You probably wouldn't think it, but East Tennessee State University is a powerhouse institution when it comes to Sport Science. With the likes of Dr. Mike Stone and Dr. Meg Stone, they are producing world class strength coaches and sport scientists - George Beckham is one of these up and comers. We we're lucky that George and his colleagues at ETSU joined our beta program earlier this year because their feedback has been critical in the development of the PUSH band. I suggest you read this article if you want to learn the importance of using technology as a training tool.
Ultimately, there are only a few major outcomes a strength and conditioning (S&C) coach aims for- get athletes stronger and faster, make them more resilient to injury and most importantly- to increase chances of winning! Over time S&C coaches have discovered that having the ability to monitor the training loads of athletes is immensely important for quantification and management of fatigue and making sure athletes get better in the ways they are supposed to be getting better.
For athletes and strength and conditioning coaches, it is a good time to be training. We have tons of technology at our fingertips to help optimize training. The great thing about these many choices is that we get the opportunity to shape training throughout the entire process- not just in pre- and post-testing. For a long time, we have had to rely primarily on where an athlete started, and where they ended up after a training program. With many of the new technologies out there, we have an increased ability to monitor training on a daily basis. We can make sure that athletes are continually improving in the right ways- without having to wait until the end of a training cycle to do so.
This kind of feedback is incredibly important for optimizing the training loads utilized with an athlete. For example, a few days of decreased performance in whatever specific metrics you are using to monitor overall fatigue could be a strong indication that maybe a certain athlete may need a day off from practice or training- even if you couldn’t see any other indication to. Being able to observe and chat with an athlete is important for getting a feeling for how they are doing, how tired they are et cetera. Unfortunately, any athlete that wants to have the chance to compete on the weekend is not going to tell you she is tired. Why would she- she wants to convince you she is fresh and ready to play her best so that the coach puts her in! Having hard data is a great way to augment the conversations you have with and observations you make about an athlete. Furthermore, having a variety of objective performance metrics can help make sense of the athlete’s feedback to you- especially when she is exhausted but tells you “I’m great”.
If you have tried to monitor an athlete’s training loads, you quickly figure out how difficult it can be, and how limited the basic methods are. In the weight room, total volume load (sets X reps X load) can be very useful- unfortunately it is a really rough estimate simply because there are many other outside stressors that cause fatigue that aren’t accounted for such as 1) practice time, 2) social life, 3) nutrition, etc. Devices like PUSH or Tendo certainly show promise for improving our understanding of weight-room training loads, beyond that of just the old way of calculating volume load. The increased depth of information from weight-room monitoring devices can tell you some great information about fatigue, progress, and effort. There is also the ability to assign training loads based on barbell kinetics/kinematics- which really wasn’t feasible with most older methods.
Estimation of on-field training volume is another can of worms- trying to quantify an athlete’s on-field training load is extremely difficult to do without technology. Efforts from years past have included post-practice/game video analysis, using careful observation of what players do and trying to quantify it either by counts (such as “Athlete A sprinted 15 times, jogged 20 times, and walked 40 times during the match”), or more detailed analysis, by measuring distances or changes of direction or otherwise. The major problem with this strategy is that as the detail of information goes up, so does the time spent in quantifying the work completed. A 90 minute soccer match, times 11 athletes, means at least 16.5 hours of analysis, just for frequencies!
The huge amount of work involved in the quantification of field and weight room work, plus a growing understanding of why knowing what workloads athletes take on, is why the popularity of certain technologies like Catapult or PUSH is growing so rapidly. Devices like these enable S&C coaches and sport scientists to get a comprehensive look at how much total training load an athlete is undergoing, with greater resolution and accuracy- with significantly less time and effort.
What creates an even better technological situation for this field is the rapidly decreasing cost of inertial measurement technology. This technology- the accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and GPS units that go into a lot of different devices- has become significantly cheaper than it has in the past, without sacrificing quality and accuracy of the components. This means that coaches and athletes can get their hands on the technology that used to be only realistically available for planes, rockets, and well-funded research labs.
The outcome of this extremely fast-evolving technology is that the S&C field is immeasurably benefitted. We get high-quality technology at fractions of the cost of what it used to be. As a field, this increases our ability to optimize our athlete’s training- which means higher jumps, faster sprints, harder spikes, decreased injury, and best of all- a greater chance for wins.
About the author
George Beckham, MA, CSCS is a doctoral fellow at East Tennessee State University, working on his PhD in Sport Physiology and Performance. He is part of the Center of Excellence for Sport Science and Coach Education and the ETSU Olympic Training Site. He has been involved in strength and conditioning since 2008, and currently works with golfers. His research centers on performance testing and technologies in sport. You can reach him on Twitter.