Strength athletes (powerlifters, strongman, weightlifters, etc) like all athletes can and will benefit from the use of modern technology. From portable EEG, heart rate monitors, HRV monitoring, blood pressure, Velocity tracking and the list could go on and on.
The world of athletic performance enhancement has grown exponentially from the days where simply prescribing a certain set of reps and sets alongside a given load and expect our athletes to complete the movements and training sessions day in and day out without any real knowledge on how those stressors alongside on training related stressors can and will affect performance on a day to day basis.
We now live in a world that is filled with wonderful tech that can measure all the biomarkers our heart desire in order to get a real-time snapshot of how our athletes are handling training loads as well as outside pressers AKA life.
This article we are going to take a look at some of the more accessible pieces of tech that any and all athletes can get their hands on to monitor their readiness, recovery, and overall performance.
Since the title is specifically about strength athletes lets explain that on a more microscopic level. Most strength athletes are recreational athletes there is no real system in place that allows them to be elite or professional, only a select few can compete in world’s strongest man and only a few powerlifters make money off of sponsors, and Olympic weightlifters are lucky enough to have their sport in the Olympics.
Depending on your countries policies toward funding Olympic athletes will determine if you can make a 100% effort at that sport. We are getting into the economics of athletes here and that’s not the point of this article I know. The point is that modern day sports tech has become extremely affordable. Making it that much easier for recreational athletes to get a hold of them. We are going to run through some of the biofeedback/ performance devices any strength athlete can get their hands on and how it is possibly a benefit for them to use them.
Heart Rate Monitors (HRM)
That’s right you guessed it. Heart rate monitors are the first on the list. Heart rate monitors simply take the average heart rate of an individual at any given time. It can monitor when you are in the proper training zone and help you know when to hit another set (recovery) or when you need to increase intensity or reduce intensity.
There are two main types of HRM’s. Those that measure using ECG (Electrocardiography) and those that measure using PPG (Photoplethysmography).
ECG monitors are those that are generally strapped on to the chest with a small module that sits in the center. They measure via electrical signals by the expansion and contraction of the heart chambers. These monitors tend to be more reliable and accurate across most applications.
PPG monitors are the monitors you find on activity trackers, wrist-worn HRMs and other ergonomic products. They take measurements via light that measures the flow of blood due to the heart’s pumping action.
For strength athletes who are training multiple sets, I recommend the use of an HRM to help determine when they are ready to hit another set. (80-90BPM on average) Or for the strongman and woman reading this it is a great tool to know how hard you have pushed it on say a truck pull or an intense series of atlas stones.
Again it is also a great tool to know when you can hit the second round once you have hit a comfortable HR, but of course, this all depends on what your training goals are.
If you are looking to increase your aerobic fitness then you may not want to have you HR return back to a comfortable level you may want it to be alleviated. Again it all depends on your training Goals. Simply put an HRM is a great way to assess overall heart health, as well as quantify your efforts.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
HRV is the measure of time between beats or R-R intervals. This variation has been linked by many scientific studies to health where high HRV is a showcase of good health and low HRV is a showcase of stress, overtraining, and overreaching. It is a snapshot of how the autonomic nervous system (parasympathetic and sympathetic) is functioning.
These changes can determine how your body reacts to stress or how well you recover from stress. Without going into the specific ins and outs of HRV (that is for another article) let’s take a look at why a strength athlete may want to start measuring HRV and how it is taken.
Parasympathetic activation or calming or stress-reducing action is something that may be lacking in many athletes in this field considering the enormous amount of sympathetic or excitement is involved in lifting heavy loads constantly.
It has been proven that continuously heavy training session have an adverse effect on HRV which is turn can lead to overtraining and possible illness. So It is imperative that strength athletes get a sense of what the prior days training has done to their ability to recover and measuring your HRV is a scientifically proven not to mention now convenient way to do it.
HRV can now be measured with a heart rate monitor and a smartphone application. Measuring your daily HRV has never been easier. Download a free application and use the HRM I hope you have already bought and you are on your way. However, there is evidence that using EEG heart rate monitors is more accurate. They are currently developing the tech to use PPG devices, however. I personally use a Polar H7 and Elite HRV but there a wealth of applications that can be used. I like used elite HRV because they take into account metadata (previous days workout, sleep, etc)
It is important that you take your measurements daily and in a consistent manner (same place, same duration, same position, and same breathing style) Also another key point is to not become dependent on the value you get every day. HRV monitoring is simply a tool that will help you make decisions for yourself or your athletes. Do not live or die by it.
Velocity/Power Tracking (VBT)
This is a relatively new form or training technology. What I mean by that is that now everyone has access to it. It was typically only available to those in studies or elite athletes. Now everyone can simply buy a velocity tracking device and reap the benefits it offers.
Velocity training is simply when you measure the speed of any given movement. Depending on your training goals you will either have to add or remove or keep the weight. For example, If you are training as a powerlifter and want to increase your explosive capabilities than according to the strength curve you should be moving 75-85% of your one rep max at approximately 0.8 meters per second.
If you are either moving too fast or too slow would determine if you are either in a good state (well recovered) or bad state(under recovered). If you are hitting the number exactly then you are in the optimal zone. That is just a basic example.
It can also be used to test maxes and help determine if more weight is possible or to cut it off. For example, if you are looking for a new max and say you have a previous one RM of 500 in the squat.
You take your first rep at 475 and hit 0.5 m/s. It is more than safe to add some weight. You decide to match your old max and put 500 on the bar. You take it and hit 0.4m/s. This may indicate that you can add a little more and you go to 510. At this point, you take it and hit 0.2m/s. You just hit a new personal record and the numbers you received prior to taking it gave you the confidence to do so.
There are plenty of more things VBT can offer strength athletes but I am not writing a book here. I personally use the PUSH strength device alongside the mobile application. But once again the market is growing and there are other options available as well.
Brain Sensing Devices (EEG)
We have covered a variety of devices and technology that help quantify and improve the physical side of athletes. We all know that a major aspect of any competition be it strength athletics or not the mental game of an athlete is critical to success.
There are plenty of techniques used to help improve mental function. Only recently was there a way for anyone to quantify those techniques, enter devices like MUSE. Muse combines the use of mindfulness meditation with that of EEG (electroencephalogram).
An EEG is the recording and monitoring of the communication between regions and cells of the brain. These communications make electrical signals. Which comes in a variety of frequency waves which in turn can determine your overall state of mind.
There is no debate that mindfulness meditation works for thousands of athletes. Being able to have a device that both guides you as well as records your sessions is important. The anxiety of competition, as well as training, can put extreme stress on your performance. Meditation is a great way to mitigate that stress or at least manage it.
As technology grows and science expands the number of sports performance related tech is only going to get both more affordable and convenient to use. Athletes from all levels will benefit. We covered only four ways in which to monitor performance. Heart rate, Heart rate variability, Velocity, and brain function, which you can simply pick up at best buy now. It is a great time to be a recreational athlete or elite athlete for that matter.
Do not be closed minded to some of the more consumer able techs in the sports performance realm. Be critical of it and make sure they are backed by real science. Take full advantage of biofeedback and tech when you can. It could be the difference between a small personal best or a larger one. A possible injury or being in the best condition pre-comp.
These are all tools and are not meant to make or break an athlete. We can all assume coaches get where they are because they are good at what they do. These are simple ways to add on to any strength athletes abilities. Also to get a wider snapshot of their performance and where they can make up some ground!