By Jace Derwin, Lead Sports Performance Specialist at Volt Athletics.
Technology in the weight room is a rapidly expanding field, one that many strength coaches are beginning to explore. Not only is technological hardware taking innovative first steps in motion capture, velocity measurement, and GPS systems, but cloud- and web-based applications can allow athletes unprecedented access to their training from anywhere in the world. This ability to reach athletes remotely offers unique opportunities once unattainable by S&C professionals.
Ideally, you would always be available to coach and train athletes in person. But in our increasingly digitized mobile world, that is not always possible—or practical. While technology cannot duplicate the benefits of working hands-on with your athletes, it can certainly assist you in situations requiring you to train an athlete remotely.
Tech Solutions: Pros and Cons
Whether you work in a private facility, for a pro/semi-pro organization, or for an academic athletic department, increasing your range when it comes to providing training expertise is of major benefit to both you and your athletes. Remote coaching can allow strength coaches to optimize the delivery of their training, increase athlete accountability, and easily capture a multitude of different training variables—which can likewise benefit athletes you coach in person. As an added benefit, it gives an opportunity for many private coaches to expand their personal brand to customers outside their geographic location, increasing their impact across a wider audience.
Free services like Google Drive and Dropbox make sharing files incredibly easy and can allow for easy management of a wide variety of documents, sheets, and video. Services like these create a central location or hub from which coaches and athletes/clients can access information. But while access to digital training solutions has increased exponentially, implementing them easily and successfully presents a much greater challenge. Maximizing your potential to deliver training remotely relies on several factors.
Important Factors in Delivering Remote Training
First, access and ease of use: your athletes must be able to easily access and view their training sessions. While Google Drive and Dropbox may allow for easy file sharing, it still forces the athlete/client to access that central hub before they can view or print a workout, adding a middleman to the communication chain from coach to client. This can become especially burdensome for the user when photos and video are shared separately, meaning the athlete may have to access several different file types just to complete their training session. The clunky nature of cloud-based file sharing—not to mention the question of whether the athlete has access to wireless Internet in the weight room in order to view the files—can make its practical application less than ideal.
Second, effective communication: your athletes must be able to easily interpret and understand their training sessions. Communication and organization are central to success as a strength coach, but when you are working from a remote environment, you need to make as much information readily available to the athlete to enable them to complete their training efficiently and effectively. This also means the information must be communicated in an organized layout that is both easy to interpret and engaging for the athlete. Whether this means supplementing an Excel or Google Sheet with text instructions, or creating a new format for displaying your training sessions, the information must be presented in a clear and user-friendly format.
Third, visual assets: your athletes must have the resources they need to perform each movement correctly—in most cases, this means photos and/or video of the movements prescribed. And since technology has become ubiquitous in daily life, the user’s expectations are high, making the quality of your visual assets important. Whether you have photo and video assets yourself or look for public domain visual content, the production value and level of detail are important to consider when selecting images to send your athletes. Most strength coaches will look carefully at the movement technique demonstrated in a photo or video, but many lack the experience or resources needed to take high-quality photos. And because most strength coaches work only in Excel or Google Sheets, visual assets and their quality become very important in training athletes remotely.
Beyond the realm of free file sharing services and inexpensive software lies “big-budget” tech hardware that can provide more data about athlete performance back to the coach. These technologies are designed to measure unique components of training—bar velocity, athlete heart rate, autonomic nervous system activity, etc.—which can be highly valuable to the strength and conditioning professional. Unfortunately, this hardware is typically priced for and targeted to the highest level of practitioner, leaving many coaches with smaller budgets looking elsewhere. This makes the use and integration of these technologies best for coaches who have the time, personnel, and budget to make them realistically applicable.
Navigating new, expensive technology that offers more data, more tracking, more analytics, and more insights may also cost coaches more time. Time to become familiar and proficient with the new tech, and time to review the inundation of data it delivers. When training athletes remotely, the strength coach must think strategically about what kind of data—and how much—the athlete can realistically capture, and that the coach can realistically review and analyze. In this sense, highly advanced technologies may end up costing (in time and cost) more than they provide in value.
Athlete Feedback and Live Streaming
Today’s athletes live in an age of immediacy, where information is delivered directly—and instantly—to the palm of their hand. One of the first challenges a strength coach will encounter in remote training delivery is establishing a system for effective athlete feedback.
If you offer training prescription that requires immediate feedback from the athlete as to what was actually done, what is the best way for them to report that information? Inputting information repeatedly during a workout—after every set, for example—might prove too cumbersome for the athlete, especially if they need to report that feedback in a different digital file separate from their workout. The less time an athlete spends navigating a screen, the better their training experience will be. Building workouts that can be optimized for mobile viewing, clearly displaying a movement’s training prescription, and facilitate easy athlete feedback in the same file can create a more seamless workout experience for the athlete.
The trend of live streaming video is taking over Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, and could have some very real applications for the strength coach. For example, your athlete could use their smartphone to stream a video of them performing a back squat in real time, viewed live on your end. You could then give the athlete instant feedback via the live streaming technology, text, phone call, etc. The possibilities of this technology are far reaching and exciting, but it is time-intensive on the part of the coach—especially when working with athletes who need a lot of coaching and feedback. When weighing the pros and cons of trying live stream technology with your athletes, consider that your time spent viewing athlete videos and providing real-time feedback increases the value (and safety) of your program, and should be reflected in your pricing model. If you work with a large number of athletes, on the other hand, this service may be unfeasible for you—especially if your athletes train in a different timezone.
Remember: not all training environments are the same, nor will there always be the same level of consistency from one training session to the next. Remote coaching requires a unique level of programming flexibility to give athletes the guidance to modify training to fit the needs of their environment.
Even your training delivery method must be flexible. Can the athlete access your workouts on a smartphone? Do they need to print out a workout card? Do they have the option to do both, or either? Your athlete may be training in an environment that prevents the use of a mobile device to access workouts, so providing a hard copy in addition to a digital copy may prevent them from missing training sessions.
Your training program must also—to a certain extent—be flexible. Front-loading your training with movement progressions, regressions, and lateralizations that are easily accessible by the athlete can make minor adjustments possible (like equipment swaps). It also allows you as the coach to quickly make adjustments that best suit the training needs of the athlete—like an injury requiring timely program edits—and provides an ever-more individualized prescription, no matter where your athlete is training.
No matter how well planned and organized your remote training is, when working with athletes from a distance there will always be an element of potential change—just as there is when working with athletes in person. Staying flexible with your program design and method of training delivery will go a long way toward making your remote training successful for both you and your athlete.