Engineering athletes: Building bodies and minds

Athletes are using high tech and sometimes unorthodox ways to boost their performance. Collecting blood samples to get lactic acid levels is what some athletes are doing to improve their performance.

Heather Hidock is one of those athletes who has her lactic acid threshold tested. It's the point during exercise when lactic acid builds up in our blood faster than our bodies can remove it. Figuring out what Hidock’s threshold is can help increase it, and in turn, build endurance.

Physiologist Sharlyne Rivera says this test helps runners pinpoint what pace or training zone is best for them.

"People are disillusioned into thinking that you always have to go hard and go fast,” says Rivera.

If you don't want to spend $150 on this test, Rivera says you can head to your local track and keep your heart rate consistent while doing four laps. Then repeat the routine for several weeks and if your time goes down and heart rate stays the same, progress has been made.

At a runner's clinic, Dave Calvert is going through a battery of biomechanics tests as he tries to qualify for the Boston marathon. He's having a problem with shin splints.

Calvert explains, "There were a couple times where I started out the door and within 25 seconds or so I just stopped."

A team of doctors analyzes Calvert’s running form, stride, balance, and diet.

Dr. Darrin Bright says problems in any of these areas could lead to injuries. Dr. Bright is an expert with experience, running 100 mile ultra-marathons.

Regarding injuries, Dr. Bright says, "Unfortunately, anywhere from one third to one half of all runners will get injured each year."

A computer synchronized with three cameras gives sports trainers a comprehensive picture of what Calvert is doing right and wrong. He learns to not over stride and that his perfect pace is 170 to 180 steps per minute.

In addition, nutritionists help Calvert maximize his carbohydrate intake with this formula: divide your body weight by 2.2, multiply that number by 5, and that will give you how many grams of carbs to aim for each day.

While proper running form and precise nutrition is essential, mental condition is also important.

2008 Olympic gold medal winning shooter Vincent Hancock knows all about the mental game.

"That's the piece that makes or breaks you. That's what defines a winner,” says Hancock.

Instead of hitting the regular gym, Hancock and other athletes come to the mind gym. Licensed hypnotist Dan Vitchoff says certain tones in specific music help him rewire connections in athletes' brains so calm, focused responses are automatic under pressure.

Vitchoff says, "You're getting [athletes] into that state where they've done it thousands and thousands of times."

These various techniques give athletes the edge both mentally and physically. But you don't have to be an endurance athlete to improve your mental game. A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois shows brisk walks helped the elderly remember things better. After a year on the exercise program, scans showed the participants' brains were growing and reversing their normal age-related shrinkage.


BACKGROUND: New technology has developed to improve an athlete's ability to perform their best mentally and physically. Athletes are using blood drawn tests and hypnotism to improve their body and mind.

LACTIC ACID THRESHOLD TEST: The lactic acid test is a blood test that measures the level of lactic acid made in the body. Lactic acid levels get higher during excessive exercise. The threshold is when lactic acids build up in our body faster than the body can remove it. Figuring out what the threshold is can be used to increase performance by building up the levels of lactic acid, which will build endurance (Source:

BIOMECHANICS TEST: Biomechanics is the science concerned with the action of forces, internal or external, on the living body. Computerized software is used to film and study the athletes' total body movement. Doctors or specialists analyze the athletes' form and can determine exactly what movements they are doing wrong. One area of major concentration over the past few years is that of biomechanical analysis. Coaches and athletes have traditionally used video cameras and videocassette recorders (VCR) to scrutinize and improve their performances. Today, computers and high-tech devices are available to retrieve, analyze, replay, edit, and print the desired performance into a three-dimensional (3D) stick figure image that is analyzed from different angles without the need for a VCR. (Source:

HYPNOTISM: Hypnotism for athletes is designed to remove destructive thoughts and self-limitations to create unshakable confidence and power. Hypnosis has been used for hundreds of years in many sports. The Russian team took 11 hypnotists with them to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Hypnosis is now used more and more in high level sport, including F1 racing, tennis, soccer, golf, gymnastics, etc. (Source:

Hypnotherapy applies to athletics in the following areas:
1. Increase endurance
2. Improve performance
3. Alleviate pre-competition anxiety
4. Remove distractions
5. Overcome mental obstacles
6. Remove any negative thoughts before, during and after
7. Focus and concentration
8. Positive reframing of past negative experiences
9. Increase motivation & determination
10. Adjust body weight
11. Remove hesitations
12. Enhancing teamwork


Sharlyne Rivera
(352)241- 7144, ext. 4202

Colin Yoder
Media Relations Manager
Office (614) 566-8855 | Mobile (614) 565-0619

Dan Vitchoff
Sports Mental Coach/ Performance Coach

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