An Inside Look At How CSIO’s Physiology Team Is Helping Athletes Achieve Optimal Performance Ahead Of Rio

Monday, July 4, 2016

Physiology is a very complex and detailed area of study with the smallest of perturbations initiating a local or systemic response.  Our physiology discipline is grounded in the understanding of how the internal environment of the body is operating, which is influenced, simply, by genetics and the external environment.  Our job is to understand the theoretical physiological responses to various stimuli (i.e. exercise, altitude, heat, cold, high training load etc.) and how these responses change with the specific demands of each high performance athlete and sport.  As a physiologist, the key is to identify the internal physiological demands of the sport (metabolic, cardiorespiratory, neuromuscular, neuroendocrine, etc.), ensure the training load is optimal for providing the physiological stimulus to get the desired outcome, and assess and monitor the internal responses of the athlete.

Many of our physiology staff are embedded within the daily training environment of our targeted sports where they can make the biggest impact assessing and monitoring the athletes each day.  Mike Patton (MSc, University of Calgary) has been working with the National Cycling Team over the last several years and is located full-time at the CSIO’s satellite office at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre (Milton Velodrome).  Jordan Clarke (MSc, University of Calgary) works full-time in London, ON at Rowing Canada’s National Training Centre with the National women’s and men’s light-weight rowing programs.  Rob Rupf (PhD(c), MSc, University of Toronto) is the embedded physiologist with wheelchair basketball at CSIO’s head office at Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.  Our physiologists work closely with the coaching staff, and other members of the integrated support team of sport science and sport medicine practitioners, to ensure that the external load prescribed (i.e. the training program) is eliciting the desired internal response for each athlete to create the stimulus necessary for positive physiological adaptations. This includes thorough monitoring of the athlete’s daily recovery, sleep, training perceived effort, cardiorespiratory, metabolic, and hematological responses, which all help paint the picture of how the internal environment is operating and adapting.  Our staff work to determine the physiological gap between world leaders and our athletes to help sculpt the most optimal training and recovery plan to ensure athlete progression and success. 

The physiology department also includes the CSIO Sport Lab.  Here we have mobile and non-mobile pieces of physiological equipment that we use to train and assess athletes on their response to external training load.  This can help us determine if the athlete is tracking in the proper direction desired by the support team and coaching staff, and if not, help make the proper modifications to get the desired training response.  One of our most advanced, non-mobile, pieces of equipment at the CSIO Sport Lab include the Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) machine, which is the gold standard for assessing bone health, along with being a reliable and valid method for determining body composition.  We use the DXA on our athlete population for determining their bone health, which is influenced mostly by genetics; however, nutrition, training age, training load, and various other factors play a vital role in determining an athlete’s overall bone health.  The second function of the DXA is tracking body composition changes throughout the year training plan and longitudinally with or without various nutritional and training modifications.  Our physiology staff aim to combine a DXA measure with a performance assessment to determine the optimal and safe body composition for the athlete to perform their best, as one size does not fit all.   

Another piece of state-of-the-art equipment used solely by Rob Rupf (physiologist with wheelchair basketball) on a daily basis is the Catapult Clear Sky local positioning unit (LPS).  This system is currently used in conjunction with a GPS unit to track an athlete’s movements and velocity on the court, which provides a better understanding of the physiological demands of a practice and a game situation.  This data is analyzed and combined with the athlete’s internal responses (i.e. heart rate, perceived effort, etc.) and feedback is given daily to the coaching staff to review the impact of the training session and to help prescribe subsequent training sessions based on training impulse. 

The CSIO Sport Lab also utilizes the optimized CO-rebreathing method (Schmidt & Prommer, 2012), which is used to determine blood hemoglobin (Hb) mass (grams).  This is considered the gold standard procedure for determining the potential hematological changes from training and environmental stimuli.  Many athletes pursue altitude exposure (hypoxic & hypobaric) for extended periods of time to create a greater physiological stress than at sea level with the goal being to induce positive physiological change (i.e. Increase Hb mass and/or peripheral buffering capacity).  With our Hb mass system we can determine whether an athlete is a responder to extended altitude by assessing pre and post-altitude hematological changes. In tandem with the Hb mass unit, we utilize our Sport Lab K2Room, a hypoxic chamber where we can simulate Everest or higher. One of our goals with this chamber is to help preserve the positive hematological changes acquired at altitude when the athlete returns to sea level with hypoxia and heat exposure.    

Ultimately, our physiology staff play a vital role working closely with the coaching staff and athletes, as well as other members of the sport science and sport medicine team to help formulate the most optimal training plan for the desired physiological changes. Working on the basis of identifying the key physiological performance factors for the sport, coupled with identifying the physiology performance gap for the team and/or athlete, the physiologist works to assess and monitor the effectiveness of the training plan on achieving the desired physiological response. This ensures the athlete is performing at their highest potential come competition.  For many athletes that pinnacle event is the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games which are fastly approaching.

About Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Located at the new Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, a legacy facility of the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games, Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) is a non-profit organization committed to the pursuit of excellence by providing world-class programs, services, and leadership to high performance athletes and coaches to enhance their ability to achieve international podium performances. CSIOoffers athletes a range of sport science and sport medicine services including nutrition, physiology, biomechanics, strength & conditioning, mental performance, sport therapy and life services. CSIO also delivers programming and services to National and Provincial Sport Organizations and coaches to work towards building a stronger sport system in Ontario and Canada.

CSIO services approximately 700 high performance athletes and 250 coaches, at its main facility at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre, its satellite location at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, and in daily training environments across Ontario. CSIO is part of a larger network of 4 institutes and 3 multi-sport centres across the country known as the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network, working in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee. CSIO is further supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Sport Canada, Own the Podium, and the Coaching Association of Canada, along with the National and Provincial Sport Organizations within the sector.

Written by:
Heather Logan-Sprenger, PhD, CSCS, Lead of Physiology, Research & Innovation.

Media Contact:
Laura Albright, Senior Communications Coordinator
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario
Tel: 416.596.1240 Ext. 238
Email: |

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