By Antonio Robustelli, MSc, CSCS
Like the athletes we study, the field of sport science is always in motion. When combined with medicine, it is a rich and growing environment in which the interaction between daily practice and clinical research contributes to an overall progression in understanding of human performance and biological adaptations. The science of human performance is nothing new; it builds its solid foundations on the same consistent goal: pushing the athlete/player to his/her maximum level of athletic development.
What is changing in recent years is the growth in awareness, which, in my opinion, is the single most important “word” to be used as a reference for the future of sport, medicine, and health.
Why awareness? Awareness of what? Has awareness maybe been lacking until now? No—far from it! Indeed, different types of awareness have influenced the way we look at the human machine. Just think of how recent technology has succeeded in providing new non-invasive methods for monitoring individual responses and recovery: being able to understand the importance of the unicity in biology, chemistry, and biomechanics for each individual human being has been paramount and will be the key for future development over the next 10 years.
Until a few years ago, we used to think about sport performance as a sort of abstract entity related exclusively to the application of strict and rigid training parameters: Selye’s GAS theory (General Adaptation Syndrome) has been used for years as a foundation paradigm for a “linear” interpretation of human response to training and competition stress.
While the importance and validity of this theory remain unchanged, it is our newly awakened awareness of the complexity of the human form that is changing the way we should look at adaptation processes.
Thanks to the dynamic interactions between various elements—field practice, scientific research, and technological advances—we are becoming aware of the fact that the response to stress doesn’t necessarily follow a linear path. Indeed, several factors can contribute to deviation from this line. As a complex biological system, an athlete is not necessarily programmed to progress mathematically. Sometimes, the three stages of GAS (alarm, resistance, exhaustion) are driven not only by the physiological training stressor, but by several interchangeable elements of a different nature (emotional, psychosocial, environmental, etc). It is this new understanding that represents our challenge for the next years in the field of sport science and medicine.
Our awareness of the importance of considering every individual as a unique entity with a unique response to stress has led us to start taking into account all of the elements that contribute to growth and athletic development (training, nutrition, sleep, environment, emotions, social surrounding, etc). This change mirrors the way the new thinking on social determinants of health has changed the way patient outcomes are measured.
This global, once called holistic approach, is opening the way to a better definition and care of the human machine.
Antonio Robustelli, MSc, CSCS, is an international Sports Performance Consultant, Applied Sport Scientist/Technologist, and Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Coach from Italy. He works with individual athletes (track & field, tennis, martial arts, archery, swimming, cycling), governing bodies/federations and professional teams in Europe, Asia, and USA (football, basketball, baseball, rugby) using data integration from high-end technologies for injury prevention/reduction and performance enhancement. He is a member of the LER Editorial Advisory Board and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org