Skating Endurance Linked to Amount of Muscle Blood Flow

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 26, 1999 (Atlanta) -- In-line skating enthusiasts who want a long workout but suffer from muscle fatigue and soreness can avoid the pain by skating in an upright position, according to a recent study. Skating in the customary crouched position restricts blood flow to the leg muscles, which can lead to the muscle fatigue, researchers report in the December issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. But they add that elite or experienced skaters gradually adapt to the effects of restricted blood flow.

In a study of 18 speed skating medallists and world record holders, scientists tested whether speed skating restricts blood flow and if the customary crouched body position increases muscle restriction. An infrared device was used to measure oxygen levels in leg muscle. In the study, participants skated laps at varying speeds and in different body positions; then the skaters' blood was drawn to measure lactate levels.

Lactate, or lactic acid, is a waste product made by exercising muscles. When it is not cleared away by the blood, it accumulates and is mainly responsible for the muscle pain associated with prolonged exercise. In other words, it is the 'pain' without which there is no 'gain.'

The research showed that muscle oxygen decreased as muscle contraction increased. Also, blood lactate levels increased more rapidly in the crouched position than when skating more upright. "What this all means is that skaters who can [skate in] these unusual circumstances are the ones who stand on the podium," says Carl Foster, PhD, the chief investigator and professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse. Foster says these results have generated two theories regarding adaptation to restricted blood flow.

"The body either delivers more blood flow to the restricted muscle or the restricted muscle becomes more tolerant to less [blood flow]," Foster tells WebMD. But no matter how the adaptation works, exercise seems to stimulate it. And this is why amateurs can skate more and more over time without experiencing muscle fatigue." Sports medicine physicians couldn't agree more.


"Skaters and other athletes eventually condition themselves to increased levels of exertion without [experiencing] localized muscle fatigue," Robert Dimeff, MD, tells WebMD. "But until they get there, we recommend ice, massage, and analgesics." Dimeff is the medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and assistant clinical professor of family medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Even better, muscle fatigue can often be prevented.

"Stretching before and after exercise is absolutely critical," says Guy Nicolette, MD. "Applying heat to loosen the muscles before exercise and wearing compressive shorts are some other preventive measures." Nicolette is the varsity team physician and clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Realistic training objectives are important as well. "Gradual conditioning is the key to preventing muscle fatigue. It's important to take a day off in between workouts," Mark Hutchens, MD, tells WebMD. "But all this is anecdotal. We could use more research in sports medicine for the average athlete." Hutchens is the director of athletic medicine and a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Texas, San Antonio.

Foster and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin are planning just that. "Our research raised some good questions for further study," Foster tells WebMD. As a next step, they plan on exploring how muscles adapt to restricted blood flow in a longer study with non-elite athletes. Until then, in-line weekend warriors may sacrifice a little speed by standing upright, but their tired muscles will thank them."

Vital Information:

  • In-like skaters who experience muscle fatigue should skate standing up straighter; the crouched body position restricts blood flow, decreasing the amount of oxygen that goes to certain muscles, which causes muscle soreness.
  • Elite skaters will gradually adapt to the effects of restricted blood flow and can skate using the customary crouched form.
  • Over time, the body adapts by either delivering more blood to the restricted muscles or becoming able to tolerate less oxygen.
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© 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


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