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How to Succeed as an Athlete: What We Know, What We Need to Know

How to Succeed as an Athlete:
What We Know, What We Need to Know
When I (C. Foster) was in my teens, I was a runner. While any
objective observer would have known that my prospects for
Olympic medals or world records were low, I had delusions of
grandeurand believed that I might nd the right combination of
knowledge and effort to succeed. That never happened. How-
ever, that passion and quest for success led to my professional
career. For many of us, the same quest to achieve the impossible
dreamdrove our professional careers (only 2 of us [A. Casado
and K. Chamari] were Olympians, so we are better as scientists
than athletes). This same mindset is, to some degree, the under-
lying rationale for IJSPP. I asked several of my friends to
identify factors necessary for success. In other words, what do
we know and what do we need to know? Later, in a more detailed
referenced manuscript, we can treat this topic more fully.
In the interest of simplicity, we have tried to keep the list of
things required to succeed as an athlete short. There are over-
lapping elements and probably important elements that we have
not articulated, but for the most part they can be subsumed as
In the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire, Sam Mussabini, coach of
1924 Olympic 100-m champion Harold Abrahams, said you
cant put in what God has left out.Swedish physiologist P.O.
Åstrand said if you want to be a champion, choose your parents
wisely.Although there have been studies of the genetics of
sport, a single champion genehas not been identied. The best
estimate is that champions have combinations of multiple genes,
which may not even be perfectly overlapping within the same
event (eg, you may need any 20 out of a 30-gene menu to achieve
success). In any case, you have to have enough predisposition
for an event to have the early success that lights the re.
The exercise science literature is replete with evidence of both
categorical and correlative characteristics of different types of
athletes. It is also replete with evidence of responses during
competition and of adaptive responses to training, but over
shorter time frames than relevant to athletes.
Sport is demanding. While success has been achieved by in-
dividuals with illnesses and disabilities, its easier for healthy
people to succeed. Further, the need to deal with setbacks, the
hypercompetitiveness of top sport, and the level of cheating
that goes on in sport require excellent mental health. Elite
athletes have to be able to tolerate large physical loads and
Athletes require development. While there are sports where success
is achieved early, most athletes reach peak performance in their late
20s. There is broad agreement that in the early and mid-teens, most
athletes should have a diversesporting prole, and only special-
ize in their late teens. However, a diverse sporting prole is hard
to achieve, as the allure of early success is attractive to athletes,
parents, and coaches.
With the exception of truly age-group sports, most elite athletes
have devoted years to systematic preparation before reaching the
top. Most top performers can be characterized as full-time, year-
round athletes. Successful development programs take years, and
there is a clear difference between 15-year-old talents and
30-year-old top performers. The sequence of development depends
on the experience of coaches directing the program and accounting
for different individual characteristics of top athletes, even within
the same event.
Very few elite athletes are self-coached. Experience suggests
that an external, objective observer with a deep background and
knowledge in the physical, technical, and competitive aspects of
a sport is necessary to guide athletes from promising to elite,
someone to put the puzzle together.However, the world of
coaching is polarized in that for many coaches the only qualica-
tion is having been an elite performer themselves. Efforts to
educate and professionalize coaching are one of the largest needs
as sport develops. In this regard, sport scientists often make their
greatest contributions as members of coach-led teams.
If an athlete has trouble getting to a training venue, nding a
coach, or nding other athletes to train with, it is very hard to
achieve top performances. I have often thought about the Amer-
ican speed skater Eric Heiden, a candidate for the GOAT
(greatest of all time) in speed skating. What if he had been my
neighbor in Dallas, TX, where ice speed skating is not very
popular. He probably would have found some success in sports,
but he needed the opportunity provided in Madison, WI, with
a local PE teacher, and former Olympian, as his coach. The ability
to defer regular work and to organize educational/professional
development to give time for training and competition is critical.
Goal Setting
Athletes are goal-oriented people. They want to go faster, lift more,
and play better. Typically, they work toward intermediate goals.
While a reasonable early standard of performance is necessary,
their goals need to be SMART (specic, measurable, achievable,
relevant, and timely). Sport science is partially about identifying
and tracking progress toward these SMART goals.
International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, (Ahead of Print)
© 2022 Human Kinetics, Inc EDITORIAL
First Published Online: Feb. 15, 2022
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While sport is a creature of preparation, both in training and in
competitive tactics, a certain amount of pure luck is necessary. Did
you get into the right training group? Did your parents live near an
appropriate venue and have the economic wherewithal to support
training, equipment, and travel? Did you nd the right coach at the right
time in your career? Did you avoid catastrophic injuries that might have
ended your career? Severe injuries early in a sporting career might
prevent achieving high-level performance. Incurring the same injury
after one has already become established might be more of a nuisance.
The odds of reaching the very top level in sport are low. Athletes
have to inherit the right propensity, be hungry,be prepared to
work very hard, organize their lives around sport, and have more
than a little luck on their side. Perhaps the biggest roles of sport
science are to
Give athletes better, more-informed coaches.
Help preparation programs evolve to be more efcient and
Minimize the risk of injuries that might foreshorten their
IJSPP, by serving as a clearinghouse of the body of knowledge
about the applications of scientically developed knowledge, can
hopefully optimize the implementation of these 3 roles.
Carl Foster, IJSPP Editor-in-Chief Emeritus,
Department of Exercise and Sport Science,
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, USA
Renato Barroso,
Department of Sports Sciences, University of Campinas, Brazil
Ralph Beneke, IJSPP Editor-in-Chief Emeritus,
Institut fur Sportwissenschaft und Methologie,
PhillipsUniversity Marburg, Germany
Daniel Bok,
Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Daniel Boullosa, IJSPP Associate Editor,
Integrated Institute of Health,
Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil
Arturo Casado,
Center for Sports Studies, Ray Juan Carlos University, Spain
Karim Chamari, IJSPP Associate Editor,
Aspetar, Orthopedic and Sports Medicine,
FIFA Medical Center of Excellence, Qatar
Cristina Cortis,
Department of Sport Sciences and Health,
University of Cassino and Lazio Meridionale, Italy
Jos de Koning, IJSPP Editor-in-Chief Emeritus,
Faculty of Behavioral and Movement Sciences,
Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam, the Netherlands,
and Department of Exercise and Sport Science,
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, USA
Andrea Fusco,
Department of Sport Sciences and Health,
University of Cassino and Lazio Meridionale, Italy
Thomas Haugen, IJSPP Associate Editor,
School of Health Sciences, Kristiana University College, Norway
Alejandro Lucía,
Center for Research in Sport and Physical Activity,
European University of Madrid, Spain
I˜nigo Mujika, IJSPP Associate Editor,
University of the Basque Country, Spain
David Pyne, IJSPP Editor-in-Chief Emeritus,
Research Institute for Sports and Exercise,
University of Canberra, Australia
José A. Rodríguez-Marroyo,
Institute of Biomedicine, University of Leon, Spain
Oyvind Sandbakk, IJSPP Editor-in-Chief,
Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science,
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway
Stephen Seiler,
Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences, Agder University, Norway
2Foster et al
(Ahead of Print)
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... There is scarce evidence on the physiological and/or performance differences that could help to identify top-level athletes, therefore, the determinants that predict and contribute to high-level performance in sports remain largely unknown [1]. Several markers have been suggested, for example, endurance-related indicators such as the capacity to produce high power outputs even in the presence of fatigue [2], maximal oxygen consumption, lactate threshold [3], and anthropometric indicators [4]. ...
Full-text available
Ankle-brachial index and arterial stiffness are associated with leg function in the elderly and in patients with peripheral arterial disease. Little is known about the meaning of these parameters in young and trained subjects and how they are related to physical performance. The main objective was to evaluate the mediating role of arterial stiffness and ankle-brachial index in physical performance. In a cross-sectional, case-control study, 240 male athletes were consecutively enrolled from the Laboratory of Cardiology and Sports Medicine, “G. d’Annunzio” University (Italy). All the subjects underwent the examination protocol for the annual medical evaluation for sport participation. Soccer (football) players compared to runners showed a lower level of ankle-brachial index, higher arterial stiffness, and lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. In the treadmill stress test, soccer players compared to runners showed a greater maximal aerobic capacity. Differences in cardiovascular performance between soccer players and runners were mediated by better arterial stiffness and low level of ankle-brachial index; the estimated effect was 0.11 ± 0.05 and 0.24 ± 0.06, respectively. Vigorous strength training drops blood pressure and increases arterial stiffness. Taken together, our findings would seem to suggest that ABI and CAVI could be used as markers for athletes’ performance.
... However, this discipline comes along with a substantially higher shoulder load (56). Due to the BL's medical complaints, the fluctuations of TL between training blocks were higher compared with previous studies (4,6,8), which affected training consistency, which is observed in "full-time, year-round athletes" (57). ...
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Introduction: Paratriathlon allows competition for athletes with various physical impairments. The wheelchair category stands out from other paratriathlon categories, since competing in swimming, handcycling and wheelchair racing entails substantial demands on the upper-extremity. Hence, knowledge about exercise testing and training is needed to improve performance and avoid overuse injuries. We describe the training monitoring and performance development throughout a Paralympic cycle of an elite triathlete with spinal cord injury (SCI) and recent diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Case Presentation/Methods: A 30-year-old wheelchair athlete with ten-year experience in wheelchair basketball contacted us for guidance regarding testing and training in paratriathlon. Laboratory and field tests were modified from protocols used for testing non-disabled athletes to examine his physical abilities. In handcycling, incremental tests were used to monitor performance development by means of lactate threshold (POBLA) and define heart rate-based training zones. All-out sprint tests were applied to calculate maximal lactate accumulation rate (V̇Lamax) as a measure of glycolytic capabilities in all disciplines. From 2017 to 2020, training was monitored to quantify training load (TL) and intensity distribution (TID). Results: From 2016 to 2019, the athlete was ranked within the top ten at European and World Championships. From 2017 to 2019, annual TL increased from 414 to 604 h and demonstrated a shift in TID from 77-17-6% to 88-8-4%. In this period, POBLA increased from 101 to 158 W and V̇Lamax decreased from 0.56 to 0.36 mmol·l-1·s-1. TL was highest during training camps. In 2020, after he received CML-diagnosis, TL, TID and POBLA were 317 h, 94-5-1%, and 108 W, respectively. Discussion: TL and TID demonstrated similar values when compared to previous studies in para swimming and long-distance paratriathlon, respectively. In contrast, relative TL during training camps exceeded those described in the literature and were accompanied by physical stress. Increased volumes at low-intensity are assumed to increase POBLA and decrease V̇Lamax over time. CML treatment and side-effects drastically decreased TL, intensity and performance which ultimately hindered a qualification for Tokyo 2020/21. In conclusion, there is need for careful training prescription and monitoring in wheelchair triathletes to improve performance and avoid non-functional overreaching.
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Purpose: To compare endurance, strength and body composition indicators between cyclists of three different competition age categories. Methods: Fifty-one male road cyclists classified as either junior ( n = 13, age 16.4 ± 0.5 years), under-23 [(U23), n = 24, 19.2 ± 1.3 years] or professional ( n = 14, 26.1 ± 4.8 years) were studied. Endurance (assessed through a maximal incremental test and an 8-minute time-trial), strength/power (assessed through incremental loading tests for the squat, lunge and hip thrust exercises) and body composition (assessed through dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) were determined on three different testing sessions. Results: U23 and, particularly professional, cyclists attained significantly ( p < 0.05) higher values than juniors for most of the analyzed endurance indicators [time-trial performance, maximum oxygen uptake (VO 2max ), peak power output (PPO), respiratory compensation point (RCP), and ventilatory threshold (VT)]. Significant differences ( p < 0.05) between U23 and professionals were also found for time-trial performance, PPO and VT, but not for other markers such as VO 2max or RCP. Professional cyclists also showed significantly ( p < 0.05) lower relative fat mass and higher muscle mass levels than U23 and, particularly, juniors. No consistent differences between age categories were found for muscle strength/power indicators. Conclusion: Endurance (particularly time-trial performance, PPO and VT) and body composition (fat and muscle mass) appear as factors that best differentiate between cyclists of different age categories, whereas no consistent differences are found for muscle strength/power. These findings might help in performance prediction and/or talent identification and may aid in guiding coaches in the design of training programs focused on improving those variables that appear more determinant.
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