Tag Archives: exercise

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COMPETITION AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE: a conspiracy of researchers, stationary bikes and little white lies

Walt Disney once said, “I have been up against tough competition all my life.  I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

Well, weekend warriors and gym rats may be able to learn a thing or two from the creator of the goofy little mouse with red shorts.  Scientific research is now exploring the relationship between competition and athletic performance, and recent studies support the conclusion that people perform at greater levels when competing against an opponent.

For example, Professor Kevin Thompson, the Head of Sports and Exercise Science for Northumbria University, recently examined the effects of competition by asking cyclists to ride a stationary bike.   As they rode, each participant was shown two avatars on a video screen: the first avatar depicting the participant’s current pace and a second avatar depicting a cyclist riding at a rate equal to each participant’s personal best pace.  The cyclists were told to race the second avatar in an effort to beat their personal best time.

Dr. Thompson’s representations weren’t exactly true.  The second avatar was actually moving at a rate that was slightly greater than each participant’s personal best pace. Still, the participants, who were cycling while watching the avatars on the video screen, were able to match the second avatar.  As a result, the participants actually beat their personal best rate.

Dr. Thompson ultimately concluded that such competition can lead to an improvement of up to 5% in sporting performance.  He explained that

[t]hese findings demonstrate that a metabolic reserve exists which, if it can be accessed, can release a performance improvement of between two and five per cent in terms of their average power output.  At elite level sport, even an increase of one per cent in average speed can make the difference between somebody being placed in a race or not.

We may all have a little bit of untapped potential.  Dr. Jo Corbett, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Sports Performance at the University of Portsmouth, conducted a similar study.  The results, published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, were strikingly similar to the research conducted by Dr. Thompson.

Dr. Corbett directed fourteen cyclists to independently ride a stationary bike at maximum speed.  A video display rendered a computer image of each cyclist, providing a visual depiction of his or her pace.

Later, they were again directed to ride the stationary bike at maximum speed.  This time, however, each cyclist was told that he or she would be competing against another participant hidden behind a screen.  As they rode, the cyclists were shown two images on the video display: an avatar that represented the cyclist and an avatar representing his or her undisclosed opponent.

Almost every cyclist beat the opponent during the second trial.  After the race, however, they learned that the undisclosed opponent was actually a visual rendering of each cyclists’ previous best time.  In other words, each cyclist, believing that they were independently competing with another person, actually outperformed their earlier maximum performance.  Dr. Corbett concluded that

[w]hen an athlete finishes exercising they are almost always left with a physiological energy reserve but our results show that head-to-head competition provides the motivation to tell the brain to eat into a greater part of this reserve.

The basis of this and similar conclusions isn’t necessarily revolutionary: we’ve long noted the correlation between competition and athletic performance.  Now, however, we’re starting to uncover the scientific basis for the increased performance, and the key seems to be tapping hidden potential and drawing upon untapped energy reserves.  It may be time to ditch the energy shots and breathable caffeine and seek the company of a friend or a colleague when pounding the pavement or hitting the trails.


On a slow news day, correspondents author stories about athletes exercising until they puke

It’s that time of year again.  Pitchers and catchers have already reported, hungry rookies are trying to earn a spot in the majors and aging veterans are scratching and clawing to hold on to their jobs.  Baseball is in full swing, and the countdown to opening day is well underway.

It’s also the time of year where the 24-hour-news cycle demands that local beatwriters and correspondents break news about local teams.  That’s not necessarily as easy as it may sounds.  Absent a handful of trades, a few injuries and a certain arbitration hearing, the early days of spring training aren’t the most fertile ground for compelling stories about local franchises.   Major leaguers are simply arriving at facilities, running around the diamond, playing catch and taking batting practice. Uh… woohoo?

Not surprisingly, in the collective wasteland of lackluster events, local correspondents are more than willing to author stories about sluggers exercising until they puke.

I’m talking about you, J.D. Martinez.  The 24-year-old Astros outfielder recently explained that he hired a personal trainer to help with his conditioning.  Martinez selected Nick Casazza, because the slugger wanted a trainer to use a program that would cause him to vomit.  From the Ultimate Astros blog:

“I told him, ‘If you don’t make me puke in the first week, I’m not going to come back’ ” Martinez said.

Nick Casazza needed about 10 minutes to accomplish that.

“When he went outside and threw up, he was looking at me like I was the craziest person he ever met in his life,” Casazza said. “But you know what? The kid showed up the next day. He kept coming back. I said, ‘This guy is the real deal.’ ”

Martinez, 24, remembers that first week for “puking everywhere” and for this: “I knew then he was going to be the trainer I was going to be with.”

Uh… J.D….  Nick… your realize that you can get in pretty darn good shape without puking, right?  It’s probably not the best of ideas unless, of course, you’re recycling last night’s StrasBurger.


Charles Schultz’s Pig-Pen visits a local gym

Remember Charles Schultz’s Pig-Pen, from The Peanuts comic strip?  The grubby cartoon character was always surrounded by a palpable cloud of dirt and stench.  The little guy just looked like he carried a stink that could bruise the olfactory glands.

I just got back from the gym, and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the real life personification of Pig-Pen.  It was pretty darn obvious that he hadn’t washed his soiled, sweaty, stained clothes in a hell of a long time.  It literally hurt to find myself stuck beside the pollution only twenty minutes into my cardio workout.

Good grief, Charlie Brown – my nose hurt.  It still hurts.

Look, I’m not exactly the most tidy person to walk the earth.  From time to time, my refrigerator looks like a laboratory hiding some type of science experiment gone awry.  I have three lazy, shedding dogs frequently conspire to hide small, organic gifts throughout the house.  I’m often celebrating the joys associated with being a bachelor who lives by himself.  I’m just not easily offended by a repugnant odor.

If I’m offended by a stench, though, I can only imagine how it’s affecting the poor elderly person on an adjacent elliptical machine.  She was coughing and sneezing when I left.  I hope she makes it.

Folks, I know it goes without saying, but please spread the word: washing old, soiled gym clothes and taking regular showers should not be optional.



PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENTS? Major League Baseball, Ryan Braun, the MD Anderson Cancer Center and a group of obese monkeys

Major League Baseball ended the week on a sour note, and the hype surrounding free agency and successful labor negotiations may not dominate mainstream headlines in the immediate future.

Last night, ESPN reported that National League MVP Ryan Braun stands accused of testing positive for a banned performance enhancing substance. Buster Olney correctly explains that Braun is one of the most prominent professional baseball players to be associated with performance enhancing drugs. He faces a 50 game suspension if the allegations prove true.

The breaking news isn’t the only recent story to address the use of performance enhancing drugs by big leaguers. For example:

  • Last week, Major League Baseball officially reinstated Manny Ramirez. He previously retired from the sport after learning that he would serve a 100 game suspension. The suspension is the result of a second positive test that related to his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.
  • Federal prosecutors requested that Home Run Champ Barry Bonds be sentenced to serve time in prison for obstructing a grand jury’s investigation into the manufacture, distribution and use of performance enhancing drugs. He is eligible for probation but may also be sentenced to serve between 15 and 21 months in prison. The proceedings commence next week.

I’m not going to cover the details associated with these recent developments, the benefits and risks related to performance enhancing substances or the merits of the policies adopted by professional sports organizations. These are complex and controversial issues Read more of this post

EAT BUTTER, LOSE WEIGHT… and stop wasting time eating healthier foods, reducing caloric intake and increasing time spent exercising

We ate too many cookies and too much candy.  We drank and we feasted.  We came, we saw, we conquered.

The holidays are nearly over, and it’s now time to consider a resolution to lose weight and get in shape during the new calendar year.  Unfortunately, a number of folks are not content with simply eating healthier foods, reducing caloric intake and increasing time spent exercising.  Many instead turn to alternative or trendy dietary plans, either limiting their intake of carbohydrates or adopting the grapefruit diet, the cookie diet, the baby food diet or the three day diet.

Heck, some folks even consciously chose to follow the cabbage soup diet.  The prevailing wisdom is that the cabbage soup diet may contribute to rapid weight loss, even if it’s not going to help anyone get a little closer to that someone special.  Nobody has ever mistaken the cabbage soup diet for the perfume and cologne diet.

Forget the cabbage.  Forget the baby food.  Forget the cookies.  I just wish that somebody, somewhere, somehow would devise some sort of diet that would allow us to eat untold quantities of butter.  A stick of butter is already shaped like a candy bar, tastes better than a candy bar and weighs in at only 810 calories per stick.  This is precisely the type of food that should be the keystone of any serious dietary plan.

It just might be time to consider relocating to Norway, because many Norwegians appear to have embraced a new dietary plan that focuses on the consumption of butter and other fatty foods.  The fad appears to be sweeping the country at a somewhat alarming rate, and Reuters is now reporting that Norwegian sales of butter have dramatically increased – perhaps as much as 20 percent in October and 30 percent in November.   It is also reporting that Norwegians are paying around $13 for a 250 gram slab of butter, which is approximately 4 times the normal price.

The fad has become so popular that the country has literally depleted its stockpile of butter.  That’s right – there is almost no butter left in Norway, and dieters following the latest fad are finding themselves unable to secure the key to achieving their goals. … which means that it’s probably time to invest heavily in future sales of grapefruits, cookies, baby food and cabbage.

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