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Nutrition Requirements for Rock Climbers, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Abstract

Rock climbing is a high energy and adventure sport. It requires an athlete be in appropriate physical shape, but also requires a good nutritional balance. Without a combination of a good physical training program and a nutritious eating regime, the athlete will not perform as well as possible. In order to address the strength and physical needs of the sport it is important that the athlete engage in an overall workout that addresses aerobics, resistance and weight training. In addition to their physical needs, they should also increase their protein level, fat soluble vitamins and reduce the amount of fatty foods that they consume. This will increase the health of the rock climber and allow them to perform at optimum for every climb.

Rock Climbing; Training, Nutrition & Common Injuries

Rock climbing is not a new sport, as it has been referenced in history back to the early 1920’s when it became quite popular. More recently a number of different styles of rock climbing have emerged and many athletes have taken the sport to the extreme.  The popularity of rock climbing has evolved into a highly competitive sport and as such, compelled enthusiasts to excel through cutting edge nutrition and physical training.   Not only is the climb physically invigorating there is also significant mental demands placed on the climber.  It requires intense concentration and a great deal of knowledge in order to master the sport. The rugged terrain and high altitudes create a hazardous field for sport enthusiasts, but add to the excitement and thrill of the sport. Rock climbing’s inclusion as an Olympic event has focused increased attention on more competitively advantageous aspects such as training, preparation, nutrition and technique. Unfortunately despite the popularity of rock climbing there are relatively few studies that specifically address the physiological demand on the athlete. However a great deal of information that can be drawn from similar endurance sports such as distance running, cross country skiing and other high endurance sports. The needs and requirements of the sport are likely similar to the other sports, with the exception of the specific physical demands placed on the rock climbing athlete. The nutritional needs can be accurately compared, however the need for strength and physical stature vary drastically. In order to better understand the sport and the unique requirements of athlete, this paper will focus on training, nutrition and common issues or injuries that occur with the sport of rock climbing.

Typical Training Patterns

In order to appropriately train for the sport of rock climbing an athlete must focus on an overall body workout that emphasizes a balance between strength and endurance. It is commonly accepted that weight lifting, resistance training and aerobic activities can provide an adequate foundation, provided the correct regimen is adhered to.  As with any sport training program, stretching should be included.  Not only does it increase the athlete’s heart rate and blood flow, it also provide a foundation for flexibility and range of motion  that becomes increasingly important as competitive advantages are exploited.  Stretching is also positively correlated to a reduction in the rate of injury as it strengthens and prepares the muscles for a more intense exercise. Apposite training is shown to significantly reduce the incidence of strained ligaments, tenosynovitis.  This is especially important to the muscles in the back, biceps and wrists, where much strain and need is placed during vertical movements. Contrary to other endurance sports where emphasis on large muscle groups is sufficient, rock climbers should also focus their attention to the stretching of the muscles in the elbows and wrists as well. Flexion/extension should be addressed during the training or warm up to assist in preparation and also progressively increase the level of stress that can be placed on the joints (Baechle, 1994). The most commonly indicated injures for rock climbers are overuse conditions, strains, tendinitis and nerve entrapments. The upper extremity muscles are repetitively used during climbs and can be prone to injury to the muscle or tendon fibers resulting from increased levels of stretch or strain. In laymen’s terms, this occurs when the athlete places more force on the muscle fibers than they can withstand, therefore causing an injury. Resistance training has been shown to increase an athlete’s strength, which is highly recommended for this sport (Horst, 1997). Stretching exercises are also recommended daily to ensure that muscles are kept flexible and healthy.

Tendinitis results from an inflammation of the tendon and is commonly caused by repetitive use and prolonged overloading. This condition is especially prevalent in sports that rely heavily on repetitive forces with increased duration of activity. Nerve entrapments are another common condition in which a nerve, usually in the ankle, wrist or elbow of a climber, becomes entrapped while passing through a small space. Nerve entrapment is common and can create a debilitating injury for athletes as it leads to muscle weakness, and paresthesia (Arnheim & Prentice, 1997).  Climbers commonly experience overuse injuries to their shoulders as well. Shoulder impingement occurs when the supraspinatus tendon is compressed. When compression occurs the athlete will experience pain that can become progressively worse with continued use. If left untreated or with continued use the tendon can tear which leads to increase pain and decreased range of motion. Research has shown that stretching decreases the rate and prevalence of injury (Baechle, 1994). Prior to climbs, athletes should properly warm up including engaging in five to ten minutes of stretching. Focus should be given to muscle balance, strength and endurance of the upper extremity muscle groups.

According to Baechle, rock climbers can seriously benefit from planning the intensity of their climbs and alternating them (1994). If the climber strives for maximum intensity with every climb, over training can occur, which ultimately leads to overuse injuries and fatigue.

Baechle suggests that consistent over training can lead to “an increased resting heart rate and blood pressure, alter immune functions, change hormonal concentration, as well as incite mood disturbances, which can lead to sickness, emotional disturbances, and sleep disturbances” (1994).

Consistent over training is not recommended as it will ultimately slow progress and can hinder the health of the athlete.  Focusing on health and preplanning climbs, as well as training can create an environment that is conducive to maximum efficiency and performance.

Nutritional Requirements

Rowlands & Hopkins found that nutritional values and needs vary among different types of athletes. These differences are based on exertion and the specific types of activity that are relevant to the various forms of physical activity. They studied different types of runners and found that their nutritional needs differ greatly from those of other athletes. The differences are based on extreme run distances, differing temperatures, altitudes and high training loads. The study results can be generalized to that of rock climbers being that they are exerting a physical

level similar to a distance runner and also face high levels of altitude while engaging in their sport. Other factors such as fat intake were also considered.  Fat intake is related to an athlete’s energy supply and is commonly met through a normal nutritional daily value. According to Rowlands & Hopkins, the athlete’s daily intake of fat supplies an adequate supply of energy but is not a key process in recovery or training adaption (2002). Protein consumption on the other hand should be increased by approximately two times the actual daily nutritional requirements (Schroder et. Al, 2008).  Protein is commonly derived from carbohydrates and athletes can gain as much as ten percent of their total energy from dietary protein levels (Schroder et. Al, 2008). In order to achieve higher level protein diets, athletes are encouraged to consume lean animal meats, whole grain products, potatoes, legumes and vegetables. Other dietary staples such as milk, yogurt and eggs are highly recommended as sources of protein. Increasing the intake of protein will prevent lower intensity, low achievement and response during training sessions, as well as performance during competition (Villegas, et. Al, 2008). Schroder, et. al suggested that the most effective time for protein ingestion is immediately after endurance exercise as it promotes glycogen storage (2008).

Glycogen is an equivalent of starch and creates a reserve of energy that can be quickly accessed by the body. This reserve and readability of energy provides the athlete the ability to recover from exertion and provides glucose to muscle cells. A phenomenon known as “hitting the wall” is common in runners, rock climbers and cross country skiers as their physical exertion depletes their glycogen storage in the muscles. When this happens fatigue and the loss of energy is common, which diminishes the athletes ability to effectively continue performing. The loss of glycogen is related to the athlete’s physical exertion, however in extreme sporting, it is generally depleted approximately two hours from the start of the training or event. In order to effectively resolve the depletion, athletes are recommended to increase their typical or average diet of 380 grams of glycogen to 600 to 800 grams (Wilkinson & Liebman, 1998). Low levels of glycogen cause poor physical response, weakness and decreased cellular amino acids which can result in hyperinsulinemia, muscle weakness, brain fog, shaking, fatigue, and concentration problems.  A diet that emphasizes long-term energy stores helps alleviate the symptoms of glycogen depletion. According to Wilkinson & Liebman, glycogen will restore within the muscles approximately two hours after exhaustion, this can be avoided through nutritional loading before the strenuous exercise.

Physiological Requirements & Common Issues

While a rock climbing athlete must have good overall body strength it is crucial that they have good strength in their upper body extremities. Climbers place tremendous stress on the small parts of their hands during a climb. This stress is particularly placed on the hands during in vertical movements. They must have the strength to not only lift their body weight, but also change positions in some vertical and lateral movements. When a climber is ill prepared they are more susceptible to accidents, injuries and lack of concentration, which can lead to decreased performance.  Climbers mot only receive physiological injuries, but also due to the rugged, unrefined conditions of the terrain, it is easy to sustain physical injuries ranging from minor scrapes to broken bones. The most common types of injuries sustained during rock climbing are falls on rocks, rappelling falls or injury, and falling on ice or snow. In a 2011 study, Ressler found that a higher prevalence of injuries occurred in climbers between the ages of 36-50 in comparison of climbers whose ages ranged between 21 and 25 (2011). This could suggest that while more experienced, older climber’s physical stature or condition is not as good as the younger climbers. Falls accounted for about 80% of all accidents and were related to belay or rappel errors by the climbers. The physical strength and balance of the climber is essential along with their experience level or understanding of the sport. In order to combat injuries the physical

condition of the climber is essential. It is recommended that the athlete engage in endurance training, focusing primarily on strengthening of the biceps, abdomen, and forearm muscles.  However, the serious climber should not neglect the fine extremities of the hands, fingers and even toes.  Because rock climbing is one that requires high levels of stamina, endurance training is generally a focus of any training regimen. This increases the athlete’s ability to tolerate longer time periods of exercise and is generally facilitated through aerobic exercise. Other types of training such as circuit training with free weights, resistance training and aerobic exercise are recommended for strength and overall improved performance.

Resistance exercises are known to effective increase strength, improve motor skills, enhance coordination and even improve neurological adaptations, therefore reducing the risk of injury (Ramsay, Blimke & Smith, 2004). Again grip strength is one of the most important aspects of rock climbing. The muscles of the forearm work as a unit and allow for the climber to grasp and hold their upward movement. When the muscles are over exposed and not appropriately trained, the climber may fall prey to disorders such as Climber’s finger, Carpal

Tunnel Syndrome, shoulder damage as well as lower extremity injuries such as a hamstring strain. It is not uncommon for a climber to place undue pressure or stress on one finger, which can cause strains and tears to the tendons and joints within the finger, commonly compared to trigger finger. This occurs because of the repetitive pulling movements that are present in each climb. Carpal Tunnel is also common as the climber will overuse their wrist during the climb, which ultimately inflames the tendons, therefore causing pain. Over use and improper use can also cause the lower extremity strains, tears and injuries. Many athletes assume that these injuries are simply par for the course, however many can be prevented through addressing the strength of the primary muscles through endurance and power training. Flexibility should also be a part of the training regime, as it takes a great deal of flexibility to maneuver during a climb. There is a great deal of pressure placed on the shoulders, hips during the manteling and edging of a climb. Stretching exercises such as wrist stretching through rotation, hamstring stretches, adductor stretch and knee bends will greatly improve flexibility and decrease an athlete’s risk of injury. Without proper training and preparation for the sport, overuse injuries are among the most common. Overuse injuries are usually related to heat exhaustion, muscles cramps, tendon impingements, sprains and strains (Bergeron, 2007). Much of the injuries can be prevented or greatly reduced through appropriate training and education about the important aspects of the sport. As noted earlier by Ressler, many of the injuries sustained during the study consisted of rappelling and knot issues that possibly could have been prevented with appropriate actions of the climber (2011). Ensuring appropriate muscle strength and endurance is essential to climbing. Inexperience or over exertion can lead to injury as a climber becomes weakened or fatigued during a climb. Poor performance or the inability to effectively move to the next level could increase the prevalence of injury through missed footing, poor balance or decreased grip action. Training and engaging in appropriate preparation greatly reduces the risk of injury and improves performance. According to Meier, many rock climbing accidents or losses could have been avoided with adequate training and appropriate education (1984). Along with physical training, climbers should also ensure that they have appropriate equipment, pre-training, practice, first aid kits and also a plan in cases of disaster (Meier, 1984). Emergency preparedness is one of the leading safety precautions that a climber can take to ensure a safe climb each time. Rock climbing is inherently hazardous and creating a completely safe environment is near impossible.  However athletes can take precautions that will mitigate their chances of accidental injury. Meier, notes that accidents happen because athlete’s are careless and they make mistakes (1984). This can be combated by recognizing potential dangers, maintaining equipment, engaging in rigorous practice and ensuring appropriate supervision for those with less experience.

A Lean Build

Rock climbing requires an enormous amount of energy from an athlete. Research suggests that the peak performance physique for rock climbers is a small to moderate body stature, great shoulder girdle endurance, high overall strength, high grip strength to body weight ratio and a low percentage of body fat (Watts et al, 2003). There is a need for rock climbers to have a lower body weight, as much success depends on their ability to lift themselves, move and hold their position. The level of body weight influences maximal work performance and can negatively affect strength and movement performance. Lower body fat is a positively associated with the performance of a rock climber (Merrells, Friel, Knaus & Suh, 2008). It is important that the rock climber achieve a healthy nutritional balance, however they must foster a lower body weight, which can lead to difficulties. In many instances there is a decreased nutritional balance and the athlete can suffer in their performance, overall health and even lead to life altering problems if not corrected. There is much concern in the rock climbing sport with poor nutrition and eating disorders of climbers that engage in competition. The need for a lean body and low body fat content oftentimes lead to improper nutrition levels. In some cases, the use of laxatives and diuretics become excessive in order to achieve the low body fat percentages, which can lead to the vicious cycle of use. Eating disorders can lead to a number of health concerns and even prove fatal over time.

While the lowered body fat may help the rock climber, the lowered energy from nutrition can ultimately decrease their overall performance. The imbalance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals can decrease their overall body weight; however can place their health in jeopardy. The muscles, body and overall system must have appropriate nutrition to fuel energy, performance and stamina in the training phase, as well as competition phase.

Hydration is a leading concern for rock climbers, as any type of extreme sporting activities. Because the body is made up of about 60% water, which is crucial to life, it is important to ensure appropriate intake. Dehydration is a concern of any type of sport that requires the exertion of an athlete’s physical being. This is synonymous with rock climbing, Research suggests that environmental conditions such as altitude can have an enormous effect on the rate the body loses water. The normal rate of loss through the skin is through sweating and is estimated to be about 600 mL per day (Saltmarsh, 2001).

While the amount of loss varies greatly, the loss can reach as much as 12mL per day, especially in elevated altitudes or high temperature climates (Saltmarsh, 2001). While temperatures and altitudes are not commonly said to affect the rate of hydration, it has been shown to have a direct effect on athletes. Extreme sports enthusiasts are encouraged to drink water of at least 1.5L per day before they feel thirst. The need to drink prior to feeling thirst is noted because in many cases the absences of food during physical exertion does not allow for the secretion of chemicals that elicit thirst. This can create the false sense of non-thirst, which ultimately leads to dehydration through the loss of water, carbohydrates and salt. Factors such as the athlete’s access to water and temperature should be considered. Saltmarsh reports that recent studies have found that individuals drink more water if it is within an arm’s length distance (2001). This stands to reason when athletes are engaging in a climb as well as post or prior to exertion.

It has also been noted that water alone is not the only needs of extreme sport athletes to maintain the appropriate fluid balance within their sports activities. While water is readily accepted as appropriate, research suggests that glucose is the most effective solution as it absorbs faster and restores the overall extracellular fluid volume (Saltmarsh, 2001). The carbohydrates found in glucose also provide energy that will help reverse fatigue commonly associated with climbs. While protein is noted as a necessity of extreme sports participations, Carpentier notes that one study found that athletes ingesting high levels of protein had a 62% increase in blood vessel inflammation which could ultimately lead to coronary artery disease (2006). The inflammation of the vessels is prevalent in high protein diets because proteins have an inflammation property to them. In order to combat the inflammation process, athletes are encouraged to increase their vitamin D and foods that have anti-inflammatory properties or those high in omega 3 fatty acids.  Drinking milk will increase levels of vitamin D and also foods such as broccoli, eggplant, grapes and fish are recommended for extreme sport athletes (Carpentier, 2006).  Along with the building of bone density, athletes are less likely to suffer fractures and other common injuries involving joints and muscles. Those that do suffer an injury can benefit from foods high in anti-inflammatory properties during the healing phase. The reduction of swelling that is achieved can decrease the amount of pressure on the injured area and therefore foster an environment conducive to faster healing.

Practical Guidelines Offered to Athletes for Rock Climbing

Increased CHO to maintain high performance levels.

 

Increased to between 60 and 70% in comparison of 45-65% for the general population (Rodriguez et al. 2009).
Maintain Insulin Levels Maintain small amounts of calories at frequent intervals to avoid blood sugar level drops that lead to fatigue (Rodriguez et al. 2009).
Increased Vitamin D,  Calcium 1500 mg calcium and 400-800 IU of vitamin D daily (Rodriguez et al. 2009).
Lower Body Fat Percentage 5% for males and 12% for females is regarded as a healthy & therapeutic sports range (Heymsfield et al. 2005).
Recovery of glycogen depletion Increase protein to 1.7g/kg body weight or 10-35% of total energy (Burke, 2007).
Increased Fluid Intake Increased intake of 2% of body weight 4 hours prior to a climb to decrease electrolyte loss during exertion (Rodriguez et al. 2009).
Protein Source Selection Increase protein consumption to 1.4-1.7 g/kg per day from the recommended allowance of .8 (Dunford, 2006).
Cut Fat Intake Fat consumption should not exceed 20% (44 to 67 grams) of your total calories…substitute olive & canola oils (Ryan, 2007).

 Supplements Recommended for Rock Climbers

According to Whiting and Barabash, endurance athletes can achieve most of their nutrition and supplements from a well-balanced diet (2006). Vitamin D is one supplement that is typically derived from a normal diet, however is noted by research to change with the differing seasons. It is recommended that athletes increase their intake of vitamin D in winter months when they receive less exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D is known for the strengthening and protection of bones. The training and rigorous demands of climbs place stress on bones and the appropriate levels of calcium allow for bone remodeling to occur. Athletes low in calcium and vitamin D are at higher risks of stress fractures as the depletion creates a softer more brittle bone. Calcium has also been shown to assist in lowered the body’s fat level, which is desired in rock climbing.

Minerals such as sodium, potassium and magnesium should also be considered. They assist in achieving maximum health and improved performance. While they are not likely to give the athlete energy, minerals will assist in the repair and building of muscles as well as the metabolic process. “Micronutrients are important to functions such as growth and development, muscle contraction, hydration balance, nerve function, energy metabolism, tissue repair, bone metabolism and the transport of oxygen throughout the body, and immune functions” (Fogelholm, 2006). Other nutrient requirements such as iron should be considered in the nutritional needs of rock climbers as well. Typical iron requirements are approximately 10 to 15mg per day. Athletes involved in high endurance supports such as climbing, distance running or cross country skiing are encouraged to increase their iron intake by 70% (Whiting & Barabash, 2006). Lowered levels of iron can lead to anemia, which decreases the body’s red blood cells, therefore decreasing the cells ability to carry oxygen. Decreased oxygen results in poor performance, decreased immunity and fatigue. Endurance athletes are encouraged to consume iron through increased meat, fish, poultry and iron fortified foods. Portal conducted a study and found that endurance athletes were more likely to suffer from iron deficiency (2003). The findings of the study suggest that endurance sports that require lower body weight may affect iron intake because of the stringent restriction on caloric intake, therefore resulting in iron deficiency. A second study conducted by Malczewska, however showed that of 126 endurance athletes that about 26% of them were iron deficient (2000). There are a number of confounding variables that could explain the difference in findings. It is important to understand the importance of iron and the role that it plays in energy levels, as well as the athletes overall health.

Other micronutrients such as fat soluble vitamins, A, D, C, K and E have shown to have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are the human body’s defense against the negative effects of free radicals. These radicals are destroyed by antioxidants so that they do not damage or cause disease within the body. Foods such seeds, vegetables, whole grain products and nuts are high in antioxidant properties. The benefits of antioxidants are slowed aging process, increased oxygen saturation and improved activity performance. Athletes are encouraged to increase their intake of foods high in antioxidant properties daily, as well as higher levels before their competition of event.

In conclusion, rock climbing is a high energy, thrill seeking sport. Individuals that aspire to compete and enjoy the sport are those that spend many hours preparing and training for their next climb. The results of an ill prepared athlete can prove fatal for themselves as well as their partners. Along with physical preparation and training, the athlete interested in rock climbing should spend time learning about the nutritional value that is needed for maximum performance. It is important to ensure that nutrition values are maintained and that the appropriate nutrients are met. This is especially important before competition or the actual climb, but also in maintaining optimum health. A lowered body weight is important to ensure that the athlete can appropriately make the climb, and should be coupled with specific training patterns to enhance strength. Planning and engaging in appropriate exercise, will assist the athlete in reducing the risk of injury and also protecting from overuse injuries. While there are a number of hazards that are consistent with the sport of rock climbing, many can be reduced by the appropriate planning and training. Athletes should strive to increase their upper body strength, spend time training and also educate themselves on the appropriate equipment and techniques of the sport. Coupled with appropriate nutrition and training, rock climbing can be a highly enjoyable for athletes and prove thrilling each and every time.

References

Baechle, T.R. (1994). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Bergeron, M. F. (2007). Improving health through youth sports: Is participation enough?. New Directions for Youth Development, 2007(115), 27-41.

Burke L. 2007. Practical Sports Nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Carpentier, J. (2006). Nutrition as a Key Player in Injury Recovery. Coach & Athletic Director, 76(2), 55-57.

Dunford, M. Sports Nutrition. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association, 2006.

Fogelholm, M. Vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant needs of athletes. In: Burke L, Deakin V. Clinical Sports Nutrition. 3rd ed. McGraw-Hill, 2006:313–353.

Heymsfield S, Lohman T, Wang Z, Going S. 2005. Human Body Composition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Horst, E.J. (1997). How to Climb 5.12. Evergreen, CO: Chockstone Press.

Malczewska J, Raczynski G, Stupnicki R.  Iron status in femal endurance athletes and in non-athletes.  Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab.  2000 Sep; 10(3):260-276.

Meier, J. (1984). Minimizing Accidents and Risks in High Adventure Outdoor Pursuits.

Merrells, K. J., Friel, J. K., Knaus, M., & Suh, M. (2008). Following 2 diet-restricted male outdoor rock climbers: impact on oxidative stress and improvements in markers of cardiovascular risk. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 33(6), 1250-1256.

Portal S, Epstein M Dubnov G.  Iron deficiency and anemia in female athletes–causes and risks.  Harefuah. 2003; 142(10):698-703, 717.

Ramsay, J. A., Blimke, C. J., Smith, K. (2004). Strength training effects in prepubescent boys. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 22(5), 605–614.

Ressler, E.. Factors related to the occurrence of climbing accidents in Colorado. M.S. dissertation,    Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, United States — Illinois.

Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S. 2009. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc 41:709-731.

Rowlands DS, Hopkins WG. Effects of high-fat and high-carbohydrate diets on metabolism and performance in cycling. Metabolism. 2002;5I(6):678-690.

Ryan, M. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. Boulder, CO: VeloPress, 2007.

Saltmarsh, M. (2001). Thirst: or, why do people drink?. Nutrition Bulletin, 26(1), 53.

Schröder, S., Fischer, A., Vock, C., Böhme, M., Schmelzer, C., Döpner, M., & … Döring, F. (2008). Nutrition Concepts for Elite Distance Runners Based on Macronutrient and Energy Expenditure. Journal of Athletic Training, 43(5), 489-504.

Villegas, R., Gao, Y, Yang, G., Li, H, Elasy, T, Zheng, W & Shu, X. (Jan 2008). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87, No. 1, 162-167.

Watts, P.B., Joubert, L.M., Lish, A.K., Mast, J.D., and Wilkins, B. 2003. Anthropometry of young sport rock climbers. Br. J. Sports Med. 37: 420–424. doi:10.1136/bjsm.37.5.420.

Whiting, S. J., & Barabash, W. A. (2006). Dietary Reference Intakes for the micronutrients: considerations for physical activity. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 31(1), 80-85.

Wilkinson JG, Liebman M. Carbohydrate metabolism in sport and exercise. In: Wolinsky I, ed. Nutrition in Exercise and Sport. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1998:63-99.

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