Strength and conditioning is an art. You can create the best training program in the world, but things don't always go as planned.
No two athletes are alike. Some have different needs, or weaknesses and imbalances. Others don't respond well to certain types of training.
Coaches must carefully assess their athletes, monitor how they're progressing and keep an open dialogue to ensure the athletes can handle intense training. Otherwise, they run the risk of blindly training them, ignoring their needs and failing to reduce the risk of injury—or even causing one if they're not careful.
This is especially difficult in a team setting. It's next to impossible for strength coaches to assess their athletes as frequently as they would like to when managing dozens of athletes.
To help strength coaches—along with sports medicine and sport coaching staffs—monitor athletes, Sparta Science developed SpartaTrac, a software platform that uses data to assess performance.
The foundation of SpartaTrac is the Movement Signature Scan, a standardized assessment that requires athletes to perform six vertical jumps on a force plate, which is a piece of equipment that measures force created by a person standing on it.
The scan assesses three aspects of a jump:
Load - The eccentric force that occurs as you lower into a jump.
Explode - The concentric force that occurs when you extend your hips, knees and ankles to jump.
Vertical Impulse - Your actual jumping height.
The resulting data is displayed as three columns on a bar graph. If any one of the three columns is below a set threshold, or if there's too much separation between the columns, the system indicates one or more risks, which can actually be correlated to various injuries.
"Because we have anonymously aggregated vertical jump data from thousands of athletes longitudinally over seven years, we can provide powerful insights into the meaning of the data," explains Dr. Phil Wagner, owner and founder of Sparta Science, "Armed with these insights, the assessment then allows us to determine where injury risks lie and identify strengths in performance."
For example, based on his or her test scores, the platform might indicate that an athlete is at risk for a hamstring or lower-back injury. The strength and conditioning staff can then take action to get ahead of the injury before it happens by implementing corrective exercises or training strategies.
There's no guesswork. The data drives the decision.
"We test them and get their profile. If their profile is good, we try to enhance their profile. If the profile doesn't fit the position they play, then we try to alter their profile," says Andrea Hudy, assistant athletic director for sports performance the the University of Kansas.
The result: athletes who are more resistant to injury and coaching staffs that are happy because fewer athletes are injured.
"We have the University of San Francisco who since starting using the software [in 2012] has reported a five-figure decrease in athletic insurance premiums due to significantly reduced injuries," says Wagner. "Old Dominion University is one of our newer partners, and in only a year they have had a 50 percent reduction in players showing moderate or high injury risk."
SpartaTrac data can also be used for intelligent performance training. Hudy and her staff can look at the assessment scores and fine-tune an athlete's workouts to shift his or her force output to where it should be for their sport and position. Again, there's little guesswork. The test shows the underlying factors that contribute to the athlete's performance.
"What we want to do is create the most consistent force-producing athlete that we can so that they can have consistent skill development in their sport," adds Hudy.
The performance data is so reliable that many programs, including the Atlanta Falcons, use SpartaTrac to assess prospects.
SpartaTrac is currently being used by nearly 30 pro and collegiate programs, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Diego Padres and Golden State Warriors. Look for the platform to continue growing as coaches realize the benefits of having data drive their decision making.
To learn more, check out SpartaScience.com.