Published: June 19, 2017

The trend in marketing is the customization of products — from a coffee to a nice suit to the colors on a portable speaker. Now UT researchers are looking at the customization of training plans for college athletes with the hope that it increases the athletes’ power and reduces their risk for injury.

“The goal is to give coaches better data to see who is more at risk for injury or what is the likelihood for better performance, and to try to understand how different training loads impact performance and body composition,” said Eduardo De Souza, assistant professor of health science and human performance.

The UT researchers, made up of 18 undergraduate and graduate students and led by De Souza, submitted five projects relating to strength training exercise and body composition to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and will be travelling to Las Vegas for the 2017 national conference July 12–15.

Out of the 139 submitted projects, one of UT’s has already been tapped as one of the top 5 undergraduate projects and top 10 overall and is a finalist to be judged for the Student Research Award for Outstanding Poster Abstract Presentation.

“Power Output and Average Velocity During the Deadlift Exercise in Collegiate Female Volleyball Athletes" examines the speed at which peak power output is maximized for the deadlift exercise in collegiate female athletes. The principal investigator was Nick Cheesman M.S. ’17 and included contributors Jacob Rauch, Dan Aube, Michael Alvarez, Christopher Barakat, Nate Carpenter, Kevin Consoles, Austin Both, Justin Thiel, Jody C. Andersen and Eduardo De Souza.

“We are personalizing the training based on speed, because speed is more sensitive to fatigue,” said De Souza. “So if you’re training at higher speed, you’d have better power output,” which is important for athletes utilizing power moves like jumping, such as the volleyball team.

“The science helps me validate what I’m already doing and has added components and depth to my programs, which has given me and my coaches a better, more complete picture of the athlete,” said Thiel, UT’s strength and conditioning coach, who has used the data most recently with the volleyball and baseball teams, which both have recently won national titles.

“The value is definitely in the fact that we get a much broader understanding as to what goes into creating a high performing athlete,” Thiel said. “When the athletes see the investment in time and energy that we put into them through studies, it truly helps them buy in to our program and see how we truly care about their well-being and ultimately helping them perform their sport better.”

The personalized training is part of another study Rauch ’17 was the principal investigator for and will be presenting at the conference as well, “Auto-Regulated Exercise Selection Improves Lean Body Mass and Strength Gains in Highly Strength-Trained Males.”

“Everybody in their life has good and bad days. The same is true for training,” De Souza said. “So the days that you’re feeling good you train harder. The days you’re not feeling so good you train a little bit lighter.”

Essentially this practice of choosing a workout based on how you’re feeling provided better overall results over a nine-week period versus the traditional practice of giving athletes a fixed schedule to which they are to stick. The students in the flexible (auto-regulatory) group were even lifting heavier weights.

“Despite the difference, the auto-regulatory group felt less exertion, which was really interesting,” De Souza said. “So they are training for more load and feeling the same exertion. When you assess perceived exertion throughout the study, both groups increased that very similarly. It’s important to mention that the auto-regulatory group gained more lean body mass as well. That’s interesting data.”

Rauch got his bachelor in human performance and starts the Master of Science in Exercise and Nutrition Science this fall. He said that while he’s studied a variety of topics in the Human Performance Research Lab, they have recently shifted focus towards optimizing athletic performance and reducing injury risk.

“We have the researchers, the strength staff and the head coach all on the same page with all of our focus on improving the overall health and performance of these athletes,” said Rauch.

The lab Rauch refers to contains the latest computerized systems for the measurement of oxygen uptake, blood lactate and blood gas analyzers. Electromyography is used to analyze skeletal muscle activation, and accelerometers are used to quantify the rate and velocity of human movement. The lab also houses the most current force plate technology along with computerized Monarch Wingate bikes, capable of measuring power output in real time.

“Getting involved in research allowed me to take everything I learned in the classroom throughout my undergraduate career and see how it applies to real world scenarios,” Rauch said. “Research also helped me become a better student and gave me the tools that I needed to take my studies to the next level.”

While the athletes see the benefit in better performance, Thiel said he thinks the biggest benefit is to the students, like Rauch, working in the lab. They are involved in every step along the way, from research and planning to collecting data, inputting it and analyzing the outcomes.

“In this field, putting theories and concepts into practice is invaluable,” Thiel said, “and the students see a side to the science that isn’t readily available in the classroom or in books.”

Thiel said he’s been able to utilize the outcomes from several of the lab’s studies to tweak how he is training UT’s student athletes and make the programs more effective for them.

“Ultimately it comes down to this: in my profession, there isn’t necessarily a ‘100 percent right’ or ‘100 percent wrong’ way to train athletes,” Thiel said. “It often comes down to a better way to train and do things, and when science and conducting studies come into play, it greatly helps to ensure that we are using the better way.”

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