks for reading!

    Next week will definitely not feature a blog, due to my exams (Lucky me!)

    Follow on twitter by clicking the icon at the top of the blog!


  6. Football nutrition – pre, during and post match strategy

    May 28, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    As a football (soccer for our friends across the pond) enthusiast I have decided to provide you with a brief (due to my impending exams) nutritional strategy, to maximize both performance during a game and recovery after a game. These guidelines apply for all intermittent team sports (e.g. rugby)!

    1) Pre-match strategy:

    It is important for players to ensure they maximize glycogen (storage form of carbohydrate) stores prior to a game.  The development of fatigue during a game appears to be related to depletion of muscle glycogen stores. Krustrup et al (2006) found that whole muscle glycogen decreased by 43% during a football match and that almost half of the muscle fibres were completely, or almost empty of glycogen after the game. Depleted carbohydrate stores have been found to negatively effect psychological confidence. This is because glucose is the brains only fuel source. When carbohydrate stores are low, the brain will send a signal to the muscles to ‘spare’ glycogen, resulting in termination of exercise (not quite as simple as that but you get the point).

    In order to maximize glycogen stores it is recommended to consume a low GI rich carbohydrate meal about 3 hours before exercise. It is genuinely considered detrimental to consume carbohydrate less than an hour before a match (however evidence is not conclusive). Sherman et al demonstrated that ingestion of 312 grams of carbohydrate 4 hours prior to strenuous exercise resulted in a 15% improvement in exercise performance, whereas no improvement was observed in the group that consumed carbohydrate 45 minutes prior to exercise. Consuming a low GI meal is also important. GI, aka glycemic index is a measure of the effect of carbohydrate on blood insulin levels. A high GI food results in a quicker and more pronounced insulin response than a low GI food. Recent findings have shown significant improvements in both running time-to-exhuastion and time trial following ingestion of low GI foods, compared to high GI foods consumed 3 hours before exercise. An example of a good pre match nutrition strategy would be to consume 1-4 g/kg during the 6 hour period before exercise, no later than 3 hours prior to exercise. An example of a good pre-match meal would be a large serving of porridge, with milk and a banana (No later than 3 hours before the game).

    2) During the match:

    Intermittent sports, lasting over an hour, such as football are thought to benefit from carbohydrate ingestion during a match. Ali.A et al concluded that ingestion of a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution during exercise enabled subjects with compromised glycogen stores to better maintain skill and sprint performance when ingesting fluids alone. Therefore, sports drinks such as Lucozade have been found to improve performance. Get yourself a supply of sports drinks, or alternatively make your own. Some sugar free orange squash with a couple of pinches of salt should do the trick! Aswell, as ensuring adequate supply of carbs during the match, a sports drink will also help replace fluid and electrolyte losses.

    Mechanisms by which supplementary carbohydrate during exercise enhances performance:

    - provision of an additional muscle fuel source, when glycogen stores become depleted

    - glycogen sparing

    - prevention of low blood glucose concentrations

    - effect on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)

    3) Post match strategy

    Post match strategy is all about replenishing your glycogen stores! When periods between training are <8 hours carbohydrate should be ingested as soon as practically possible. Immediately after exercise is a crucial time to replenish glycogen stores. Moderate and high carbohydrate GI foods provide a readily availiable source of carbohdrate for glycogen synthesis. Another tip is to choose nutrient rich snacks to aid recovery. The optimal carbohydrate quantity is about 1-1.5 g/min after exercise. Examples of mod-high G.I. foods include honey, pasta and most rice. Nutrient rich snacks include flavoured youghurt, smoothies, etc.

    Supplements for consideration:






    Concluding statement:

    Prior to a match a low G.I carbohydrate rich meal should be consumed no later than 3 hours before. Carbohydrate ingestion, via sports drinks during a game has been shown to improve performance. Glycogen resynthesise should start as soon as possible with consumption of a moderate-high GI meal.

    Full time!

    Thanks for reading!

    This may be the last blog for a good couple of weeks, due to the joys of final year exams! Keep upto date with Science2Sport by following on twitter (click the icon at the top).


  7. ’5 ways to mix up your workouts and breakthrough any plateau!’

    May 21, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    Working out, but not seeing results? Reached a plateau?….. What you need is to change things up and add a bit of variety to your workouts.  ‘Variety is the spice of life’

    Here are my 5 plateau defeating recommendations:

    (1) Mix up those sets and reps….

    Maximize muscle fibre stimulation by mixing up your sets and reps. Why not try 5 sets of 5 reps to add strength, or 3 sets of 15 to tone up those muscles. To keep achieving gains you have to keep the muscles guessing, changing up the sets and reps is a great and easy way to add variety to your workouts. I have always used a variety of sets to reps ratios within my workouts. For example, a typical chest workout would include: incline BP 5×5, flat DB press 4×8-12, dips 4×12-15 and cable flyes 2×25.

    (2) Change the tempo….

    The rule of thumb for a given rep is usually 3:1:1, meaning the weight should be lowered for a total of 3 seconds, then held in position for 1 second and powered up for one second. The tempo can be changed up to spur on new gains! Why not try a ratio of 6:2:1 or 3:3:1? Keep changing up your rep tempo and you will be sure to see new gains!

    (3) Get creative – supersets, dropsets, in-set supersets, negatives….

    Add variety into your workouts by including an array of techniques to spur on new muscle growth. Superset and dropsets are great ways to increase muscular endurance, feel the ‘pump’ (Arnie’s favourite) and fight off those nasty plateau’s. Supersets are when you perform two exercises back to back without any rest. Supersets can be performed on the same muscle group (e.g. Bench press followed by DB flyes) or with different muscle groups (e.g. bicep curls followed by tricep extensions). In set supersets are when you perform two exercises within the same set. I feel they are a great way to stimulate the muscle and ideal for home-workouts where you may not have access to heavy weights, so require different ways to maximize muscle stimulation. A great example is DB bench press performed for one rep followed by a DB flye for one rep, and so on….

    (4) Full body vs Split routines….

    This is a rather touchy topic! Everyone you ask seems to have a different preference with regards to using full body workouts or split routines. To avoid upsetting anyone I am going to say why not try both? Why not do an 8 week block of a split routine, followed by 8 weeks of full body workouts. Why not even use full body workouts and split routines within the same block. To avoid us being here all day I will save going into detail for a later blog. Watch this space!

    (5) Change your exercise order….. 

    If you have hit a plateau in one exercise why not trade it for something else or put a different exercise at the start of your workout. This allows you to make gains in a new exercise. For example, many people start chest days with flat bench press, why not start with incline bench press? Personally, I think starting with incline bench is a better option anyway. You should look to build your chest from top to bottom, to get better proportions and get them top buttons popping open!

    Get experimenting with these 5 tips and you will be sure to spur on new muscle growth! Remember, summer is only around the corner!

    Thanks for reading!

    Subscribe and follow on twitter by clicking the icon at the top of the page!



  8. ‘Train less to be the best – Interval training for endurance running’

    May 14, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    ‘I would love to run a marathon but do not have the time to train for it’

    If you share this misconception, that competing in endurance based events requires endless hours of mind-numbingly boring cardio you are wrong and I have a soloution!

    The research shows that training time required is considerably less than traditionally thought necessary for aerobic adaptations to occur. Sport scientists have found that reducing your training volume by engaging in speed-interval training will not only catylyse the necessary aerobic adaptations, but lead to more pronounced adaptations than that of traditonal endurance training.

    Interval training is a form of physical training that involves bursts of high-intensity work interspersed with periods of low intensity work. The high intensity periods are typically at or close to maximal anaerobic capacity (>80% VO2 max), while the recovery periods may involve either complete rest or activity of low intensity.

    Gunnarsson & Bangsbo (2012) looked at the effect of an alteration from regular endurance to interval training on the health profile, muscular adaptations, VO2 max & running performance. Moderately trained individuals were divided into either a high intensity training group (10-20-30) or a control group (normal cardio training). The high intensity training protocol replaced normal endurance training with 10-20-30 training consisting of low, moderate & high speed running (<30%, <60% & >90% of maximum intensity) for 30, 20 & 10 seconds respectively, in 3-4 five minute intervals interspersed by 2 minutes of recovery.

    After the intervention period VO2 max in the 10-20-30 group was 4% higher & performance in a 1500m & 5k run significantly improved. Systolic blood pressure (SBP) was reduced along with total and LDL cholesterol. No alterations were observed in the control group. This study shows that interval training can improve performance & VO2 max despite a 50% reduction in training volume. In addition, the 10-20-30 training regieme lowers SBP and blood cholesterol, suggesting a beneficial effect on the health profile of already trained individuals.

    Studies done by Burgomaster et al (2005) & Gibala et al (2006) also show the benefits of speed interval training (SIT) over endurance training (ET). Both studies showed enhanced adaptations in muscle oxidative properties and an increased time to exhaustion in the SIT group, compared with the ET group.

    Emil Zatopek was a 5km, 10km and marathon  Olympic champion in 1952. Emil was ahead of the field and the science:

    “When I was young, I was too slow…. so I thought, I must learn to run . So I ran one hundred metres very fast…. People said, “Emil,
    you’re crazy. You are practising to be a sprinter. You have no chance.” … so I said, “Yes, but if I run one hundred metres twenty times, that is two kilometres and that is no longer a sprint”.

    This was what Emil’s daily training looked liked in 1947:

    ’5x150m with 150m jogs between

    20x400m with 150m jogs between

    5x150m with 150m jogs between

    400m intervals run in 67-77 seconds (VO2 max pace)

    150m run very fast’

    Concluding statement:

    The science shows that the time required to train for endurance events is not as long as traditionally thought. Interval training is a great way to achieve the aerobic adaptations necesary for endurance performance, whilst reducing training volume. Interval training has also been shown to have superior health benefits when compared with cardio. Be warned though – interval training is tough and invovles working at a high intensity. For this reason, I would not advise untrained individuals to start with interval training, instead build up your aerobic base, with low intensity cardio exercise and after a sufficient amount of time introduce interval training to your workouts.

    Many thanks for reading!

    Follow on twitter (click the icon at the top of the page) and subscribe for weekly blogs!

    Tune in next week for your Science2Sport top up!



  9. ‘The Female athlete – closing the gap?’

    May 7, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    The improvement in female running world records has increased faster than males between 1950 until the current time. This increased rate in performance begs the question as to whether or not the performance gap that exists between genders can be closed in years to come???

    There has been talk that women will run faster than men, particularly over longer endurance based events. However, this prediction appears to be inaccurate! Recent and more relevant findings show that endurance running world records are nearing their limit and consequently the gender difference of 8-14% over distances from 1500-42,000m  is unlikely to decrease further. Although these differences appear relatively small, in a review by Cheuvront et al (2005) it is highlighted that the models predict women will only break the 4-minute mile barrier in 2033 if at all, some 80 years after Roger Bannister.

    Reasons for differences in endurance performance are related to:

    - Differences in body composition & the higher fat content of women are almost certainly related to the performance differences  - however even when this is taken into account and data is expressed as lean body mass, differences still exist.

    - The critical component is the lower VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake) observed in females – most probably arising from a lower haemoglobin content. VO2 max is thought to be the gold standard measure of cardio-respiratory fitness, with a large VO2 max being a pre-requisite for endurance athletes. Vo2 max is largely genetically determined, however it can be enhanced via training. For men (18-25) VO2 max values of 40-45 ml/kg/min are common, whilst in women values around 35-40ml/kg/min are more apparent. Cross-country skiers tend to have superhuman VO2 values of anything between 80-95 ml/kg/min being recorded!

    Sprinting too shows no indication that women can beat men! The current women’s 100m record stands at 10.48s compared to Usain Bolt’s lightning quick 9.78s (apologies for the awful pun).

    Reasons for differences in sprinting performance are related to:

    - The principle difference in sprint performance is due to differences in muscle cross sectional area which is almost certainly due to the anabolic effect of testosterone.

    - Males also have a greater percentage area occupied by type 11 fibres and this is likely to contribute to the greater ground forces exerted by men. Fibre type is largely genetically determined. Type 11 fibres are known as fast-twitch fibres, more suited to power and sprint type events, due to the fast rate of power generation. Type 1 fibres are known as slow-twitch fibres and are more suited to endurance events, due to their high aerobic capacity.  As the difference in fibre composition is largely due to fibre size and not number, it is unclear if sprint and strength-trained women would still show larger Type 1 fibres if compared to endurance-trained men. It is more likely that there is a continuum of fibre size reflecting the dominant usage.

    An interesting yet controversial point:

    It would appear evident that due to physiological differences between genders women will not ‘close the gap’ that exists. Men remain bigger, taller, stronger, faster and more powerful. However, Cheuvront et al (2005) speculate as to the future and propose that there still potentially remains one way in which women could reduce the performance gap and that is through the recent IOC medical commission recommendation which will allow athletes undergoing sexual re-assignment surgery to compete in their reassigned sex category whether re-assigned after or before puberty. The implication being that if the surgery occurs after puberty then these athletes could still have a significant advantage (i.e. more lean mass). Whether this inclusive policy is abused will be known only in the future!!! (athletes are extremely driven people, often putting their chosen disciplines before their health, will they go to the extremes of undergoing sexual re-assignment therapy in order to be at the top?)


    The Female Athlete (2009). The Olympic Textbook of Science and Sport, The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine An IOC Medical Commission Publication. Chapter 23 382 -397 Wiley- Blackwell , Chichester, UK

    Thank you for reading!

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  10. My guide to growing your guns!

    May 1, 2012 by Joe Sumray

    Firstly, I would like to start with an apology for the lack of blogging action of late. I have been a rather busy boy!

    To make up for it I am going to provide you with my guide to bigger arms:

    1) Do not just train your arms!

    In order to achieve an impressive set of guns you need a workout routine that will add mass to your entire body. Your exercise routine should be based around compound exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, shrugs, pullups, barbell rows, bench press etc. Compound movements will increase the size and strength of your entire body.  A person that just performs bicep curls everyday of the week will not get anywhere. You would never build a house without the foundations in place, so how will your arms grow without a big back and  solid pair of legs!!!

    2) Do not ignore the triceps!

    A lot of beginners tend to concentrate solely on their biceps, leaving their triceps feeling neglected. The triceps make up a large proportion (~two thirds) of the arms and therefore need attention, in order to create a set of arms worthy of an Adonis. Good tricep exercises include; dips, close grip bench press, tricep extensions and dumbell kickbacks. Bare in mind your triceps do get worked when you are performing those compound movements, such as the bench press and military press.

    3) Keep good form and concentrate on the downward phase of the movement!

    Slow down! Everyone has encountered that person in the gym performing a set of barbell curls at lightning speed. These ‘cheats’ are getting no where! It is all about maintaining good form and keeping a nice steady pace, especially during the downward phase. During the downward phase of the bicep curl your biceps are working eccentrically. An eccentric contraction is when the muscle lengthens whilst under tension. It has been shown that the eccentric portion of the movement is the most important in terms of hypertrophy, as it is when the muscle is under the most tension. Therefore, make sure you count to at least 3 seconds when you are performing the downward phase of an exercise, such as the bicep curl.

    Extra tip – if you fancy changing up your workout a bit try performing ‘negative’ sets. Negatives concentrate on the downward phase of the movement. An example would be to complete the downward phase of  bicep curls or pullups very slowly (~6 seconds).     ‘Warning’  – your arms may feel like they are about to burst!

    4) Work your brachialis! 

    The brachialis is the little round muscle between your biceps and triceps. Whenever you do any bicep exercise you are going to work your brachialis to an extent. The reason you want to bare the brachialis in mind is because it sits under your biceps and a bigger brachialis helps your bicep peak higher whenever you flex them. Good exercises for your brachialis include: hammer curls, reverse curls and close grip pull-ups (overhand grip so your palms are facing away from you – opposite grip to what you would use to concentrate on your biceps).

    5) Chin-ups and Dips! 

    Close grip underhand chin ups are by far the best exercise for achieving bulging biceps. If you are not strong enough to do one chin up then most gyms have assisted machines that take a proportion of your body weight away, making the exercise easier to complete. Using the assisted machine you will gradually improve until you are able to perform the exercise without assistance! For the triceps you cant go wrong with dips!

    Concluding statement: 

    In order to gain a great set of arms you have to add mass to your entire body and start performing compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts and barbell rows. The triceps make up around 70% of your arms and should not be ignored. In addition, perform the eccentric phase of the movement slowly and controlled. Chin-ups and dips are great exercises for your biceps and triceps!

    Thanks for reading!

    Tune in next week to read about the ‘Female athlete – narrowing the gap?’