Strength and Conditioning (S&C) is a phrase commonly related to the development of various physical capacities, such as strength, speed, power and agility. The development of these capacities is important to enhance sporting performance. In order to appropriately develop an athlete’s S&C qualities, testing needs to take place so that areas of S&C that need attention are identified for the athlete.
The data derived from S&C testing is used to prescribe, monitor and alter an athlete’s training programme. In order to make this process effective it is vital that the data is reliable, accurate and valid. Traditionally this testing has been done in laboratory settings where gold-standard sophisticated equipment and protocols are available, e.g. force platform testing of an athlete’s vertical jump performance. While this approach yields a valid high quality data set it is time-consuming, expensive and not suitable for applied mass testing. To combat this, new technologies have become available in recent times that open up the potential to conduct efficient, field-based, real-time testing of large numbers of athletes simultaneously.
There are numerous examples of such testing equipment and two include the Optojump system to test jump and sprint performance and Inertia Measuring Unit testing been developed by companies such as the new Irish company, Output Sports. Both devices, i.e. Optojump system and Output Sports Capture system, have multiple functions that can assess various S&C physical capacities, such as speed, power, strength, mobility and endurance. These devices and approaches open up the potential to conduct regular, cost-effective testing in the training setting and thus assist with the prescription and monitoring of S&C programmes developed by S&C coaches working across various sports. While this is a positive step the validity and reliability of these emerging technologies needs to be robust in order to improve the accuracy and applicability of the various systems. Positively such research work has and is been conducted within the Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences in UL. Some of this work has been published and other research papers related to this work are in preparation for journal submission. Of note is that various functions and protocols that are incorporated within devices, such as the Optojump and Output Sports systems, have shown good validity when compared to gold-standard equipment and report good and acceptable reliability results.
S&C coaches and practitioners when looking at incorporating new and applied technologies and related protocols into their testing practices need to review the research related to the reliability and validity of the equipment before commencing with this new testing approach. Only when these technologies have established validity and reliability can the coach infer that the data derived via these technologies are accurate. Once this has been established it is possible to garner data in an efficient and effective manner that can help the coach to accurately plan and monitor an athlete’s training programme and thus ultimately positively influence sporting performance.
Dr Tom Comyns is a Lecturer in Human Movement Sciences and Course Director for the BSc in Sport and Exercise Sciences programme in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Tom’s research interests are in the area of Strength and Conditioning primarily. He is currently undertaking research in the area of rugby injury surveillance, monitoring of training, strength and power diagnostics. Contact Dr Comyns via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @comyns_tommy