A lot of professions have changed or even disappeared due to the evolution of technology. However, the strength and conditioning profession is one where technology had not changed a lot until recently.
Yes, throughout the years a few things have evolved but there hasn’t been a quantum leap like in many other professions. Of course, the strength and conditioning coach is a relatively recent specialized profession for football and technology can now help a lot.
The procedures of strength and conditioning might change or have already started to change in the office and also in practice – which is in the weight room, on the field and on the track. If you’re a strength coach, have your football program started to implement them or not?
Better Coach or Dependent on Technological “crutches”?
As a strength coach, do you think that technology will help you become a better coach or you think that those tools will become a set of “crutches” that will make you more dependent? Like with many answers in the field, this one will start with: “it depends…” There’s a lot of technology and marketing garbage in the field.
Information from the Past Is the Basics
On one hand, some colleagues think that the information provided from the past is the basics to training methodologies for strength and power because back then, performance enhancing drugs (PEDS) and instant social media fame and marketing didn’t influence the information as much as it does today. As a result, the information provided back then was tested during a lot of years without PEDS and was simplified to its shortest expression. Resources written by Bob Hoffman are good examples of this. Back then, technology didn’t exist and athletes were very strong. In fact, athletes could do weightlifting and bodybuilding and they would train together. This also helped to gather more information.
Help or Crush Your Football Program?
While we agree with our colleagues on this point, nowadays social and sports context have changed a lot and this article is about great or promising technologies that will either help your football program or crush it if your opponents implement them before you do.
Technology in the Strength Coach Office
Let’s talk about some challenges that the profession is facing and how technology can help. Let’s start with the changes in the office. In the office, the main job of the strength coach is to plan the training process (periodization) so that the progression goes well.
Great Tool to Create Program
Starting with the basics, a great tool to create programs and change them easily is a must. The only friction point is that if you use a web-based tool to create programs with great visual support and good analytics for the training log, you will have to ask the players to get used to bringing their phone or other mobile devices in the gym. This might be a problem if you want your athletes to be device free when they train to avoid distractions. Here’s a video of a good tool to prepare training programs efficiently.
Device Distraction in the Weight Room
Printing programs done with a good app can still be a good option to avoid device distraction in the weight room. However, visual support won’t be as good and if you need to make a modification in the program for a player, he will have to print it again which will force him to transfer the results he had already written on his first copy of the training plan. Besides, it isn’t as eco-friendly.
Address More Complicated Problems
Once the tool to elaborate training programs is chosen, we can use technology to address more complicated problems or challenges related to the profession.
The Training Load Parameters
With many players and many positions, preparing programs is a challenge in terms of how to manage the training load. Depending on many factors of which the primary one is the physical qualities targeted in development, the loading parameters that are varied are:
- Intensity: The amount of resistance or the speed of muscle contraction with a certain resistance during a movement. Maximal strength in the weight room, sprinting or jumping high or broad are great examples of intensity. This relates mostly to the power output developed by the player and calculated in Watts with devices such as accelerometers, magnetometers, gyroscopes and GNSS devices that will help the strength coach to monitor a lot of information. There are good linear accelerometers that you can attach to the bar with a string such as the Musclelab or the Tendo Unit. Another interesting linear device is the Myotest.
- Volume: The amount of training done. In the weight room, this parameter is often measured by multiplying numbers of sets X numbers of repetitions/set X amount of weight used during the set. For example, 4 sets of 5 repetitions with a weight of 315 lbs. would give a total volume of 6300 lbs. for a specific exercise. On the football field or the track, the volume is measured in a distance unit. However, to track this parameter efficiently, every player should wear a GNSS device. Some teams use the number of hours as a way to measure training volume and they multiply it by the number of weekly training sessions. The problem of using hours is that it does not take into consideration the other training load parameters.
- Density: This is the ratio time of effort: resting time. If you sprint for 3 seconds and then you rest for 3 minutes, the density will be low, 0.016 to be exact and the intensity will be very high. However, if you run for 10 seconds and rest for 10 seconds the density will be higher and the intensity will be lower. In the weight room, density is easy to calculate with a timer. On the field, it’s much tougher, especially if you want individualized data for every player of the team. To get this data, every player in the team needs to wear a GNSS device.
- Frequency: This parameter is easier to assess. How many sessions of training did the player do during the week? Of course, this parameter alone isn’t worth much if you don’t take other training load parameters in consideration.
Here’s a video of the GNSS device that can be used to assess all parameters of the workload in the weight room and on the football field.
Job Far From Being Over
With a whole football team to follow, it is sometimes very difficult to assess the training load except if you have advanced technology like in the video above. However, once you have quantified all four parameters of the workload, the job is far from being over.
Next Level of Strength and Conditioning
The next step is even more difficult to assess. If you can do it, your football program will reach the next level of success both in strength and conditioning and on the field. This next step is to compare every player’s work capacity with the workload that they do.
What Is Work Capacity?
What is work capacity? Here’s an interesting definition of it: “Work capacity refers to the general ability of the whole body as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body.” Some strength coaches prefer to refer to a specific ability because sports necessitates sport specific and even position specific physical adaptations.
So Many Factors
Of course, work capacity is influenced by so many factors and this is exactly why it becomes very difficult to assess it for every player of a football team. Here are some of the factors that influence it:
- Body composition
- Quality of sleep
- Hormonal health
- Initial level of conditioning
- Psychological stress
- Exposition to electromagnetic fields (EMF) (hint: cellphone, electronic car keys in the pockets)
- History of injuries
- Many more.
A multifactor concept like work capacity is very difficult to assess for a single athlete. Imagine for all the players of a football team!!! This has led to many problems and some of them have been serious enough to shake the profession of football strength coaching.
Of course, some people made comments on this video on Youtube by writing that athletes are now weaker than they used to be. While it may be true, we will come back to this point a little later. Remember that today’s football players probably have a much higher allostatic load than their predecessors and yes, they probably don’t do as much manual work as before.
Strength Coach Philosophies
Let’s compare 2 opposing philosophies in the strength and conditioning community with an example. If strength coach A wants to be intense, he might adopt a philosophy that preaches that great results and character are built out of the comfort zone. On the other hand, if strength coach B wants to adopt a safe approach, he might adopt a philosophy that preaches that the risk-reward ratio of the training plan must be minimized and that he prefers to undertrain his team to limit the training load to make sure that all athletes are OK.
Both coaches are right and wrong in their philosophies and both coaches will face problems. Let’s compare their problems.
Coach A might have to face problems such as overreaching, overtraining or worse, rhabdomyolysis. Of course, the players with great work capacity will thrive with the training programs he prepares for them but the others will lower their performance and some of them might even have health issues.
Coach B might have all athletes safe and healthy. However, the ones that have a higher work capacity won’t optimize their level of physical potential. The problem is that these players are often the leaders in the team and they always crave for more. If they are unhappy with the training load, they will communicate their doubt and the strength coach might lose credibility or leadership out of the situation.
This latter scenario is tough on ego and because strength coaches are passionate about training and they are very proud men, most have a tendency to adopt the philosophy adopted by coach A. This creates many problems related to strength coaching in football that do not necessarily occur in other sports.
The concentration of strength coaches who would adopt a philosophy similar to Coach B is higher in professional football due to players associations like the NFLPA. Also, with big contracts, professional football players need to be exposed to lower risk-reward ratios for 2 main reasons:
1-Their physical development is often near their maximal potential or almost
2-In professional football, oftentimes, the body ages physiologically much faster than general healthy and active population due to many factors related to performance.
So how can a strength coach optimize and individualize the workload for every player of his team to make sure that it’s perfectly suited to everyone?
Technology to Face This Challenge
A technology can now help strength coaches to face this challenge. The software Athlete Monitoring was created to manage the relationship between the training load and the related personalized effect of it on the player’s body.
Track Excessive Fatigue
As you can see in the video above, this software helps to track excessive fatigue that might come from an excessive training load and an excessive allostatic load outside of football and strength and conditioning. Here’s a great video that explains the concept of allostatic load.
Examples of Elements Elevating Allostatic Load
Like stated earlier, today’s players have to face a higher allostatic load due to numerous factors. Here are examples of elements that might elevate allostatic load.
- Relationships with parents, coaches, teachers, lovers, etc.
- Fan’s pressure
- School problems
- Family problems
- Overload of information and communication due to technology (social media)
- Environmental toxicity (pollution, smoking environment, etc.)
Athlete Monitoring helps you to gather data that lets you compare the training load with each player’s work capacity. The strength coach can then interpret data and make decisions to adapt programs if needed.
With this software, each player uses the app to give their own answers. Of course, the use of this software must be done in a safe environment. If a player who’s really tired is scared to be perceived as weak by the strength coach and other coaches, he might lie and write that everything is perfect. This situation will be even worse if the data is not confidential because players will compare each other and ego will get in the way. On the other hand, if the player is undertrain, he doesn’t want to be perceived as a rebellious whiner. In both cases, this software will be useless and its purpose is to deal better with those cases…
If it’s used in a safe environment, this software will help to adapt the workload so that it is increased or reduced to fit perfectly to the adaptations that the strength coach wants to create. This process will check at what stage of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) of the stressor (training plan) the player’s (HPA axis) is and if it’s balanced enough (testosterone-anabolism VS cortisol-catabolism) to induce a great overcompensation effect like the green curve in the graph presented previously. Here’s a short video explaining the General Adaptation Syndrome and the HPA axis.
This software is great to track work capacity and compare it to the training load for every player of a football team! It can even integrate with a GNSS device such as the one presented previously. This is great for field assessment! Athlete Monitoring measures the relationship between the training load and the work capacity with RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). This is a scale of perception anywhere between 6 and 20 (Borg) for aerobic activities where you multiply by 10 to roughly get heart beats per minute. For anaerobic activities, this scale is anywhere between 1 and 10.
Perceptions regarding fatigue
RPE is great to assess fatigue. However, not all athletes have the same perceptions and not all players evaluate their fatigue level the same way, especially neural fatigue (nervous system) in the weight room or on the field. RPE is usually a little easier to use with aerobic work.
The 2 limits of RPE
Although very efficient, RPE scores have two main limits. First, unless used with other technology, RPE doesn’t give physiological values which are also important to create standardized norms that can be compared to all players. Second, if not taught properly, evaluating anaerobic efforts and the neuro-muscular fatigue related to it can be a little bit more challenging than evaluating aerobic efforts. Here’s a video that will help you use RPE more efficiently in the weight room.
Ready to go Down the Rabbit Hole?
Are you ready to go down the rabbit hole into an even more complete picture? This pushes the strength coaching profession to an even farther level!!! You can stop here and you will be fine or you can see where future is going.
So far, we’ve focused a lot on the external workload and a little bit on the internal workload. It’s now time to focus on this aspect.
Assessing physiological factors related to work capacity
To get data about physiological factors that will help estimate the work capacity of their players, strength coaches will have to rely on another great technology. This technology is mostly used by scientists and medical doctors, but strength coaches would greatly benefit from using it. Here’s a video explaining how this technology works.
Here’s a picture of a report using the RJL BIA on an athlete. Note that the fat % of this report can’t be compared with skinfold calipers results because skinfold calipers assess subcutaneous adiposity while BIA assesses all body adiposity, which includes internal fat.
How to Predict Work Capacity With This Technology?
You might think yes but what do we do with this information and how will it help me predict a football player’s work capacity? Because strength training is an enormous stress on the body, the strength coach will need to study a little bit about physiology and the results of this technology. Here’s a great video that shows and explains what is expected of a healthy man. Do you think that the football players you train fit those criteria?
There’s a saying that goes like this: “Assuming makes an Ass of U and Me.” A lot of coaches and strength coaches assume that athletes are top shape when they are ripped, fast and powerful. However, sometimes, their BIAs results aren’t that great because health and thus physical preparedness is much more a continuum than a switch that is on or off. By improving their results, they will greatly improve their overall health and work capacity and they will be able to tolerate a higher workload!
There’s a catch, to improve the BIA results and thus biomarkers, the strength coach needs to have the help of a functional medicine expert or study notions related to this professional field.
Technology in the Weight Room
Other technologies can help in the office but with the one presented, I think that the strength coach has tools to face the biggest challenges of the profession. Now is the time to focus on technology that will be used by strength coaches in the weight room.
A New Promising Tool
For quite some time, barbells, dumbells, and kettlebells have been the major tools used in the weight room and strength apparels have been less used except for a few exceptions that mostly measured power output. However, a new technology is coming and it might be more than used only for auxiliary work. It might be used for primary work with compound lifts such as squats or deadlifts.
This tool is the flywheel or kinetic box. Here’s a video showing how it works with inertia.
Advantages of the Flywheel
Here are few advantages of the flywheel compared to Olympic bars
- The flywheel can be moved from place to place very easily compared to barbells and plates to do contrasts or to train outside of a sports facility.
- There’s no risk of dropping weights on your feet
- The potential of loading the muscles and the nervous system is unlimited
- The intensity will change from rehab to maximal effort between 2 alternating training partners without having to unload and load the bar every time
Here is a very interesting video comparing the amount of force produced while using a flywheel and while using a loaded barbell squat by a national level weightlifter.
Research (meta-analysis) is also showing that the flywheel has superior gains that traditional overload methods such as barbells. A paradigm is shifting here. Of course, this tool won’t replace everything but it’s a great tool to implement.
In the beginning, we were not sure about this technology which is a treadmill where the athlete propels the belt in an acceleration position where his shoulders push against pads that give data about power output, speed, balance, and acceleration rate. Here’s a video showing you how it works.
Here are the main reasons why we weren’t sure about it at first:
The pads that gather the information have a tendency to hinder arm action in the acceleration phase so make sure that your athletes already have a great arm drive before using this technology.
Being in an acceleration position for a long time might break alignment between the head, the torso, the hips the knees and the ankles that should be aligned at approximately 45 degrees because the belt accelerates while the athlete gets tired.
Starting a Momentum
This has the potential to create a break (flexion) at the hip because, during the acceleration phase, the athlete has time to apply a lot of force to the ground because he has to fight a stationary inertia by starting a momentum from a still position.
The formula of impulse is a force multiplied by time. So in the acceleration phase, the player generates the strongest impulses. The more he speeds up, the less time he has to apply force against the ground switching from an inclined position of pushing with quads and glutes to a stand-up position of pulling with the hamstrings.
Reduce the Stride Frequency
To be able to create a conditioning effect in this inclined posture while avoiding to break the nice body alignment due to a too short duration of the belt contact time, you have to make sure that you have a way to reduce the stride frequency to have a ground contact time or belt contact time that is long enough.
Challenge to induce a conditioning effect
The challenge is that if you want to induce a conditioning effect, you have to maintain the running motion for more than a few seconds.
To have a duration that is longer than a few seconds for conditioning purposes, the athlete needs to reduce stride frequency while being in a powerful position like the one of acceleration. To do so, a strength coach could use a loaded prowler that will reduce speed due to the higher friction coefficient. Moreover, the prowler march doesn’t need arm action so you have no risk of generating a wrong motor pattern regarding arm’s drive.
The High Trainer is expensive. A wall to work on acceleration mechanics or a prowler are solutions that are much cheaper and even more efficient for the technical aspect of acceleration development.
Why is the High Trainer Mentioned in this Article?
The take away is that this technology isn’t a great tool to teach acceleration mechanics. So why is the High Trainer mentioned in this article you might ask? Because the data that you can pull out of it is interesting. Some football programs use it to gather data such as reaction time, the stride length between legs to see if there are strength or mobility discrepancies and many more. Here’s an interesting video on it. Some football programs even use the data to create individualized post-concussion protocols.
Not a New Technology But in Football?
The next technology we are about to cover isn’t new for other sports but in football, it hasn’t been used very much because football teams are big in terms of the number of players. This technology has been used in individual sports for decades.
How to develop strength?
We previously covered the fact that neuro-muscular fatigue is difficult to assess. To develop strength and the physical qualities related to it, the nervous system must improve on 3 aspects.
1-Intermuscular coordination: This is where the athletes who have the best motor patterns or the best technical way to move in a certain movement will generate more strength because of biochemical efficiency.
2-Intramuscular coordination: This is where the central nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system are the most efficient to recruit motor units. Motor units are nerves with muscles fibers at their end. Those motor units are recruited in a synchronized way so that muscles generate the biggest amount of force. It also reduces the sensitivity of Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO) that inhibit muscle contraction when there’s too much tension in tendons.
3–Cross-sectional area: This is the size of the muscle. All things being equal, the biggest muscle will generate more force if the cross-sectional area is made of myofibrillar hypertrophy.
Video to Understand
Here’s a video explaining those 3 aspects that will help to understand how useful the technology we are about to present can be.
Ethical Edge on Work Capacity
As we already covered, the workload needs to be adapted to individualized work capacity of the player. However, the athlete who recovers the fastest will train more often with more volume at a higher intensity. This is great but it needs to be done with ethics. We already talked about using nutrition, supplements and BIA data to have an ethical edge on work capacity.
Ethical edge on pushing the training load
What about having an ethical edge in pushing the training load? We can’t change either the nervous system, the muscles or the joints of the player. However, the player needs to send action potential (electricity impulses) to create movement but that also neural fatigue.
However, we can now send electricity to stimulate those muscles to still train them even when the nervous system and the joints are resting. How can we do this? By using electromyostimulation. Here’s a video showing a device that we have used successfully. This video is promotional but it explains well what this device can do to improve intramuscular coordination, cross-sectional area, warm up or cool down.
Unlike people might think, this can be a difficult workout that cannot be done in a relaxation state. It can bring sweat and will necessitate adaptation to this muscle stimulation. To increase electricity and thus muscle stimulation, skin and muscles need to be familiarized to the electrodes that can be painful at first.
Alpine ski boots for football players?
To use it passively (in a non-movement environment) in order to rest completely the nervous system, athletes must know how to stabilize the joints where the muscles are stimulated. As an example, some football players use alpine ski boots to do Compex on their calves.
Walking barefoot is great for fascias and posture but it is also great for balance between protons and electrons by being grounded, also called hearthing. We are so electron deficient that being connected to the ground without rubber (shoes) is great to replenish. Here’s a great video about the health benefits of being grounded. There is an annoying background music but the information is pure gold for a football player.
Another Problem with Recovery during Sleep
Here’s a video explaining the electrical problems related to sleep where athletes should rest. When people sleep, they are at their worst in terms of the electrical situation.
A Grounded Bed Solution for Better Recovery
Because we all stay in bed for hours and this is the place where it’s the most problematic, imagine if your bed could be grounded! It turns out that this a great way to improve sleep quality, health, and work capacity. How can that be done? Check this insightful video about this technology. For now, it looks odd, but in a few years, it will become a norm.
A Rudimentary Product for a Better Work Capacity
The next “technology” we are about to cover is not necessarily an electronic device. In fact, it’s a very rudimentary and simple product. However, this application is pretty recent. It will help athletes to improve the quality of their sleep and this will have a positive effect on their overall health and thus on their work capacity. This adds up to the bed grounding technology presented previously.
This equipment will reduce the sympathetic nervous system activity to increase the parasympathetic nervous system activity which is related to relaxation. This product is a mouth tape that will force you to breathe through the nose.
More Useful Than Tape
If you want to be able to talk or drink during the night, without having to tape again your mouth, you can use this more useful solution.
The Last Technology That We Will Cover
So far, we have covered a lot of technologies related to improving work capacity and recovery because athletes who train the most often, at high intensity create the best adaptations if their body stays healthy during the process. The last technology that we will cover has a similar purpose but for different reasons. The previous technologies were meant to improve communication or overall work capacity for general adaptations such as any training stimuli to become stronger, more powerful, faster, have a better aerobic capacity, etc. This technology is a little different.
Could Not Be Trained In the Gym
For a long time, we have thought that athletes could not improve their ability to improve their speed to gather visual information and take a decision accordingly. People thought that this part of the tactical aspect of athlete’s development was a given that could not be trained in the gym.
Hand-eye coordination development technology
Some coaches thought that it could be trained on the football field and even a few did not think so. However, athletes can now train their eyes and their brain to do so in the gym. Here’s a video showing this hand-eye coordination development technology in action.
Useful Sports Science
Obviously, this technology like almost all of the technologies that were presented in this article are not specific to football only. Sports science can be useful for many sports!
Implementing Those Technologies
Implementing all those technologies takes the money and a learning curve for the staff that will use them. The staff will need to learn how to operate them and, if it’s the case, how to interpret the data coming from them and create norms to compare athletes between them. The staff members will also have to teach athletes why and how to implement technologies outside of the field and the gym to improve their recovery. When the athletes will understand why they need to do it, the staff members will also have to teach them how to do it properly. Change is always difficult to do in any human activity.
This is especially true in big organizations such as football programs. However, the football program that will implement them the best way and the fastest will have an unfair advantage in terms of physiology because of this quantum leap.