M Hargreaves & J Hawley, Physiological Bases of Sports Performance.

(Sydney: McGraw-Hill, 2002)

Review by Adain Summerfield

Physiological Bases of Sports Performance purports to be a “valuable reference book [that] is essential reading for students, scientists and clinicians with an interest in understanding and optimising sports performance”, yet falls well short of offering specific evidence-based strategies to guide those interested in enhancing sport performance. As is often the case with exercise physiology texts, this publication attempts to explain performance changes – specifically in endurance activities – as a result of different interventions, but fails to translate the physiological explanations into practical guidelines.

The contents cover the physiological bases of sports performance and are appropriately divided into two sections: the first section offering a brief overview of recent research on physiological bases of sports performance, and the second examining factors that exert a major influence on sports performance.

Perhaps unique in its approach to exercise physiology is Hawley’s statement that “physical training in preparation for competitive sport is not, and likely never will be a purely scientific pursuit. Our contemporary knowledge of the optimal training practices for enhancing performance in a wide variety of sports has evolved during the past century from the trial-and-error methods and field-based observations of a few innovative and risk taking coaches working with a limited number of athletes and teams, rather than innovation arising from modern-day, laboratory-based studies.”

This positioning is of interest given the importance typically claimed of the contribution of the sports sciences in advancing sports performance in many publications, but also in the way it frames the relationship between scientists, coaches and athletes in the pursuit of optimal performance. This is perhaps a perfect example of what Stearns refers to in this journal issue as the benefit of interdisciplinarity. Elliot accurately identifies the “complex challenge that confronts the coach and athlete that want to be the best of the elite” and the current climate where “the successful athlete almost certainly [needs] a coach and a scientist working in harmony to ensure that the athlete is not disadvantaged by a competitor who is using new methods that have emerged from scientific investigation.” In Hawley’s chapter, and indeed throughout this publication, research is presented to guide the development of training methods, but the need for field practitioners to implement, monitor and modify according to individual athletes’ requirements in order to optimise performance is clearly stated. Unfortunately, Hawley does not provide any of the practical applications that he suggests are vital.

While Physiological Bases of Sports Performance derives much of its value from the extensive list of resources and bibliographies supporting each subject, this is simultaneously, the greatest weakness of the book. Recent findings, undertaken by recognised Australian and New Zealand scientists are presented within each chapter and then referenced clearly to direct the reader to information to fill any knowledge gaps highlighted when journeying through the pages. However, the reader is too often called upon to refer to these many references in order for the authors to bypass much of the foundation information required to derive value from the research presented in order to preserve “small book” (334 pages) appeal.

Another significant limitation is the absence of information on intermittent team sports or those sports with stop-and-start action. While Hawley correctly identifies the scarcity of scientific investigation into this type of activity, his book not only fails to offer specific intervention guidance, but also is unable to explain performance changes with specific interventions.

On the other hand, research on endurance activities (cycling, running) is abundant and well presented in Physiological Bases of Sports Performance. However, is this endurance activity emphasis the result of the relative ease of investigation into endurance activities or, perhaps more significantly, the inability of science to adequately investigate dynamic intermittent activities? Perhaps the greatest value of this publication is the challenge presented to sports scientists to produce meaningful methods of investigation and literature relating to intermittent activities.

This publication certainly presents an exceptional compilation of contemporary research but the need for prior exercise physiology knowledge and/or a large budget to build the library necessary to extract useful information from this text restricts its use to those studying the exercise sciences or those with the time and the means to acquire the required foundation knowledge. Furthermore, the contents do little to add to the information that one might garner from existing exercise physiology texts (e.g. MacArdle, Katch and Katch, Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance, Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1991) that also cover the necessary foundation knowledge albeit in a larger volume. This limits the value of this publication for coaches, athletes, to students or scientists seeking to develop effective strategies to enhance performance.

Adain Summerfield is a lecturer and coach at the Sports Institute of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, specialising in exercise physiology, exercise prescription, fitness and conditioning.