The role of wearables in perfecting performance technique in sport

30th Aug 2016

Female runner wearing fitness wristband

In our previous article, How wearable tech is transforming team sports, our number nerds looked into how players of invasion territorial sports can benefit from wearable technology, through enhanced player monitoring for injury and performance drop-off. But, depending on the sport, wearables have the potential to do a whole lot more.

Person using a smartphone while on a laptop

We now look at how, across a wide range of sports, wearables are being used in a targeted way that provides feedback on specific performance elements so that athletes can hone and perfect their technique.

The different wearables targeting technique

Two people wearing wetsuits

In certain sports, where the final result rests upon a single performance of skill, perfecting technique is crucial. Particularly if an individual athlete competes in a sport that has an ultimate ‘perfect score’, the ability to hone technique becomes increasingly important, and this is where wearables come in.

In US figure skating, for example, the use of on-body sensors can create real-time computer renderings of a skater’s movements, which coaches can then use in training at professional level to help perfect an athlete’s technique, as well as prevent injury. Wearable-based insights such as these could actually make all the difference – after all, at a competitive level, single points or a fraction of a second could differentiate first and second place.  

In baseball, two kinds of bat sensors have also been approved for use during workouts. The Blast Motion and Diamond Kinetic bats, which measure swing data and performance, claim to create better hitters. Currently used in Major League Baseball in the US, the Blast Motion bat claims to have created the ‘blast factor’ algorithmi, which is calculated using a combination of efficiency and power and gives tips on how to improve swing.

Even swimmers can get in on the wearable action, despite wearing little more than the technology itself, with devices Xmetrics and Finis AquaPulse. These devices, which feedback real time information as audio through bone conduction, measure kick-turn times, breath counts, stroke efficiency, speed, distance covered, as well as heart rate and calories burned, to help swimmers shave off vital seconds on the clock.

Surprising advantages in cycling

Cyclist in race

In the setting of tournament cycling, slight gains from science may also influence the final result. While the long performances of tournament cycling may be influenced by many different physical and environmental factors, particular game-changing techniques can still be isolated and improved.

Bob Howden, Head of British Cycling, Britain’s main governing body for cycle sport, tells us how wearables are being used to effectively improve technique:

“For those who understand the science, there is a benefit. The measurement of wattage (power) relevant to cadence (pedalling rate) has been a significant feature in the development of riders such as Chris Froome; someone who pedals a low gear on climbs to maximum effect and in a way that helps to improve levels of sustained effort and recovery. At the same time this reduces the risk of injuries, such as tendonitis, that can be caused by the cumulative effect of pushing high gears.”

During a tournament, extreme levels of peak effort and endurance are common. Honing techniques that can not only withstand the pressure of these peak moments, but also create advantages for the cyclist over their competitors, may have a decisive effect on their overall performance and final position.

Bob also mentions that wearable technology can prove useful in other areas of cycling:

“The technology is particularly valuable in track racing, where dynamic effort – or ‘power and speed’ work - is closely monitored, as is the aerodynamic profile of rider, clothing and equipment.”

These aspects of performance could, again, alter a cyclist’s chances at claiming the gold.

Competing with the wearable tech advantage

Men in stocks starting a race

While it’s ultimately down to the athlete to harness their wearable data and use it to improve their performance in the most effective way, the advantage of this knowledge in sport is undeniable, and one that Olympic teams are now using to help improve their chances at placing.

In practice, the expanding use of wearables across different sporting disciplines to perfect technique could create closer competition between top athletes in their field, who are only separated by seconds or single points in their performances. It may even present a new and potentially exciting challenge for athletes: how to creatively elude a competitor’s wearable tech advantage.

If you’re interested in how the increasing presence of wearables in sport could begin to impact the spectator experience, read the following article in this series, How wearables can enhance the viewer experience of sports.

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