By Phil Hurstpresenting-2

Over the past 12 months doping stories have littered the front and back pages of the newspapers. As an athlete, a PhD researcher, university tutor at Canterbury Christ Church University and educational representative on the UK Athletics Anti-Doping Policy and Support team, I have had the opportunity to study and discuss the often crazy, theatrical series of doping in sport. Doping is quite rightly banned in sports, as abusing substances, such as anabolic steroids, amphetamines and human growth hormone, have the potential to be harmful to the health of the athlete. International and national organisations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and UK Anti-doping (UKAD) therefore spend a great deal of time and resources identifying and detecting athletes using banned substances. However, the effectiveness of detecting athletes using these substances is questionable, as the percentage of tests that return positive has stayed between 1-2% for the past 15 years, even though WADA’s financial investment into the number of tests conducted has increased. Current detection and deterrent methods are therefore arguably ineffective and new methods aimed at preventing and limiting doping in sport are needed.

phil_jenny_josh1Within Canterbury Christ Church University, we are now at the forefront of this, and in collaboration with UKAD, are aiming to develop new methods to limit doping in sports. Instead of using detection methods, we are educating athletes about the causes and consequences of doping in an attempt to provide athletes with a more informed decision about performance enhancing substances. This is under the reasoning that preventing a behaviour is far more effective that stopping one that has already been established. To achieve this, SportsLab (the sports consultancy arm of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Canterbury Christ Church University) and Christ Church Sport are working in collaboration to become an accredited UKAD university. This will give us the opportunity to deliver contemporary and bespoke educational sessions to the sport scholars and sport teams at the university. With more effective education in place, athletes will be given the tools to make a well informed decision for using doping substances and if they are really necessary for achieving their sporting goals and ambitions. We are passionate about the education we are delivering and the exciting new opportunities the university will be offering to the students, athletes and communities associated with Canterbury Christ Church University.

Posted in Uncategorized

FIVE: The Four Steps From Fearful to Fearsome!

The idea that fear may influence the England team’s performance in international football tournaments such as Euro 2016 is not a new one. While Steven Gerrard suggested that Fabio Capello’s arrival as England Manager in 2007, managed to offset some of these fears, more recently Michael Owen the former Liverpool, Manchester United and England Striker has encouraged the current England football squad to play without fear ahead of the Euro 2016 Tournament in France.

So how might a team go from being Fearful to Fearsome?

Fearsome: “frightening, especially in appearance”. Synonyms: menacing, formidable, awesome, imposing”


What we perceive and what we focus on has a considerable impact on how we feel. Take this image below for example.

Snake or stick

Whether we feel fear or calm may be influenced by the extent to which we perceive this as a snake or a stick. In sport, rather than focus on the things that can go wrong or that we have no control over, we can choose (and learn) to focus on those things that we want to do well, and do have control over.  It’s important to remember that this is a skill, and learned through practice (and competition)


I don’t use frightening here to mean dangerously aggressive, going beyond the parameters of acceptable play. Rather, what are the characteristics of an awesome, formidable team, that opponents would dislike playing against? What does such a team look like? What are its attributes? What strategies and behaviours are aligned to this way of playing? Can we evaluate, record, and celebrate enhancements in this way of playing? Understanding what this team “looks like”, how it is made visible (not only in competition, but also training) and how it can be developed through practice and player development), arguably represents the foundation of a transition from a fearful to a fearsome team.


It may seem strange to have a theme of vulnerability in a strategy that’s designed to develop an awesome team, so let me explain! In Theodore Roosevelt’s “Citizen in a Republic” speech in 1920, there is a famous passage that I share below:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

According to Brown (2012), vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat. It’s being all in. Sometimes we use obstacles as “excuses” to explain a poor performance; we protect our self-esteem by not giving of our best, because to go all out and come up short leaves us vulnerable, raw and exposed. Yet an understanding of that vulnerability can provide a catalyst for courage. You are more than your performance. You can put everything on the line for 90 (or 120 minutes and penalties!) and know that you have dared greatly! Ask yourselves, “Are we all in?”


Who are your “momentum police”? (Thanks to Karl Steptoe for this idea)! Who are the “social architects” who are able to exhibit, cajole, coax and provide the behavioural energy for this fearsome performance? Who epitomises and can reinforce that spirit in your team? When there’s a clear identity, a commitment to focus on fearsome, a desire to be all in, then your momentum police are there to support those efforts. For example, Danny Ings who’s been recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, has been referred to by Melissa Reddy as a livewire, whose effervescence is welcomed. Friendlies provide an ideal vehicle to practice and develop a fearsome way of playing. Performance is not an accident.


Posted in Football, Psychology

Dr. Ian Wellard blogs his CrossFit research journey

IanCF3To read more please see Dr. Wellard’s post at the Routledge, Taylor and Francis website or go direct to his blog.


Posted in Uncategorized

The physiological attributes that make a successful marathon runner: A scientific perspective

Last Sunday in Berlin Kenyan marathon runner Dennis Kimetto smashed the marathon world record by 26 seconds, storming to victory in an astonishing time of two hours, two minutes and 57 seconds. The sub two hour milestone for the 26.2 mile distance coming ever closer.

Whilst such a blistering time is beyond the realms of possibility for most of us, there are things we can learn from Kimetto that will benefit our own performance. Through years of scientific research we already have an extensive understanding of the physiological attributes possessed by such world class runners. By carefully applying this knowledge to our own training, we can identify our limiting characteristics and improve our performance.

A common mistake of many runners is to rely on the internet to learn how to improve. Type the phrase marathon training into a search engine and you will be inundated with a list of websites to trawl through, each with their own helpful tips on how best to train. Although these sites may seem helpful, much of the information is based on personal experience and not scientific research. The physiological requirements needed to run marathon are complex, and therefore why would we rely on pseudo-science?

So what does the science tell us about what is required? Well, looking at successful marathoners they all possess the following physiological attributes:

  • A high maximal oxygen uptake (O2max): O2max refers to the ability of the individual to take large amounts oxygen from the atmosphere, then transport and utilize that oxygen in the working muscles. With training, we experience many physiological adaptations termed “remodelling” that improve O2max, one of these being the size of the heart. As the heart is essentially a pump responsible for pumping the blood around the body, any improvements to its size will have dramatic results.  In untrained individuals the heart is roughly the size of their fist; however with training the heart undergoes serious remodelling that can result in doubling its original size!
  • An excellent running economy: This is the ability to use oxygen economically when running at marathon pace. Similar to a car, if we are going on a long trip we would like our car to be as efficient as possible as this reduces our petrol costs. It is essentially the same when running, the less oxygen we require to run at a given speed the less energy we are expending, meaning that the dreaded “hitting the wall” phase of a marathon will be pushed further towards the finish line.
  • A high lactate threshold: This refers to the ability to produce energy aerobically at a given speed without accumulating high levels of lactate in the body. An individual’s threshold is determined by the point at which the blood lactate begins to rise above baseline values, and is generally considered to be the pace at which most individuals are able to sustain for the marathon distance. We’ve all experienced that burning sensation in our muscles when we’ve set off too fast in a race or pushed that little bit too hard on a hill. This discomfort is due to the accumulation of lactic acid in our blood, a result of an increased energy demand beyond the aerobic system’s capacity to deliver. At this point the body must increase production of energy through faster, but anaerobic pathways, a by-product being lactic acid.
  • A fast recovery: An athlete’s ability to recover from the physiological stresses a hard or long run will place on the body is decisive in their overall performance levels. A runner with a fast recovery who follows the same training plan as a runner with slow recovery will arrive at the next session feeling fresher and ready to benefit fully from the session that is planned. Adaptations to training cannot occur if an athlete is not recovered, and sometimes, a training session can actually be detrimental to an athlete if they are still fatigued from a previous session. Therefore, a fast recovery rate will allow you to train more often and get the most out the training you do.

Excelling in only one of the four attributes described above will not result in success, but rather, it is a combination of these physiological factors, along with biomechanical and psychological characteristics that make a good marathon runner. However, identifying where a weakness in an athlete’s current physiological state lies, and working on improving that area, will help any athlete improve their performance and reach their goals.

Posted in Athletics, Physiology

So knee-er, so far!

As I sat watching the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles Final a few weekends ago, I couldn’t help noticing some differences in the knee flexion and extension of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic when serving. Federer’s knee bend seemed more pronounced, followed by a quick, powerful extension up into the leap of the serve. A good knee bend is important; the flexion action stretches the knee extensors to allow a consequently more rapid, powerful extension of the knee. Some of this momentum generated by the large leg muscles can be transferred along the kinetic chain to the smaller segments in the serving arm to increase the velocity and power of the serve. The rapid knee extension also permits a leap to gain vertical height at the point of impact of the racquet and the ball. Federer’s serve looked, to the naked eye, elegant but powerful.

As a result of my observation, I checked out some of the serving statistics available on the official Wimbledon app and saw that Federer was way ahead in terms of aces (20 vs 7 at 1 set all, 5 games to 6, Djokovic serving at 15 love), perhaps suggesting a frequently more powerful serve. At this point in the match, Federer had a greater number of first serves in (89/119 or 75% vs 65/100 or 65%) and first serve points won (66/84 or 79% vs 52/65 or 80%). However, their fastest serves were comparable at 124 (Djokovic) and 125 mph (Federer), their average 1st serve speed identical at 116 mph, and their average 2nd serve relatively similar at 93 (Djokovic) and 100 mph (Federer).

By the end of the match the stats (Djokovic vs Federer) had risen to 13 vs 29 aces, 108/174 (62%) vs 133/192 (69%) 1st serves in, 79/108 (73%) vs 102/133 (77%) 1st serve points won, 43/66 (65%) vs 26/59 (44%) 2nd serve points won. Djokovic’s fastest serve remained at 124 mph, whilst Federer’s had increased to 127 mph, with their average 1st and 2nd serve speeds remaining roughly the same as before.

Federer’s aggressive tactics were clear, coming to the net often to rush Djokovic and force him to go for winners, as indicated by Federer’s superior number, if not percentage, of net points won (26/35, 74% vs 44/67, 66%), and hitting more of his own winners (68 vs 75). Djokovic crucially won one more break point, and generated more break point opportunities (4/15, 27% vs 3/7, 43%), and had a marginally better return game based on receiving points won (64/192, 33% vs 52/174, 30%). As another indicator of how tight the match was, unforced errors were similar (27 vs 29) and Djokovic won the Championship by winning just 6 more points (total points won; 186 vs 180).

So, whilst Federer’s first serve appeared in good order, his second serve was not as effective, and coupled with Djokovic’s dogged return play, it could be identified as a potential weak point that cost him this match, and the Championship.

Interestingly, Novak Djokovic lost the Championship in 2013 in straight sets to Andy Murray having a higher percentage 1st serves in (65%), higher speed fastest serve (127 mph), higher average 1st and 2nd serve speeds (118 mph and 97 mph), and higher percentage of receiving points won (39%; compared to Murray’s 48%), than he did in the 2014 Final. Where he perhaps lost it (or, perhaps more accurately, Murray won it) last year was in the percentage of 1st and 2nd serve points won (59% and 41%; compared to Murray’s 72% and 42%), net points won (58%; compared to Murray’s 70%), and the number of unforced errors (40; compared to Murray’s 21). By reducing his unforced errors, winning more points on his first serve, being more efficient at the net, and winning one more crucial break point, Djokovic turned his disappointment at the 2013 Final defeat into elation at winning the Championship.  And as for Federer and his elegant, powerful serving, it was so knee-er, so far!

Posted in Biomechanics, Tennis

One step forward, 2 steps back? Female coaches in the spotlight…

Despite the over-indulgence of sport offerings this summer destined to dominate the headlines, if you were to delve deep enough, you might notice there have been more than a few column inches recently devoted to female coaches.

For example, the summer started positively when Andy Murray confirmed he had appointed former world number one Amelie Mauresmo to replace his former coach Ivan Lendl.  Whilst the telegraph reflected on Murray’s ‘bold recruitment strategy’ the media’s imagination was undoubtedly captured by the potential impacts of a mixed gendered coach-athlete relationship and what could be offered in this role from a female coach.

In academia, the role of gender in the coach athlete relationship has attracted some research attention. Perhaps unsurprisingly research indicates that female coaches have higher empathetic accuracy than male coaches, that is they are more able to accurately perceive others thoughts and feelings. Indeed, this ability may have important implications for relationships if a coach is more able to understand the athletes they work with. Whilst this ability in male athletes didn’t differ when working with male or female coaches, female athletes are less empathically accurate than male athletes when working with female coaches.

So what does this mean? Well, in theory it would make no difference to Murray (in empathy terms) if he works with a male or female coach, whereas if he were a female player, Mauresmo could probably expect a little less empathy. In an explanation of this, the researchers reflected on the gender stereotypes that might encourage athletes and coaches to behave in certain ways.

Indeed the stereotypes surrounding female coaches in particular sports was highlighted in a separate story concerning the appointment and subsequent resignation of Helena Costa, the first female to be employed by a men’s football team, after just 49 days in the job. Citing a ‘total lack of respect as well as amateurism’,  Costa has since described how players were appointed behind her back, matches arranged without her knowledge and attempts at communication ignored and feels it was more of a publicity stunt for the club, who since her departure have hired another female coach, Corinne Diacre. The clubs response; “She’s a woman so it could be down to any number of things … it’s an astonishing, irrational and incomprehensible decision. She’s developed a confidence problem, but I don’t know what it was that caused this…” possibly indicates a little more about the reality facing female coaches in men’s football.

Whilst there appears to be a huge opportunity for one of the world’s most celebrated sports to lead the way in this regard, there are likely to be some clear obstacles in changing stereotypical opinions about females in football when those holding the highest ranks at FIFA suggest women’s football might attract greater crowds if they played in tighter shorts.

It appears that society has some way to go in enhancing the status of female coaches, particularly in male dominated sports. A recent report published by Sports Coach UK suggests that not only do female coaches encounter practical and logistical problems that prevent them from accessing coaching qualifications, but that barriers to qualification also included wider social barriers such as societies’ expectations of women and the negative perceptions of women in particular sports. With females representing only 31% of the coaching workforce and with only 18% of all qualified coaches are female, it seems now might be an opportune time to embrace this.


Are you female and interested in coaching?

A pilot programme across the South East is working hard to address the issues facing female coaches or those considering taking their first steps. Project 500: More Women, Better Coaching aims to recruit, develop and retain 500 females by March 2015. There is a wide range of support available for coaches whatever their age or stage of development. If you are a female coach or would like to become one you can sign up for free or just find out more through the website.

For more information on the research used in this blog, see

Posted in Coaching

Very Efficient Training . . .

ImageData from our previous research suggests that in the ‘off’ season from September through to the other side of January, efficiency (the ratio of energy expended to work measured) drops away in cyclists.  It appears that exercise intensity plays a key role in keeping efficiency at a high level, but maintaining intensity is very often not an option for cyclists during the winter months due to a lack of racing in this period.  Cyclists then often use this phase to rack up steadier endurance miles; however this has the consequences of a reduction in efficiency of ~3-4% which we have repeatedly seen in our research and in our SportsLab clients.  Part of the rationale for intense training maintaining this parameter is that ventilation is stimulated during training, and the muscles associated with breathing then adapt to require less energy to actually draw air into our lungs.  This adaptation then reduces the overall energy cost of whole body exercise.  Undergraduate student Bobby Whiter (Kinsella) has started to unpick some of these findings with his dissertation project this year.  Bobby undertook a specific investigation into cycling efficiency under the supervision of Dr Jamie O’Driscoll in this low/lowering phase of the cycling season, and rather than insert intensive whole body training into this phase, he put participants through a respiratory training programme designed to enhance ventilatory efficiency.

The experimental group maintained their normal cycle training but also undertook 6 weeks of inspiratory muscle training at 60% of maximal inspiratory pressure twice daily.  A second group also maintained their cycle training, and respiratory exercised at the same frequency as the experimental group, but at an inspiratory exercise intensity that has been demonstrated to have no effect on inspiratory muscle; referred to as a ‘sham’ training group.  The findings fully supported our previous work in the first instance; the sham group of riders had a reduction in efficiency in the off season period similar in magnitude to the previous data we had seen, with  ~3% reduction in efficiency in a six week period.    The training group actually increased their exercise efficiency in this phase where there is usually deterioration, and this increase was ~4.5%, which again is similar in magnitude to the previous upward phase that we have seen with riders progressing into the racing season.   Bobby Whiter (Kinsella) clearly demonstrates the value of these devices in manipulating efficiency in this low phase. Then of course we have the problem associated with all decent research, the next round of questions; what happens if we undertake this in the more efficient phase of the year? and/or add both inspiratory to whole body training? Potential questions for your MSc thesis Bobby . . .

Posted in Cycling, Physiology