Alpine skier Anna Schaffelhuber, one of the favorites for gold in Sochi, trains at TUM. (Photo: Ralf Kuckuck/DBS)
07.03.2014, Research news
The Paralympic Winter Games are just around the corner. After her recent triumph at the World Cup, German sit-skier Anna Schaffelhuber is among the favorites to take gold. A specialist in Slalom and Giant Slalom, Schaffelhuber has been training at Technische Universität München (TUM) since 2008. Sports scientist Dr. Peter Spitzenpfeil and his team have developed a new training program tailored to the physical needs of paraplegic monoskiers.
Anna Schaffelhuber competes in the sit-ski event, LW10/2 class, for athletes with disabilities in the lower limbs and no functional sitting balance. Athletes are strapped into a carbon seat and control the monoski by precise movements of their chest and shoulder muscles.
“Sit-ski athletes move down the slope in a similar trajectory to non-disabled athletes on two skis,” explains Dr. Spitzenpfeil from the Applied Sports Science department at TUM. “Until a few years ago, disabled athletes used the same training programs as their non-disabled counterparts.”
In the course of a study of 13 athletes in the German national Paralympic team, Dr. Spitzenpfeil’s team discovered that sit-skiers required significantly less stamina than standing skiers. “Stress tests on the slopes showed that mono-ski endurance levels are around 50 percent of those recorded for athletes on two skis,” reports sports scientist Maren Goll.
A balancing act
As stamina is not an issue, the researchers have been focusing more on strength and coordination when designing training programs for sit-skiers. “Unlike non-disabled skiers, disabled skiers carve down the slopes with no leg and limited core muscle power,” Goll points out. “Slalom turns are made on the edge of their ski – which is a bit like balancing on two legs of a chair.” So sit-skiers must combine muscle power and balance to perfection.
As part of their study, the TUM team observed the athletes in action. They used GPS technology to track the trajectory of the athletes down the slopes, while simultaneously measuring muscle activity. The result is a precise profile of how the athletes use their strength for various movements.
Based on this profile, Dr. Spitzenpfeil and his team developed a training plan based on strength and coordination tailored to the particular needs of sit-skiers like Schaffelhuber. Instead of strengthening muscle groups individually using exercise equipment, athletes train the specific movement flows they make on the ski slopes.
What’s the shock absorber for?
Stamina, strength and coordination are not the only areas offering scope for optimization. Finishing times also depend on quality of an athlete’s equipment. On a monoski, a shock absorber is mounted beneath the seat. “The shock absorber compensates for uneven terrain, lowering the risk of injury,” explains Spitzenpfeil. “If it is too rigid or too elastic, however, the athlete will lose speed or may risk a fall.”
This is the TUM team’s next project – they want to find ways to dovetail shock absorber functionality with the athlete’s muscle strength during the race. As Spitzenpfeil says, “We aim to tailor our training programs even more closely to the individual athlete, helping them to maximize their performance.”
Until now, the research has been funded by the German institute for sports science (BISp). BISp is also supporting the current project: “Optimizing and systematically adapting shock absorber tuning in Paralympic monoskiing”.