Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Technology and Coaching

It's no secret that we live in a technology driven world. We all walk around with little mini-computers in our pocket that ensure we can find the nearest coffee shop or check the thermostats in our homes. Hell, I have a 5-dollar application on my iphone that gives me all of the capabilities of a program that normally costs a thousand bucks and be otherwise unavailable to someone like me (people sans wealth).

Needless to say, technology does a lot of amazing things. It increases the amount of information we have available to us, helps with the speed with which we learn certain things and gives us constant access to things that make us happy, like movies and music.

It's also been a part of strength and conditioning/fitness for a very long time now too. Some of the earliest examples are things like heart rate monitors, GPS watches and pedometers; nowadays we use electronic communication for distance coaching have websites that act as training logs so we don't have to carry pens and notebooks everywhere. But the newest advances are going above and beyond what we would even think is possible.

Simple devices like the Nike+ FuelBand, FitBit and Jawbone can be worn on the wrist and will track all of your activity, the intensity, your calories in vs. calories out and even your sleep rhythms. These aren't products being worn exclusively by elite athletes, these are available to anyone with a couple of hundred extra dollars.

Even beyond that, we have giant performance monitoring systems. Systems like HRV/Ithlete, Zephyr, Edge10 and Kinetic-Athlete essentially plug your athletes into the computer. You can monitor dozens of athletes at once and have every aspect of their training and performance loaded into a computer and analyzed for you. You can get readouts for heart rate (variability and recovery), blood pressure, intensity, acceleration, sport load, core temp, respiration rate even their supplementation, nutrition and schedule. Literally every aspect of training and performance.

While I can really understand the application of products like these and how they can benefit athletes, I still don't like it. What happened to being a coach? What happened to the days of talking to your athletes and finding out how they are feeling, reading their body language and watching how they perform during their practices and training sessions. When I was in training in Boston, I knew all of my clients so well that I could see them walk into the gym each day and know what kind of session they were going to give me. Same with the athletes at BU; there would be days when they come bopping into the gym ready to go and there would be days where they would be dragging their feet. Could I give you an hard number of what their sport load had been that week, or what their heart rate variability was from the day before? Nope, but who truly cares about that? The number of athletes in this world that are so dialed in with their training and lifestyle that truly NEED a system like any of these is pretty low. We aren't even talking about all professional athletes or all Olympic athletes; there's probably only a handful of athletes in specific sports who could truly benefit from all of this knowledge about their bodies. Does a pitcher in baseball need to know? Sure as hell not. Nor does a wide receiver or a figure skater. Maybe cross country skiers, distance runners and cyclists (this includes triatheltes); essentially sports where the demands of the sport are so taxing on your neurological and hormonal systems that you're most often on the edge of over-training. I truthfully can't see too many team sports that I think could seriously benefit from these things.

These products are all being scooped up by pro teams and top ranked Universities, too. If the trend in strength and conditioning continues on the road that it's headed with products like these, then there will eventually be no need for real coaches. Schools will be able to plug athletes into computers and get programs printed out from excel that correlate to all of that data. Some exercise physiology turds will be sitting at computers creating freaks like in Rocky 4. There's always a time and a place for things, it's true, but the time and place for most systems like this is pretty rare.

I'm a coach. It's what I like to do, and I'm pretty good at it, I think. It's an art (not a science) that I've learned from some studying some pretty great coaches; guys like Cressey, Gentilcore, Dan John and Mike Robertson. The secret to success in a training program is not really a secret: train hard, eat more, sleep more, suck less.

Have a great day, go lift some heavy shit!

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