Coaching Weightlifting in the Age of Sport Technology

04-07-2017 Anna Swisher

The level of sophistication in training athletes, including weightlifters, has increased exponentially over the last few decades. An explosion of tech products, such as wireless accelerometers, fitness trackers, motion-capture systems, barbell trackers, and apps for seemingly everything, has given coaches and athletes the ability to measure and track virtually anything. Now that technology has opened up what is possible, the focus must shift towards learning what is worth tracking and how it can be integrated into decision making.

Weightlifting coaches are well versed in weightlifting technique, training, and tactics, but are often less familiar with sport technology. As technology in sport becomes ubiquitous, coaches can benefit from learning more about what to consider when selecting and adopting devices. 

What can technology do for a weightlifter and coach? 

Though it can be a powerful tool, technology cannot accurately predict sport performance, replace common sense, or give definitive answers about how to optimally train lifters. Information from technology does not hand answers to a coach about training and performance, but rather allows a coach to ask better questions. 

 Technology expands what a coach can see and measure, effectively augmenting the coach’s subjective observations and intuitions. The well-trained eye of a veteran coach is a wonderful tool, but at the elite level, where razor-thin margins separate the top performers, using sport technology to aid in athlete monitoring can be a big advantage. Here are three questions to guide you as you consider adopting new technology.

Is the technology reliable and valid?

Reliability can be thought of as repeatability, meaning that if you weigh someone on a scale once every ten seconds for two minutes, the scale should show the same mass at each reading.1 If the scale fluctuates by nine pounds over the twelve readings, the data is not reliable and therefore is worthless to a coach. Both intra- and inter-session reliability are critical when using fitness trackers, force plates, calipers, accelerometers, or anything else that tracks data longitudinally over time to inform coaches and athletes about the training state of the athlete.1,2 Coaches can work to enhance reliability by using the average of multiple trials rather than a single effort, always testing under the same conditions (e.g., same time of day, same level of hydration, same tester), and using calibrated, quality equipment.1,2  

 Validity means that the test or measurement is truly representative of the ability or trait being measured. For example, a one-rep max bench press may be a reliable test, but is not a valid measure of aerobic endurance. The validity of new technology is often assessed by looking at the degree of agreement between gold-standard equipment and the device in question. Assessing validity is nearly impossible when companies create proprietary variables such as “remaining energy” and “total effort” as these are unknown amalgamations of multiple sources of input. These metrics purport to help make the coach’s analysis easier by collating information into “coach friendly” categories, but may lead the coach to erroneous conclusions.

 Coaches should use directly measurable metrics such as peak barbell velocity or jump height rather than “reactive ability” or “remaining energy” to ensure that the data is valid. Coaches should also avoid comparing values between devices as the variance between devices can be very large.3 This can be due to methodological differences in how a variable is calculated and how the data is filtered and smoothed.3,4 Even if the device you select has some variance from the gold-standard measurement technique, as long as the measurements have high reliability, it can be a helpful tool to use to track changes over time.

What variables/metrics should be tracked?

As “big data” comes to sport, coaches must grapple with how to mine meaningful information out of the mountains of data collected from new devices. Collecting a lot of data is relatively easy, but analyzing data and turning it into actionable outputs for a group of lifters after each training session can be complex and incredibly time consuming. The human and financial resources required to run an athlete monitoring program are considerable and perhaps only widely feasible at the highest levels of sport.2 

 Specific variables to consider when monitoring weightlifters include peak barbell velocity, peak power output, peak rate of force development, barbell trajectory, testosterone to cortisol ratio, anthropometrical measurements, and vertical jump; these may provide valuable information about an athlete’s trained state and training progress.2,3,5-9 This list is not exhaustive, and there are promising new findings each year, such as examining force asymmetry in the lower body, that might further assist coaches in training lifters.10

How does the data influence training decisions and fit into the athlete monitoring plan? 

Some of the challenges with new devices are that we don’t yet know what information is valuable and how the detailed streams of information should inform training choices. When peak power drops unexpectedly but the lifter can still make the lifts/reps in a workout without problem, should the coach act to change training on account of the new info about power? 

 It is a good idea, when possible, to collect several weeks or months of baseline data to get a sense of how a particular variable fluctuates in a lifter prior to using the data to inform training decisions. There are highly individual responses in many variables, such as heart rate and power output, so setting an arbitrary threshold for action is not recommended.11,12 Coaches should understand the trends and implications of the baseline data and continue to monitor the same lifter longitudinally rather than analyze group data for guidance. 

 Once baseline data has been collected, a coach should consider selecting a few key variables to augment the other existing athlete monitoring practices that influence athlete programming. A coach might collect weekly vertical jump data in weightlifters including jump height, peak force, impulse, peak power, and rate of force development to see if changes in any of these variables are reflective of fatigue levels. If jump height remains stable over several months of training with both high and low training volumes, the coach learns that jump height lacks the sensitivity to reflect fatigue levels. However, if the coach sees that impulse and peak power data from the jumps is more sensitive to changes in training volume, that data may be valuable as part of a larger pool of information used to monitor a lifter’s training.

Conclusion

An accelerometer would be hard pressed to identify when an athlete is burned out by training, coming down with a cold, or nervous about an upcoming contest. However, carefully chosen and implemented sport technology does have the potential to be a valuable supplemental source of information.  Just as coaches must know tactical and biomechanical aspects of weightlifting, the profession is evolving such that coaches must be competent in using sport technology. To be most effective, coaches must first understand sport technology’s strengths and limitations and how to incorporate it into decision making. 

References

  1. Vincent W.; Weir J. Statistics in Kinesiology. 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2012.
  2. Stone MH, Stone ME, Sands WA. Principles and Practice of Resistance Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2007.
  3. McMaster DT, Gill N, Cronin J, McGuigan M. A brief review of strength and ballistic assessment methodologies in sport. Sports medicine (Auckland, NZ) 2014;44:603-23.
  4. Cormie P, McCaulley GO, Triplett NT, McBride JM. Optimal loading for maximal power output during lower-body resistance exercises. Medicine and science in sports and exercise 2007;39:340-9.
  5. Carlock JM, Smith SL, Hartman MJ, et al. The relationship between vertical jump power estimates and weightlifting ability: a field-test approach. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 2004;18:534-9.
  6. Stone MH, Sands WA, Pierce KC, Carlock J, Cardinale M, Newton RU. Relationship of maximum strength to weightlifting performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise 2005;37:1037-43.
  7. Crewther B, Cronin J, Keogh J, Cook C. The salivary testosterone and cortisol response to three loading schemes. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 2008;22:250-5.
  8. Garhammer J. Power production by Olympic weightlifters. Medicine and science in sports and exercise 1980;12:54-60.
  9. Musser LJ, Garhammer J, Rozenek R, Crussemeyer JA, Vargas EM. Anthropometry and barbell trajectory in the snatch lift for elite women weightlifters. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 2014;28:1636-48.
  10. Sato K, Heise GD. Influence of weight distribution asymmetry on the biomechanics of a barbell back squat. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 2012;26:342-9.
  11. Argus CK, Gill ND, Keogh JW, Hopkins WG. Assessing the variation in the load that produces maximal upper-body power. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association 2014;28:240-4.
  12. Racinais S, Buchheit M, Bilsborough J, Bourdon PC, Cordy J, Coutts AJ. Physiological and performance responses to a training camp in the heat in professional Australian football players. International journal of sports physiology and performance 2014;9:598-603.

 

Anna Swisher

About Anna Swisher

Anna Swisher, is the US Director of Education and Performance at Eleiko as well as a co-creator and lead instructor for the Eleiko Strength Coach International Level 1 and 2 courses. Anna has worked as a university professor, sport scientist, strength and conditioning coach, track and field coach, and research laboratory manager.

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