Thursday, June 6, 2019

Stronger, Faster: Exercise Science Aids Olympic Hopefuls

Muscles burning. Sounds of bicycle wheels spinning faster and faster. Sweat dripping. Grimacing faces. Someone yelling to push harder. And then someone pricks their ears. Samples the resulting blood with a small device. Blots the excess with a tissue. Records the results.

It’s all part of a recent lactate threshold testing round with U.S. Speedskating (USS) athletes, hoping to make the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. Those athletes are also students at Salt Lake Community College, which is the official higher education provider for USS. As part of an agreement with USS, SLCC is an exercise science performance provider for the skaters.

Athlete and SLCC student Paige Schwartzburg pushes herself on the bike.

“In sports, the key is to maximize training, which then should improve race-day performance,” says Nathan Thomas, associate dean for SLCC’s Department of Exercise Science. “The college uses multiple types of tests within its Exercise Science program to analyze and predict athletic performance and capacity.”

Lactate threshold analysis metabolically assesses aerobic and anaerobic capacity for athletes. Lactate is a metabolic byproduct created in glycolytic metabolism. “We measure lactate via a small drop blood and then the lactate meter then gives us the amount of lactate in mmol,” Thomas says. “As intensity increases, we rely increasingly on glycolytic and lactate metabolism to meet energy demands.”

Ian Quinn gets his blood tested.

During the test heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, workload and lactate are recorded. As the athlete works harder observers see a change from a linear to exponential rise in lactate concentrations, which is indicative of moving from an aerobic to anaerobic state of energy production. That point of exponential rise in lactate concentrations is what is defined as “lactate threshold.” An exercise physiologist will then analyze all the physiological data and assign training zones for exercise prescription. Pre and post analysis can be done to assess performance gains through training cycles and seasons.

At the beginning of the agreement with USS, there were eight athletes benefitting from the partnership with SLCC, which runs through at least 2022. SLCC is leveraging federal Pell grants and SLCC Promise scholarship funds to guarantee that USS athletes receive any financial aid for which they’re eligible to fully cover their tuition at the college. In addition to the tuition assistance made possible by the partnership, many athletes may find SLCC’s flexible scheduling and extensive online offerings allow them to work in addition to training and attending school.

Exercise Sciences team working with USS speed skaters.

Athletes taking advantage of the USS/SLCC partnership.