I am shocked I didn’t write this article earlier, as it looks like the Freelap timing system has been taken for granted. I have been a fan of the Swiss timing product for the last 10 years, and it’s time to ensure those who are new to sport timing or looking to get started with their newly purchased system have a good starting point.
This article isn’t just for those interested in using Freelap, however; it’s a great review for timing athletes in general. Most of the information is technical, but I include a few coaching tips and best practices, so it’s worth the read. I have more timing systems than many Olympic training centers, but it’s important to know that the Freelap is one of my top options for coaches in track and field and strength and conditioning.Even if you use another timing system, you may want to consider getting a Freelap system or learn more creative ways to use timing in your training and testing environment, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Included in this article are troubleshooting tips and a “getting started” guide so you can begin timing athletes in a matter of minutes, rather than spending forever setting up a Brower. Even if you use another timing system, you may want to consider getting a Freelap system or learn more creative ways to use timing in your training and testing environment.
How Timing Systems Work
Timing speed, whether agility or straight-ahead, requires equipment. It’s possible to use video manually to do this, and I invite those who conduct performance analysis to invest in Dartfish, but for most cases coaches just need the time when assessing speed on the track or on the grass. In the past, timing was done with electromagnetic systems that resembled power lines, then photocells took over decades later.
Nearly all timing systems use timing gates, which are sets of tripods that create a beam that athletes cross, similar to a security system. Lasers and radar guns sample velocity from in front of or behind the athlete, and Freelap is unique, as it samples horizontally but doesn’t require cumbersome tripods. Generally, if you time athletes frequently, the daily grind of setting up tripods is a little bit of a chore, but the biggest issue I have is real estate. Setting up an old Brower kills space, as it was designed for downhill skiing and going one at a time, and being on a mountain is not the same as what we need in the performance space.
Since it’s a wearable, Freelap times the athlete; timing gates just indicate when a body in motion has passed a location, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Timing an event, meaning a sporting action such as a sprint, requires the athlete and hardware to “agree” on what is occurring in time and space. The start and finish are usually based on a set distance, and this is straightforward and easy. The problem is determining motion, as crossing a beam is not perfect, and the conventional method of using a touch and release isn’t comfortable or natural with athletes, especially sprinters in a block.
Flying sprints, runs that capture two crossing points, are in fact easier because they just need to determine when an athlete passes a set distance twice. Beams that don’t have a motion correction—meaning a way to determine if it’s a body versus a limb—are less accurate than technology that uses either double beam or repeated sampling. So, when coaches think Dashr is just a Brower with a wireless connection to a smart device, they are wrong because it’s a more intelligent system. Unfortunately, you can’t use beam-based tripod systems with multi-athlete assessments, so Freelap becomes valuable for tag games and race-style testing. Since it’s a wearable, Freelap times the athlete; timing gates just indicate when a body in motion has passed a location.
Transmitters and Transponders – Core Essentials
Now comes the most important part of the discussion: understanding the cones and chips with Freelap. If you are used to timing gates, this is a big change for you. The timing system works by detecting when a chip worn by the athlete passes a transmitter, or the cone. Instead of using two large tripods to detect an athlete running by, a single cone just knows when the chip is in range. After it detects a passing, the Freelap system records the time until the next cone is passed or when the athlete passes through again if they are doing laps.
Most coaches use the cones for splits or to evaluate a longer run in smaller segments of time and distance. Getting splits helps coaches see how the run was done, not just know the total time. Using splits dissects a sprint like an autopsy, identifying what the athlete needs to work on within the repetition or sprint. Most splits are done with 10 yards or meters. Due to Usain Bolt running .81 splits for 10 meters, the wait time between sampling periods is .7 seconds so coaches can assess super-fast athletes in football without fear of missing a sprint.
Chips are worn on the waistband of shorts or training spandex, and I need to point out that they are water-resistant, and the battery lasts for years. The chips are light and barely noticeable, making them perfect for hurdles and sprints. Coaches can use a one-to-one ratio for small groups, or they can share chips if they have an organized way to know who is running. The data eventually connects to a smart device, be it Android or iOS. You don’t need Wi-Fi to use the system in training, but to create an account online you will obviously need to have access to the internet.
The Main Difference Between the FxChip and FxChip BLE Systems
The Relay Coach is a device designed to help coaches with large groups leverage technology to make the FxChips more affordable. With a Relay, the chips don’t require connectivity to a smart device; they just connect to the base station (Relay), and that information connects to the smart device.
Video 1. This video explains the differences between the Freelap FxChip and FxChip BLE.
The Relay Coach must be placed near the end of the sprint or testing area. Most of the time I recommend that coaches get the Relay Coach with FxChips, as it’s a lifesaver for large groups in terms of both workflow and pricing if you plan on having a lot of chips. If you plan to have multiple stations at the same time with small groups, the FxChip BLE are good because each coach is nearby, and the price bump isn’t a big deal because you remove the Relay Coach cost. I have used both the FxChip and FxChip BLE systems, and I prefer the FxChip BLE for private training, while the Relay Coach and FxChip is a must for larger teams.
Start Smart – Using the Phone or Tablet App
The current major design iterations that came from Freelap are dropping the hand display and including a manual export feature. While that was not necessarily a remarkable invention, it was a dramatic way to reduce the price of timing by using a resource that nearly all of us have at our disposal—a smart device. If you are going to use Freelap, you need to create an account and add your roster manually. Do this first, and do it before you start timing.
Some coaches who use a dummy smartphone or tablet without Wi-Fi access will need to work offline, as the product is a cloud solution. You can do a lot with the MyFreelap cloud account, but if you want to save time and headaches, I recommend getting familiar with the software since it’s the first step in getting started. Some coaches prefer their cell phones if they have an Android or iPhone; I like small tablets or repurposed, old, spare smartphones. The system does work with an Apple Watch; I am not currently using smart watches with Freelap, but it’s up to you.
I am confident that Freelap will continue to improve the system, and I am thrilled that you can run video remotes for both GoPro and Freelap at the same time, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Down the road, I am confident that Freelap will continue to improve the system, and I am thrilled that you can run video remotes for both GoPro and Freelap at the same time. I don’t currently like to mix video and timing, but some coaches are able to do this on one phone. I recommend doing all the administration work first and then start learning to time with the product later.
If you are worried about rain or weather, get a spare cover for your phone or tablet. There are plenty of times that athletes will need to do a rep or two in less than ideal conditions. No matter the conditions—extreme cold, heavy rain, or even snow—they are all fine for Freelap.
Touchpads and Splits – Mastering the 80-Centimeter Rule
Most of this section will cover splits and starts. Coaches who are interested in timing acceleration or set distances from a stationary starting position have two options: They can begin either from a touchpad (athlete or coach) or by using cones only. Using cones only is the most popular option because it includes fewer moving parts, it’s repeatable, and athletes feel comfortable. I don’t use the touchpad, but I do use a semi-fly start with a cone about a yard away.
The most important requirement for Freelap users is knowing that the cone needs to be 80 centimeters away from the distance you wish to test. So, if you want to get a 30-meter sprint, your Freelap transmitter must be 30.8 meters away from the starting point. It’s not a big deal, but it’s also not intuitive.
Besides that particular requirement, the setup is so fast it’s ridiculous, as it’s the fastest workflow in sports timing. I still test with other systems if I need to synchronize lab data, but you can merge the contact grid information if you place the cone just past the scanning zone.
Touchpads are for those coaches who simply prefer legacy approaches to timing. As soon as the athlete lifts their lead hand in a block start, the clock goes off, and the last cone tested ends the repetition. Some coaches prefer to use the touchpad as a manual start, replicating the NFL Combine, but I prefer just cones due to the variability of early departure. Again, do what you feel is best for your situation, and know that standing starts are possible with Freelap. Those who want to do super finite starts can use Swift, such as for 5-meter sprints or similar, but if you have four splits you can model the early acceleration, especially if you have the cones set up at equal distances.
Innovative Concepts That Make Freelap Special
Now for the fun part: creative ways to use Freelap so it works for you. Many timing systems in the past were able to simply get times, but the interference to workflow made testing or evaluating speed a burden. I spent years using chronometer functions from video, as a camcorder was essential for the kinematic information for teaching. I suffered for years with stopwatches and cameras, desperately trying to deal with the limitations of a Brower eating up track real estate or not having a budget to pay for timing at different schools.
Here are great solutions to common needs for both strength coaches and track coaches over the years:
- Multi-athlete timing – Race athletes together against the clock, raising competition farther than before.
- Hurdle cycle counts – Capture splits of hurdles of any height and distance for both men and women.
- Conditioning tests – Transform aerobic and anaerobic fitness tests into an automated experience.
- Jump and mini-hurdle velocity – Capture horizontal bounding and wicket runs easily.
- Tempo runs – Extract more information from grass strides and an HR monitor using a combined approach.
I could go on and on, as the above information is the tip of the iceberg. I have used the system since 2010 and found a huge amount of benefit then; the system has improved year after year, and the creativity has matched the pace. Nothing feels better than looking out on the track or grass field and seeing athletes training with a natural rhythm and flow. Freelap makes training and testing seamless, without compromise for either demand.Freelap makes training and testing seamless, without compromise for either demand, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
I have six timing systems, and three of them are Freelap. I have one for swimming, one for teams, and one for a small group at my disposal. For each iteration of the product, I have been there beta testing or giving my opinion on how to make it better, and I expect it to improve in the future because innovation will always disrupt the leaders.
Experience the Freedom of Timing
Freelap is a game-changer for me. No system is more portable, and other wearable systems are generally not accurate enough to capture what needs to be captured. Other systems have tried and failed to dethrone Freelap, but over the last few years, “Feed the Cats” turned a small timing system into a leader in sports technology. There are thousands of Freelap users, and most of them are U.S. high school track coaches. Now athletes are buying their own systems for the road or correspondence training, and colleges and pro teams are adopting the technology.Freelap has unique and indispensable features and benefits that demand that you give it a look before jumping to another system, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Freelap has unique and indispensable features and benefits that demand you give it a look before jumping to another system. Sometimes if another option exists or you are looking for additional nuances, I recommend Ergotest or Swift, as those two systems offer some compelling reasons for owning them. Freelap has served me well over the years, and I hope you find the right timing for your needs, regardless of the brand you buy.
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