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The Fitbit EvolutionMonday, January 16th, 2017

mike vizzoniMike Vizzoni, Front Rush

A little while back my co-worker Chris wrote an article on this blog taking a look at all of the wearable technology we have available these days (link here). It is rather incredible to reflect on how many different options we have as athletes and consumers. From GPS tracking to heart rate monitors to messaging to entertainment, the possible fields that wearable tech can cover seems endless. When wearable tech first started rolling out I was a little skeptical. To me, it did not seem practical to constantly have something attached to you during training or simply everyday activities. Man oh, man was I wrong. Wearable tech has exploded in recent years, and this trend does not seem to be slowing down. As mentioned earlier, my co-worker Chris has already covered several wearable technologies. Here, however, I will be diving into a product that deserves much credit for this wearable uprising. Fitbit is one of the first fitness wearable technologies, and their story deserves to be told.

History

Fitbit, like most other tech start-up companies, is based out of San Francisco, California. The company was founded back on May 1, 2007, by James Park and Eric Friedman. In the mid 2000’s Eric and James began to notice how good sensors and wireless technology were progressing. The tech was reaching a point where the data retrieved by them could be exploited in countless ways. Eric and James realized that they could bring this technology to fitness and change the way people evaluated their movement. They decided to design a product that could seamlessly fit into someone’s life to help improve their health and fitness goals. The Fitbit was born. The first version of this product was released in 2009. This version could be attached to your shirt or pants and monitored very basic activity movement. They sold around 25,000 units. Once 2011 came around Fitbit released a new version that now included an altimeter, digital clock, and stopwatch. To continue the progress Fitbit went ahead and released two more models in 2012. The consistency of model upgrades is what separated Fitbit apart from many other wearable tech products and really kept them ahead of the curve. By the time 2013 hit, Fitbit released their first wristband model. The wristband model is what most people think of when they picture a Fitbit. This seemed to be the most appealing to users and is why Fitbit has further pursued that type of model. In 2015 Fitbit announced its IPO as $4.1 billion! They were the number one wearable tech product and had sold over 18 million units in one year. Last year Fitbit put out four new models; the Blaze, Alta, Charge 2 and the Flex 2. They continue to stay on top of the wearable market outperforming other industry leaders such as Apple, Xiaomi, and Garmin.

Today

Currently, Fitbit is still producing new models and continues to wow its customers with new features. The latest Fitbit supports features such as Bluetooth connection to smartphones, step and distance tracking, floors climbed, calories burned, and sleep patterns. Some of the most recent models also support text messaging and phone calls. All of this data is accessible through the Fitbit app. Simply sign up, log in, and take a look at the calories you burn per day or perhaps how many steps you have taken. What you then do with that data is entirely up to you. The possibilities are endless. This allows users to improve their daily activity and live a healthier life one step at a time. The great thing about Fitbit is that it has utilities that can be very useful for the elite athlete and everyday person alike.

Coaches, ask around to see if your players own Fitbits or any other type of wearable tech. Challenge them to improve their fitness being tracked each day and perhaps look into getting one for yourself. We live in a data-driven society and products such as Fitbit can only help improve your active life by taking advantage of that data.

Why I hate my smartphoneMonday, January 9th, 2017

neal_headshot_dantudorNeal Cook, Front Rush

A new year, a new resolution that won’t stick, but maybe it will work for you:

Taking a break from my smartphone.

Have you pondered how your day would function without that little, 4.7-inch screen in your pocket? The one that you feel buzzing, even when it’s not, but you hear that buzz in the back of your mind?  Remember those carefree days when you didn’t have the convenience of having your world in your pocket? I do. More and more each day.

If all smartphones were removed mysteriously from the planet, at the strike of midnight, tonight, what would we lose? Convenience. No longer would you be able to: call your taxi, order your dinner, look up movie times, check your fantasy sports teams, find the score of the game, keep connected with your work colleagues, listen to music, use your GPS, check Instagram because you’re bored, Facebook, Snapchat, make impulse purchases (with money you don’t have), check in with your family, find a date, watch movies, play games, bank, recruit. I could go on. But that’s already a run-on sentence.

The thing is, you would still be able to accomplish all of the conveniences and jobs we hire a smartphone to provide us. Other products and methods of technology, would fill the smartphone less void, at the cost of convenience.

Each of us uses our smartphone in unique ways. Some may not be addicted as others, or have better self-control, but, for some, putting your phone down can be quite a challenge. Next time you go into a restaurant, do a quick James Bond scan and count the number of faces staring down at their phone.

Convenience, like everything in this world, needs to be balanced. Yin and yang. Take away smartphones entirely, and the average person would gain 90 minutes a day, or 23 days a year. That time can go towards a lot of things. Think of everything you’ve wanted to accomplish, and explore since you were a small lad/gal. Personally, I’m trying to learn the bass, read more, and become the greatest Beatles cover band of all time (with a little help from my friends).

So will everyone slow down their phone usage in 2017? One-hundred percent, no. Unless that smartphone Angel snatches all of our phones at midnight, tonight.

In reality, smartphone usage will continue to ramp up in 2017 and for the foreseeable future. By 2020, smartphone internet traffic will pass PC internet traffic for the first time. Also, toss in the fact that more developed and developing countries are still just getting access to the web for the first time (approx 43% of the world population has access now), and the projections for connected phones and people will only skyrocket.

No one is going to control your phone usage (it’s not 1984, yet). So it’s up to you and me to monitor our usage and keep ourselves in check. For technology and convenience need to be balanced with the important things in life (the love that we create.)

You need to use this google maps hackMonday, December 26th, 2016

neal_headshot_dantudorNeal Cook, Front Rush

Hey Coaches!

Hope your Holiday weekend was splendid!

As much as I would have loved to slide down each and every one of your chimneys, like Scott Calvin, from Santa Claus, I am physically unable to do so (side note…Neal from Santa Claus is a huge prick).

What I can give to you is my top-secret Google Maps hack. This have been tested on the iPhone 7, but should work on Android devices as well.

Without further ado!

Your Places

Follow these steps to save you time in the long run:

  1. Open Google Maps
  2. Click on the 3 horizontal bars to the left of the ‘Search Google Maps’ search bar
  3. Click ‘Your Places’
  4. If you haven’t done so before, click ‘enter an address’ next to the Home and Work icons. Plug in your addresses.
  5. Click the back arrow to get back to the search bar
  6. Enter in an address that you use GPS for frequently (gym, grocery store, mall, etc). You can also enter in family/friends addresses (aunts, girlfriends, grandparents, etc)
  7. Click on the address
  8. Click on the ‘Label’ icon in the center-bottom of the page
  9. Name this address (moms, dads, gym, etc)
  10. Click ‘Done’
  11. Repeat this for all of your frequent searches

googlemaps1googlemaps2

What you just did was associate your favorite people/places with their physical address.

So instead of typing in “2240 Mercerville-Whitehorse Road, Hamilton Township, NJ 08619” to find your Grandma’s nursing home every time you pull up your Google Maps, you can just type “Grandma” to be directed to her location. That is, unless she has ran away on her wheelchair (which my Grandma frequently hints at).

This is a great time-saving hack, and has saved me from repeatedly asking my close acquaintances for their address over and over again.

Hope this helps a tiny bit!

 

Amazon Go (Ho Ho)Monday, December 19th, 2016

jw_headshotJulie Weiss, Front Rush

Yesterday while standing in a long snaking line in Bed Bath and Beyond I caught myself in a brief state of holiday hypnosis as I gazed into the eyes of a dancing Santa figurine  perched on the top shelf of the aisle endcap. Sigh, ‘tis the season for magic. As I came out of my haze I wondered if this familiar shopping experience is soon to change.

Earlier this month Amazon, a company who continues to push the magical envelope when it comes to catering to the consumer, unveiled it’s newest trick, an even more convenient convenience store they are calling Amazon Go. You may have seen the commercial. Customers walk into the store and are free to put whatever they want in their bag then simply walk out. No check out, no lines. It’s all handled through your phone. The Amazon Go app recognizes what you have put in your bag (blows my mind) and then charges you accordingly. So how exactly do they do that?

Amazon has figured out a way to read our minds. Upon entering the store a drone greets you with a bag full of everything that is on your shopping list. Okay okay, so maybe it’s not quite like this (yet).

The concept of the store is made possible through a combination of machine learning, sensors in the form of cameras and microphones; and artificial intelligence. USAToday outlines the flow as follows…

  • Customer walks in, taps phone on sensor in an area Amazon is calling the “transition area”
  • Surveillance identifies the customer
  • Cameras placed throughout the store capture items shoppers pick up and can determine whether the item stays with them or is placed back on the shelf
  • Microphones are used to detect where customers are by the noises they make
  • Infrared pressure and load sensors are used on the shelves to help note when an item is picked up or put back
  • The sensors also tell the store where everything and everyone is at any moment
  • Upon exit, items are totaled up and charged to the user’s Amazon account where they will receive a receipt for their purchases.

The blueprint is intriguing. The system feels thought out and well planned (so far?). The patent filed by Amazon in 2014 gives us an even closer (and somewhat creepier) look at what is involved.

“The use of cameras can even go as far as to determine your skin color. The patent says this is used to identify the shopper’s hand to see whether they actually pick up anything off of a shelf, but combine that with the fact that Amazon knows what you’re buying and who you are and this is pretty next-level market research data.” (verge.com 12/6/16)

Yes it does sound a little creepy, but if they make us aware of the creepiness from the get go while making the shopping experience more efficient in the process, do we give them a pass?

What about the human variable? What if an item is put back in the wrong place? How will the sensors react? Are the microphones able to differentiate between customers? Will quiet shoppers go undetected when drowned out by crying babies? How will Amazon account for multiple cell phones when families, friends (and teams), shop together? Will an army of drones be released on potential shoplifters? It is yet to be seen how such variables will be taken into account.

The beta store located in Seattle is currently being tested out on Amazon employees and is slated to open to the public in early 2017. The inventory consists of basic grocery needs and pre-made meal kits. With Amazon’s hold on ecommerce it is not hard to imagine how this concept will branch out if proven successful.

Imagine running to the store to stock up on food for your next away game without lines.

Looking past retail, the possibilities that this technology creates are endless.

Streamin’ On The GoMonday, December 12th, 2016

mike vizzoniMike Vizzoni, Front Rush

Netflix recently released an update to their incredibly popular app that allows users to download content for offline use. This new feature will let people binge their favorite Netflix content with no internet connection what-so-ever. This is huge news and something that people have been waiting quite a while for.

Funny thing is that back in 2014 the current director of corporate communications, Cliff Edwards, stated that the company would NEVER support downloadable content. He said that offline play back would be a “short-term fix for a bigger problem”. The bigger problem being poor internet connection. Although most of America still suffers from poor internet connection, faster speeds are on the rise! According to Speedtest.com, we have seen the average upload speed of fixed broadband internet usage rise to 50 mbps in 2016. That is 40% higher than 2015 and broadband internet speed seems to be rising even more as the year went on:

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 2.34.42 PM

(http://www.speedtest.net/reports/united-states/)

So with the average speed of the internet increasing why is offline playback such a huge announcement for Netflix? This is most exciting for those who travel a lot or simply want to save on cellular data usage. Those of us who travel frequently may have been disappointed in the past when attempting to watch Netflix on a plane, subway, train, or any other form of transformation. You are not always able to connect to the internet when traveling and this new feature will let users download content to then watch while traveling without an internet connection. This is also great for those of us who may have an internet connection through cellular data but would rather stream Netflix without using said data. Cellular networks have a stranglehold on data and most people are trying to cut corners on data usage whenever possible. This can prevent people from going over their monthly data allowance which in turn helps save a ton of money.

Let’s quickly break down how offline playback works. First off, make sure you have updated the Netflix app to the most current version on whatever mobile device you normally us to stream. Once the app is updated you will see a new message pop up the first time you open it:

netflix-download-1

You are now officially able to download select content on Netflix. When this was first released many people thought that users would only be able to download Netflix’s original series and movies but Netflix has gone above and beyond! Good Will Hunting, Pulp Fiction, Mad Men, and Parks and Recreation are just a few examples of other production company’s content that you are able to download. Netflix spokeswoman Marlee Tart also announced that “Netflix is working with lots of partners globally to get downloading rights for the bulk of the content on our service”. Hopefully one day everything within Netflix will be available for offline playback but in the meantime, they have supplied a great little tool within the app that lets you search for downloadable content. Any show or movie that supports this new feature will have this option:

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 2.55.35 PM

After clicking the arrow symbol, the content will begin to download. Always make sure the download has finished completely before exiting the app. Also, keep in mind that downloading shows and movies will take up physical storage on your device.

Coaches, be sure to share this info with your players. I am sure many of them enjoy watching Netflix on the way to or home from games. This new feature will surely help them save on data and I know when I was in college my parents would have been thrilled about that.

What Exactly is a Meme?Monday, November 21st, 2016

IMG_2590 (1)Josh DiCristo, Front Rush

Writing an article about memes might seem counter-intuitive at first. You’re only a sentence and a half in and already you’ve read more text than is in an average meme. Probably. I don’t know, there’s really not any significant data on that sort of thing. But part of that reason is because memes aren’t a language, though you might find the people who are the most confused by them usually refer to them as such.

“I don’t get this stuff, it’s like they’re speaking a whole nother language.”

Well first off, “a whole nother” isn’t English so maybe take a look in the mirror before you criticize. But second off, the word “meme” actually comes from a term describing an idea or behavior that spreads between cultures. So really, it’s more of a sociological term than a linguistic one. And if you think about it, that actually makes a lot of sense. Memes gained traction on the internet because they’re short jokes overlaid on top of images that represent a simple, shared idea. Everyone likes short jokes and what better use of the internet is there than to connect with people from different walks of life over a shared experience and make them laugh in the process?

And that brings us to the first rule of memes. Don’t try to use them in conversation, and don’t print them out and put them anywhere. They live online and are best read in your head.

But what kind of memes do you share with your recruits? You want to connect with them in some sort of way but you also don’t want to be the weird, out-of-touch adult desperately trying to seem cool.

OutOfTouchMemeExample

Dear god, please don’t do this.

College Freshman

The college freshman meme might be the most relevant for the purposes of recruiting. When that wide-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman is still making that transition from high school to college and they’re doing and saying the wrong things? Well the internet found the stock photo for that idea and jumped on it.

CollegeFreshman

Confused Fry

Fry is a character from Futurama but for the purpose of understanding the meme, all that matters is he captures the feeling not understanding if an action means one thing or something else completely different. The other meaning could be random, inappropriate, or sometimes the complete opposite.

ConfusedFry

Bad Luck Brian

Everyone’s had a bad school picture day every once in awhile. Just be glad yours didn’t go viral. You could say that adds an extra bit of irony to Bad Luck Brian, who encapsulates every time the rug’s been pulled from under you.

BadLuckBrian

Biden/Obama

And finally, the new kid on the block. These Biden/Obama memes have been echoing around certain corners of the internet for a while now, but they’ve taken on a new life since the election. No matter where you stand on the results, the decision from the internet has been unanimous – Joe Biden as the embarrassing trickster/class clown/roommate to Obama’s straight man will be sorely missed come January.

ObamaBiden

Learn How To Keep LearningMonday, November 14th, 2016

unnamedby Ken Whittaker, Front Rush

I’ve learned enough for one lifetime…said nobody ever. The reality is, we learn something new every day (gross, clichè) through the people we meet, the news we watch or read, or the work we do. There’s no doubt that knowledge surrounds us, and as new technology comes out, it’s very easy to feel dated. It seems like every year there’s a new social media craze, companies trying to remove the everyday need for the laptop, TVs that offer a clearer-than-life picture, and technology that makes us feel like dinosaurs at times. So, how can we stay relevant and keep learning – without breaking the bank?

Well, because we live in this technology driven society – we can leverage this to our advantage. As a software developer, I must continue to learn and adapt new technology, languages, and proficiencies to be sure the products and applications I build meet or exceed the end user’s standards. Newsletters, articles, blog posts, and Twitter can all be instrumental in getting pointed in the right direction. However, don’t be fooled into believing that this is only possible for technology geeks such as myself. Of course, online courses are a great resources for people looking to advance in their current career, but also offer tremendous benefit for picking up a hobby or learning more about something you’ve always been passionate about or interested in. You may surprise yourself how much you already knew, how much you’ve been lead on to believe, and how much is out there still to be learned.

One of my favorite online course sites is Udemy. Many courses are inexpensive, sometimes being discounted as low as $10 and ranging up to $200. After signing up for a free account, you can purchase access to any number of Udemy courses taught by various instructors across the globe. From learning languages to finding out how to get that six pack in the gym, Udemy offers thousands of courses that you can purchase and participate in at your pace. Many courses also offer a section that allow you to post questions to the instructor, and they have the opportunity to respond to you. Of course, this will vary based on the instructor, but is a useful resource if you get stuck or really want to learn more.

Lynda is another option, though I admit I have not used it yet. Their pricing model is a little different by which you can pay around $20 or $30 per month for unlimited access to thousands of courses. This would be a good option for anyone that wants the ability to hop around topics without the need to pay for multiple courses. Also, if you accidentally dive in to a course that is too difficult or too easy, you could potentially switch to another one without having to worry that you’ve wasted your money.

One of the last ways you could gain some extra knowledge is through various podcasts (hey, I hear Dan Tudor just launched their own podcast!) or TEDTalks. These offer a wider range of topics, from sports to healthy eating choices, and is a more passive way to learn new things. Podcasts have been around for a while now, but if you find a topic you’re passionate about and want to learn more, or just want to be inspired or hear a success story, podcasts offer a relaxing way to get those neurons firing. Don’t know what a neuron is? Maybe a podcast or Udemy course on Psychology might be a great start!

 

50,000 Beers and Robot CoachesSunday, October 30th, 2016

neal_headshot_dantudorNeal Cook, Front Rush

This past week, Otto, the Uber-owned self-driving vehicle operation, completed its first successful commercial delivery, delivering 2,000 cases of Budweiser from Fort-Collins, Colo to Colorado Springs: about 125 miles on the highway.

In this fast-paced world which we call our daily lives, that might not seem too crazy of a story, but think about it: A truck was able to drive itself, on a major highway, without a driver being in control. That’s wild. Tell that to your mother, father, grandmother, etc. and see their reaction.

Artificial intelligence and autonomous technology are here to stay. The Otto beer delivery was the first of its kind (great PR for Anheuser-Busch,) and a tale of what’s to come. Imagine there being no human truck drivers, sailors, cab drivers, chefs, carpenters, construction workers. Not only can it happen; history tells us it will. It’s just a matter of time.

Not only will robots eventually take over the blue-collar jobs, like the ones I listed above, but they’ll also dabble in the expert human jobs (doctors, lawyers, teachers, coaches, etc), that we control today. Just this past May, the law firm Baker & Hostetler, announced they were employing IBM’s Al Ross to handle their bankruptcy practice. Ross is a robot lawyer.

It’s not just Silicon Valley investing in A.I., but also our government.  The Pentagon has put artificial intelligence at the center of its plan to maintain the United States’ position as the world’s dominant military power, spending billions of dollars on autonomous and semiautonomous technology. Think Terminator or iRobot. iRobot is actually one of my favorite Will Smith movies.

This blog may seem “anti-robot”, but it’s really not meant to be. There are so many potential ways for robots to help humans. Imagine there being a robot to help your elderly family member shower, change the sheets, walk the dog. Or, imagine having the luxury of a robot assistant able to assist you in breaking down game film and finding the 5-star athlete that know one else knows about.

We should never be afraid of technology or the future; for we should never live a fearful life, but be aware of what’s to come, and the potential implications.

Streaming Music Has Taken OverMonday, October 24th, 2016

mike vizzoniMike Vizzoni, Front Rush

Gone are the days of frantically digging through a messy bedroom drawer in search of your prized cassette mixtape. Popping that cassette into a Walkman had a certain gratifying experience that slowly disappeared as music became less physical. Fast-forward to the 90’s and compact discs were all the rage. CDs were the first mainstream format that digitally stored audio recordings. This format may have been similar to cassettes in the way you played it back: simply popping it in your Discman or CD player and rocking out to the latest Weezer or perhaps Backstreet Boys album, but the fact that the music was stored digitally really opened the doors to further innovation.

Once the 2000’s came around we had entered the future. Forget about those clunky cassette tapes and flimsy CDs. Who needs a physical medium for each album when you can reduce that clutter to one MP3 player. With the introduction of Apple’s iPod and several other competing MP3 players, the digital format had officially taken over. The flow now consisted of building a digital library with software on your computer, whether that be iTunes, Windows Media Player, or any other similar product. This could be done by purchasing the content online or ripping songs from a CD to your computer. This was the standard for about a decade, but then smartphones and streaming took over.

Today almost everyone you talk to no longer builds digital libraries or use any type of analog music recording (except for the hipsters and their vinyl’s). The times have changed and we live in the age of communication where almost everything requires immediate gratification. With that need for immediacy came the idea of streaming. Streaming any type of content requires you to have an internet connection. This is necessary because whatever content you are trying to access is not actually housed on your device. You are pulling this data in from a server that could be anywhere in the world. Streaming can be used for many different types of files but let’s focus on music. Here are the most popular music streaming platforms:

Spotify (2008)

The most widely used music streaming service, this company is considered to be the pioneer of music streaming. Spotify has over 30 million paid subscribers. They have a smartphone app, a desktop client, and a web-based player. This company has been on the forefront and is now one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The music selection is very impressive, having almost any album you could think of. Special features include offline music play, automated playlist curated off of your listening history, shareable playlists, calibration that syncs music to your running tempo, support for Apple Air Play and Chromecast.

Pricing Model:

Free: Unlimited playback on desktop app, advertisements, no mobile support

Premium ($9.99/month, $4.99/month student $14.99/month family): Unlimited playback on both desktop and mobile app, no ads, HD audio, offline playback

30 Day Free Trial: Same as premium

Google Play Music (2011)

This was Google’s go at creating their own streaming service. Not nearly as popular as Spotify, but still a solid platform that supports many of the same features that Spotify has. Google has not released subscription numbers but most would agree that the majority of Google Play Music users are those that are already heavily involved in the Google ecosystem. They have a mobile app and web-based player. Special features include automated playlist curated off of your listening history, free music storage for files on your computer, Chromecast support.

Pricing Model:

Free: Upload your own music to stream from anywhere, purchase songs

Premium ($9.99/month $14.99/month family): Unlimited playback on web based player and mobile app, no ads, HD audio

30 Day Free Trial: Same as Premium

Apple Music (2015)

One of the more recent streaming services, Apple Music has garnered over 17 million paid subscribers in just over a year. This is pretty impressive and may have something to do with the fact that Apple already has a foot in the door when it comes to portable music and recently acquired the company Beats Electronics. The iPhone is one of the most popular smartphones currently in the market and Apple Music is built for this device. They have an iPhone app and desktop client (accessed through iTunes). Apple Music offers a 3-month free trial which really helped spike people’s initial interest.  Special features include automated playlist curated off of your listening history, artist exclusive releases, music video support, Apple Air Play support.

Pricing Model:

No free option

$9.99/month $14.99/month family $4.99/month student: Unlimited playback on both desktop and mobile app, no ads, HD audio

3 Month Free Trial: Same as above

These are just a few of the music streaming options available today. There are several others including higher end services such as Jay Z’s Tidal and simpler services that strictly offer playlists such as Pandora. The market is constantly expanding as well, with other companies trying to create their own platforms such as Amazon’s Music Unlimited that was just released last week. So, with all of these options how do you possibly pick the streaming service that is right for you? Well, it has honestly come down to preference. Each service is very similar and usually differs based off of small feature differences. Perhaps try each service’s free trial to see which one you like best. Personally, my favorite is Spotify. They have been around the longest and are constantly introducing new innovative features. I also find their user interface to be the friendliest.

For all you coaches out there, always keep in mind that music plays a massive roll in athletics. I’m sure you see many of your players listening to music in the locker room or on the way to games trying to get focused, relax a little, or pumped up before game time. One of the coolest features with Spotify is the ability to share playlists. Perhaps try creating a playlist with your team that you could then all access. Personalize it however you’d like and let all of your players add to it. This could be a great way for your team members to bond a little and get a taste of what each player listens to. Music undeniably brings people together and these streaming services make that experience easier than ever.

Wearable TechMonday, October 17th, 2016

chrisMChris Mateer, Front Rush

I remember a cool fall day sometime around 10 years ago. My high school coach handed me a watch about the size of a hockey puck and told me to put it on for my training run. “It’s a GPS watch”, he said, “It will let you know exactly how fast you are running the entire time.” I had heard of GPS watches, but had never tried one out. The idea seemed silly and a little ridiculous. Why did we need this information when we never had before? Did our coach not trust we were running fast enough, far enough?

Now having spent years on the other side of the tracks in the coaching world, the answer is a lot clearer than it was to my 16-year-old self. The more you know, the better you can predict performance and plan workouts.

GPS watches are just one example of the rising tide of wearable technology tied to athletics. From heart rate monitors to devices that can measure blood lactate, there is an amazing amount of technology that can better help coaches condition their athletes and predict performance.  

The Classics

GPS Watch

GPS watches have gone from being a novelty in the running world to a staple. Before any group run, you will now see half the group wandering in a circle holding one arm up, hoping that extra foot is all that is needed to connect to the satellites. These watches track distance, current pace, average pace, and numerous other features depending on how complex (read: expensive) of a watch you’re looking to invest in. The feedback is instant and available with just a glance at your wrist.

For longer, evenly paced runs, GPS watches can provide invaluable feedback. With occasional exceptions, a consistent or gradually increasing pace is one that will provide the most benefits from a training run. Start off too fast and you’ll be running on fumes at the end, digging yourself into a hole for the next hard effort on the schedule. Start off too slow, and you might be missing some benefits of that particular effort.

For the coach, this data is a gold mine. Being able to see exactly how your athletes handle a set pace can give great insights into where their fitness lies. The best thing about the data that a GPS watch can provide is that it will not just tell you the average pace for the run, but a breakdown by kilometer or by mile. Did your athletes speed up as the run progressed or were they slowing down? If they’re struggling to hold pace, they may be starting too fast, not fully recovered from a past session, or not ready for the level they’re asked to be training at.

Heart Rate Monitors

Heart rate training was all the craze in the 90’s, taking the endurance world by storm alongside homemade sleeveless shirts and Walkmen. The general idea behind heart rate training is that specific heart rates can be tied to specific training zones. Our base of knowledge behind training theory has progressed however, complicating a once pleasantly simple theory.

The limitations to heart rate training are twofold: (1) heart rate can be influenced by factors outside of exercise intensity and (2) heart rate does not always directly reflect intensity. Studies have shown that heart rate during competition is often 10+ beats per minute higher than with the same intensity outside of competition. This is due to the adrenaline and additional stimulation that comes with competition. Keep in mind competition is only the setting that was studied. Plenty of outside factors can artificially stimulate heart rate, such as school related stress, a locker room argument, or seeing that cute guy on the team crushing an interval across the track. Furthermore, some athletes will report varying levels of effort at the same heart rate. Efficiency can and will widely between individuals.

Despite this, there is still some very valuable data that can be gleaned from heart rate training. Primarily, heart rate training can tell you when something is wrong. As long as a coach is familiar with an athlete’s normal heart rate for certain efforts, abnormalities can be detected almost immediately. If an athlete is lagging off a normal pace and her heart rate is through the roof, it might be time to scale back on the intensity. Odds are, this is the first sign of overtraining or some new stresses in the athlete’s life that are creeping into practice.

The New Wave

Blood Lactate Monitor

Blood lactate level is essentially the new heart rate training. Although lactic acid has been misunderstood in the past, the consensus remains that as the level of lactate in the blood increases, we fatigue and slow down. Lactic acid, along with other acidic by-products, are the result of anaerobic exercise. The better we can clear out and use these waste products, the further back we can push fatigue. The only problem is, unlike the simplicity of tracking heart rate, measuring blood lactate generally requires pricking an athlete’s finger repeatedly and running tests on their blood, all while they are exercising at a very high intensity.

A very new device is changing all of this. BSX Athletics has developed a device that is no larger than an iPod shuffle and can measure blood lactate in a completely non-invasive manner.  The device works through shining near-infrared light into the muscle and analyzing oxygen delivery in the muscle. Although it is still in its early stages of development, the accuracy has been reported to be within 90-97% of direct blood testing. However, with a $300 price tag, it may be some time before the portable blood lactate monitor becomes a mainstay among college athletic departments.

Power Output

Power output is the gold standard for cyclists, but still has yet to full transfer over to the rest of the sporting world. This is largely due to the fact there has yet to be a fool-proof way of measuring it. Power is an absolutely objective measure of how hard an athlete is running, regardless of conditions, terrain, or incline. While heart rate and blood lactate measure fatigue internal to the athlete, power output is all-inclusive. The wattage an athlete is producing exists independently of an athlete’s heart rate and blood lactate and the external environment. It is a completely objective measure of power and exertion.

A start-up known as Athlete Architect is working on a device that measures power output by measuring changes in speed versus an athlete’s given body weight. The device has not been perfected, however, and is still reporting roughly a 10% margin of error. Once this margin of error is narrowed down, we may be seeing a revolution in the way we can design and measure our training intensities. Soon, we may be shooting for a specific wattage, rather than a pace or heart rate.

What about my Fitbit and Apple Watch?

The Fitbit and Apple Watch are designed for general fitness and not the competitive athlete. Measuring steps outside of practice, calorie intake, and weight, can do far more harm than good for an athlete who is already pushing their body to the limit on a daily basis. Athletes are competitive and often obsessive, and the ability to measure and track exercise outside of practice is something that should be actively discouraged. When practice ends, recovery begins.

One great silver lining of the Fitbit, however, is the sleep tracker. During sleep, the body recovers and produces the HGH needed to rebuild muscles from intense exercise. Despite this, the life of a student athlete is far from ideal for getting the required 8-9 hours needed for top performance. Encouraging athletes to track their sleep patterns and be aware of not getting enough could be the key to staying healthy and performing at the top level when it counts.

When to Unplug

Technology should not be ever present when training. If you’re going out the door for a comfortable, relaxed effort with the main goal being recovery, leave the GPS watch at home. Athletes are competitive by nature. Being reminded of pace or effort on recovery days will only get in the way of staying relaxed enough to recover for future, key efforts.
Also, at a certain point in the season, some hard efforts can and should be done watch-less and without constant, external feedback. During competition, athletes need to be able to rely solely on internal feedback. Removing external feedback from the workout will force athletes to key in on an effort level, rather than a set pace, heart rate, or even power output. Come race or game day, this will leave them well prepared and able to respond to their own bodies. Finally, there is a time and place to just cut loose and go hard. I’ll leave you with this video showing dozens of Kenyan athletes trying to keep up with one of the best marathoners in the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shsKtA9yMukf

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