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Long-haul flights and Super Rugby performance: what the science says

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Sikhumbuzo Notshe of the Stormers (L) is tackled by Waisake Naholo of the Highlanders (R) during a Super Rugby match between New Zealand’s Highlanders and South Africa’s Stormers.
EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

Author: Michele Lo, Victoria University

Super Rugby is arguably the highest expression of rugby at club level in the world. Its next closest rival in the world of international competitive rugby at club level is the European Rugby Champions Cup (Heineken Champions Cup). Super Rugby involves teams from South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. As the competition is conducted in multiple countries, teams have to travel frequently throughout the six months long season.

Travel is commonly perceived as “the” major factor affecting a team’s performance. Losing away games reduces the chances of finishing high on the ladder or hosting a grand final. Ultimately, it affects the team’s chance of winning. For example, through the 23 years of the competition, only six visiting teams have won the title and only twice has that occurred following international travel to play the final.

We set out to establish whether this perception was scientifically correct. To better understand the complex relationship between regular air travel and athletes’ psycho-physiological response and performance, we investigated the impact of travel on performance during the first 21 years of Super Rugby (1996-2016).

We directly monitored players from four teams following long-haul trans-meridian travel. The findings of our research show that long-haul travel influenced team performance. However, the away-match disadvantage is likely to be the main cause of these negative effects on match outcomes. Fatigue related to long-haul travel is suggested to have a larger impact on players’ individual performance when overseas.

The away-match disadvantageis a combination of factors, such as crowd support and potential officials’ bias that deteriorates the psychological and behavioural states of athletes, along with their performance, when a match is played away.

Although travel and the away-match disadvantage have a similar effect on all teams, when a match is played against a ‘weaker’ opponent, team statistics – like the number of carries, tackles and tries – are only minimally impaired, even following trans-meridian travel. Even if the technical skills and physical performance of players are not particularly affected by travel, playing away from home may affect tactical and strategic aspects of Super Rugby matches, and negatively influence match outcomes.

Jet lag and travel fatigue

There is ample anecdotal support that frequent travel can negatively affect travellers because of travel fatigue and jet lag. Travel fatigue is a state of weariness that accrues after a single trip and accumulates over time. Jet lag occurs when the circadian rhythms, which are the rhythmic pattern of all the physiological functions and systems of the human body, are not synchronised with the external clock.

This typically happens after rapid travel across time-zones. Jet lag is a common complaint reported by travellers crossing more than three time zones during their journey. Symptoms of jet lag include sleep disturbances, fatigue, changes in mood and a deficit in cognitive skills. All of these may detract from an athlete’s peak performance.

So how does this play out for athletes like those competing in Super Rugby?

Varying factors

Performance is complex and may be influenced by many different factors, including travel.

Over the history of Super Rugby it appears quite clear that travel, especially across multiple time zones, had a negative impact on the winning capability of the teams. However, travel fatigue itself had only a limited impact on team performance.

Super Rugby teams reach the match venue at least one day prior to the match and a full night of rest is usually enough to recover from the effects of travel fatigue. Similarly, crossing time zones appears to minimally impair performance. However, the direction of travel largely dictates the magnitude of this impairment: eastward travel is slightly more detrimental than westward travel. As such, for example, a team travelling from South Africa towards Australia or New Zealand will struggle more than a team travelling from South Africa towards Argentina.

This is because eastward travel requires a phase advance of the circadian rhythms while travelling westward requires a phase delay. Circadian rhythms are, on average, slightly longer than 24 hours and the human body shows a natural tendency to drift slightly each day. As such, it is easier to cope with a delay rather than an advance in time.

This means the symptoms of jet lag are more severe after eastward travel, the time required to recover is longer and performance more impaired.

Impaired performance

A number of specific strategies are commonly used by all teams to try and reduce the negative effects of travel. Compression garments can help in reducing travel fatigue and reduce the risk of cramping or even deep vein thrombosis whilst travelling.

Other strategies, mostly based on melatonin supplementation, can help reduce the effect of jet-lag upon arrival. Although these strategies help the team in successfully dealing with long-haul travel, team performance when overseas is still impaired.

Travel is an intrinsic feature of Super Rugby but travel variables are too many to control and therefore there is not a final solution to address all travel related issues. However, our findings suggest that, for the most part, teams appear to be successfully dealing with long-haul travel. Now they should focus on reducing the effects of the away-match disadvantage – for instance by improving players’ behavioural response when competing away from home or implementing different game plans.

Professor Andrew M Stewart (Victoria University), Professor Robert J Aughey (Victoria University) and Associate Professor Nicholas Gill (University of Waikato) co-authored the research on which this article is based.The Conversation

Michele Lo, Researcher at the College of Sport & Exercise Science and Institute for Health and Sport (iHeS), Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Neck Stretches for People with Desk Jobs

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The first quarter of 2019 is now in the rear-view mirror and many of us are tied to our desks and hunched over computers or tablet devices and poor posture can lead to a significant amount of physical discomfort including in your neck and shoulders.

We love to see South African therapists putting their content online and sharing their valuable knowledge. We recently met biokineticist Kendra Dykman and she has put together these handy exercises that you can do at your desk:

 

Don’t forget that you can use our 3D Joint ROM tool to measure neck Range of Motion (ROM)

We also offer wellness presentations to staff at your company. If you would like more information on this, please e-mail marca@dynamicbodytechnology.com

The Wall Shoulder Press Shoulder Strength and Mobility – Stick Mobility Exercise

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We are always on the lookout for innovative new techniques and therapists doing interesting things.

Stick Mobility is a training system that improves your mobility, stability, and strength.

The exercises combine joint mobilization, strength training, and deep fascial stretching to increase athletic performance, reduce the risk of injury, and speed recovery after exercise.

In this video the team takes you through a Wall Shoulder Press.

The Wall Shoulder Press, or “The W”, improves your ability to press and pull-down. Takes you through active pressing and pull-down actions, turns on and preps your shoulders for activity, and activates the posterior and anterior tissues of your upper body. This exercise uses two short sticks and is a good way to stretch, strengthen, and mobilize your shoulders.

Don’t forget that you can use our 3D Joint ROM tool to measure shoulder Range of Motion (ROM)

How sports science in Africa can be taught and thought about differently

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We would love your thoughts on the below article from Francois Cleophas on the role of educators in the fields of sports science:

File 20190322 36264 2pjycb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Sports science needs to race towards a different approach.
kentoh/Shutterstock

Francois Cleophas, Stellenbosch University

In the four years since the decolonisation debate took centre stage at South African universities, much of the focus has been on what decolonisation might look like in the humanities.

But science subjects, too, need to be taught differently at African universities in the 21st century. This is true of my discipline, sport science. The content of the sports science curriculum needs to change. So does the focus of sports science departments. Increasingly, such departments at public universities rely on private funding to operate. This means they are driven by corporate and donors’ interests, doing less for the public good and not necessarily producing social and political critical thinkers.

Both the curriculum and the structure of sports science departments needs to be overhauled. This is necessary, because nothing in the ideological content of sport science curricula has changed over the past 25 years.

In fact, it can be argued that the sport science curriculum, driven more and more by semi-private institutions at public spaces of higher learning, is more committed to a neo-liberal capitalist project today than what it was 25 years ago.

The field’s history

The history of modern day century sports science, as an academic discipline, dates back to the early 20th century when the medical fraternity and physicians became interested in athletic contests. One such doctor, R. Tait McKenzie, published one of the field’s earliest scholarly texts, Exercise and Education in Medicine.

This book reflected and enforced the cultural hold that the western (Hellenistic) presentation of the human body exerted in the emerging field of sport science. The Greek body – white, muscular, masculine and middle class –dominated as an ideal type. This dominance continues today. What wasn’t discussed was that ancient Greece was a slave-owning society that exploited inequalities based on race, gender and class.

As scholars like Ina Zweiniger-Bargielowska have highlighted, physical culture around the turn of the 20th century existed against the backdrop of competing conceptions of masculinity and a wider debate about the fitness of the British “race”. The scientifically trained sport body, sculpted by the sport scientist, became modern society’s idea of the perfect body.

The untrained body – that is, not trained by a sport scientist – is often presented as the “other” type. These “untrained” bodies are often developed in community sports in local communities without the high costs that accompany sport science interventions. These forms of exercise are looked down on and sports science students are taught that these matter less. Ordinary people in these communities are made to believe that their exercise regimes, and ultimately their physical bodies, are not valid and are unimportant.

There have also been few strides in addressing gender discrimination in sports science. White male bodies are the focus. Students are not taught about alternatives or given space to criticise traditional approaches.

The field of sports science, then, has neglected the development of a thorough, critical analysis of how gender, race and class inequalities play out in sports science and exercise.

Commodifying knowledge

But altering what we teach is just one part of the challenge for South African sports scientists.

As higher education has become more commodified, so have public universities’ sports sciences departments.

As sport scientists, we no longer focus primarily on generating and dispensing intellectual knowledge about sport to local communities. Instead, we accumulate knowledge primarily for performance appraisals in accredited publications for distribution in academic circles. This means it’s shared with fewer people.

In this way, sports science’s intellectual property has been captured by what scholar Lesley le Grange refers to as the knowledge economy in the ascendancy of the neo-liberal university.

What does all this mean, in practise?

Simply put, if sport science wants to be relevant to ordinary people, the curriculum needs to be taught and thought about differently. There must be a commitment to a decolonised way of doing things. This means teaching students about different bodies, about different fitness regimes and approaches, drawing from indigenous knowledge systems about what builds a strong body.The Conversation

Francois Cleophas, Senior Lecturer in Sport History, Stellenbosch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.