The world of professional sports continues to embrace tech innovations at a rapid rate. The use of tech like sensors, wearables, and data collection and analysis by sports teams and individual athletes is exciting news for the average fitness buff or tech geek as well, because elite professionals are often testing out innovations that will eventually become available to consumers.
"Sports are a great proving ground for this type of tech, because nobody puts their body through more physical stress than elite athletes who push their limits every day," says Tom Postema, a certified strength and conditioning specialist who has experience with tracking technology in several sports. Postema points to Heart Rate Variability (HRV) as one particularly useful metric that athletes are tracking. "HRV is different from heart rate, in that it measures the variation in heartbeats," Postema says. "You can hook yourself up to a heart rate monitor, connect to a smartphone app and get a number that says how recovered or stressed you are," he adds. "You can look at the day or days prior to see what impacted your score. Physical stress, mental stress, sleep and other recovery factors all play a role in the score."
Fitness wearables aren’t just for the wrist anymore, and can track more metrics than ever. "Coaches and sports administrators are realizing that they can get the most out of their athletes by using advanced wearable technologies," says Saurabh Radhakrishnan, co-founder of GraphWear, a company that makes a wearable patch that tracks dehydration, glucose and lactic acid, and that has worked with professional sports teams. "A football player’s performance can decrease 20-25% within just 10 minutes of a game due to dehydration," Radhakrishnan says. "The ability to analyze sweat would open up a new door of athletic monitoring."
In addition to wearables and data analysis, robotics are coming into play in sports like golf that require a level of precision usually found in mechanical devices. "If you want to achieve the muscle memory needed for the ideal swing, you need to be able to practice that same identical swing thousands of times," says Gil Sery, co-founder of Robo Innovations, a company that makes robots to help golfers learn how to achieve the perfect putt and swing. "As human beings, every swing we take is just slightly different from the one we took before. Thus, it is simply not physically possible for humans to do what we need to achieve this goal of multiple, identical repetitions," Sery says. "A robot, on the other hand, is capable of doing the identical stroke thousands or even millions of times in a row. This mechanical precision is the reason that only with the help of technology are we able to achieve our sport-related goal of the ideal golf swing."
So who will be the first to adopt technology pioneered on the field, track and course? Sery has an idea. "A lot of sports have so-called 'weekend warriors' — those people who work a day job during the week, but who go hiking or rock climbing or do some other sport on the weekends," he notes. "These kinds of people could definitely adopt athlete-tested technology. Then there are the early adopters and 'tech geek' fans — people who love buying and using the latest technological gadget. These people may be interested in using athlete-tested technology as well," Sery predicts.
Postema thinks that Heart Rate Variability monitors could also go mainstream. "Executives or anyone looking to optimize their performance can benefit from this (technology). By monitoring their HRV regularly, they can figure out what they need to do to be their best on their most important work days," Postema says. "They only need to work backwards from a good score to know what they did to get in such a good state. This way, execs can be in an optimal physical and mental state on days they have a big presentation, for example," he says.
Amateur runners, golfers, and tech fans may be excited about adopting tracking technology first developed in the world of professional sports, but they should remember that tracking isn't the full story. "There is some great sports tech out there, but what is really exciting is figuring out how we can apply that data to improve performance," says Postema. "Just tracking data is only part of it. We still need to learn more about how that data can be used to manipulate and optimize training for best results."
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