Latest Sports Research Findings.

Learn why you don't need pre-exercise stretching, the efficiency of overloading and under loading for baseball pitchers, how creatine can improve your performance, why athletes need more vitamin E and much more!

     No Pre-Exercise Stretch Benefit

Australian Physiotherapists who have conducted trials into the benefits of stretching said they found no evidence stretching, loosening-up muscle before exercising does anything to prevent injury. "We are able to rule out even a quite small effect of stretching," said Rod Rope in New Science Magazine. "This has not been properly researched before. Stretching was assumed to work in preventing injury, but there is no evidence to suggest it did." Pope and his colleague at the University of Sydney studied more than 2,600 army recruits for more than a year.

One group of recruits stretched before exercise and the other group did not. There was no difference in the injury rates between the two groups. On the other hand, Pope said stretching might be beneficial after exercise, or if muscles are particularly tight, which could restrict range of motion.

     The Efficiency of Overloading & Underloading For
     Baseball Pitchers

To illustrate this more clearly, take the case of a group of baseball pitchers who underwent some rather unique training. Instead of using only regular baseballs, they threw both heavier and lighter-than-normal balls during their conditioning. Throwing the heavier balls strengthened their muscles appreciably, which was great, but it did have one drawback: actual arm motion was slower with heavier balls, compared to regular or light ones, and thus if the players had used only heavy balls in their training they would have been fine-tuning their nervous systems' abilities to coordinate strong - but slow - movements.

That's why the light balls also had to be included in the training program: throwing lighter balls improved coordination during quicker-than-usual arm movements and taught the athletes' nervous systems to 'recruit' muscular activity very quickly (faster movement was possible because the light balls offered less resistance).

When these three elements - strength, coordination, and quickness - were put together, the pitchers threw with much higher velocities compared to hurlers who trained only with regular balls (the difference in fastball speed was about 6-to-8 percent).

But how does one periodize such training? Should the heavy work really come first (that is, after an appropriate 'base' period of general strength building but before the high-velocity training), should one simply combine low and high-velocity work together, or is it ideal to start with fast work and then add on strength? Surprisingly, these questions have been little researched, but investigations carried out in the former Soviet Union suggest that it is probably advisable to go through a preliminary period of heavy-duty (low-velocity) training, followed by the lighter, faster work.

In baseball, for example, the idea would be to build basic shoulder strength before subjecting the shoulder joint and muscles to larger forces involved in whipping the arm forward at higher-than-usual speeds. One could put forth a very similar argument for running, cycling, swimming, rowing and skiing.

The scientists from the University of Hawaii who carried out studies in baseball examined this question. Their research involved 45 high school and 180 university baseball pitchers, who completed three workouts per week over a 10-week period. The specifics of the research were as follows: a control group utilized only a standard-weight (five-ounce) baseball, a second group trained with both a standard and heavy (six-ounce) baseball for five weeks, followed by five weeks with only a standard and light (four-ounce) ball, and a third group worked out with standard, heavy and light balls simultaneously throughout the 10-week period.

During a typical workout, the pitchers threw just 66 pitches. For the control group, each pitch was made with a standard ball. The group which simultaneously used standard, heavy and light balls would throw (in order) 11 times with the regular ball, 22 times with the heavy, 22 times with the light and then 11 times with the standard baseball during a single workout. The heavy-first-and-then-light group sandwiched 11 standard throws around 44 heavy throws during the five-week 'heavy' period and 11 standard throws around 44 light ones during the final, five-week 'light' period.

After 10 weeks, the control group failed to improve pitching velocity, but the other two groups raised throwing speeds by a similar amount: 6-to-8 percent. This suggests that concurrent usage of high-resistance and low-resistance work is okay for power development, but whether this is also the case for more extensive training programmes and for endurance athletes remains to be seen.

     Creatine Improves Performance

Creatine monohydrate is the most popular training supplement on the planet. Scores of studies show creatine boosts muscle creatine phosphate levels. This compound allows you to perform high intensity exercise and recover quickly from explosive movements. However, scientists and athletes could only speculate about how creatine affects performance on the playing field.

A study by Dr. Inigo Majika and colleagues from Spain, which appeared in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (32: 518-525, 2000), showed creatine benefits soccer players. University players, running repeated 15-meter sprints, dropped 0.02 seconds off their time at 5 meters and 0.03 seconds at 15 meters after taking 20 grams of creatine monohydrate for five days. This speed boost could give athletes the extra steps that allow them to score goals, evade tacklers, return a difficult serve or steal second base.

     Abdominal Work Effective without Devices

The purposes of a study by a team of researchers from California State University, Northridge, were to assess the activity of selected muscles used during four sit-up exercises with and without the assistance of abdominal exercise devices and to determine what effect, if any, the devices have on muscle activity. Nineteen subjects completed a series of unassisted abdominal exercises (basic crunch with arms up, basic with arms down, oblique crunch and reverse crunch). The same exercises were also performed using four different exercise devices.

Surface electromyography was recorded from the upper and lower rectus abdominis, external oblique, rectus femoris and sternocleidomastoid during the concentric and eccentric phases of each repetition. Results showed few significant differences in abdominal muscle activation. Some differences were noted in rectus femoris and sternocleidomastoid activity when comparing unassisted exercise and exercise using devices. The results suggest that abdominal devices do not elicit any greater or lesser involvement of the abdominal musculature than performing similar exercises unassisted.

     Athletes Need Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps protect the body against free radicals damage. Free radicals are chemicals produced during normal metabolism that attack the body's cell membrane. This upsets cell balance, causes aging and depresses the immune system. During intense exercise, athletes generate a lot more free radicals than at rest. Vitamin E may help protect them from free radical damage to their cells.

It is recommended to take vitamin E supplements for athletes who perform a lot of endurance activities (cardiovascular activities). This will help prevent free radical damage to the cells and help get the full benefit of sports and exercise programs.