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Sport science tie-up puts Scotland’s swimmers in pole position

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Lewis and Ross
PhD researcher Lewis Macgregor uses the technology on University of Stirling swimmer Ross Murdoch

The University of Stirling and sportscotland institute of sport have teamed up to give Olympic heroes and performance support a “Formula 1 level of understanding”.

Scotland’s multiple medal-winning swimmers competed at the recent Rio Olympics powered by a unique technological collaboration called Tensiomiography (TMG) that allowed coaches to apply a meticulous level of details to race preparations.

TMG is a muscle diagnostic tool that has been at the forefront of the quest for improvement in elite Scottish swimming for a number of years.

At the Rio Olympics, for the first time since the university-institute collaboration began in 2008, Scotland’s elite swimmers competed at a major Games having been fully immersed in the TMG programme, and the partnership will continue as the swimmers prepare to represent Scotland at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.

One member of the performance group at Stirling, Duncan Scott, won two Olympic silver medals in Rio while Robbie Renwick shared in Scott’s 4x200m relay success – and Ross Murdoch won individual European gold in the 200m breaststroke earlier in the summer.

Craig Benson completed a quartet of Stirling swimmers who qualified for Rio under the supervision of head coach Ben Higson and high performance coach Steven Tigg – all of them immersed in the TMG programme.

The margins between the Olympic podium and non-medallists in swimming can be minuscule, and the race for that extra split-second has intensified with the technological gains and increased understanding of what an athlete needs to succeed.

With the reliability of the TMG programme now firmly established by the university/institute collaboration and by ongoing academic and applied research, the tools available to a coach are now more detailed and physiologically accurate than ever.

Steven Tigg explains how technology such as TMG can help a coach to achieve an edge over rival countries:

Dr Angus Hunter, Reader in Exercise Physiology at Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, said: “Working with sportscotland institute of sport since 2004, we have been able to hone this technology and identify real physiological changes in elite athletes competing at the top level.

“Monitoring muscle function using this novel technique is quick and painless for the swimmers and is not affected by their state-of-mind or other external factors, allowing us to be highly accurate in our readings.

“PhD researcher Lewis Macgregor has examined swimmers’ muscle symmetry taking a microscopic approach to monitoring individual and collective muscle function. As a result of our work, coaching staff can identify athletes’ needs and rectify minor concerns which can make all the difference to staying in shape to train and avoiding injury.  When an Olympic medal is at stake every training day is meaningful and avoiding loss of training days is imperative.”

Individual medley swimmer Hannah Miley, the winner of 28 international medals who finished 4th in the 400m at the Rio Olympics, has also been using TMG for an extended period at her base of the University of Aberdeen.

“Key to the successful application of TMG has been partnerships and collaborations,” said Dr Malcolm Fairweather, Head of Science and Innovation at the sportscotland institute of sport. 

“In the initial stages of this collaboration Tensiomiography was a relatively unknown technology with limited scientific underpinning, and with insufficient knowledge supporting clear TMG applications in sport. 

“Our early collaboration work scientifically evaluated several applications of TMG in sport and much of this work is now published in international peer review journals. This fundamental work really helped establish the credibility of TMG including the provision of instantaneous feedback across several important areas of muscle function such as muscle fibre typing, muscle fatigue/recovery from fatigue, muscle function and injury status. 

“These areas and associated measures are now critical to explicitly informing coaches and athletes daily training, athlete recovery and athlete adaptation knowledge within Scottish Swimming. The present Special Project collaboration is in place for a three-year period meaning that Scottish Swimming will be able to maintain and expand upon the present TMG support through to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.”

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