Stephen Larkin spoke to Brian Carson, a sports scientist at the University of Limerick, about how the performance of sports science has taken sports as a whole, and the performance of athletes, to the next level.
Ranging from nutrition to the treatment of injuries, as the knowledge of the human body has deepened over time, an athlete's potential has been increased.
Athletes are now able to play to an older age, recover much quicker from injuries, and train more effectively than previous generations of athletes.
Sport Science is a multi-disciplinary field, which includes exercise physiology, biomechanics, psychology, coaching and strength and conditioning.
Advancing technology created new opportunities for research into sports. It is now possible to analyze aspects of sports that were previously out of the reach of comprehension.
Being able to use motion capture to critique an athlete's movement, or advanced computer simulations to model physical scenarios has greatly increased an athlete's ability to understand what they are doing and how they can improve their performance.
Brian Carson, a sports scientist at the University of Limerick who specializes in muscle metabolism, believes sports science has taken sports as a whole, and the performance of athletes, to the next level.
“All you need to do is look at someone like Usain Bolt. He is the most athletically advanced male we have ever seen over 100m to date. But 10 years ago there was someone who was the most technically advanced to that point, and we probably wouldn’t have believed that someone else would come along and smash all the records. So there’s a basic example of what sport science has done,” Mr Carson explains.
Mr Carson says the game is always changing - as soon as new technology becomes available.
“A very common one would be working with an endurance athlete in a lab based testing environment, we’ll be testing the athlete’s physiology. This is called a Vo2 max test,” Mr Carson says.
“This test measures the rate of maximum consumption of oxygen during increasingly more difficult exercise over time. Vo2max is reached when oxygen remains at a steady state, despite an increase in workload.
“Another commonly used test is Windgate 30 second test. This consists of pedaling at maximum speed against a constant force. It’s mostly used in non-endurance sports to promote speed, strength and power,” he adds.
Often when watching live sport you will see a tag attached to the jerseys of footballers or rugby players, and that piece of technology is a GPS. It is used in most sports nowadays to analyse ground covered during a game and at what speed they covered that ground.
The technology is not just for the sports where typical fitness is required. Golf for example is centred around the biomechanical field in sports science. Slow motion video analysis is a massive part of golf, and is used to slow down a golfer’s swing and analyze each aspect to that swing.
Force plates are used a lot in golf, and they measure the ground reaction of a standing body, which in turn measures the balance of the golfer as he/she is swinging the golf club. It also measures the transfer of that golfer’s weight, which will determine the power of the golf shot.
Drugs in sport is a major issue at the moment, and there’s not one sport that is totally clean, but with the technology available, it’s hard to believe this is the case. Mr Carson feels it might be too difficult to fully eradicate the issue.
“The hope is that the technological advancements in detecting drugs might be superior to the advancements in the latest drugs. But both these fields are always advancing. The ways in which drugs are taken and what drugs are been taken is always going to advance sadly, because there is a lot of money put into that. So as much as our technology advances, the technology that goes with the drug taking will also advance, and quite possibly at an even faster rate.”
However, when it comes to the technological advancements in the sports sector, Mr Carson can’t envision a time when sports can’t be taken any further. There’ll always be improvements, he insists.
“With the technology in sports and exercise science, it’s going to find new things that we can measure. In terms in physiology, I think we only know a very small amount, and there’s a lot that we don’t know,” Mr Carson says.
“Things like how muscles adapt, how the metabolism in the muscle changes, how it responds to different types of exercise, how it responds to different types of nutrients, so there is so much more to find out. So I don’t feel the field is anywhere near saturation and it will never reach a point where it’s run its course,” he adds.