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Working with the English Institute of Sport (EIS) the Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation at Northumbria University is conducting research into optimising physical performance by understanding the stress, recovery and adaptive responses to training and competition, and the results are having an impact on EIS practitioners and elite athlete success.

The ultimate aim of Northumbria’s Department of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Optimising Human Performance research group, led by ProfessorGlyn Howatson, Director of Research and Innovation, is to help leading athletes perform at the highest level and increase their chances of winning medals through rigorous research. To this end, the Department has established a strong working relationship with the EIS, a nationwide network dedicated to improving sporting performance through science, medicine and technology.

Initiated by Professor Howatson, PhD students from the Department are embedded within EIS sites across the country. Sport practitioners in their own right, the students are in a unique position to support athletes in their day-to-day activities with scientific knowledge on, for example, strength and conditioning, physiology and nutrition. The students conduct applied research to answer sport-derived questions, and applying their findings directly to the athletes, coaches and practitioner teams they work with.

One project that is currently ongoing is the use of cold therapies, known as cryotherapy, to help athletes recover more quickly from exercise. In testament to the success of this research, Dr Jonathan Leeder, the first student at Northumbria to examine recovery methods such as cold water immersion, is now part of the EIS Performance Innovation Team; and other researchers at the University are building on his work through investigations into novel cooling strategies, which can improve recovery.  Dr Leeder also instigated the development of a “Recovery Tips” custom-built smartphone app for EIS athletes. Directly informed by Northumbria’s research, the app records athletes’ wellbeing and daily training load, and provides best practice information and guidelines relating to recovery. The app includes Dr Leeder’s work on cold water immersion as well as further research on compression garments conducted by Dr Jessica Hill and supervised by Professor Howatson. As acknowledged global leaders in the field of athletic recovery, the approach to recovery has been summarise in an ExpertStatement published by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences.

Northumbria’s influence has extended to Olympic cycling, a sport which has enjoyed recent success for Team GB. MehdiKordi, a PhD student who is studying physiology at Northumbria as well as working with British Cycling, has beeninvestigating the neuromuscular factors that influence the amount of power elite sprint cyclists can generate. Having identified key factors that affect sprint track cyclists’ performance, his profiling and training protocols are now routinely used to assess and train both elite podium and academy cyclists. His studies have also led to new training techniques being developed, which help sprint track athletes increase their peak power output and ultimately improve their performance.  In addition Mellissa Harden and Dave Green, two other Northumbria PhD students, are working on use novel training methods to enhance Olympic sprint track cyclist and running performance, respectively.

caption: Dr Emma RossOther more recent work with Alex Anastasiou (British Sailing) and a recently started project with British Gymnastics aims to understand the physiological determinants and demands of their respective sports.  Despite the long tradition of these sports, very little is known about the physiological aspects of these multi-discipline events.  These, and the aforementioned projects, have made, and continue to make meaningful impact for our elite sport success moving in to future Olympic Games and other international competition.  Over the course of the last two Olympic Games, Northumbria has had seven PhD students working with the EIS high performance centres nationwide, and numerous research and innovation projects, each of which is applying their investigations to real-world sporting settings, as Dr Emma Ross, Head of Physiology at the EIS, reiterates in an interview with The Journal: “The academic researchers [at Northumbria University] really understand the challenges of translating research into applied practice and working in the high performance environment. [Their projects have] directly applicable outcomes that are currently making performance impact across a number of sports”.

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