Analysis: there is now widespread use of emerging technology in the strength and conditioning training of elite sportspeople

The application of sport science to the training of our elite athletes and players has been shown to be of benefit to their sporting performance. Our athletes in Tokyo, for example, who competed and excelled in the recent Olympics and Paralympics employ sport science practices on a regular basis. It clearly has aided in the realisation of their sporting potential.

Central to sport science is the use of data pertaining to the athletes' training. In the weights room setting, technologies are used consistently to measure and collect such data and strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches and sport scientists use this data to track, monitor and evaluate an athlete’s progression on a continuous basis. These emerging technologies have the potential to add the cutting edge dimension to an athlete’s training and preparation.

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Research has shown that the development of strength and strength related qualities is an essential aspect of training for many elite athletes. Stronger athletes and players are more powerful, have greater speed and change of direction capabilities, have less risk of injury and have an increased general and specific sport skill performance. It is clearly an important capacity to develop for our athletes and players.

The use of technology is paramount to maximise the design and implementation of strength-based training programmes. These technologies measure variables that allow the coach and sport scientist to monitor athletes’ progression and readiness to train. Such variables include, for example, jump height, velocity of movement, range of movement, time spent on the ground during jumping exercises, speed times and agility times, balance and stability. The S&C coach uses the data related to these variables to report back to the athlete and coach and to make adjustments if needed to maximise the strength based training programmes and thus the resultant training adaptations.

Before the coach or sport scientist can interpret the data collected from the athlete’s training, he or she needs to ensure that the data gathered is sound, accurate, valid and reliable. Validity refers to the ability of the technology to collect data that measures what it is supposed to and reliability refers to the repeatability of the metrics derived from the use of the technology.

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Data collected through a form of technology and associated testing procedures that has errors and is not valid or reliable will be of no value to a coach as they test, track and evaluate the athlete’s performance. Any technologies used in the collection of data must have sound peer-reviewed published research showing that this piece of technology allows for the collection of accurate, valid and reliable data.

There are emerging technologies that are now more commonplace in the S&C setting. These include devices that measure velocity of movement during strength exercises (such as the Gymaware linear positional transducer), jump height (the Optojump optical timing system, for example) and speed and agility times (such as Microgate timing systems). Research using these systems and technologies have shown that the resultant data is valid and reliable and that these technologies can be used with athletes to accurately track and monitor their training progressions in order to maximise their sporting performances.

A new Irish company, Output Sports, uses an inertial measurement sensor to measure strength, power, speed and movement characteristics in the applied setting. The company is a research spin-out from both the Insight Centre for Data Analytics and School of Physiotherapy and Sports Science at UCD. This technology differs from the previous examples in that it is a one stop shop approach and the single sensor can test and track multiple variables and strength and conditioning capacities, such as strength, velocity, and jump height.

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This gives the S&C coach and sport scientist a pragmatic, user-friendly method of testing and monitoring their athletes’ training in a timely manner. In addition, these new technologies use cloud based data storage platforms to house all the collected data which seamlessly allows for the reporting, interpretation and evaluation of data.

The issue with any emerging technologies is the lack of published research pertaining to the accuracy, validity and reliability of the systems. Recent initial research conducted in the University of Limerick has indicated that the Output Sports system is a valid, reliable and useful method of assessing jump height for field based athletes.

However, it is only useful and of value if the data derived is accurate, valid and reliable

The use of technology has been shown to make the design and implementation of training programmes for athletes and players effective and efficient. It can provide the S&C coach with objective data to guide training evaluation and prescription. However, it is only useful and of value if the data derived is accurate, valid and reliable. Coaches as well will need to be proficient with how to use the technology and there are cost implications when incorporating these systems into your training programmes.

But the pros outweigh the cons, provided that the data is accurate and that the coach acts upon and uses the derived data sets in order to optimise the athletes training. Such an approach has the potential to add a cutting edge dimension to our athletes’ and players’ training routines which in turn can play a role in the future success of Ireland in the international sporting arena.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ