Ways to develop stress resistance in elite biathletes


P.N. Kasatkin, psychologist of Russian women's biathlon national team, Sports Medicine Clinic FMBA. 
D.V. Malov, director of the medicopsychological department of Sports Medicine Clinic FMBA Russia. 
T.V. Balykina-Milushkina, candidate. Russian state university of physical culture, sport, youth and tourism, Moscow

Key words: elite sport, stress, distress, eustress, biathlon, physiological stress factors, psychological stress factors.

Relevance of the study. Recently when world records are getting higher elite sport becomes very stressful and even more extreme. The requirements to athletes' professional qualities are growing and now athlete's success in many respects depends on his ability to resist numerous stress factors, i.e. his stress resistance, apart from general physical and special fitness. In biathlon this ability is especially notable in the quality of shooting on the firing line during competitions, testifying to great importance of the factor of development of stress resistance in a biathlete.

The English word “stress” means pressure, push, effort and external action stipulating for this state [7]. This term was first introduced by Canadian physiologist Hans Selye, known as the founder of the concept of stress. He showed the mechanisms and the process of body adaptation in view of the nature of the effect and extremality. The affecting factors (stressors) can vary a lot, yet regardless of their features they attribute to homotypic body changes providing for adaptation or disease. The stress provoking negative emotions are called distress, and positive ones – eustress [8].

The concept of “stress“ has at least three common meanings in the modern research literature [1,2,3,5 et al.]. Firstly, the concept of stress can be defined as any external stimuli or situations provoking strain or excitation in a person. Today “stressor”, “stress factor” are more commonly used in this sense of the word. Secondly, stress can refer to subjective reaction and in this sense it defines the inner mental state of strain and excitation. Thirdly, stress can be a physical response of the body to a made claim or harmful effect. Moreover, the authors allocated stress components and distinguished physiological and psychological stressors (factors). Physiological stressors affect body tissues directly. These are painful effects, cold, high temperature, physical overload etc. Psychological stressors are the stimuli indicating to the biological value of situations. These are signals of threat and danger, personal sentiments after conflicts with relatives, various insults etc. [10, 11 et al.].

The problem of stress is also the subject of research of such sports psychologists as Yu.L. Khanin, G.D. Gorbunov, V.A. Plakhtienko et al. Especially interesting are the studies considering athletes’ actions in extremely strenuous situations. L. Levi (1967) discovered the correlation between intensity of emotional excitation and adrenaline and noradrenaline release. F. Elmadian et al. (1957) had similar results when comparing the catecholamine release during stressful situations among hockey players and boxers. In contemporary researches, estimating the injurious exposure of various unfavorable factors arising in extreme situations on mental activity, psychoemotional responses and pathological conditions are allocated [4, 6, 7, 9]. However, they lack of a single theoretical concept aimed at practical efficiency. There exist very few works on stressful factors and the ways to train stress resistance in elite sport, especially in certain kinds of sport, and biathlon is not exclusion.

The purpose of the present study was to examine the reasons and factors of stress and formation of the ways to develop biathlete's stress resistance in elite sport.

Materials and methods. The theoretical research methods included analysis and synthesis of theoretical and methodological literature data, design and modeling of the ways of formation of stress resistance; the empirical methods were presented by observation, conversation, review article method, test of athlete's emotional sphere (WAM technique, Luscher’s test).

The study was carried out in three training camps in Sochi, Ufa and Ruhpolding (Germany) since 01.09.2012 up to 25.10.2012 before the World Championship directed by head coach Volfgang Pichler. 10 female athletes, qualified honored masters of sport, world class athletes and masters of sport, from the Russian national biathlon team were examined.

The effect of physiological stressor factors on the state of biathletes was studied in adverse climatic conditions (cold) and overload in a training camp. The stressful factor – the value of the contest, specifically World Championship, was selected to allocate the effects of psychological stressors. Anxiety level, determined in the Luscher’s test, served the evaluation criterion of athletes’ state. Proceeding from our studies, any professional biathlete is usually ready to face and resist physiological stressors, but not so much psychological ones, the data are adduced in Table 1.

Table 1. The group average anxiety level by Luscher before and after facing stressful factors (in points).


Anxiety before

Anxiety after


Physiological stress (cold, load, moves etc.)




Psychological stress (individual for every athlete)



Physiological stressors are obvious, unpredictable in its action and rather easy to reproduce, but psychological ones are not always noticeable at first sight. Such stressors act more individually, one can even say that these stressors are always unique and can affect one person, but have no effect on another. For instance, as we marked in our daily observations of wellbeing and mood (WAM technique) and conversations with biathletes, everyday information on blood chemistry test results can be a psychological factor that can provoke a stressful strain condition in some athletes. All biathletes seem to know well the results of blood lactate tests or blood chemistry, but individual perception of this information and its effect on athletes is very subjective, generally it is related to personal life story of every single athlete when his emotional and personality characteristics have been formed.

The studies of their descriptive data (performance at World Cup stages) and conversations with athletes revealed the individual psychological factors provoking stress in biathletes. These data are subjected in Table 2. For the confidentiality reasons of athletes’ personal stories we called them “athlete 1” etc.

Table 2. Individual psychological stress factors affecting biathlete’s performance.


Factors provoking psychological strain and negative emotions affecting the quality of competitive performance.


Athlete 1

constant moving, new conditions, new room-mates, new service staff etc.


Athlete 2

remoteness from home and relatives


Athlete 3

limited communication during long-term training camps


Athlete 4

monotony and uniformity of conditioning and special training


Athlete 5

team conflicts, insults


Athlete 6

priority of strong opponent, who shoots next to


Athlete 7

big active audience chanting different slogans


Athlete 8

hyperresponsibility of athletes after speaking with authorities and Federation administration.

If knowing the reasons of biathletes’ stress the ways of development of stress resistance can be modeled. Trainings in different climatic conditions varying by temperature, atmospheric pressure and air oxygen concentration are essential for development of physical stress resistance. Different exercises to form pain resistance at strenuous physical load and effective breathing management when changing from running to shooting are also of great value.

In order to develop psychological stress resistance sports psychologist is to allocate the reasons of stress and design a program of psychological training meant to develop stress resistance. Mental training is usually not treatment, as athletes and trainers often think. Psychological training requires from an athlete work and discipline like in sports training. The effect of psychological stress factors can be decreased, but only in case of integrated and individual approach. Generally, athletes relieve stress by means of massage, sauna, swimming pool, sleep and it is usually assumed to be enough. However, we believe that in addition different psychotechnologies should be used efficiently. Development of biathlete’s stress resistance requires programs of psychological training including methods of correction of mental processes and mechanisms, as well as relaxation, meditation, ideomotor training and autohypnosis courses for athletes. These activities will contribute to more balanced athlete’s nervous system and decrease alarm reactions to stress factors.


  1. Professional biathlete is more capable of resisting physiological stressors, rather than psychological ones. Therefore trainer is to know physical and individual psychological reasons and factors provoking stress in a biathlete, and take them into account in the training process.
  2. Allocation of individual psychological stress factors and design of the means and methods of isolation and neutralization of these factors in cooperation with psychologists improve the level of body adaptation to these factors.
  3. Athlete is to develop stress resistance regularly in training camps in collaboration with a psychologist according to the individual program using various psychotechnologies.



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Author’s contacts: b2000t@yandex.ru