How athletes use it to train to win

One of the joys of watching the Olympics is seeing the speed, strength and grace of the competitors. It’s amazing how the best athletes in the world make it seem easy, but for anyone with personal experience in a particular sport, there is an appreciation for hard work, sacrifice and the dedication that is required to produce medal-winning performances.

Given the high standards of Olympic competition, it’s no surprise that coaches and athletes are looking for every possible benefit – from diets to equipment innovations and new training methods – to maximize the odds. of success.

One of the newest tools in the Olympic arsenal is wearable technology, which many of us are familiar with. Devices like Fitbit, Garmin, Polar, and the Apple Watch allow us to measure and track various aspects of our health and performance.

Wearable technology was particularly useful for tracking athletes when training grounds were closed due to the pandemic. The English Premier League used it to track their players during distance training after the country was locked out.

Simply put, “wearable technology” refers to anything attached to the body that measures certain aspects of performance during physical activities such as running, cycling, walking or swimming.

How sensors monitor movement

Many of the current devices involve microelectromechanical systems, which incorporate sensors that quantify certain aspects of physical function or movement – such as heart rate, speed, force, or acceleration.

One of the main advantages of portable systems is that they are relatively inexpensive and small enough to attach to any part of the human body. As a biomechanics researcher, I usually analyze motion in a lab with expensive 3D cameras. While this provides a high degree of accuracy, it limits the types and amount of movements that can be analyzed.

Wearable technology – my current focus of research and consulting – offers exciting new opportunities to measure performance from an entirely new perspective, from basic metrics such as the number of steps or strokes to new and very advanced metrics such as harmonic (frequency analysis) and fractal (self-similar) pattern recognition ratios.

Therefore, wearable technology has the ability to provide a wide range of measurements for coaches and athletes in many different sports – from stride frequency and stroke frequency for running, swimming and rowing, to ground contact time and force analysis in speed skating and jumping.

Continuous data

One of the most obvious advantages of wearable technology is its ability to deliver information that was not previously available. For example, force sensing resistors placed in shoes, ski boots, or bicycle pedals can provide a continuous stream of data for entire workouts.

Likewise, volleyball coaches who wish to track the number of jumps over a period of time (at each workout or over a week) to monitor training volume for knee injury prevention, previously had to watch hours of training. video to get this information.

Currently, a simple portable device called (GREEN) can automatically extract this information using an accelerometer. One of my recent research projects used the same sensor to determine the number of movements and body roll in elite swimmers, as both of these factors contribute to the mechanisms of shoulder injuries.

Must be precise and reliable

To improve performance, data collected from wearable technology must be both valid (accurate) and reliable (measured consistently).

This is not as easy as it sounds because the algorithms used to extract meaningful performance metrics are often finicky. In order for the information to be useful for coaches in evaluating performance and making training-related decisions (such as technical changes), it must be trustworthy.

Data also needs to be put in the right context to be meaningful. For example, a sensor might tell a trainer the average swim rate of a swimmer for an entire race (or training session), but that is not as significant as how it has changed or when it has changed. changed during the race.

Understanding the data in the right context can provide insight into running tactics, pacing strategies, and conditioning, but without this insight the data often doesn’t make sense.

The amount of data can be unmanageable

An additional consideration for the implementation of wearable technology by Olympic athletes is the amount of data generated.

Wearable technology produces large amounts of data that must be analyzed and contextualized with other types of information, such as sets, repeats, intensities, and interval times. The large amount of data can easily become unmanageable when multiple athletes and workouts are involved.

Although difficult, the potential of wearable technology to provide new opportunities for Olympic athletes to optimize performance is limitless, especially as sports science researchers continue to create new methods (such as AI). to explore what technology is capable of.

It is not unrealistic to imagine the not too distant future in which small, discreet sensors placed in a swimming shoe or goggles will not only be able to improve athletic performance, but also indicate to a recreational runner the amount of injury risk associated with a particular stride pattern or physician the level of risk associated with an older person’s gait. Hopefully, in this way, wearable technology will bring many important benefits to society in the future.

Author: John Barden – Professor of Biomechanics, University of Regina The conversation

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