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Visual Pursuit in Gymnasts


Beykirch,  K
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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von Lassberg, C., Beykirch, K., & Krug, J. (2005). Visual Pursuit in Gymnasts. Poster presented at 8th Tübingen Perception Conference (TWK 2005), Tübingen, Germany.

In comparison with non-athletes, there is little doubt that gymnasts have better spatial orientation during complex sport-specific movements, like double or triple “twisting somersaults” or similar exercises. An understanding of the specific processes of spatial training and their function in a higher level of multi-axial spatial orientation remains unclear. One must consider the role that motor learning in any sensorimotor system contributing to orientation might play, e.g. smooth pursuit. Are there measurable differences in the dynamics of these behaviors between gymnasts and non-athletes due to their respective levels of training? We sought to investigate the relationship between smooth pursuit performance and the spatial orientation needed during fast multi-axial whole body rotations. The subjects’ (gym: n = 9, age: 10–12 years, control: n = 10, age: 10–12 years) smooth pursuit eye movements were recorded using a monocular video nystagmography system (SMI). They were seated in the dark with head and body fixed. The stimulus was a laser target moving horizontally with a sinusoidal velocity profile. Maximum stimulus velocities of 60/s, 120/s, 140/s, 160/s, were used, with a short break between tests. The gymnast group was tested again after a three-week break in their gymnastic training. Pursuit gain was calculated as the ratio of the amplitude of the best-fit sine wave for the slow-component eye velocity to the amplitude of the stimulus velocity. Any additional training effect on pursuit velocity, e.g. video games, could be excluded. Although in both groups the gains were reduced with higher maximum stimulus velocity, the results show significantly higher gains for the gymnasts during the 120/s test (gain ± s.d., gym.:0.23±0.10, n=9, control: 0.14±0.08, n=10; p=0.022, Z=-2.289, Mann-Whitney-U) and 140/s (gain ± s.d., gym.:0.19±0.12, n=9, control: 0.08±0.05, n=10; p=0.010, Z=-2.536, Mann-Whitney-U). For 60/s and 160/s there was only a tendency toward higher gains for the gymnasts. After the break in training, the gymnasts gains were significantly reduced at 120/s and 140 /s (120/s: 0.20±0.09, n=9; p=0.028, Z=-2.198; 140/s: 0.12±0.07, n=9; p=0.033, Z=-2.136, Wilcoxon). There was also a clear reduction at 60/s and 160/s, but not significant. Smooth pursuit in healthy humans shows a saturation (gain>0.8, binocular) of approximately 100/s [1]. So tests with peak velocities of 120/s and 140/s are clearly above this saturation level. The results demonstrate that high-performance gymnasts show a training-dependent modification of their maximum velocity for smooth pursuit.