The other side of sport

By Alana Leabeater
Current student, UTS Bachelor of Sport & Exercise Science

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We hook our subject – a fellow classmate – into tubes and monitors, power up the computers and various other pieces of technology and monitor him as he starts to run on the treadmill.

First slow. Then fast. Faster still, to maximum speed until, finally – he taps out.

And like predatory birds, we flock to him as he struggles to stand, pricking him with blood lactate photometers, taking heart rate and perceived effort scores, analysing multiple displays on the computer and sucking our subject dry of any quantifiable data.

This is a V02 max test, a test that estimates maximal oxygen consumption (so is literally designed to make you fail), and it costs a couple of hundred dollars to run.

We are the lucky second-year students who get to run these tests on each other for free – with no guarantee that we’re going to do it right!

No tutorial in the Sport & Exercise Science degree is the same as the next.

Over the past three semesters that I have been studying at UTS, I have had to analyse the angular kinematics of playing on a see-saw; measure the ground reaction force produced when I jump; drink a few litres of Gatorade during the course of a tutorial to see the effect on my kidneys; dissect plenty of animal parts in the name of anatomy study, and more often than not, I find myself running, deadlifting, jumping, coaching, sprinting, hopping or throwing, to better understand and apply the theory of my degree.

Being the nerd that I am, one of my favourite subjects was first-year anatomy.

In our first tutorial, our tutor stood in front of a desk that was piled high with vertebrae models.

(For your information, we have 33 vertebrae in our spine, including the sacrum and coccyx).

Behind his back, he picked up a vertebrae model, felt its features without looking and would tell us what number vertebrae it was – say, C3 or T5.

To us newbies, this skill was beyond belief – how could he tell the difference? Aren’t all vertebrae pretty much the same?

It only took us two weeks to learn our tutor’s tricks.

Another subject I enjoyed was Exercise Physiology. As well as the V02 max test I mentioned earlier, we also looked at the basics of an exercising human body: how we convert the food we eat into kinetic energy, how we take in and use oxygen and what the anatomical difference between an elite sprinter like Usain Bolt and a recreational triathlete like myself is.

For any weekend warriors out there, we also looked at your old friend – lactic acid.

Here’s a hot tip: it’s not actually lactate that’s burning in your legs after you’ve climbed those hills or hit the leg press. It’s excess hydrogen which is interfering with your basic level of muscle contraction.

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The good news is, all you have to do is keep training at or near this level of burn and soon you’ll be able to push your blood lactate tolerance further!

Sport & Exercise Science is a hands-on, get-involved degree that appeals to anyone who wants to be on the other side of sport – the people who analyse, diagnose, coach and encourage the star athletes and players.

At the moment, my dream career is in elite sport, running those V02 max tests, collecting data, interpreting it and translating it into athlete-friendly and coach-friendly terms.

This degree definitely feeds into that, while also giving me a broad range of skills in areas such as biomechanics, nutrition, psychology and management.

If you’re anything like me, once you’ve been studying Sport & Exercise science for a while you will start to analyse the sportspeople you see: scrutinising a friend’s gait as they run, hypothesising what sort of ligament sprain an NRL player is suffering from as they’re stretchered off the field or even poring over your own data sets from your Fitbit or Garmin.

As a sports enthusiast, this suits me down to a tee (excuse the pun).

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