A U of A master’s student is conducting research to better manage fatigue and prevent over-training athletes.
Will Lampe has worked with professor of athlete health Michael Kennedy and the university’s Bears and Pandas swimming teams headed by coach Bill Humby to test the blood pressure of high-performance athletes and its effect on the nervous system.
This research can then be used while monitoring athletes’ training to intervene in the most effective way to detract from either over or under-training and fatigue.
To test this, an orthostatic tolerance test was used, requiring the athlete to lie down for five minutes and then stand up for three with blood pressure measured throughout the test.
The idea was to examine how the body responds to the challenge of the effect of gravity on blood pressure. Lampe was curious to see what was happening in the bodies of these athletes in terms of blood pressure, stroke volume and resistance blood vessels.
“A lot of the swimmers had very dramatic drops in blood pressure upon standing,” Lampe explained.
“We expect some drop in blood pressure, but most people are pretty good at regulating it quickly and without too much of a drop in blood pressure to get things normalized. With swimmers, we were seeing really high rates of what’s called initial orthostatic hypotension, which just basically means a big drop in blood pressure.”
This clinical test was borrowed from research in diseases like diabetes that affect the nervous system, and hasn’t been studied much in athletes.
Lampe was surprised by the results: eight of 10 swimmers met the critical criteria for OHT, many surpassing the minimum criteria by a large amount.
“It isn’t something that’s generally reported in healthy individuals,” Lampe explained.
“You don’t see these kind of numbers usually unless you look at literature from advanced diabetes where there’s real neural degeneration. In clinical populations where you’ve got neural issues, you’d expect to find results more similar to this, but given these athletes obviously are not in diseased states and are very high-functioning, highly fit individuals, it’s not the kind of result you expect to see.”
The next stage of Lampe’s research involves further work to determine what causes these changes for athletes. For the moment,all Lampe can do is speculate.
“It could be due to differences like endurance athletes generally have much more flexible blood vessels,” he said.
“We think that it may have something to do with the swimmers doing so much training in the supine position laying down horizontally in the pool. The combination of the horizontal position with the compressive effects of the water on the blood vessels… these guys are fine-tuned to perform really well in an all-out competition, but not so well to do things like stand up out of a chair.”
The research Lampe has done so far garnered him the 2012 Sport Medicine Council of Alberta Sport Science Excellence Award. His work was also presented at the American College of Sports Medicine in June where a number of scientists in other fields were interested to learn of the research.
Lampe believes there is greater potential in this research than solely improving the swim team, with aspects that could be beneficial to the field of sports science in ways that would assist coaches with athletic training in all sports.
“If we can know what variables we can look at to see how fatigued the athletes are, or how they can respond to the training, then that can add big implications in terms of the coaches that are being able to manage athletes and individualize training programs and make sure that the training is adequate,” Lampe said.
Currently, Lampe and his team are analyzing the data they collected during the swim season to understand how this can be used by sports scientists to help coaches assist athletes in overcoming fatigue and over and under-training during their competitive seasons.Lampe also hopes to use this research as a start to learn more about athletes’ exercise.
“For my thesis, it looks like I’ll be using this as a starting point point and looking at a few more specific changes that happens with training and how the body responds,” Lampe said.
“We’re also using our findings here as a jumping point for more exercise science research in terms of figuring out exactly what’s going on with exercise and athletes.”
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