As my first experience of a professional conference I had no pre-conceptions or expectations, however I was excited to begin networking with passionate students and experts alike. Exiting Dundee train station only to see the RSS Discovery nicely represented the intrepid sense of adventure to gain knowledge I was experiencing.
Arriving at 8:30 at Dundee University I was met by a sea of strangers but already knew these were my kind of people: enthusiastic, inquisitive and driven. With the conference titled ‘Sport and Exercise Science, Transforming Lives’ the opening discussion, delivered in a Morcambe and Wise-esque manner by Professor Nanette Mutrie MBE and Dr Paul Kelly, asked “are our current physical activity guidelines adequate?” The break gave the opportunity to explore the poster presentations and source a coffee and a biscuit to fuel the free communications.
Attending the Psychology breakout, I was delighted to see applied and clinical studies represented equally. The day raced on to lunch and another opportunity to network. The afternoon began with break-out sessions and I attended the Sport and Performance presentation delivered by Neil Gibson emphasised the importance of knowing your athlete. He shared his experiences of athletes reporting physical symptoms to be removed from selection squads to avoid competitions. Gibson reminded the audience of the immense pressure athletes feel to succeed in competitions and when injuries occur, we, as practitioners, should endeavour to adapt and support what athletes can do instead of prescribing what they can’t do.
Finally, Dr Matthew Furber closed the day with a truly informative presentation discussing the nutritional impacts on elite sport performance and its application to surgical patients. Furber was part of the team at GSK who collected a multitude of performance data with Chris Froome; a data set many undergraduates have been exposed to, to understand elite performers capabilities.
Day 1 was concluded with a reception at the Apex Hotel with a dinner and traditional Scottish Ceilidh. A myriad of traditional dances proved that despite the intelligence of the room we were still unable to follow simple repetitive steps. The evening was a joyous occasion and brought all 250+ attendees together leaving with smiles all around.
The second day began with comparisons of bruises and blisters from the previous night of dancing and a quick catch up before speakers Dr John Babraj and Dr Paul Swinton debated the application of high intensity interval training. With Dr Babraj in the blue corner arguing for the application of HIIT in general populations and Dr Swinton in the red corner arguing against HIIT the debate began. Babraj presented a plethora of data supporting the use of HIIT in shifting lactate thresholds and improving VO2 max in a short time frame relative to resistance training. Hitting back with systematic reviews, Swinton tore at the methodological approaches of HIIT studies noting that many used small sample sizes and confidence levels were inconsistent. Consistent with the current bodies of literature the debate seemed to be inconclusive, exemplifying the ongoing disagreement between sport and exercise scientists.
During the break I presented my undergraduate research dissertation poster and was given the opportunity to defend the study and its rationale. Energised from presenting I headed to the psychology free communications. The session was dominated by applied psychology exploring interesting and varied topics from the effects of heat stress on cognition to the differences between nature-based and treadmill exercise. Over the lunch break I once again discussed my research and relished in the opportunity to be challenged by experts as to its application.
In line with the mornings debate, Alisa Niven directed an interactive session exploring the psychology of HIIT. The discussion considered if HIIT is applicable to a general population, questioning that while HIIT is short in duration, does its high intensity and high perceptions of exertion and pain deter individuals from participating? The room was filled with discussion and concluded that no one discipline can be dominant when prescribing exercise to a general population. Closing the conference, Dr Niall Elliot began by discussing the role of medical practitioners in high performance sport. Dr Elliot has supported the GB athletes at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and explained how each support staff member goes beyond their job role to support athletes. He recalled his experience of sewing Andy Murray’s shorts pocket to prevent his spare tennis ball from falling to the ground forfeiting the match point. He explained that our roles must always be fulfilled and that if we doubt an athlete’s wellbeing it is our duty to ensure they are supported within our capabilities and sometimes beyond our responsibilities. And finally Kim Murray, exercise physiologist turned skeleton athlete stepped up to the podium to share her career changing story. Demonstrating incredible willpower to overcome limited job availability, promotions, being thinly spread as the head exercise physiologist for multiple GB teams, Kim persevered and gained valuable skills along her career path. She focused particularly on soft skills as her largest improvements in her career. Developing communication not only as a physiologist working with coaches and athletes but as an athlete having to discuss her preparation for competitions and own ideas. The message that resonated from both closing speakers is that athletes are human, and practitioners are human, and we would do well to remember that we are not painless, emotionless objects and should not be treated in that way