Muscle Oximetry in Sports Science: An Updated Systematic Review


Background: In the last 5 years since our last systematic review, a significant number of articles have been published on the technical aspects of muscle near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), the interpretation of the signals and the benefits of using the NIRS technique to measure the physiological status of muscles and to determine the workload of working muscles. Objectives: Considering the consistent number of studies on the application of muscle oximetry in sports science published over the last 5 years, the objectives of this updated systematic review were to highlight the applications of muscle oximetry in the assessment of skeletal muscle oxidative performance in sports activities and to emphasize how this technology has been applied to exercise and training over the last 5 years. In addition, some recent instrumental developments will be briefly summarized. Methods: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews guidelines were followed in a systematic fashion to search, appraise and synthesize existing literature on this topic. Electronic databases such as Scopus, MEDLINE/PubMed and SPORTDiscus were searched from March 2017 up to March 2023. Potential inclusions were screened against eligibility criteria relating to recreationally trained to elite athletes, with or without training programmes, who must have assessed physiological variables monitored by commercial oximeters or NIRS instrumentation. Results: Of the identified records, 191 studies regrouping 3435 participants, met the eligibility criteria. This systematic review highlighted a number of key findings in 37 domains of sport activities. Overall, NIRS information can be used as a meaningful marker of skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and can become one of the primary monitoring tools in practice in conjunction with, or in comparison with, heart rate or mechanical power indices in diverse exercise contexts and across different types of training and interventions. Conclusions: Although the feasibility and success of the use of muscle oximetry in sports science is well documented, there is still a need for further instrumental development to overcome current instrumental limitations. Longitudinal studies are urgently needed to strengthen the benefits of using muscle oximetry in sports science.

Sports Medicine