Collecting data from speed skaters is a full-time job for Scott Maw, Physiologist at CSI Calgary and the IST (Integrated Support Team) Lead for Speed Skating Canada. Analyzing that data provides information coaches can use to build knowledge about individual athletes. That knowledge becomes the wisdom necessary for optimizing performance.
Sounds easy, right?
In a perfect world, it would be easy. But athletes are complex individuals with a wide range of responses to training. Add other stressors outside of training and competition like work, school and relationships and you have a tangled web to unravel. This is what makes Maw’s job so interesting, and challenging.
Maw developed a framework for the coaches and athletes to quantify the amount, intensity and type of training each athlete is doing, as well as identify those outside stressors. The next step is understanding how the athlete responds to that training and stress so they can optimize workloads and get the best performance while minimizing the risk of illness and injury.
“Ultimately, we are trying to understand the relationship between external training loads and internal training loads,” explains Maw. External loads include variables such as the distance ridden on a bike, total laps skated and weight lifted, while internal training loads are variables like heartrate, blood lactate levels, perceived exertion, and heartrate variability. They also track outcome variables like injury, illness, performance and they track sleep hours and sleep quality.
Armed with this information, Maw works closely with the coaches to help them optimize training for each skater. “For example, a simple morning heartrate test that measures heartrate variability can tell us how the athlete has responded to the stresses of the day before and it can also tell us how that athlete is handling the overall workload or recovering from a block of work,” says Maw.
It has taken almost a decade for Maw to build the monitoring program and he relies on the latest science and research, as well as the base of knowledge he’s gained from the work. The information helps the coaches make small or big changes to their program, particularly when the variables they measure deviate from their norm for too long.
Since implementing the monitoring program Maw says that the biggest challenge is athlete compliance. “If the athletes don’t do it we can’t change anything,” he laments. “Consistency is critical, but compliance is not always where it should be. We need consistent data to make informed decisions but that isn’t always provided.” Still, the upside is knowing the athletes better as individuals so that he can help optimize performance while avoiding injury and illness.
Unlike speed skating, where athlete monitoring is deeply entrenched, it’s early days in the sport of figure skating. Kelly Quipp, CSI Calgary Sport Physiologist and Lead, Performance Lab, works with Canadian figure skaters, including Patrick Chan and Kaetlyn Osmond. Quipp is now where Maw was ten years ago, at ground zero building up a monitoring program in a sport that historically has not focused a lot on the physiological parameters of performance.
“For national team athletes like Kaetlyn and Patrick, the extent of the monitoring is recording training data, such as heartrates, blood lactates and weightlifting sessions,” says Quipp. She adds they are aiming to record hours of on-ice training, which will provide some data to start figuring out the volume on on-ice training.
Quipp has also used the Hooper MacKinnon questionnaire, a daily set of questions where athletes self-evaluate on variables like sleep, mood and nutrition, which helps track the impact of training loads over time. “Figure skaters will often train up to six times a day if you include dance classes, off-ice jumping and lift classes and acting classes,” she says. “So, trying to educate the coaches on the volume of training and the athletes individual response to that was helpful.”
Quipp hopes to build a more robust monitoring program that includes analysis to help the coaches understand how the athletes respond to training, as Maw has done with the speed skating team.
For both Maw and Quipp, the end goal is always about performance and digging deep for data goes a long, long way.
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by: Dave Holland @csicalgaryphoto