Citius altius fortius: faster, higher, stronger! Mankind’s everlasting quest to explore boundaries has been the driving force behind training and hence improvement and growth. Sports is no different. People love to see new records and athletes performing to their best. Winning and peak performance are the main mantras here.
Training essential for future performance
In order to improve his or her performance, the modern athlete has many tools available nowadays. In order to do this, training is ultimately important. In fact, training allows the body to build strength and endurance, it improves skills and builds motivation, ambition and confidence. But this is not everything! Training also reduces chances on injuries, it improves team tactics and cooperation and teaches athletes to recognise match situations. The sheer repetition and hours of practice replicates match situations and leads to neural pathways which make it easier to perform.
Modern athlete has many training tools to choose from
Whereas in the past training was particularly focussed on the athlete’s physical , there is now increased awareness that emotional, mental and spiritual fitness is as important in order to realize peak performance. In this perspective a whole new array of new practice/training methods have come and will come to the fore, many of these having a technology angle attached to it. With these methods the modern and future athlete will have a much bigger and often tailormade toolbox at his fingertips.
Below we discuss 11 tools that can help athletes to improve performance.
11 training tools that can help performance
1. Gamification: training and gaming!
Games are ideal to learn new skills and train sports. They maximize enjoyment and engagement through capturing the interest of learners and inspiring them to do better. Well hey! You want to reach the next level, don’t you? Then you first have to learn the skills of level one! There is nothing more to it. Certainly younger generations are used to gaming and are embracing gamification in sports. Sheer repetition in a positive environment does train the brain and hence the body. Take for example the ballwall of Multiball (see video below).
This is a much more focussed way of throwing a ball at a target and clearly improves the level of play and effectiveness. By incentivizing training through games, athletes tend to learn quicker. What to think for example of Dribble up, which is a smart soccer ball. This ball enables you to improve and to train your technique at home by adding game elements. But also wellknown evergreens such as Strava, Nike Run club and Runkeeper have integrated some great and motivating gamification elements, which make it much more fun to practice
2. Virtual Reality allowing for higher quality training
Virtual Reality should be a dream! Not only for players, but also for trainers and coaches. With the help of VR, athletes can train from whatever location in the world. With 5G allowing for ultrafast streaming of data collected from sensors and wearables, athletes now can transfer their necessary realtime data to their coaches, who simultaneously can watch what they are doing. Data combined with vision will make the jobs of the coach a lot easier. Think for example about a golf player who has a problem with his swing during a tournament and cannot assess what the problem is. The coach/trainer now can be at his site analyzing the problem from his armchair.
But wait, there is more! What to think of virtual arenas where real game situations can be simulated. This way tactical and strategical skills training of players and teams can be hugely enhanced. In fact it will be much easier, safer and cheaper for these players. VR can for example substitute human pitchers and allow players to practice hitting for as long as they want. Such training can help a lot! Players can strike as many balls as they want, whether it is a curve or fast ball. Simultaneously pitchers do not overstrain their arms! Pretty useful for both I would say.
3. Motion capture can assess the athlete’s strenghts and weaknesses
Motion capture is becoming increasingly important in the training of an athlete. How can an athlete perform to the max and get that extra one percentage point? He or she can do that by analyzing his or her movements, posture etc. This way strengths and weaknesses and areas of improvement can be determined. Training schedules can be adjusted to allow for this.
Motion capture can also identify ways how the athlete can improve his technique, accuracy, power, balance etc and hence improve. It is this little extra that can make the difference between winning and losing, between peak and weak performance. Imagine for example a golfer. The golfswing consists of so many different movements that the ideal swing probably does not exist, particularly as the biomechanics of every golfer are different. Think of what motion capture combined with AI can do here. It’s just one of the many examples. In the video (click link) you will find another good one. It explains how cyclists can improve using motion analysis during their training.
4. Neuro training, training the brain
What? What do you mean by neurocoaching? It is nothing more and nothing less than training the brain to function better. Surely you have heard of meditation and visualisation, which do lead to improved performance. It has proven over and over again that meditation is good for almost everything: whether it is focus, sleep, the immune system, blood pressure, creativity or learning and much much more. Hence it should be of no surprise that there are an increasing number of athletes that are using meditation in training.
Visualisation is also something which many athletes are using frequently. I am sure you can recall golfers visualising their shots or skiers preparing themselves for a run by mentally visualising the course and movements. It has proven this helps a lot! Some of you might remember the basketball experiment in which a group of basketball players were sitting in a chair while visualising freethrows. They realised the same improvement as the group that were actually making these freethrows on the court for real. It shows what mental training can do! I would say both meditating and visualisation are forms of neurocaching and/or braintraining.
Well now, you might say, nothing new or spectacular there. However, there is much, much more that you can do in order to improve your performance through neurocoaching. Mapping and optimizing the brain, that’s what we are talking about! Mind and body are interrelated. In fact the brain steers the body as you might well know. Brain stimulation and rewiring the brain can really lead to a significant improvement in things like accuracy, the ability to learn, split decision making, focus, reaction time, endurance, power, movement etc.
In the end it is all about the brain and creating new neural pathways. Electrical stimulation can speed up learning and hence performance levels. There are many companies that are active in this field. They try to optimize the cooperation between body and brain in order to realise the ideal state for performance in specific sports. Notably, even the state of flow which so many athletes have experienced when realising their peak performance, can be realised in some cases.Don’t underestimate this all. If for example reaction times can go up by as much as 10% by using some of these techniques, you are talking serious business.
I won’t elaborate any further. In fact there are so many angles to this subject that It is worth a separate post in itself! I might do that some time;-)
5. Augmented Reality offering athlete a great training tool
Augmented Reality is an excellent tool for training purposes and for learning new skills. A whole range of new situations and environments can be displayed and simulated. This way you can develop strategies for such occasions in case of happening. This will make your training session much more effective. Players will be able to improve their technique and skills using real time video and overlays.
Coaches and players are already adapting AR solutions in this field. Think for example of overlay techniques helping you in replicating the swing of your favorite golfer. But augmented reality is also an excellent tool to display live data. Think about smart glasses and even lenses that provide you with your real time training data, heart rate etc. The possibilities are endless and might even increasingly disrupt the job of coach/trainer. The two videos below are exemplifying what is possible in above mentioned perspectives.
6. Robots will be ideally suitable for training and coaching purposes
In fact, there are already robots which serve as ideal dummies in for example rugby or American Football. This way injuries are being avoided! Similarly in the video below you see a robot boxer, that is an ideal sparring partner and which is helping you improving your move, sheer through repetition of movement. Below you see a few examples of how robots can help out, but clearly there are many more.
7. Sensors: measuring is knowing
Sensors are already a household feature in today’s training and they are here to stay. In fact they will become even more important as more and more body functions can be measured. Posture, biometrics, heart rate, hydration, sweat, you name it! Measuring is knowing and athletes and trainers will make use of it to further improve.
But it is not only (body)sensors measuring our body-functions that will gain importance. Also sensors in smart textiles and sports equipment will gain traction. Expect info on speed of the ball, smashfactors, hit-rates, spin-rates, heatmaps, biometrics etc. Live real time analysis backed up by data! Smart textiles might for example tell you wether your posture is right or not. Watch the video below, where smart yoga clothing tells you wether your posture is right or not.
That’s just yoga! No doubt sports like golf and tennis where arm and body movement are important will follow suit. These will be very useful for training purposes. But shirts will also be increasingly able to analyse and give feedback on your sweat or heartrate during your training. This way you can prevent dehydration or lactic acid build up in your leg muscles. It also will be much more comfortable than the wellknown straps around your body.
Sensors in sportsequipment also will come in handy for training purposes. Sensors can be integrated in nearly anything. Think of sensors in helmets which can measure hits (gives data on potential concussions), golfballs (smashfactor, rotation, flight etc), balls in general (measuring speed and impact), starting blocks in athletics or swimming, skis,vests, racing saddles, boats, race cars. Think of it and you can fantasize yourself! All these applications may give incredibly useful info to the person using it.
Also interesting to read: How sensors are positively transforming the world of sports
8. Artificial Intelligence: a smart training machine
Let’s first briefly define what Artificial Intelligence (AI) is. It is what the word suggests, an intelligence that is artificial! It is programmed by humans in order to perform tasks done by humans and requiring human intelligence. Tasks that lend themselves for AI are for example speech and image recognition, decision making and analysis. So yes, your Siri and Alexa are applications of artificial intelligence. Basically everything which can be translated into data lends itself for AI. So, is it a thinking machine? Bang on! That’s what it is. And smart it is!
So how can AI be used for training purposes in sports? Short answer: data analysis! With the help of sensors, basically all kind of datapoints can be collected, whether it be biomechanics, heart rate, breathing, lung capacity, muscle movement, posture or whatever you can think of. This athlete specific info provides extremely useful information which can be analyzed. AI is using these datapoints to come up with tailor made solutions for each individual athlete (each athlete has different bodymetrics).
Think for example how and how much and when he should train, load, when and what to eat before or after training, how to avoid injuries etc. There will be no longer one solution for all but only tailor made solutions for each and every athlete. This should also help coaches a lot, as they will be much better equipped now in what training is best for what player. This way he or she can be much more effective in working towards the peak performance of his players. In the end it is all about the data!
Also interesting to read: 10 striking predictions about the future of sports
9. Drones: analyzing your training from the sky
Clearly, a birds eye view gives a different perspective compared to a worms eye one when practicing. From above, it is much easier to analyse patterns, game tactics and strategy. Drones are not only able to fly around, they also are equipped with cameras, which can record training sessions or games. After such a session, the recordings can be studied in detail and adjustments can be made to individual and team behaviour, training and tactics. In this perspective drones should be seen as a very useful training tool!
10. Simulation: training at home has become easier
Covid 19 has proven it. Training at home is becoming common place, particularly as we have the necessary technology to do it. Smart mirrors brands such as Mirror and Fittar and like tell you exactly what to do and which training you want to pursue. Video teachers (yoga with Adriene) instruct you how to train, whilst simultaneously giving a sense of community. Apps like Strava and Runkeeper keep track of your training and again make you part of a community. Simulation software like Zwift (cycling), F1 (racing), tennis make it even possible to compete with others, again making training at home more fun. Don’t expect this trend to disappear once Covid
11. Aquatic training
A new form of training as of recent is underwater training. A company called Aquabred (watch this video) has taken fitness to a whole different level. It is putting fitness equipment such as free weights, treadmills, bikes, medicine balls, bench presses, and squat racks to the bottom of the swimming pool. Using these will build up muscles that are not used in standard training and build your lungs. Several NFL players (most notable the Oakland Raiders) have experienced the benefits of this new form of training and I would not be surprised if this will be a common form of training in the future.