A Coach's Guide to Free Movement

Chris Chapman - Director of Sport Science at PUSH

Velocity-based training (VBT) has been employed by coaches and athletes for as long as they have been striving to improve sport performance. Sprints, jumps, Olympic lifts, and many other exercise tasks have been utilized in order to train the speed and power components of athletic movement. Current advances in weight room technology have allowed for the affordable, quick and accurate measurement of these qualities during training. This gives the coach a multi-dimensional picture of intensity building upon the traditional percentage of maximum load lifted. As a result, rapid progression of the science and practice of VBT has occurred in recent years, including processes, metrics, norms and target outcomes with respect to athlete development. VBT has become a mainstay in general strength and conditioning (S&C) methodology and its use will only become more prominent as the knowledge and practice evolve.

What is Free Movement?

The PUSH band, a wearable device designed for use with VBT, has added a new component to the software app called Free Movement. The purpose of Free Movement is to make VBT less constrained to the classic gym-based lifts that current field tools are bound to. It allows for the measurement of velocity (and acceleration) beyond the barbell, onto the court, and into the field of play. Utilizing the current hardware, PUSH is able to maximize its abilities using novel signal processing algorithms in the software app to allow for the quantification of any brief, explosive movement a coach desires.

A key components in the art and craft of S&C is a coach’s creativity and the application of it. With an infinite number of active and reactive force vectors available as an imposed stimulus, a coach is only limited by their equipment and environmental constraints in order to find the most effective ways of creating positive adaptations. Free Movement allows the coach to create a movement they wish to assess or track, then with instant feedback compare the inter- or intra-athlete performance of the movement on the spot or compare to previous performances.

Why was Free Movement Created?

First, it is PUSH’s solution to measure medicine ball (medball) exercise tasks. Given the near unlimited directions you can throw and toss a medball, it is an extremely powerful tool to achieve speed-strength adaptations in more sport-specific positions and motions. Eamonn Flanagan and Cedric Unholz have recently written a blog post on progressions for medball training highlighting this. Free Movement can add another layer to this by allowing the coach to quantify the output of these medball tasks. 

Second, coaches are always looking for ways to get closer to the sport and quickly quantify critical movement tasks. Free movement allows you to place the PUSH band on the arm, leg, torso or equipment and measure any single repetition of a brief, explosive sport specific movement. Again, this helps the coach get closer to the end performance itself, bridging the gap between weight room testing and transfer-to-task. It will be exciting to see the creative ways coaches come up with to exploit this feature to its full potential.

How can I use Free Movement in my training program? 

There are four primary ways a coach can incorporate free movement into their training program after creating their desired movement to assess:

1. Athlete Monitoring

Free Movement can be used on a daily or weekly basis as a means of monitoring undulations in a selected indicator movement. To quote my Canadian colleague Matt Jordan in one of his contributions to Stu McMillian’s series on strength development (which is a must-read for every strength coach in my opinion): “Simple metrics collected consistently over time are extremely valuable, and are often more valuable than sophisticated measurement tools that are difficult to implement.”

First, if you haven’t checked out Matt’s contributions to the field, I highly suggest you do. He is not only leading the way in our country, but worldwide in using fundamental mechanical muscle principles and sound scientific methodology to drive concise and meaningful performance monitoring and intervention. Second, I wholeheartedly agree with his statement. It is very easy these days to get bogged-down with the mass collection and interpretation of large and diverse data streams from the plethora of tech available to strength coaches today. The Free Movement feature in the PUSH Band and app provides coaches with a low-cost barrier to entry into performance monitoring that is user-friendly and time-saving.

Whether considered a surrogate means to quantify neuromuscular fatigue or movement quality, monitoring changes in velocity outcomes for indicator movements will give the coach a quick snapshot on how their athletes are performing at that time. This is typically done at the beginning of a session near the end of, or after the warm up. Free movement can be used on its own, or ideally in conjunction with physiological and subjective readiness measures to garner a complete picture of athlete readiness. This information can be used to assess how an athlete is handling their current training load while informing autoregulation for that day. These methods can also be used to inform unloading and peaking for a competition, as performance of the indicator movement should recover from any training-induced depression and ideally peak heading into the competition.

2. Traditional Testing

Free movement can be used in an entry/exit or pre/post manner. The coach can select the movement of choice and run their squad of athletes through the test multiple times (e.g., 3-5 trials) and use the average and/or peak metrics from the session to quantify movement performance. This can be done to compare multiple athletes against one another to rank-order them based on their performance. On an individual level, it can be done pre/post training block to measure the intervention effectiveness and see if training or coaching is improving the selected performance metric.

3. Response to Acute Coaching

Coaches can use rep-to-rep changes in the metrics of Free Movement to assess whether the desired “short term” performance outcomes have occurred from cues or technique changes imparted on the athlete. While I say this, I do so with a caveat. First, instantaneous changes in performance may not be stable over time, so judging the effectiveness of technique changes in a single bout may not be wise. Second, the instantaneous change may lead to a trend in the opposite direction (e.g., decreased short-term performance due to new technique which is superior, leading to greater long-term improvements). Nonetheless, instantaneous feedback resulting from coaching cues can be extremely valuable when used in the right context.

4. Fun

The joy and spontaneity of unstructured play is something that is becoming harder and harder to find in youth sport and training these days. With influences such as helicopter administrations and parents, focus on outcomes over processes, and adult models being pushed down the ages and stages among many others, sometimes play is necessary to break up the monotony of training and structure of over-programming often seen these days. While for some sport can eventually lead to a career or means to gain an education, for most it begins and ends with a “game” played for enjoyment, social interaction and active lifestyle benefits. 

I personally like deviating from the training plan once a month to do a “fun” training session or friendly competition. The PUSH band is a rather robust tool that isn’t easily broken with standard use-cases, so let your athletes have some fun and give them free reign to create and measure some movements they want to measure. Create a playful competition on some general athletic movements or something totally different than the usual program and it can go a long way to boost morale, increase engagement and support a positive training environment.

How Will You Use Free Movement?

Whether subtle or obvious, each and every daily training environment is different in its own unique way. Any addition of testing or monitoring to a program should be done to fit the ideal workflow with minimal compromise and not the other way around. It will be up to individual coaches to figure out how Free Movement can best fit into their training model. With the removal of gym-based constraints, Free movement brings an exciting, quick and simple tool to the arsenal of features already packed into the PUSH Band. Designed to help strength coaches improve athletic performance with greater ease and driving better outcomes, the PUSH Band becomes even more versatile with the Free Movement update.