Many athletes focus on improving their game and rightly so, but little attention has been directed towards the science of shattering athletes’ records. Sports science plays a crucial role in any athletics team. Because of this research field, athletes can run faster, jump higher and push past physical limitations that were once thought impossible to overcome. With the ever-increasing participation in athletics, understanding how our bodies respond during intense physical exercise is vital, so much so that the sports medicine industry is expected to grow to $7.2 billion by 2025, according to Markets and Markets.
The way athletes approach training and recovery is crucial but their approach to athletics as a whole may be just as important. Oftentimes, players and coaches want the latest science in order to give them a competitive edge, whether that be the latest drill, stretch or exercise that gives their athlete a better chance at winning. The science behind these techniques, however, is more nuanced than it initially seems.
Trevor Gillum, professor of kinesiology and program director for sports science, weighed in on the topic.
“As a researcher, I might collect data and write up the study that suggests that it doesn’t work, but if I’m a coach and I read that study and I look at it and say that, well, it actually worked for three of the ten people enrolled in the study, then I might see if it’s going to work for one of my athletes,” Gillum said.
The approaches that researchers and coaches take are very distinct. The researcher may be more concerned with the accuracy of the research and testing a particular hypothesis, whereas the coach is focused on training athletes and winning.
A researcher may deem a method or technique meaningless, while a coach continues using that method or technique with the athletes in order to eke out any extra possibility of success. A coach may be able to disprove an area of exercise science simply by tapping into their athletes’ sheer will but coaches can only push their athletes so far until they reach the physical limitations of their bodies.
One area of particular interest is how athletes deal with soreness. Many ways have been pushed to alleviate soreness in recent years, from hot and cold baths, cupping and even changing one’s diet. Gillum shed light on why it is essential to let athletes’ bodies recover the right way.
“I don’t know that we want to find ways to alleviate muscle soreness because it’s really part of the healing process. It’s part of the recovery process. The better we can let nature take its course, the better we can let physiology do its thing, then the more likely we are to be protected from future subsequent bouts,” Gillum said.
This protection from subsequent bouts doesn’t just apply to injuries but also to training in general. When we work our muscles, we create micro-tears in them, causing our muscles to feel soreness. These micro-tears don’t just heal. They heal stronger than they were before. This has significant consequences for training, lest an athlete plateaus.
“The way we get stronger is twofold: One is our muscles get bigger and bigger muscles produce more force. The other thing with force is—it’s a neuromuscular component. It’s our central nervous system, the brain, the spinal cord, and the way it’s recruited. So, by constantly changing the way we recruit those muscle fibers, we’re playing upon those muscular neural adaptations,” said Gillum.
Bruce Tuan, senior nursing major, understands the mind-to-body connection in his own sports.
“Surfing and martial arts give you a sense of your limitations. It helps build on a mind-body connection by telling you what you can and cannot do,” Tuan said.
Physical training is a deeply intertwined process between the mind and body. Sports science has demonstrated how it is not enough for an athlete to just focus on physical aspects but the mental side too. Many are, however, taking advantage of the increasing knowledge coming out of the sports science field and making great use of it.
Chris Gonzalez, junior nursing major, shared how his knowledge of the body has changed how he views health and fitness, particularly when it comes to a healthy heart.
“Weight lifting is good but so is long-term health. Running, walking, biking, swimming, any of those things every now and then mixed in with strength training just to keep that cardiovascular health and promote more long-term health,” Gonzalez said.
As researchers continue to push the boundaries of sports science, athletes will continue shattering the records once thought unbeatable.