If athletes were race cars, Professor Michael McGuigan of AUT University's Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ) might be one of our best mechanics. Resistance training is now widely used by athletes as part of their preparation for sport but what do we really know about the scientific basis of strength and power development? How strong do athletes need to be and what is the relationship with sports performance?
Professor McGuigan, who gave his inaugural professorial address this week, answered a few questions from the Herald.
Tell us about yourself and what you do at SPRINZ.
I'm a Professor of Strength and Conditioning at AUT University, where I conduct research and supervise postgraduate students in the areas of strength and power development and assessment, particularly for high performance athletes.
I am also the research and innovation coordinator for the Silver Ferns.
I started out in the sport science field after attaining my PhD, and later completing a postdoctoral fellowship on resistance training at Ball State University in the US.
The use of resistance training for groups such as the elderly, patients with cardiovascular disease, and children has been a major focus of my research.
I have also worked extensively with elite sportspeople, including time as a Power Scientist with High Performance Sport New Zealand.
In my current research, I'm exploring areas such as different methods for measuring power and how it relates to strength; new ways of monitoring, testing and assessing athletes; and how that information can be integrated with match analysis and training to improve performance.
What strength and resistance training does SPRINZ offer, and in what specific areas?
We use a range of assessment tools to ascertain the strength and power capabilities of athletes. Technology such as force platforms, linear position transducers and accelerometers can give us objective information on the training status of athletes.
By accurately identifying the physical strengths and weaknesses of athletes, as well as the demands of the sport, we can then optimise their training programmes.
How has this science evolved over past decades, and how much of a difference has it generally made?
There is now a large body of evidence showing the benefits of resistance training for athletes and, as a result, resistance training is an essential part of most high performance athletes' training programmes.
The other significant development has been the use of technology to assess the physical capacities of athletes, and the emergence of technology as a tool to monitor training and give feedback to coaches.
Can you give examples of how it's boosted some of our well-known New Zealand athletes?
We have some fantastic strength and conditioning coaches in New Zealand.
The work that [AUT research supervisor and All Blacks head strength and conditioning coach] Dr Nic Gill has done with the All Blacks is a great example of athletes benefitting from targeted resistance training.
In netball, I have no doubt that the resilience and consistent high level of play from Laura Langman is due in part to the targeted strength training she has done throughout her career.
Will the role of technology and science in training regimes continue to become more important - and why?
Technology and science have played important roles in training regimes for a while now.
The challenge we face us to make sure the information gained through science and technology is used effectively, to inform training programmes.
We need to ensure we are collecting information that adds value and has the potential to make our athletes better.
Despite advances in technology, is there only so far that science and resistance training can take an athlete?
I believe athlete development - the training of younger athletes - is an area in which sports science can make a great difference in the years to come.
I also foresee that sports science will continue to become more integrated into high performance programmes.
This is done well in a number of sports, but we need to remember that this is a small component of determining success in sport.
I don't know what the limits will be, but I do know that developing great athletes and coaches is the most important objective, and through research we'll continue to look for ways to unlock further improvement in our athletes.
* Professor McGuigan's full professorial address can be heard here.