The great Finish middle and long-distance runner Pavo Nurmi would train and race with a stopwatch to monitor his pace and distribute his effort evenly. Probably considered eccentric at the time as he circled a Helsinki track looking down at his clock, Nurmi went on to dominate multiple events at the Antwerp and Paris Olympics of 1920 & 1924. One hundred years later, the information available to athletes and coaches that can inform their preparation and performance is infinitely more voluminous and detailed, much of it calculated by devices smaller than Pavo’s early 20th century stop-watch.
Moving 1960’s saw major advances in training methodology, nutrition and recovery across the sporting landscape. Performances improved and the margins of victory became narrower, with athletes and coaches seeking the edge that would bring them victory once all the low hanging fruit had been picked.
The Digital Revolution has often been touted as the marginal gain that can help athletes to make advancements that would not be possible with a stopwatches and a coach’s eye. There is little doubt that the ability to measure and monitor an increasing combination of technical and physical determinants in granular detail can improve performance if used correctly. Let’s explore some of the ways in which effective athlete monitoring can help improve performance:
The Benefits of Athlete Monitoring
At the most basic level, accurate records of what an athlete has done provide a solid foundation for measuring the effect of training. Measures of volume (frequency, duration and intensity) are the starting point for analysis and allows for simple comparisons to be made between or within programmes. The addition of internal metrics such as heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, speed etc provide further depth regarding an athlete’s response and gradual adaptation to the prescribed training. These measures also allow the relationship between prescribed and delivered to be tracked, as they do not always line up, particularly in a training group of mixed abilities.
Support during rehabilitation
Away from training data, markers of health and wellbeing provide understanding of how an athlete is responding to and recovering from the training stimulus – do they need more space to adapt or can they be pushed on for addition gains? One of the most popular uses of data in sport is the calculation of acute and chronic workloads. Comparing the characteristics of the most recent block of training to its predecessors has proved useful in the reduction of injuries and illness caused by changes in overall load.
Identifying strengths & weaknesses
Detailed monitoring allows a coach to better understand the variables that determine an optimal performance and identify where their athletes can make meaningful improvements. For example, an athlete who favours endurance training may benefit from more strength work as large gains could be made quickly, rather than ever increasing load for minimal return. Identifying the factors that determine success and profiling athletes with valid monitoring tools allows coaches to identify where individual can improve, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all programme.
Research & Innovation
The goalposts in sport are always moving. What was good enough to win one year may not make the podium the next. Programmes must evolve to keep up. The principles of monitoring discussed here provide a framework for assessing what works and what doesn’t. The introduction of novel interventions need to be assessed accurately – based on data rather than a hunch, then incorporated into normal practice or discarded as a gimmick.