Computer screens the norm in today’s sport science and technology

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Most of the inventions and widgets displayed at Own The Podium’s sport science and technology summit in Calgary feed data into cellphones, tablets and computers.

What the tank top equipped with sensors, the treadmill with pads to lean into and the weightlifting armband housing an accelerometer all have in common is a screen that spits out numbers.

Most of the inventions and widgets displayed at Own The Podium’s sport science and technology summit in Calgary this week feed data into cellphones, tablets and computers.

The information on the screens requires analysis to make an athlete get stronger or go faster. And there’s so much information in sports technology now.

“You can think of it as a data trap,” said Dr. Jon Kolb, OTP’s director of sport science, medicine and innovation.

“Much of our technologies that we’ve developed collects more data than we can actually assimilate, compress and turn over into something meaningful.”

Many of Canada’s national sports teams have a designated sport science expert or someone trained to handle sport technologies. They help the coaches and athletes turn the numbers into indicators of how an athlete is training and performing.

“You can collect all the data you want and it can be good data, but unless you can interpret it and get it back into the coaches or the athlete’s hands, it’s kind of meaningless,” Kolb said.

Kolb oversees Own The Podium’s Innovation for Gold program, formerly named Top Secret prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

The program, funded by taxpayer dollars to the tune of $1 million per year, develops new equipment and techniques in human physiology to get Canada’s summer and winter athletes on the Olympic podium.

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But the exhibits at OTP’s sport science summit were developed by private companies. There is as much, if not more, onus on them to make their inventions user-friendly or they won’t sell to either the elite athlete or the weekend warrior.

Among the technologies was the Hexoskin, a tank top outfitted with sensors and a small module in a side pocket to record heart rate, respiration and speed during training and races.

Canadian biathlete Marc-Andre Bedard has been training with the Hexoskin to monitor how his body reacts going from full-on skiing to stopping and shooting at a target, says product marketing manager Marc Pelletier.

“What he’s trying to do is improve recovery, which is really important for biathletes, going from a high-intensity exercise and bringing it down as low as possible for the shooting session,” Pelletier explains.

“These athletes, they know how it works. They train with heart-rate monitors and things like that, so they know how to manage that data, but he’s sharing with the coach too, and the coach found it amazing.”

A variation on that theme was the weightlifting armband encasing an accelerometer. The armband measures force, power and velocity during squats, cleans and bench press.

“That information goes directly onto a smart phone, which is synced to the device, and you can review it after every set or leave it and just look it later once you’re finished your workout and track your progress over time,” said Push’s Matt Kuzdub.

Another development was the fitLight trainer, in which athletes lunge and leap to touch random flashing lights. The Toronto Raptors are one of the teams that put their athletes through drills with the lights to build motor skills, speed and reaction time.

A computer is used to program the light sequence as well as record speed and accuracy

“In previous decades in training, athletes were told to go around the cones. It was a pre-set pattern,” explained chief marketing officer Mark Hallis. “This can mimic what a game-style situation would be with uncertainty because you don’t know if you’re moving left or moving right.

“Athletes are looking not just to train physically from the neck down. Training and connecting what you use from the neck up is equally important.”

Montreal’s Brian Robinson has developed the HiTrainer, which is a treadmill equipped with what looks like the pads on a football tackling sled and a video screen.

The treadmill is designed to increase an athlete’s endurance and power using short bursts of hard interval training while they lean into the pads.

“It gets people to super-maximum heart rate levels that they can’t get to otherwise,” Robinson said. “When they’re sprinting, we keep them at a 60-degree angle … and then we measure the results in real time.

“The user is able to get past whatever mental barriers that they have while they’re running in order to increase performance.”

Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo is a spokesperson for the treadmill and judoka Antoine Valois-Fortier trained on it prior to winning a bronze medal at last year’s Olympics, said Robinson.

He admits there is initial resistance he must overcome and questions he has to answer when coaches at the summit come to inspect the HiTrainer.

” ‘What’s the relevance of the data?’ ” is what Robinson is asked. ” ‘I need to increase performance. How is this going to help me increase performance? How am I going to understand using it? Are you making my workload greater?’ Those are the three questions that happen to different degrees.

“You show up with something new with this and they don’t know how to apply it or ‘it doesn’t fit in my already successful situation.’ You have to help them. You have to make it so turnkey and I think that’s where a lot of the technologies fail.”

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