At a time when athletes have access to advanced training and preparation techniques, the field of sports is entering a new era.
Today, it is not enough for athletes to improve their physical abilities. In order to beat competition, modern athletes must train and prepare smartly as well as take advantage of innovative techniques.
The available technology, based on in-depth research, boosts training and the prevention of injuries to higher levels.
Athletes have difficulty perceiving errors in their movement whereas the speed of movement sometimes prevents coaches from noticing every detail. Videorecording of athletes in an attempt to thoroughly analyze their movement has been known for decades. Today, it is very common to use high-speed cameras to capture all details. Moreover, multiple cameras that are able to record a large number of athletes simultaneously are installed in stadiums. The rapid development of video and image analysis software enables the study and, therefore, the development of an athlete’s slightest movement.
Portable technological equipment used to monitor athletes’ biometric data. Today’s smartwatches, in addition to monitoring heart rate, sleep, stride and pace, record full training sessions and, by analyzing the historical record of data, suggest a training programme for the following week. Wearables also extend to special clothing which may, depending on the equipment it carries, provide information on speed, acceleration, torque, contact force, etc., indicating when athletes must put more effort or rest.
The evolution of wearables has made available to athletes equipment adapted to their sport. Motorcyclists enjoy technology borrowed from fighter pilots. HUD (head up display) glasses give an indication of heart rate, speed and incline, enabling athletes to take quick decisions and adjust their pace. Swimmers receive information on their highly technical sport, such as speed, pace and leg movement.
Special glasses allow the user to “be found” in a realistic three-dimensional artificial environment. Virtual reality is used inside and outside the training area, enabling athletes to deal with plausible scenarios, improve their performance and technique and avoid injuries.
Virtual reality makes it possible to train under “real” conditions whereas the information collected during such sessions is analyzed and compared in order to improve performance. Moreover, it is a valuable tool for the easy testing of new techniques.
New innovative applications, which do not initially belong to a specific category of equipment, are introduced continuously. Let’s have a look at one such application, used by Stephen Curry, the NBA player who is regarded as the best shooter, since he scores an average of 30 points in each game. In addition to his undoubted talent, Stephen Curry shows the will to boost his training into another dimension. This usually includes performing two different activities simultaneously, such as dribbling with one hand while catching, at the same time, tennis balls that are thrown to him. And to make training even more difficult, Stephen wears special stroboscopic glasses, which fully or partially obstruct his visual field, forcing him to take decisions on the basis of limited information.
The convenience offered nowadays by the Internet in terms of speed and availability has inevitably affected the field of sports. It has become easy for experts who surround an athlete to share the necessary information. Coaches, doctors, nutritionists, phsychologists and physiotherapists can cooperate speedily and effectively for the benefit of the athlete.
Everyone can access the latest scientific views and developments effortlessly. Vast databases of publications are open and available, even to residents of remote islands. The distance that separates less developed countries has decreased. The spread of cloud allows greater freedom of movement through a wide range of applications. Modern gyms make available to athletes tablets with personalized training programmes, fed by data provided by athletes themselves, which guide them through their training.
What would become of all of these devices without software? Most of them would not even exist. Others would be simple machines with just a fraction of their current potential. It is clear that recent advances in human history are largely owed to the existence and development of digital technology and software. Software is what undertakes the recording and processing of information at very short notice, allowing for complex analyses and useful conclusions.
Since the early stages of its planning, Sports Excellence has embraced technology for two reasons.
The first one is obvious since a sport performance center would not be able to offer high-value-added information if it did not use modern scientific and technological equipment.
The second reason lies in the fact that the main aim of Sports Excellence is to serve a large number of athletes. Consequently, the use of high technology maximizes the performance of our human resources.
Accelerometers, dynamometers, encoders, force platforms, contact mats, force sensors, speed radars, etc. are used daily to record kinetic and kinematic characteristics (force, torque, power, acceleration, speed, contact times, etc.). All these data are indicated collectively on the athlete’s digital card.
The programme selected by Sports Excellence for use in the athlete’s card is the Canadian-made AthleteMonitoring. AthleteMonitoring first appeared in 2004 and, after it was redesigned in 2015, it has been used by hundreds of olympic programmes, sports federations, associations, universities and sports organizations in 38 countries.
It offers incomparable tools, based on the latest scientific views, to coaches, medical teams, specialist coaches, sports researchers and people who work with athletes and sports organizations. It includes unique tools for monitoring athletes’ health as well as a leading programme for training workload management and injury prevention (Figure 1).
An innovation used by AthleteMonitoring relates to athletes’ participation in the daily recording of valuable information. The time that athletes must devote is less than one minute a day due to the very simple and user-friendly design of the programme, as well as to the fact that it can be used on a personal computer, tablet or smartphone. The information recorded by athletes is divided into three categories:
Athletes’ state of wellness is recorded daily on the basis of the answers they give to seven important questions.
B) Training workload
At the end of each training session, an athlete records the subjective sense of effort which, compared to the training workload designed by the coach, leads to valuable conclusions. The programme calculates evidence-based indexes, such as the weekly change in workload, the ratio of current to chronic workload, the monotony index, etc., in order to reflect whether the athlete has entered the optimum training zone, an undertraining zone or a zone with a high risk of injury (Figure 2).
For example, when the ratio of current to chronic workload is high (> 1.5), the risk of injury increases and a correction must be made to the training workload (Figure 3).
Moreover, the weekly increase of workload is a significant index for injury prevention, since studies show that a 15% increase in workload as compared to the previous week leads to a 50% increase in the probability of injury (Figure 4).
Athletes are able to record unusual changes in their health, which result from diseases or injuries. The programme then informs their coach and doctor, for the purpose of taking further action.
In the field of pure coaching, AthleteMonitoring enables coaches to design detailed training plans, which can be personalized and adapted, by category, to athletes who are relaxed or injured, athletes who have absences, etc. All training sessions of the following weeks can be recorded effortlessly for an entire group of athletes.
Any kind of assessment, from blood tests to the weekly recording of vertical jumps, maximum oxygen intake, etc., may be incorporated into the athlete’s card. What is more, the programme’s continuous development allows easy contact with and collection of data from the equipment of well-known companies, such as Polar, Catapult, Firstbeat, etc.
Moreover, AthleteMonitoring enables the easy design of electronic questionnaires (e.g. nutrition questionnaire, pre-testing questionnaire, etc.) which athletes answer on their phone or computer.