Maffiuletti NA1, Impellizzeri FM2, Rampinini E2, Bizzini M1, Mognoni P2

1, Schulthess Klinik, Zürich, Switzerland;2, Human Performance Lab, S. S. Mapei, Castellanza (VA), Italy

Dear Editors,

We read the recent paper by Neumayr et al. [4] about physiological parameters associated to success in professional alpine skiing with interest. This is an important though unexplored area of research, which could offer important information to the scientific community as well as to worldwide ski teams including medical doctors, physical trainers and even athletes. Neumayr et al. [4] concluded that the two main factors determining success in professional alpine skiing are high levels of muscle strength and aerobic power. The objective of this letter is to reconsider these two conclusions, mainly the second, since they appear – in our opinion – unsupported by experimental data and quite speculative. The first conclusion, i.e., muscle strength as a factor determining success in alpine skiing, is not supported by the data presented in this study, since no significant correlations were found between racing performance and hamstrings or quadriceps muscle torque or work. We are of the opinion that a complete picture of the torque- and power-velocity characteristics (concentric, eccentric and isometric at different angular velocities) of professional alpine skiers’ thigh muscles needs to be made before such conclusions can be drawn. The second conclusion, i.e., aerobic power as a critical factor for success in professional alpine skiing, is based on extremely high correlations observed between the World Cup ranking position and maximal (aerobic) power output (r = 0.947; p = 0.001) or maximal oxygen consumption (r = 0.964; p < 0.001). Nevertheless, in the abstract, the authors failed to specify that such a correlation was observed exclusively (i) for one season (1998), (ii) in male athletes, and (iii) in the speed group (i.e., athletes competing in super giant and downhill). These important details are provided only in the results section, however, without reporting the plot of these correlations and the exact n values. The abstract is therefore quite speculative, and the associated take-home message (i.e., aerobic power is crucial for success in alpine skiing) inevitably introduces confusion surrounding the general idea that competitive alpine skiing is considered more anaerobic than aerobic. Aerobic fitness was considered an essential factor in alpine skiing until the mid 1980s, mainly because of the high maximal oxygen consumption values previously observed in the Swedish National Team, particularly in their leader Ingemar Stenmark (∼ 70 ml·min1·kg1) [3]. Since then, different studies have demonstrated that maximal oxygen consumption did not discriminate between skiers of different levels [1, 6]. In the last few years, it has been acknowledged that maximal aerobic power or aerobic capacity are unlikely determinants for success in competitive alpine skiing [2, 5, 7], while the anaerobic component has been suggested to be substantial [5]. The correlations reported by Neumayr et al. [4] also raise the question of whether aerobic, in addition to anaerobic performance, is crucial for success in alpine skiing. We acknowledge the potential advantages of aerobic fitness for professional skiers discussed by Neumayr et al. [4], e.g., for training and for recovery, but we are in opposition to the claim that aerobic power is associated with success in alpine skiing, especially in light of the limitations discussed above.

References

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4 Neumayr G, Hoertnagl H, Pfister R, Koller A, Eibl G, Raas E. Physical and physiological factors associated with success in professional alpine

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Int J Sports Med. 2006 Feb;27(2):166-7; author reply 168-9.