Training boost for Olympians

Essex University scientists are developing a device which uses novel methods to measure oxygen use in muscle.

Essex University scientists are developing a device which uses novel methods to measure oxygen use in muscle. If successful, the device could enhance training for the UK’s Olympic hopefuls.

The scientific team, from the Department of Biological Sciences, is working on the device. Initial design and testing will involve working closely with triathletes and their coaches, through Dave Parry, the university’s elite triathlon coach.

The aim is to design a non-invasive, lightweight, portable device that can be worn comfortably in training and feed information wirelessly in real time to the coach. This will allow optimal targeting of training sessions in the field.

Prof Chris Cooper, Prof Ralph Beneke and Dr Caroline Angus of the university’s Medical Optics Group (MOG) have been awarded £28,571 to use a technique called Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) to shine light on the muscle to see how much oxygen is present.

Prof Cooper explained: ‘Exercise uses up oxygen and therefore how much oxygen is in the muscle is a measure of whether the oxygen being delivered is keeping up with its consumption.

‘The key to the project is to take this data from the scientists to the coaches so they can use it to help optimise the way athletes warm up, or to design pacing strategies telling athletes when it’s the right time for them to speed up or conserve energy during a race.’

The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in collaboration with UK Sport. It is one of a number of projects developing technologies to assist our athletes in achieving gold at the 2012 Olympics.

The equipment will result from multidisciplinary research, being designed by physicists, engineers and computer scientists at University College London (UCL) and tested and optimised by biochemists, physiologists and sports scientists at Essex.

The team aims to have a working prototype in trials by spring 2008.