Shock and memories.

I am still in touch with most of the athletes I coached. Some of them regularly, some of them once a year, but in many cases our last workout together was 20-30 years ago. But I also lost contact with some of them simply because they moved, sometimes to another country.

One of the athletes I lost contact with is Ronald Desruelles. In the past years when I asked other people who knew him, nobody knew where he was or what happened to him, he seemed to have disappeared. He was one of the most gifted and also nicest athletes I ever worked with. I coached him from 1986-1988.

With Ronald before a competition

With Ronald before a competition

Ronald was an excellent sprinter (P.B. 100m 10.02 secs, 200m 20.66 secs, he also jumped 8.08 meter in the long jump and ran 60 meter indoors in 6.56 secs).

He became European indoor champion in the 60 meters in Madrid in 1986, was 6th in the World Indoor Championships 60 meters in Indianapolis in 1987 and won silver at the European Indoor Championships in Budapest in 1988.

As an athlete he was born to sprint and to jump, very explosive and elastic, a human kangaroo.

Ronald in training

Ronald in training

This week, I learned why I lost contact with him, he had moved from Belgium to Thailand and became the owner of three restaurants there. The bad news however is that he has taken his own life, most probably as the newspaper article said, because he could no longer cope with the financial burden of the restaurants which that weren’t doing too well.

This news must have been a big shock to all who knew him, and in my case trained with him. If there would have been anything I could have done to help him, I surely would have done so.
I got to know him as a very gentle and almost shy personality, proud, and with a great sense of humor. Somehow he found the balance between enjoying life and being dedicated to the sport and the training. He was a handsome athlete and always attracted female attention, which was the cause of many anecdotes. I fondly remember going to training camps with him, he was great addition to any group.
I feel sorry for the family and friends he left behind. No matter how fast he was, somehow he could not outrun the harsh reality of life. But Ronald has not disappeared, he is now on the outside looking in and he is still here in our memories.

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Could it be genetic?

As a young coach I was educated with the idea that genetic factors were the limitations to performance: “you can’t turn a donkey into a race horse”. Irrelevant statement: donkeys do not race against race horses.

More puzzling were the observations that some athletes seemed to response so well to a certain training program while others barely improved with the same program.
It’s not difficult to observe a large inter-individual variation in training responses. Nor is it hard to see ct that one-size-fits-all does not work optimally for everyone and that every individual athlete needs an individual training program or in a broader sense, an optimal environment to thrive.

In the same line of thinking is the fact that this idea also applies to nutrition: some people can eat a lot of calories without gaining weight while others can only eat a few calories and still gain weight.
Also here: one man’s superfood can be another man’s poison.

There are ways to find out what the individual response to training or diet is: coincidence, trial-and-error or taking estimated guesses. Science won’t help us a lot, as scientific research tends to average the results of individual responses. Most of the time we look at (bio-)markers of individual progress, which is also not an easy task, since there are any different variables that influence the results.
For example: for explosive sports we might look at jumping height, other strength parameters, and of course competition results, to see if our training is heading in the right direction. For many of our athletes things seem to go well, but what if an athlete stops making progress, what could be the cause? Yes, many factors can be taken into account, but one factor is difficult to judge: the genetic factor. Maybe our training program is not optimal for the specific genetic design of the athlete: physiologically, biochemically, hormonally, psychologically, etc.

Already in 1970, I wanted to perform genetic tests on athletes, but only in 2003 the human genome was unraveled and it took another 10 years for genetic testing to become feasible for coaches (reliability and pricing).
The procedure of genomic testing is simple: just have the athlete swab their cheeks. But then, trouble starts: even though the results might be accurate, the interpretation and practical meaning is not. Here are some practical hiccups: even though the genetic predisposition of the athletes is of the explosive power type (according to ACTN-3), there is still huge difference in muscle type composition between the different muscle groups in the human body.

One other methodological problem is the associations between certain qualities and the genomic design. Some labs will tell you having gene A might predicts a 80% probability of a certain quality or disease. But another lab will tell you gene A only will give you a 20% probability of the same quality or disease.
It depends on the population from which the samples are taken, since many qualities depend on environmental influences as well. So in one country one might have a gene with a 80% chance, since other environmental influences are not present or have a negative amplifying effect. While in the 20% example the same gene is expressed less in that particular population since there are positively amplifying factors like, temperature, sunlight, altitude, food, pollution, exercise, lifestyle, smoking, cultural and social habits, etc. And this might explain the difference between the 20% and 80% probability.

And there are more methodological difficulties. All of this does not decrease the value of genetic testing at all, just makes the interpretation more difficult and therefore challenging.
In sports we are not specifically looking for the risk of certain (rare) diseases. We looking for the genetic factors that associate with training and diet. These factors might show that maybe you have been training and/or eating against your genetic design and so your results are negatively affected.

The more we start to know about the human genome , the more we realize it’s not a destiny, but a set of possibilities mainly influenced by the environment. And it are those strong influences , like training and diet that we work with, every day.

A few books:
Collins, M (Ed.): Genetics and Sports; Medicine and Sport Science Vol.54, Karger, 2009.
Pescatello, L.S; Roth, S.M.(Eds.): Exercise Genomics; Humana Press, 2011.
Bouchard, C; Hoffmann, E.P.(Eds.): Genetic and Molecular Aspects of Sports Performance; Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Wackerhage, H.(Ed.): Molecular Exercise Physiology; Routledge, 2014.

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Hamstring seminar

Since I get requests for the Hamstring seminar, here is the information:

THE 2nd INTERNATIONAL ”GLOBAL HAMSTRING PROJECT” SYMPOSIUM

http://nhance.se/global-hamstring-project-register-now-2/#.VhddVPu5gUA.facebook

Program:

09.00: Per Tesch, PhD. Karolinska Institutet, Founder nHANCE™ driven by YoYo™ Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. ”The Global Hamstring Project”.

09.15: Kristian Berg, Dr. Naprapathy. Rygg & Idrottsskadekliniken, Stockholm, Sweden. ”The underappreciated complex anatomy and function of the hamstring muscle group”.

09.30: Henk Kraaijenhof, Holistic Track & Field Coach, Helping the best to get better. Laren, The Netherlands. ”When hamstring becomes an Achilles’ heel. A practical approach to prevent and treat hamstring problems in athletes”.

10.30: Coffee Break

11.00: Julio Tous Fajardo, PhD. Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Italian National Football Federation, La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain. “My approach to prevent hamstring injuries in professional athletes while enhancing speed and agility“.

12.00: Mateja Fritz, RPT. Optimal Fysik, Stockholm, Sweden. “Treating tendon injury and hamstring muscle strain using ultra-sound guided EPI® technique and YoYo™ technology”.

12.15: Srecko Mijatovic. RPT. Cortex Training Center, Belgrad, Serbia. ”Enhancing speed, strength and power and preventing injury with YoYo™ Technology: My Approach!”

12.45: Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalo, PhD. Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. “Exercise models to prevent hamstring injury in elite soccer players. What muscles are actually targeted? An exhaustive study employing functional MRI”.

13:30: Lunch

14.45: Jordi Garcerán, Holistic Sports Coach & Advanced Personal Trainer. Paradise, Mataro, Spain. “Hands-On exercise using YoYo™ technology. My favorite exercises for brute eccentric power or functionality – more than hamstring only”.

16.00: Wrap-up.

Where: TecnoCampus, Mataro (Barcelona), Spain
When: 09.00-16.00; 28/11/2015
Invited: Coaches, Clinicians, Researchers, Athletes, Team Managers
Host: nHANCE™ driven by YoYo™ Technology
How to get there: By car from Barcelona (C-32) or Girona; by train from Pl. Catalunya; by air to either Girona or Barcelona (El Prat).
Where to stay: Ibis, Barcelona Mataro or Hotel Atenea Port Barcelona Mataro, both situated right on the beach.
Attendance Fee: €245 (deadline: 21/10); Early Bird: €195 (deadline: 20/11).
How to Register & Pay: Bank wire transfer to account number (IBAN) SE58 6000 0000 0000 4244 6309; BIC/Swift: HANDSESS; accountant: YoYo Technology AB, Pryssgrand 10, 113 51 Stockholm, Sweden. Important: Provide Name, Title, Affiliation, e-mail and mobile tel along with bank wire transfer copy to info@nhance.se

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Lactate, back to the roots.

In the 1980’s, coaching some young middle distance runners, they were advised to do some lactate tests, because that would help me to guide their training. Being young and naïve (as I am still), we did this, but for some reason I could not believe that measuring one singular factor could lead to the designing of the complete program for the athlete. So I discarded this way of testing as soon as possible. But many of my colleagues kept on doing this for the longest time. The people promoting this test were German-educated sports doctors. Even whole books have been written about this test.(1,2). Clear examples of the one-factor fallacy: trying to explaining complex performances by focusing on one singular parameter, in this case: lactate.

Also a few years later training abroad with sprinters I saw the German sprint team having their lactate levels tested before and after every workout every day. And I overheard these athletes and their coaches comparing their lactate levels as if it was the only and most important parameter for sprinting. Producing optimal lactate levels seemed more important than winning sprints in competition.

The Germans had, at least in Europe, always been a formidable force, but coincidence or not, since they started focusing on lactate, a German sprinter at the highest level became an exception. And in middle-and long distance running, their performance level became even worse. Since I was and am still a keen student of German sports sciences, I was curious if their firm belief in lactate testing and control of their training process had something to do with that. But I could never really clearly reveal this relationship.
But then I found the website of the original developer of the lactate-testing concept: Dr. Alois Mader, a brilliant East-German sports doctor, who in 1974 escaped from the GDR to the BRD and who designed the lactate test in the years 1970/1972. He published some valuable insights in the lactate testing as well as the adaptation mechanisms of the muscle cell to training load (3,4).
On his website, in English, he intensively describes the problems with the dogmatic application of the lactate testing, the wrong interpretation and the consequences for German sports and the political and (un-)scientific background of it all. This website is a must-read for everyone interested in muscle metabolism and adaptation processes and of course the role of lactic acid in exercise metabolism.

1. Janssen, P: Lactate Threshold Training; Human Kinetics, 2001
2. Olbrecht, J: The Science of Winning, F& G Partners, 2007.
3. Mader, A; Heck, H: A theory of the metabolic origin of “Anaerobic Threshold.” Int. J.  Sports Med. Vol.7 (Suppl.1), 1986, pg. 45-65.
4. Mader, A: A Transcription-Translation Activation Feedback Circuit as a Function of Protein Degradation, with the quality of Protein Mass Adaptation Related to the Average functional Load; J. Theor. Biol. Vol 134, 1988, pg.135-157.

Dr. Maders’ website: http://www.muscular-energy-metabolism.com/

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Supplements: gateway to doping use?

Recently I read an interesting article by colleague-coach Steve Magness about the psychology of doping. He states as follows: “Research has linked the use of numerous supplements to acting as a gateway towards doping”.
But not everything that sounds obvious or logical is true. In order for this statement to be true, cause and effect must be clearly established…..and they just are not! The use of supplements does not automatically lead to the use of doping for quite a few reasons.

The often used “gateway theory”, in former days called the “stepping stone theory’, is mildly stated, far from established. Addiction expert Denise Kandel states: “It doesn’t mean that because you start with tobacco, you’re going to become a heroin addict. That’s completely false reasoning. Many people start smoking. Only a few go on to use heroin. Use of a drug at a lower stage may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for progressing to a higher stage”.

The definition of nutritional supplements and of doping, and the difference between them, is arbitrary. The many changes in the banned list show this. A few examples. Alcohol is on the banned list for some sports, so it is part of everyday nutrition, a supplement, a social drug, a hard drug (think Saudi-Arabia), a medicine or is it doping? Alcohol is also an good example of a substance where the gateway theory does not hold. The best example? One of the biggest biological and social experiments ever staged: the Prohibition in the US.

Interestingly enough, during the Prohibition, the use of alcohol increased, instead of decreased. And so did the relative amount of alcohol-related deaths and organized crime. Alcohol-related deaths, that is what it is called, but in fact those deaths were not related to ethanol, but to the toxic methanol, the chemical produced during the production of alcohol through the improper and inadequate production process by illegal bootleggers. The taste or the attractiveness of alcohol as a substance did not change during the prohibition. The old saying that the forbidden fruit tastes sweeter certainly holds true for alcohol.

The idea that nutritional supplements are a gateway to doping use certainly raises more questions. For instance, the fact that most of the world’s population has been supplemented with nutritional supplements one way or another, knowingly or not: iodine in salt, vitamin A and D in butter, iron in cornflakes and I’ll never forget the spoonful of cod liver oil and the sour-tasting 50 mg vitamin C tablets I had to take in wintertime. Would this really mean a step towards the use of doping?

And what about one of the most effective performance enhancing agents in existence, coffee? Again, is it a social drug, a poison, a nutritional substance , or a PED?
Research is clear: caffeine improves performance on many levels, so for sure it is a doping agent for that matter, but it’s not on the list. Yes, it was, but taken of the list as fast as it appeared. Nowadays some athletes test positive for substances that are on the list, like geranamine, but with much less proven effectiveness than two cups of strong coffee. Also we find banned substances in normal food, stuff like synephrine. Yes, orange marmalade should be on the banned list.

And according to some people, creatine should be on the banned list too, since it’s performance enhancing properties are without any doubt. This would also mean an end to the consumption of steaks and fish. Creatine is a fuel to the body, is produced by the body itself and should be taken in a somewhat higher dose to take effect.
And following this line of thinking: the same can be said of carbohydrates, so pasta-parties before a marathon should also be banned. Would eating two-three plates of pasta before marathon also be considered to be a gateway do doping? Let’s get real here.

This is the catch: the whole concept cannot be taken serious for several reasons, one of them is that the list states that a substance only has to be potentially performance enhancing, isn’t that an interesting concept?

Doping is about cheating, to beat your opponent in an illegal way, at least that is one of the main conclusions of Steve Magness’ article.
Yes, sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s not. This could explain why thousands of recreational athletes and fitness participants use performance enhancing drugs. Not to beat somebody else, since there is nobody to beat and nothing to win. I also think that athletes still would use performance enhancing drugs if they were the only athletes in the world or running 100 meters against the clock, or throwing the discus, without any other competitors around to beat. Just from pure curiosity, just to see how fast your body can sprint or how far you can throw or jump.
Well, one can say, but it’s not the “real, natural” you running that fast or throwing that far. But there isn’t something like the real or natural you. The moment you start training you drift away from your natural untrained “gift” or “pure talent”.

Anyway who cares about that anyway, not the millions of people taking anti-depressants, anxiolytics or sleeping pills, not willing to accept the natural limitations of their organisms. You are unhappy, but the pills make you artificially happy, how can you be happy with that?

Not accepting our natural limitations is one of the main characteristics of mankind! How many people don’t take sleeping pills when they can’t sleep, drink coffee to stay awake, smoke a joint or take a drink to relax. If you think about it, a lot of our activities are geared towards manipulating our environment and ourselves. Just because we just cannot deal with the limitations or the limited resources Mother Nature is presenting to us. We use antidepressants, Viagra, (cosmetic) surgery, weight-loss product – the list is long.
Mountaineers taking oxygen bottles to climb the Everest or K2? Or taking oxygen bottles for diving? What makes you think athletes are different, that they are less inclined to manipulate their limitations or have higher moral values than the average person? Without people who explore, without people who go beyond, without people who look for the edge, we probably would not exist. Explorers, designers, inventors or visionaries do not accept limitations.
I agree with George Bernard Shaw, who wrote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

Why aren’t anti-inflammatories and painkillers on the banned list? Many athletes would not even be able to train leave alone to compete or to win, without using them. Again, it is to overcome the natural barrier, pain in this case. Pain indicates a risk for damage to the organism. And since one cannot accept that fact, one takes them. But it is legal.
Just as taking thyroid medication is, as is shown very recently.

Questions, questions, but no answers: why is marihuana on the banned list and is alcohol not. If there is one tip I would give my opponents in any sport: smoke marihuana, one of the most ergolytic substances known to man, one becomes mellow and giggly, not sharp and strong.
And as far as acute or chronic damage for your health is concerned: alcohol beats marihuana all the time.

Is taking drugs the only way to “cheat” ? Certainly not, if I am the 5th athlete in my country in my sport and only the first three go to the Olympics, (in other words: I am not good enough) I can change my nationality or arrange another country to change my nationality. And when necessary one could change ones family name too. Bypassing the rules in a completely legal way.

Or you could change you date of birth, this way a 24 year athlete will beat the 17 and 18 years old competitors. I met to a world champion of 28 years, married and two children, who just the year before became the best of the world in his junior “calendar-age 18” group. Is that cheating or what? Risk of detection: none, sanction: none.

Masters: some athletes feel the drive to compete long after their prime years: the Masters. But aging comes with an almost inevitable loss of health, so especially in older age groups, these athletes have to take medications for their health. Unfortunately for them many of those medications are on the banned list: diuretics, insulin, beta-blockers, some of them have testosterone replacement therapy, others use Viagra, the list is long. But … are they trying to cheat or should they accept the fact that they are aging and stop exercising at a competitive level?

Don’t change your mind, but sometimes one has to consider the more sides of an issue in order to take a good point of view.

Steve Magness’ article: http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2015/09/psychology-of-doping-why-were-fighting.html

I won’t even try to make list of articles and books about this subject.

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Pier and Per

Sometimes in life you walk a path together with other people. Sometimes this road splits again and one might not meet ever again, both going his/her own way. But it also happens that after a long period of time, a decade or more, the paths cross again. And this happened to me twice last week.

After having coached PierFrancesco Pavoni, for some years during 1987-1989, we did not see each other for a long time. PierFrancesco was one of the most gifted sprinters I coached, finalist in the WC in Rome in 1987 in the 100m and 200m, European Champion silver medal winner in the 100m in 1982 in Athens and two bronze medals in the WC indoor in the 60 meters in 1987 and 1989. He used to train with Pietro Mennea most of the time in Formia.

Training in Formia

Training in Formia

PierFrancesco, wasn’t only a very good sprinter but also a real gentleman, a very creative designer and an unconventional and independent thinker. And on top of all that very funny too. His muscle fiber type is a clear indication of his talent. Just read his story about exceptional muscle fibers in the blog of Pierre-Jean Vazel: (in French, but you’ll get the drift from the graphs).

http://vazel.blog.lemonde.fr/2015/03/21/les-fibres-superrapides-le-secret-du-sprinteur-pavoni/

It was good to meet him again after almost 30 years. He is a businessman, developing, producing and selling hyperthermia equipment which presents an excellent intervention to speed up the recovery of soft tissue injuries. This equipment is also a very good modality for the treatment of cancers for people who react badly to chemotherapy.

At the Amsterdam Medical Center (a huge hospital) they even have a whole department with PierFrancesco’s machines called Alba: http://www.albahyperthermia.com/.
Technical progress and advancements in research made hyperthermia even more interesting in recent times.

 

Alba hyperthermia

Alba hyperthermia

Meeting each other again, we immediately picked up where we left almost 30 years ago, like it was yesterday, I feel this is one of the main characteristics of a good friendship. And when I coached him, I knew he would be successful in whatever he decided to do.

Contacts like these are one of the greatest pleasures life has to offer. I had the joy to meet another friend of mine, Dr.Per Tesch, again after a long time. Per Tesch is the world’s expert on eccentric training. He was the inventor and developer (together with Dr. Hans Berg) of the fly-wheel concept. Originally designed for strength training in microgravity, since flywheel training is gravity-independent.

In my opinion Per is one of those scientists who has contributed a tremendous amount of groundbreaking research for sports performance. His research spans a long period of time and covers a lot of different issues. He was one of the top scientists of the well-known Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. A few years ago I invited him to come to Holland to speak about muscles, muscle fibers and strength training.

One can read his long list of publications, his eye-opening book about (first) use of MRI to see the effects of different exercises on the recruitment of muscle fibers (Muscle meets Magnet, now called Target Bodybuilding) or his chapter in the book “Strength and Power in Sports: “Acute and Chronic Muscle Metabolic Adaptations to Strength Training”.

Being retired now, he organizes the second Global Seminar on the Hamstring (the first one was in Stockholm), part of the Global Hamstring Project, on November 28, 2015, in Spain, near Barcelona.

Report on the first Seminar: http://youtu.be/nUOTzGxT25U?t=2s

If you are working in elite sports or in rehabilitation of hamstring injuries, this seminar might be something you want to attend.

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Observing the World Championships Track and Field in Beijing.

The World Championships are always a mixed batch of confirmations, fulfilled expectations and unexpected surprises.
Let’s have a look: Usain Bolt (100m and 200m), Shelly- Ann Fraser (100m) and both Jamaica 4×100 m relay teams: no surprises here, gold, gold and gold again. This suited most of the predictions.
Mo Farah won the 5 and 10 km: what else could we expect? Asbel Kiprop winning the 1500 meters again.

Some surprises:
Daphne Schippers won the 200m: big surprise for most of you.
(The Dutch women were disqualified in the 4×100 meter and no surprise here either, if there would be a championship for dropping the baton or disqualifications for female 4×100 meter teams, Holland would win the gold medal)
Belgium discus thrower Philip Milanov wins silver.
Russian hurdler Sergei Shubenkov wins the gold in the 110m hurdles.

We thought for a long time “white men couldn’t jump” : but Greg Rutherford (long jump), Shawnacy Barber (pole vault) and Derek Drouin (high jump) decided to prove this wrong. And Guowei Zhang with his silver in the high jump, proved that Asian man can jump (but we oldies already knew that since Ni Chi Chin or Ni Zhiqin).
Some people think that black people can’t throw, but we saw Kenian Julius Yego winning the javelin and Cuban Denia Caballero win the discus women. And we also saw a Chinese silver in the women’ s shot put, Lijiao Gong, another silver in the women’s javelin, by Huihui Liu, and also silver in the hammer with Wenxiu Zhang. I almost forgot to mention the Chinese sprinter in the final of the 100 meter and the silver medals in the men’s 4×100 meter.
And to finish Jamaican shot put O’Dayne Richards gets a bronze medal in the men, while we thought these guys could only sprint!

I hope my point is clear: despite the general perception that some people, based on race, skin color or country are better suited for a certain discipline than others, we can see that it is possible to excel despite this limiting perception. How many US sprinters come from Alaska or Michigan?

It’s too bad that in one of the few fields in life where skin color, religion, IQ, economic status, sexual orientation, etc. do NOT play a role, this issue always comes up. The stopwatch or measuring tape doesn’t care if you are black, white green or purple, if you are straight or gay, if you are millionaire or if you have no money in your pocket. To me that is one of the beauties in sport and track and field. For me the world population is divided into two kinds of people: those that run fast and the ones that don’t.
Sprinting fast is a matter of probability and dependent on many different factors.

Maybe geographical situation is one of the pillars of success, in this case: temperature or sun exposure. Coming from Holland where in the past we were not able to sprint decently from November until April due to the low temperature and snow. Can you imagine what that means for sprinting at high intensity? And the lack of indoor facilities (just improvising in parking garages, tunnels or shopping malls). Nowadays this is compensated, as in Scandinavian countries, by having indoor facilities, but we still don’t have decent access to a 200 m track. Another option is to organize a training camp in the US, the Caribbean or South-Africa, but here the costs are the limiting factor.

Of course, there are other countries where the temperature suits explosive events, but lack of sports culture, lack of facilities and coaches, or an inadequate political or economic situation play a role. But more and more athletes are able to overcome these limitations and we could see quite a few of them winning medals. Great!

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Recovery: back to basics.

In many sports where athletes train hard (let’s say more than 5 training sessions a week), the speed of the recovery process might become a limiting factor in performance. In order to guarantee the next workout to be of high-quality, and to avoid the risk of chronic problems, you want the athlete to recover adequately. But we are facing a few problems here: we can describe the variables of the coming workout, but have very little solid numbers on the level of recovery of the various physiological systems of the athlete such as the neuro-muscular-system, the nervous systems, the hormonal system, the passive movement apparatus or the metabolic system. So most of the time as coaches we assume, we estimate or we gamble.

Right now there are, dependent on where you come from, many ways to speed up the recovery process, e.g. medical-pharmacological methods (this is the forbidden zone in most cases), nutritional recovery like food choices and supplementation, psychological methods like relaxation and biofeedback, physical methods like massages, sauna, thermotherapy, manual therapies and complementary methods like aromatherapy etc.
But there are a few very simple and effective methods, that I hope, are not new to anyone, but which almost everybody tends to overlook.

Most important: SLEEP. Sleep has such a high evolutionary value for our survival that we need to spend one third of our lives sleeping, otherwise the quality of our behavior or our performance is decreasing. During sleep we are vulnerable for e.g. attacks of predators, or nowadays, burglars or intruders. But still, if we sleep one or two hours less than we need to, our performance decreases. And nobody can do with only 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night for a longer period of time without paying a price. But sleep is an activity under pressure: artificial light, TV, computer, pads, phones, tend not only to lengthen our days (mainly our evening), but at the same time to shorten our sleep.
And in many cases decrease the quality of sleep as well, which results in being less recovered when waking up.

People involved in long-hour operations (like in the military), long working hours, (doctors and nurses), shift work (police and security) or jet-lag (air-line pilots and service personnel on board) know this very well. Less sleep means: more fatigue, less attention, worse mood, more errors, worse performance. And in the long term: a strong increase in negative health effects like obesity, diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases.

So, what happens during sleep that does not happen during wakefulness and makes us recover:
– the output of melatonin (a universal antioxidant)
– growth hormone peaks (especially during the first half of sleep)
– cortisol level increase (especially in the two hours before waking up)
– parasympathetic tone increases and sympathetic tone decreases
– heart rate and blood pressure decrease
– ATP consumption of the brain decreases, so ATP increases
– the glyphatic system “cleans” the brain from metabolic waste products
– memory is consolidated

So many processes become active during sleep that are suppressed during wakefulness or day-time.

But there is more: NATURE. It’s not that we did not know it, but natural environments help mental and physical recovery. Be it a walk in a forest or park, contrary to the same walk but now through an industrial area or a busy street. Watching natural landscape in virtual reality or even only listening to the natural soundscape of a babbling brook, a small waterfall or birdsong is enhancing recovery! Of course, nothing beats the real thing with multi-sensory stimuli: the visual aspects, the natural sounds and the smell of flowers, herbs, the sea or pine trees.

This is not so strange: it has been our natural environment through the largest part of our evolutionary history. Only the last few hundred years people came to live in big urban concentrations where this natural environment changed into concrete, glass, steel, and asphalt, with very little room for green while many of our genes are still programmed to survive and to thrive in a natural environment. Some people call the problems that may arise from this discrepancy even the Paleo-Deficit-Disorder.

And think about it, that is why we have, gardens, zoos, city parks, national parks. And where do most people go on holiday if they need to restore from months of work: they go to the beach, the desert, the mountains or the forest for restoration of their mental and physical resources. This need for nature is genetically programmed. We find green and blue tranquillizing and comforting colors, and think of red and black as alarming colors.

Related to this is a third factor: SOUND. People who do sound recording in nature have a problem nowadays: no matter where you are, it never takes long before a man-made sound/noise disturbs the natural soundscape.
Cars, trains, horns, humans using mobile phones, or airplanes, high up in the air. The time of an unspoiled natural soundscape seems to be something from the past. The same goes for silence. It seems it can never be silent anymore, background noise is always there.
Music is following us everywhere, at home, in the car, in the supermarket, in the elevator. Why have we become so afraid of silence? Maybe because you can hear you own voice talking? Noise during the night, when you sleep e.g. when you live near to an airport like I do, has negative effects on sleep, but also on health and performance. Maybe it is part of the reason why many people suffer from problems like fatigue, chronic fatigue, burn-out, tinnitus, anxieties, etc: sensory and cognitive over-stimulation of our brain without enough recovery.

The fourth factor is also related to this: DARKNESS, not only do I live near an airport, but also near to a lot of glasshouses which radiate their light at night.
This prevents us from seeing stars in the sky, those millions of stars that you see while camping out in an empty desert, or far away from cities and industries that pollute the planet with light. And light is information to our brain too: the signal that the sun is out and one should be awake instead of sleeping.

Being far from technophobic, I think that many people are lost and suffer unnecessarily. It seems particularly obvious in the younger clients I see in my office with fatigue- and stress-related problems. Technology is something that should be used to make our lives easier and better. Technology should be our slave. But I observe the opposite: technology, at least the way they use it, makes the life of many people miserable. They are confused and don’t know where it comes from. They became slaves of technology, they can’t sleep without their phone in the bedroom. They get a panic attack when they notice they have left their phone at home. Or they become very uncomfortable when they are talking to somebody or doing something else while they hear their phone beep. With humans like that, who needs robots? They remind me of the dogs of Pavlov, who started drooling at hearing the ringing of the bell, even when in the end there was no food coming, just the unconscious relationship between the ringing of the bell, and the food still existed.

So for recovery of athletes:

  • SLEEP: no phones or pad 2 hours before sleeping, no phone in the bedroom, no picking up of a phone while you are in bed, ready to go to sleep or sleeping
  • GO GREEN: visit a nearby garden, park or forest, walk or sit on a bench and observe the environment and the sky or close your eyes and listen (without phone)
  • Sound proof your life, learn to listen to silence and make you bedroom quiet, close the windows, if possible.
  • Make your bedroom dark, let no light come in from outside. Close the curtains.
  • UNPLUG: if you dare, since most people are in denial and won’t admit that this could be the cause of their problems, their fatigue, their stress or anxiety. Who needs or wants to let his/her life dictated by others?

But maybe I am speaking for myself here.

Bibliography:

Fullagar, H.H.K; Skorski, S; Duffield, R; Hammes, D, Coutts, A.J; Meyer, T: Sleep and Athletic Performance: The Effects of Sleep Losson Exercise Performance, and Physiological and Cognitive Responses to Exercise; Sports Med. Vol. 45, 2015, pg. 161–186

Park, B.J; Tsunetsugu, Y; Kasetani, T; Morikawa, T; Kagawa, T; Miyazaki, Y: Physiological Effects of Forest Recreation in a Young Conifer Forest in Hinokage Town, Japan; Silva Fennica, Vol.43, no.2, 2009; pg.291–301.

Tsunetsugu, Y; Park, B.J; Ishii,H; Hirano, H; Kagawa, T; Miyazaki, Y: Physiological Effects of Shinrin-yoku (Taking in the Atmosphere of the Forest) in an Old-Growth Broadleaf Forest in Yamagata Prefecture; Japan. J. Physiol. Anthropol. Vol.26, No.2, 2007, pg. 135–142.

Kaplan, S: The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework; Journal Environm.Psychol. Vol.16, 1992, pg.169-182.

Alvarsson, J.J; Wiens, S; Nilsson, M.E: Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise; Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health Vol. 7, 2010, pg. 1036-1046.

Prochnik, G: In Pursuit of Silence; Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise; Doubleday , 2010.

Hempton, G; Grossman, J: One-square Inch of Silence; One Man’s Quest to Preserve Silence: Simon& Schuster, 2009.

Gooley, J.J; Chamberlain, K; Smith, K.A; Khalsa, S.B.S; Rajaratnam, S.M.W; Van Reen, E , Zeiter, J.M; Czeisler, C.A; Lockley, S.W: Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans; J.Clin.Endocrin.Metab.Vol.96, 2011, pg.E463-E472.

Watson, R: Future Minds: How the Digital Age is changing our lives, why this matters and what can we do about it; Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2010.

Yuan K, Qin W, Wang G, Zeng F, Zhao L, et al: Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20708, 2011.

Spitzer, M; Digitale Demenz; Droemer Verlag, 2012 (in German)

http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/10/ipathology-of-your-ibrain.html

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Books, books, books …

I have a bookmarker showing this great statement of the 16th century Dutch philosopher and writer Erasmus: “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes”. My athletes once confronted me with this statement and thought it was mine (it could have been).

Many people visiting me ask me which are my favorite books. I wish I could tell them, since I have a couple of favorite books in every subject of my library.
Still books are great transfer systems for knowledge and experience. Some authors put many decades of experience in a book that takes only days to read and the knowledge is shared. Another advantage is that the author took his/her time to deliberately write the book and made conscious decisions about what to write and what to leave out. That’s better than the sound bites (mostly noise bites) of tweets and other fast but superficial media.

Here are some of the books that helped me to understand the whole picture:
Hall, G.M: The Ingenious Mind of Nature; Deciphering the Patterns of Man, Society and the Universe; Basic Books, 1997, ISBN 0-7382-0584-2.
Gitt, W: In the Beginning was Information; A Scientist explains the Incredible Designs in Nature; Master Books Printing, 2007, ISBN 978-0-89051-461-0
(I temporarily lost him in part 3)
Young, S: Designer Evolution; A Transhumanist Manifesto; Prometheus Books, 2006; ISBN 1-59102-290-8

At this moment in sports the books of Ultimate Athlete Concepts are among the few that bring new ideas, or transfer foreign (most former East-block) concepts and have them finally translated in English with lots of comprehensive and practical information.
Example: the latest book by Issurin: “Building the Modern Athlete: Scientific Advancements and Training Innovations”. It is packed with information, not only superficial, trendy stuff, but embedded in a clear view how training actually works and what can be done.
Also the old master Bondartchuk is writing one book after another, sometimes with an overwhelming amount of tables an numbers but always based on his tremendous practical experience and understanding of the training process. His new one is called: “Champion School: A Year to Year Model To Developing Elite Athletes”. I read it in one weekend, and here is a good review of it: http://www.hmmrmedia.com/2015/07/bondarchuk-on-long-term-development/

I also enjoyed the work done with biofeedback in “Psychological Skills Training” by Boris Blumenstein and Yitzhak Weinstein and college coaches should read Cal Dietz’ book “Triphasic Training” which is very comprehensible and practical.

Another must-read is the formal GDR handbook about training (I wrote the Dutch translation in 1980) “Principles of Sports Training” by Dietrich Harre. I still have the 1977 version and sometimes re-read it these days.

http://www.ultimateathleteconcepts.com

And here is another short statement by Erasmus: “Your library is your paradise”, and he couldn’t be more right about that.
But this post would not be complete without a more recent statement from columnist Pete Hamill: “There are ten thousand books in my library, and it will keep growing until I die. This has exasperated my daughters, amused my friends and baffled my accountant. If I had not picked up this habit in the library years ago I would have more money in the bank today. But I would not be richer.”

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Help, my sport is dying.

Maybe I am a pessimist, but I strongly get the impression that track and field is in big trouble. “ The mother of all sports” is on the way out. I have spent 30 years in this sport and have experienced the decline in popularity, the empty seats in the stadiums, the competitions that disappear from the calendar, the withdrawal of main sponsors, and the decreasing numbers of track athlete’s participation in national championships.
Athletics however is big, like a dinosaur, so it’s downfall is slow, but steady.

A few possible reasons for this downfall are:
It’s a long-term sports from the moment you pick up a shot, it’s 10 years before you become a champion, if you ever will be, since the sports is global and old and the long-term evolution led to an extremely high level of competition. Overnight success is really exceptional. But nowadays we want instant success and immediate results. Long-term goals and a vision that comes with it are things from the past.

There are many other new, exciting and more interesting sports like team sports, there is always a fun factors , no matter how low the level. Playing soccer with your friends in the park, you can do that for hours and in the end you forget the score. But very few people do shot put of long-jump for the intrinsic fun of it. Fun in athletics is pretty much related to performance, not only relative to others, throwing or jumping further, or running faster, but also to your own performance. Try and see the fun of having no measurable improvement year after year, especially when you are young. (Master athletes can and have to deal with that). Track and field is one of the classic Olympic sports, like weightlifting, gymnastics, swimming, equestrian, etc. And many new competing sports have surfaced the last decades, like wind-surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, drawing younger athletes And also soccer has become globally popular, attracting many potential good athletes.

Athletics also has always been misused as political instrument , since it consists of many sports, so many medals can be won. The medal count makes it interesting for increasing the medal score at the Olympics to increase national pride, for what that is worth.

And athletics has been misused as a gigantic money-printing machine for e.g. the IAAF and the IOC. Unfortunately a lot of that money ended up in the deep pockets of the leaders, managers and officials of these organization themselves, They were supposed to represent the athletes and to guard their rights and shares of that financial interest , but the harsh reality is that they often only took care of their own interests.

The last couple of months, the general public became very much aware that the these so-called guardians of ethics, norms, values, fair-play, etc. are in some cases no more than ordinary thieves, cheaters, and liars. One of the most cynical recent events was the staging of the first World Summit of Ethics in Sports, September 19, 2014, at the Head Quarters of FIFA, with a welcome message of Mr. Sepp Blatter. I mean, can it get more cynical than that?

In recent days a second TV-documentary of the Germany TV channel ARD by Hajo Seppelt, who in the first broadcast exposed the relationship between doping, the Russian Track and Field Federation and the IAAF, now focused on the same relationship in Kenia, also exposing the transfer of enormous sums of money coming from Nike, almost straight into the personal pockets of the board members of the Athletics Kenya. He also got his hands on the database of IAAF blood tests, showing that many athletes had abnormal blood values, under which many world class athletes. which immediately are regarded as being suspect by ignorant journalists and the general public.

The IAAF is not even able to secure the private and confidential data of its athletes as legally requested. I bet you also would not like your medical data e.g. blood tests, available to the general public.

Now, logic gives us three options.
Either, athletes tested positive indeed, but were not penalized, that is. their positive tests were kept under the table or, as the first broadcast showed, bought off by athletes who had to pay a enormous sum to officials of their federation and the IAAF, for their positive tests to disappear. Which means the doping system is thoroughly corrupt.

Or: despite the enormous amount of money and effort spent on doping-test sand anti-doping organizations, it all was wasted money since the many suspected tests were not adequate enough to lead to penalties. Which comes down to: the anti-doping-system is incompetent and incapable to solve the issue, contrary to what they state and what they get paid for.

Or: the abnormal blood test were not the result of doping, since genetic abnormalities, diseases or altitude training and may have led to these results. Which means that the doping problem in track and field is grossly exaggerated.

But unfortunately the damage has been done, more that every the general public and the sponsors will look upon athletics as a systematically doping-riddled sports. Will all of this help to “clean up” the sport? Absolutely because less kids and their parents will be inclined to start participating in athletics, an less participants means less drug use in absolute sense. It’s like having a mouse in your house, you can get rid of it by burning your house down: problem solved.

Somehow, for the sake of track and field , I hope he mother of all sports only will suffer from a temporary decline in popularity, but will survive the crisis after drastic changes have taken place at many levels. This will take some time and history teaches us that the chance of this happening is very slim.

Too bad for a wonderful sport.

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