Ask Mike Reinold Show

Workload Monitoring in Sports

It’s very important to monitor workloads to assure we aren’t overloading, or underloading, our athletes. Both can have an impact on injury and performance.

Workload monitoring is fairly straightforward in some sports, but in others can get complicated. Here’s how we monitor workload in a variety of different athletes.

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#AskMikeReinold Episode 243: Workload Monitoring in Sports

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Show Notes



Transcript

Student:
All right. We got Mandy in Ohio says, “In school, we talked about workload measurement and monitoring for running and lifting. How do you all like to measure workload in other sports such as soccer, gymnastics, or do you find that monitoring an athlete’s response to exercise is sufficient?”

Mike Reinold:
I like it. Good. Wait, so is soccer a sport? Do we define that as a… Just kidding. Jonathan’s a big soccer player. We like doing that. I love soccer people. I like all athletes. Just wanted to throw that out there, but a good question, but yeah. You know what? That’s a good question, Mandy, because I actually think the easiest workload monitoring is probably in, like you said, lifting, right? So in fitness athletes, right? Because man, you have everything. You have every objective data point. You have sets, you have reps, you have load. I mean, you could even have speed, even your rest. I mean, you put your whole trading load together. It is so easy to monitor work… I shouldn’t say it’s so easy. It’s complicated. Right? But it’s a little bit more straightforward to measure it in workload.

Mike Reinold:
I’ll introduce it from a baseball standpoint, and then I hear what some other people… I know Dave has put a considerable amount of gymnastics work into this year. But in baseball, when we start talking about, let’s say pitching injuries or hitting injuries, the first thing we do is take a step back and try to define a little bit. So let’s say pitching, right? In pitching, we can manipulate a lot of variables. Again, there’s repetitions. But if I just logged the ball, versus I throw the ball as hard as I can, is that the same workload metric? Right? So you have to come up with definitions based on that. So what we did in baseball is we took what we knew scientifically of stress. So torque essentially is what we used, the biomechanical term from biomechanical studies.

Mike Reinold:
We took torque. And what’s the torque difference in, let’s say the elbow on the Tommy John Ligament in playing catch or stretching out long toss or throwing away two balls or doing a bullpen or pitching in a game. Right? We actually have enough science now and biomechanical data now that we know that, and then we can assign different workload grades. So look, 20 years ago, we tried this, which is like innings pitched in pitches per game. But again, if you throw a change up or a fast ball, does that matter? There’s so many different metrics that we can put into this. But I think the big thing, what you do is when you’re starting to get into your sport is you start to say, “What is the unit of work that matters to your sport?”

Mike Reinold:
So in weightlifting, it’s probably load and total reps or something like that. In baseball, it’s intensity and throws, right? That sort of thing. So Dave, from there, why don’t you kick it off, because you started this almost from scratch in a sport of gymnastics that is super complex, right? You guys aren’t even doing the same thing, right? Different people, they have different events that they do that are completely different stress. How did you first go about this? Because I feel like if you can do it in gymnastics, we can do it in almost anything else.

Dave Tilley:
Yeah. This was the exact reason why I took Tim’s course in New York a couple of years ago and then we had follow-up stuff because I was definitely understanding the concepts, but I was really not seeing how it applies to gymnastics. Tim was super helpful and we actually had a study that was going before COVID shut down, on how to… It’s like niche sports, right? They’re like weird ominous. They’re not like you can’t objectively look at pitches or things like that with speed. So the ways that we do this with sports that are more mixed modality, as Tim would say is like you’re looking at the different zones of intensity and trying to find a workload measurement behind that. So with soccer and with sprinting, something that Tim showed us in the course is they monitor the time spent in different speeds of running, right?

Dave Tilley:
So like just running 40 yards at a very jog or a low-level jog versus sprinting 40 yards is very different stress on your hamstrings. They were starting to do that in other sports where they would wear GPS accelerometers, and also heart rate monitors, and they would measure the zones of intensity, how long you’re operating in that a high workload or low workload. And that was very successful. For other sports too, like gymnastics or wrestling, or I think, water polo, Tim was working in too, what you have to do is you have to find a very similar way to gauge that metric. So that’s what we did in gymnastics, is we took the variables we have to work with our time, right? The amount of time spent on a specific event in practice, and then we use an internal workload of RPE for just that event. So we take the time, we multiply it by the event RPE, so how hard was just bars, how hard was just floor, and then we multiply it by a weighting factor, which is what Tim suggested that we do.

Dave Tilley:
So in other sports too, it’s like you have a one intensity like basic drills, basic warmups. You’re not really too hardcore, but then two, three, four, four is like you’re competing in a game. You’re competing in a match. You’re competing in a gymnastic competition. It’s pretty much the highest physical workload, but also, stress workload in terms of mental stress and focus and stuff. So that’s what we did in gymnastics. Is we multiply time, a weighting factor and a RPE of the athlete or coach give the workload amplifier or the weighting, and you multiply those together and get a session load. So that’s what we’ve been doing now, and it was really successful. Our pilot study with two big division one schools was really, really promising and it didn’t work out, but I think that’s where a lot of wrestling and water polo should go is zones of intensity and weighting factors for how hard that training session, like the skills are in that training session..

Mike Reinold:
To me, I think what you did was you did a great job defining overall energy system type stuff and overall fatigue levels. Right? What about something specific? What about… And I’m not super up on gymnastics, although I’m more than I ever have been, thanks to Dave’s wisdom next to me all day, but let’s say like a spondy in the back. Let’s say we want to build workload monitoring specific to somebody with stress on the back, for example. How do you do that? Or do you even do that, or do you just do just overall exertion? Is there a certain event where like, “Look, we’re getting a ton of backbends, so there’s more things.” How do you grade that specificity?

Dave Tilley:
Yeah. This is honestly the work that I took from you guys in the baseball world is replicating return to sport programs for workloads that way. So we measure the three variables and gymnastics are the actual number of skills, right? The force per skill. So doing a very basic backhand spring is very different than a double back or a full inner, a very, very high-level release skill. So we have that and force per skill, and then we have the surface that they’re on too. The softer foam pits, the tumble track, Lenny’s favorite, the hard floor all have very different forces per impact.

Dave Tilley:
So we measure those three variables and then what we’re doing now, and some of the more high end complicated stuff is we’re doing tibial accelerometers and g-force load. So we put a tibial strap on someone and it measures bone force impact. So we know the lower extremity impact is the worst in gymnastics. It’s 15, 20 times body weight per rep. So we put g-forces on that and then measure that load, and then you can count the number of backbends and how hard they’re doing it and stuff like that. So there are ways to do it, but it’s just a lot of work.

Mike Reinold:
Awesome. All right, Lisa, from a rowing perspective, I think this is a different sport now than what we’ve talked about previously. It is a, I don’t want to say long distance, type thing, but it’s like a marathon, rowing, biking sorts of things where you’re doing one thing repetitively over and over again, which you could argue, maybe your intensity level is isn’t that it fluctuates as much. It’s just for a longer duration time. How do you do more of this endurance-based sport?

Lisa Russell:
I mean, I feel like it depends on what level of competitor you’re talking about. Right? But for endurance based, highly competitive rowers, honestly, part of the challenge is the volume or the amount of time someone is rowing is incredibly high and their intensity is typically also pretty high. The close to race, pace kinds of work that they’re mixing in with insane amounts of volume is they’re… Really highly competitive rowers are always right on that line of injury for the most part. One little piece falls apart in their balance, and that tends to be when they come and see me. But-

Mike Reinold:
So it sounds like for workload, you have distance and intensity, which, I mean-

Lisa Russell:
Pretty much up here.

Mike Reinold:
I was going to say that with intensity, nobody’s rowing slowly, right? But now I’m not a rower, but-

Lisa Russell:
[crosstalk 00:09:45] Yeah. I mean, they do give me those base miles, right? But the nice thing in rowing is that there are so many technologies out there to help you monitor workload. Most rowers wear heart rate monitors straps to at least track their workout in that way so that they can see what zones they’re in at various points. Then using systems like TrainingPeaks or those kinds of things that give you a training stress score for your workout, so that you’re able to track. The TrainingPeaks system is awesome. It graphs everything so that you can see one week to the next one, month to the next, all those kinds of things, to see what your training volumes do, to see if you’re increasing too quickly or whatever.

Lisa Russell:
If you use it correctly, it helps you monitor all those things. But that’s where there’s a lot of other factors other than just your personal body workload, because it’s an outdoor sport, like temperature, wind. All of those kinds of things matter, like the heaviness of the water, the current or the temperature of the water and how heavy it is, and that’s where we’re starting to talk with a lot of our athletes about the return to water in March. That’s where it’s like, “Okay, if you’ve been doing 70 minutes, twice a day on the Erg, you can’t just throw that onto the water because it’s different factors,” and that’s where that workload management skill comes in huge-

Mike Reinold:
That’s great.

Lisa Russell:
… [inaudible 00:11:20] because you’re changing that environment and you can’t just plot the same athlete workload, minutes of work over onto the water when there’s so many other factors that all of a sudden come into play. So it’s something that rowing is learning, and honestly, some countries are better at it than others. Then it depends on the level, but at the high level, a lot of coaches are finally using those tools of TrainingPeaks in different things and using athlete readiness skills in the morning so that they at least are keeping it in context of how their athletes are handling their training plans and not just blanket giving everyone the same number of minutes and the same amount of intensity.

Mike Reinold:
All right. So, for workload monitoring, what I’m hearing from this and in a return space board too, is obviously you have distance, you have intensity, right? I mean, what about pace? So say you don’t have access to a heart rate monitor and you use somebody. Can you manipulate pace?

Lisa Russell:
Yeah.

Mike Reinold:
You know what I mean? You have different levels of pace. So that’s pretty cool. I’m sure much of what Lisa said would probably carry over quite well to biking and endurance and stuff like that.

Dave Tilley:
Yeah, endurance and biking, it’s all very similar. It was just super endurance sports. Heart monitoring comes in pretty big, but then, any amount of impacts when you’re in terms of running or whatever, it translates pretty well, I would say, across.

Mike Reinold:
Mike, for golf, because golf is an interesting sport too, because you usually have a specific injuries. To say, it’s like your elbow, your back, your knee, whatever it may be. Right? We want to manipulate stress on a certain thing. I don’t think anyone’s going to monitor heart rate during golf. We’d be utterly disappointed with what we come up with. Same with baseball, by the way. Baseball is quite sedentary. You have to sprint 90 feet once every 45 minutes. Right? It’s very low pacing in there. But for golf, how do you monitor workload progressions of stress on a body part? Because there’s so many variables in golf. You have so many different shots and things like that. What do you do in golf?

Mike Scaduto:
Yeah, absolutely. I think as with any other sport, there’s a bunch of factors, a big one being with amateur golfers, what we tend to see is their chronic workload is fairly low and then they’ll spike up quite abruptly when the weather gets nice. So we tend to see that’s when injuries pop up in that population. They just go from taking zero swings to going and hitting 250 golf balls. The other thing is the equipment that they’re using and the surface that they’re hitting off of. In practice, we tend to hit off of rubber mats, which may have more of an impact for us through the shaft, through the tissues of the forearm and even the shoulder, and that can lead to some issues as well. Then from an intensity perspective, obviously swing speed is a good way to measure the intensity of the swing, but also the length of the shaft is different for each club, which will influence the amount of club head speed that you’re able to generate.

Mike Scaduto:
But a longer shaft, theoretically may put more stress on your tissue than a shorter shaft which we find in a wedge or shorter iron theoretically could put a little less stress on certain areas of your body. But the other factor, I think that is important in monitoring workloads, say we’re coming back from a low back injury is the amount of… Is the posture that you’re assuming with each of these swings. So with a shorter shafted club, like a lower iron, pretty much should be in a little bit more of a hip hinge, a little bit more bent over as opposed to a driver. So again, there’s a bunch of factors that we look at. I think from a broad overview spectrum, number of swings is a good way to look at it. But I think you have to go a little bit deeper when you’re coming back from some kind of injury.

Mike Reinold:
It’s a great way of saying it too. I mean, the very least, if this is all you have is swing count, it’s better than nothing, right? I mean, that’s helpful. It’s better than nothing. But more importantly, I think when it comes down to is that there’s different stresses on so many different things. I mean, you can change your club length, you change your type of swing. You have to understand that. Even if you make up numbers, if you say like a max effort drive is a 10, right? And then you start thinking based on that, “Okay. Then what is a long iron? Okay, maybe that’s an eight, right? What’s a mid iron? What’s a chip? Is a chip a one or a two, right? What’s a putt, right?” I mean, for me, sometimes it’s usually so far away. I mean, that could be a three, four, right? I get a lot of rotation. I get a lot of rotation with my putt, but you see a little difference here.

Mike Reinold:
Good episode. We could keep going forever on this. I think what we saw was a bunch of different ways to monitor workload. What you need to do is take your activity and figure out what is the unit of stress that you want to measure, that you want to quantify, you want to monitor? I think that’s the important part. So we talked about endurance-based things where it’s more like pace and mileage and time and heart rate, obviously. We talked about field sports where heart rate is awesome and then how heartrate would be terrible in golf and baseball and stuff like that. Right? We talked about how in baseball, there’s different distances and intensity, same with golf, with different swings.

Mike Reinold:
You got to put all that together based on your activity. There’s a million ways to do it, but I think that’s a good start for you, Mandy that you can take it from there and think about what’s the specific activity that you’re trying to monitor. Makes sense? So, great question. Thanks so much. Good episode there. I thought on workload monitoring. Great stuff. If you have another question, head to mikereinold.com, click on that podcast link and be sure to subscribe, iTunes, Spotify. Thanks so much. See you guys on the next episode.