KPIs: What They Are and Why They Matter for Athletes

KPIs guide coaches and trainers in their decision-making and are a hallmark of a good assessment.

The term key performance indicators (KPI) may sound like fancy strength and conditioning jargon, but they're really quite simple.

In this context, a key performance indicator is simply a measurable quality or skill that can be improved by training or lifestyle choice. Obviously, many different things fit that broad definition, and that's why choosing the KPIs you value most is extremely important.

KPIs guide coaches and trainers in their decision-making and are a hallmark of a good assessment. Good training is simply about giving people what they don't have, or improving qualities they could use more of. KPIs help you create that road map.

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The term key performance indicators (KPI) may sound like fancy strength and conditioning jargon, but they're really quite simple.

In this context, a key performance indicator is simply a measurable quality or skill that can be improved by training or lifestyle choice. Obviously, many different things fit that broad definition, and that's why choosing the KPIs you value most is extremely important.

KPIs guide coaches and trainers in their decision-making and are a hallmark of a good assessment. Good training is simply about giving people what they don't have, or improving qualities they could use more of. KPIs help you create that road map.

To really understand KPIs and why they're so important, let's provide some concrete examples.

1. Health and Wellness KPIs

One hour at the gym isn't the hard part. It's what you do the other 23 hours that matters most.

Is the athlete getting enough nutrients to grow and recover? Is he or she sleeping enough? Is their work, home or school stress interfering with recovery or training output? These are important questions to keep in mind when giving somebody a workout.

Traditionally 7-9 hours of sleep has been recommended, but sleep is an individual thing. It's important for the athlete to learn how much sleep they need to feel their best. I would argue that sleep and nutrition are just as important, if not more important, than the training itself. It's really hard to have productive training sessions if there isn't adequate output from the athlete.

A very important aspect of KPIs is that they can be quantified in some way. If you can't measure it, it's not a KPI.

There are many ways to track readiness. One of the most popular pieces of technology is the Omegawave, which looks at physiological markers to indicate daily readiness. However, this type of stuff is not at your everyday gym. Here are some more accessible ways to track daily readiness:

  • Daily questionnaires. (how much sleep did you get last night, what has your nutrition been like over the last 24 hours, rate your current fatigue level, etc.)
  • Resting heart rate. If you know your athletes, you can use their daily resting HR to track readiness
  • Bar speed devices like Gymaware or Tendo give you immediate feedback about performance. If an athlete's numbers are consistently low early in a session, or they are unable to work at a certain output you've come to expect from them, you can reasonably assume they have incurred some type of fatigue
  • Good old conversation. Good coaches know their athletes. I can tell a lot about some of my guys as soon as they walk in the door. A simple "Hey, how are you feeling today?" can go a long way if answered truthfully!

Understanding your athletes and the ability to be variable with your daily plans can go a long with their overall development.

One example of a health/wellness KPI that's often overvalued is the number on the scale. Not only does this fluctuate for a variety of reasons, but the figure tells you little about a person's overall body composition. Tying up a lot of value in the number on the scale rarely makes sense, particularly for athletes. BMI is in the same boat.

RELATED: Why BMI Is Not Fair For Athletes

2. Speed & Strength KPIs

Most people know how important these qualities are and certainly want to improve them. The important thing to remember is that in terms of athletic development, you've got to give the person what they NEED. Great training always starts with this approach.

For example: Players A and B are training together in the offseason. Player A is a catcher. He's a naturally muscular, thick, "bear"-type individual. He has no problem with max strength and will likely benefit little from more muscle mass. Player B is a center fielder. He's a more slender, athletic, "kangaroo"-type individual. He could stand to get stronger and put on some muscle.

Player A probably needs to shift the force-velocity curve a bit more toward the velocity end of things. His deadlift rep scheme at certain points in his programming might look like 6x3 "for speed." This is where devices like Gymaware come in handy to give feedback about each rep. I may tell him, "I need you to move this bar no less than .80m/s each rep." For player A, bar speed will be an important KPI.

On the other hand, Player B may need to shift his curve more toward the force end of things. In the early offseason, I may have him accumulate a little more volume (more reps) to put on more muscle mass, and then as the offseason progresses, increase the load to focus more on force output. During that later phase, the weight on the bar may be the more valuable KPI than the bar speed.

Moving the force-velocity curve in the direction of an individual's needs is a great way to create balanced athleticism. This is one of many example scenarios to prescribe work to athletes. It's important to remember that a thorough evaluation is always warranted, and that each individual is unique.

What might a misguided KPI look like for a baseball player? Tying up a lot of value in say, their 1.5-mile run time, could be one example. Why put a high value on something that's so far outside the demands of the athlete's actual sport? And remember, what we value influences how we train. Do we really want to spend time training aerobic endurance when we could be getting faster and more powerful instead?

3. Movement Quality and Flexibility KPIs

This is another hot topic that people know to be important. Indeed, movement quality and flexibility is an extremely important factor in good training.

In addition to considering resting posture and active/passive ROM, I like to watch people move before I even touch them in an assessment.

Can they touch their toes? How do they handle themselves in a Squat or Lunge? What does their Push-Up look like?

Imagine this: A young man complains of arm pain after months of unsuccessful "band" work." During the assessment, he shows me five Push-Ups that fall well short of acceptable standards. The lumbar is extended, the cervical spine flexed, and there is a massive scapular anterior tilt/humeral glide at the bottom. Not good!

There are other factors to consider obviously, but now I know this person has poor upper-body strength and poor control over the rib cage, and now I have a good idea about where I want to go with the rest of the assessment and subsequent training.

If the rib cage is in a bad position, so is the scapula, which in turn puts the shoulder in compromised positions. This is why position matters!

This is also why it's important not to blindly and aggressively stretch. For example, if someone complains of chronic hamstrings tightness but can palm the floor on a toe touch, I can infer that it's not a tissue rigidity issue. This person probably needs to learn how to control their pelvis. Can they actively raise the leg in a supine position? Remember that mobility is active control.

There are all sorts of different assessments one can use to quantify movement quality and flexibility, but the important thing is that you do have some sort of assessments you can use as KPIs to gauge progress. Again, KPIs don't have to be complicated. It can be something as simple as how they look doing a Push-Up.

Good training is about peeling back the layers of the basics and looking underneath the surface to give people what they need! I believe in asking questions, and doing my best to give everyone the right doses of what suits them!

What KPIs are most important for your athletes, and how can you go about tracking them? Continually thinking about those questions will result in better training and better results!

Photo Credit: skynesher/iStock

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Topics: SQUAT | DEADLIFT | COACH | ASSESSMENTS