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The Effect of Compression Garments on Performance in Elite Winter Biathletes

Tom Toolis and Kerry McGawley

Purpose: To evaluate the effects of wearing upper- and lower-body compression garments on cross-country skiing performance in elite winter biathletes. Methods: A total of 7 senior biathletes (4 men and 3 women) from the Swedish national team performed 2 exercise trials in a randomized and counterbalanced order, wearing either commercially available upper- and lower-body compression garments (COMP) or a standard winter-biathlon racing suit (CON). In each trial, the athletes roller-skied on a customized treadmill, completing a time trial simulating the skiing duration of a biathlon sprint race, followed by a time-to-exhaustion test designed to elicit exhaustion within ∼60 to 90 seconds. Heart rate, blood lactate concentration, rating of perceived exertion, thermal sensation, and thermal comfort were monitored throughout each trial, while muscle soreness was measured up to 48 hours after each trial. Results: Pressure exerted by the clothing was significantly higher at all anatomical sites for COMP compared with CON (P ≤ .002). Wearing COMP led to small positive effects on time-trial (d = 0.31) and time-to-exhaustion test (d = 0.31) performances compared with CON, but these differences were not statistically significant (P > .05). No significant differences were found for any physiological (heart rate or blood lactate concentration) or subjective (rating of perceived exertion, thermal sensation, thermal comfort, or muscle soreness) responses between COMP and CON (P > .05). Conclusion: Wearing COMP during maximal cross-country skiing may have small but worthwhile beneficial effects on performance for some individuals. Due to individual variation, athletes are advised to test COMP prior to competition.

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Aerobic and Anaerobic Contributions to Energy Production Among Junior Male and Female Cross-Country Skiers During Diagonal Skiing

Kerry McGawley and Hans-Christer Holmberg

Purpose:

Cross-country-ski races place complex demands on athletes, with events lasting between approximately 3 min and 2 h. The aim of the current study was to compare the aerobic and anaerobic measures derived from a short time trial (TT) between male and female skiers using diagonal cross-country skiing.

Methods:

Twenty-four highly trained cross-country skiers (12 male and 12 female, age 17.4 ± 1.4 y, body mass 68.2 ± 8.9 kg, height 174 ± 8 cm) participated. The submaximal VO2–speed relationship and VO2max were derived from an incremental ramp test to exhaustion (RAMP), while the accumulated oxygen deficit (AOD), peak VO2, and performance time were measured during a 600-m TT.

Results:

The female skiers took longer to complete the TT than the males (209 ± 9 s vs 166 ± 7 s, P < .001) and exhibited a lower relative anaerobic contribution (20% ± 4% vs 24% ± 3%, P = .015) and a higher fractional utilization of VO2max (84% ± 4% vs 79% ± 5%, P = .007) than males. Although there was no significant difference in AOD between the sexes (40.9 ± 9.5 and 47.3 ± 7.4 mL/kg for females and males, respectively; P = .079), the mean difference ± 90% confidence intervals of 6.4 ± 6.0 mL/kg reflected a likely practical difference (ES = 0.72). The peak VO2 during the TT was significantly higher than VO2max during the RAMP for all participants combined (62.3 ± 6.8 vs 60.5 ± 7.2 mL · kg−1 · min−1, P = .011), and the mean difference ± 90% confidence intervals of 1.8 ± 1.1 mL · kg−1 · min−1 reflected a possible practical difference (ES = 0.25).

Conclusions:

These results show that performance and physiological responses to a self-paced TT lasting approximately 3 min differ between sexes. In addition, a TT may provide a valid measure of VO2max.

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Effects of Neurofeedback Training on Frontal Midline Theta Power, Shooting Performance, and Attentional Focus With Experienced Biathletes

Thomas Toolis, Andrew Cooke, Marko S. Laaksonen, and Kerry McGawley

Frontal midline theta power (FMT) has been associated with superior rifle shooting performance. Our experiment examined whether electroencephalographic-based training could increase FMT, shooting performance, and attentional focus in highly trained/elite biathletes. Participants (n = 28; age, M = 21.7, SD = 2.3) were assigned to a control group or an intervention group (with 3 hr of neurofeedback training). FMT increased from baseline during the neurofeedback training sessions (p ≤ .05). However, there were no Group × Pre–post training (test) interactions for FMT or shooting performance (p > .05). There was a small Group × Test effect for attentional focus (p = .07, η p 2 = .12 ), indicating a potential benefit of neurofeedback training. Superior shooters were more proficient at increasing FMT during neurofeedback training, but this did not translate to greater improvements in shooting performance. Our findings suggest that the effects of neurofeedback training are transient and do not necessarily benefit performance.

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Pacing Strategies and Metabolic Responses During 4-Minute Running Time Trials

Jonathan Watkins, Simon Platt, Erik Andersson, and Kerry McGawley

Purpose:

The aim of the current study was to investigate pacing strategies and the distribution of physiological resources in best vs worst performances during a series of 4-min self-paced running time trials (RunTTs).

Methods:

Five male and 5 female recreational runners (age 32 ± 7 y) completed a submaximal ramp test and 5 RunTTs on a motor-driven treadmill fitted with a speed-controlling laser system. The supramaximal oxygen-uptake (V̇O2) demand was estimated by linear extrapolation from the submaximal relationship between V̇O2 and speed, enabling computation of the accumulated oxygen deficit.

Results:

There were no significant differences between the 5 RunTTs for any of the performance, physiological, or subjective responses (P > .05). The trial-to-trial variability in pacing (ie, separate quarters) was typically low, with an average within-athlete coefficient of variation of 3.3%, being highest at the start and end of the 4 min. Total distance covered and distance covered over the first and last 2 min for best and worst performances were 1137 ± 94 and 1090 ± 89 (P < .001), 565 ± 53 and 526 ± 40 m (P = .002), and 572 ± 47 and 565 ± 54 m (P = .346), respectively.

Conclusions:

Negative pacing strategies were evident during both the best and the worst performances of the RunTT. Best performances were characterized by more aggressive pacing over the first 2 min compared with worst performances. In addition, the relatively low trial-to-trial variability in running speed suggests that pacing strategies are similar during a series of 4-min self-paced running time trials.

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A Test to Assess Aerobic and Anaerobic Parameters During Maximal Exercise in Young Girls

Kerry McGawley, Erwan Leclair, Jeanne Dekerle, Helen Carter, and Craig A. Williams

The Wingate cycle test (WAnT) is a 30-s test commonly used to estimate anaerobic work capacity (AWC). However, the test may be too short to fully deplete anaerobic energy reserves. We hypothesized that a 90-s all-out isokinetic test (ISO_90) would be valid to assess both aerobic and anaerobic capacities in young females. Eight girls (11.9 ± 0.5 y) performed an exhaustive incremental test, a WAnT and an ISO_90. Peak VO2 attained during the ISO_90 was significantly greater than VO2peak. Mean power, end power, fatigue index, total work done and AWC were not significantly different between the WAnT and after 30 s of the 90-s test (i.e., ISO_30). However, 95% limits of agreement showed large variations between the two tests when comparing all anaerobic parameters. It is concluded that an ISO-90 may be a useful test to assess aerobic capacity in young girls. However, since the anaerobic parameters derived from the ISO_30 did not agree with those derived from a traditional WAnT, the validity of using an ISO_90 to assess anaerobic performance and capacity within this population group remains unconfirmed.

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Comparing Active, Passive, and Combined Warm-Ups Among Junior Alpine Skiers in −7°C

Kerry McGawley, Matt Spencer, Anna Olofsson, and Erik P. Andersson

Context: Warming up in very cold climates and maintaining an elevated body temperature prior to a race is challenging for snow-sport athletes. Purpose: To investigate the effects of active (ACT), passive (PAS), and a combination of ACT and PAS (COM) warm-ups on maximal physical performance in a subzero environment among snow-sport athletes. Methods: Ten junior alpine skiers completed 3 experimental trials in −7.2 (0.2)°C. The ACT involved 5 minutes of moderate cycling, 3 × 15-second accelerations, a 6-second sprint, 5 countermovement jumps (CMJs), and a 10-minute passive transition phase, while in PAS, participants wore a lower-body heated garment for 24 minutes. In COM, participants completed the active warm-up, then wore the heated garment during the transition phase. Two maximal CMJs and a 90-second maximal isokinetic cycling test followed the warm-up. Results: CMJ performance was likely (P = .150) and very likely (P = .013) greater in ACT and COM, respectively, versus PAS. Average power output during the cycling test was likely (P = .074) greater in ACT and COM versus PAS. Participants felt likely to almost certainly warmer (P < .01) and more comfortable (P = .161) during ACT and COM versus PAS. In addition, participants felt likely warmer (P = .136) and very likely more comfortable (P = .161) in COM versus ACT. Conclusions: COM resulted in significantly improved CMJ performance versus PAS while both ACT and COM led to likely improved 90-second cycling performance. Participants felt significantly warmer during ACT and COM versus PAS and likely warmer in COM versus ACT. Therefore, a combined warm-up is recommended for alpine skiers performing in subzero temperatures.

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Using Multivariate Data Analysis to Project Performance in Biathletes and Cross-Country Skiers

Thomas W. Jones, Hampus P. Lindblom, Marko S. Laaksonen, and Kerry McGawley

Purpose: To determine whether competitive performance, as defined by International Biathlon Union (IBU) and International Ski Federation (FIS) points in biathlon and cross-country (XC) skiing, respectively, can be projected using a combination of anthropometric and physiological metrics. Shooting accuracy was also included in the biathlon models. Methods: Data were analyzed using multivariate methods from 45 (23 female and 22 male) biathletes and 202 (86 female and 116 male) XC skiers who were all members of senior national teams, national development teams, or ski-university or high school invite-only programs (age range: 16–36 y). Anthropometric and physiological characteristics were assessed via dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and incremental roller-ski treadmill tests, respectively. Shooting accuracy was assessed via an outdoor standardized testing protocol. Results: Valid projective models were identified for female biathletes’ IBU points (R 2 = .80/Q 2 = .65) and female XC skiers’ FIS distance (R 2 = .81/Q 2 = .74) and sprint (R 2 = .81/Q 2 = .70) points. No valid models were identified for the men. The most important variables for the projection of IBU points were shooting accuracy, speeds at blood lactate concentrations of 4 and 2 mmol·L−1, peak aerobic power, and lean mass. The most important variables for the projection of FIS distance and sprint points were speeds at blood lactate concentrations of 4 and 2 mmol·L−1 and peak aerobic power. Conclusions: This study highlights the relative importance of specific anthropometric, physiological, and shooting-accuracy metrics in female biathletes and XC skiers. The data can help to identify the specific metrics that should be targeted when monitoring athletes’ progression and designing training plans.

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Tick-Tock Goes the Biological Clock: Challenges Facing Elite Scandinavian Mother-Athletes

Max Bergström, Stig Arve Sæther, Guro Strøm Solli, and Kerry McGawley

Challenges facing mother-athletes (MAs) have aroused research and media attention in recent years, with an increasing number of sportswomen attempting to successfully combine pregnancy and motherhood with an elite athletic career. The aims of this study were to explore how MA-specific challenges manifest in elite cross-country skiing in Scandinavia and to better understand how female athletes balance their priorities as they initiate, maintain, and/or discontinue their role as a MA. Qualitative data were collected through semistructured interviews with 13 female cross-country skiers from Norway and Sweden. Thematic analyses revealed four MA-specific challenges facing the athletes: (a) Biological clock versus peak performance, (b) Maintaining fitness versus training safely, (c) Receiving support versus facing deselection, and (d) Balancing competing MA demands. Many of the athletes felt pressured into prioritizing either motherhood or athletic excellence, particularly in their early to mid-30s when the window of opportunity for building a family was considered limited. Further, maintaining fitness and training safely during pregnancy were perceived as a challenge, as was balancing the MA role after childbirth. In many cases, athletes felt uncertain about whether they would receive support from their team or federation. Moreover, there were expectations of incompatibility surrounding the MA role. More research and educational efforts to promote MA-specific knowledge, as well as developing structured processes and providing policies to support female athletes, are identified as vital future steps. These measures may prolong athletic careers and enhance well-being for elite female athletes.

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An Analysis of Warm-Up Strategies at a Cross-Country Skiing National Championship

Thomas W. Jones, Andrew D. Govus, Alfred Buskqvist, Erik P. Andersson, and Kerry McGawley

Purpose: To provide a descriptive analysis of the warm-up (WU) strategies employed by cross-country skiers prior to distance and sprint competitions at a national championship and to compare the skiers’ planned and executed WUs prior to the respective competitions. Methods: Twenty-one national- and international-level skiers (11 women and 10 men) submitted WU plans prior to the distance and sprint competitions, and after the competitions, reported any deviations from the plans. Skiers used personal monitors to record heart rate (HR) during WU, races, and cooldown. Quantitative statistical analyses were conducted on WU durations, durations in HR-derived intensity zones, and WU loads. Qualitative analyses were conducted on skiers’ WU plans and their reasons for deviating from the plans. Results: Skiers’ planned WUs were similar in content and planned time in HR-derived intensity zones for both the distance and sprint competitions. However, 45% of the women and 20% of the men reported that their WU was not carried out as planned, with reasons detailed as being due to incorrect intensities and running out of time. WU activities including skiing across variable terrain, muscle-potentiating exercises, and heat-maintenance strategies were missing from the skiers’ planned routines. Conclusions: Skiers favored a long, traditional WU approach for both the sprint and distance events, performing less high-intensity and more moderate-intensity exercise during their WUs than planned. In addition, elements likely relevant to successful performance in cross-country skiing were missing from WU plans.

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Body Composition, Energy Availability, Training, and Menstrual Status in Female Runners

Johanna K. Ihalainen, Oona Kettunen, Kerry McGawley, Guro Strøm Solli, Anthony C. Hackney, Antti A. Mero, and Heikki Kyröläinen

Purpose: To determine body composition, energy availability, training load, and menstrual status in young elite endurance running athletes (ATH) over 1 year, and in a secondary analysis, to investigate how these factors differ between nonrunning controls (CON), and amenorrheic (AME) and eumenorrheic (EUM) ATH. Correlations to injury, illness, and performance were also examined. Methods: Altogether 13 ATH and 8 CON completed the Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire. Anthropometric, energy intake, and peak oxygen uptake assessments were made at 4 time points throughout the year: at baseline post competition season, post general preparation, post specific preparation, and post competition season the following year. Logs of physical activity, menstrual cycle, illness, and injury were kept by all participants. Performance was defined using the highest International Association of Athletics Federations points prior to and after the study. Results: ATH had significantly lower body mass (P < .008), fat percentage (P < .001), and body mass index (P < .027) compared with CON, while energy availability did not differ between ATH and CON. The Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire score was higher in ATH than in CON (P < .028), and 8 ATH (vs zero CON) were AME. The AME had significantly more injury days (P < .041) and ran less (P < .046) than EUM, while total annual running distance was positively related to changes in performance in ATH (r < .62, P < .043, n < 11). Conclusions: More than half of this group of runners was AME, and they were injured more and ran less than their EUM counterparts. Furthermore, only the EUM runners increased their performance over the course of the year.