If a sports performance coach wants to optimize the development of their athletes, they should look for ways to frequently assess them throughout the year. The three main areas I like to assess during the course of the year are:
- Speed (acceleration and peak velocity).
- Power (singular and repeated).
- Strength (% of bodyweight 1RM and bodyweight force output).
The only way to adapt a program to maximize the development of your athletes is to constantly assess their progress and see where change needs to occur. In order to correctly perform these assessments, you need equipment that will give you reliable results and metrics that are valuable in carrying over to the sport itself.I can say with confidence that I will never look back: MuscleLab is the gold standard in terms of testing and correctly assessing athletes, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Remember, we are training athletes and not just lifters—our workouts must have the goal of optimizing performance on the field, court, ice, etc. I have used many different types of equipment over the years for measuring linear speed and was lucky to be introduced to MuscleLab. I can say with confidence that I will never look back: MuscleLab is the gold standard in terms of testing and correctly assessing athletes. In this article, I will go over the ins and outs of MuscleLab and walk through how I use the equipment to adapt programs to maximize performance.
Using the MuscleLab Continuous Laser
It doesn’t get much easier to measure linear sprint times than it does with the MuscleLab laser. Instead of having to measure out distances and set up individual marks with traditional timing gates, MuscleLab’s continuous laser does all the heavy work for you. The setup is extremely simple:
- Set up the tripod behind where the athlete is going to sprint.
- Connect the USB cord to your computer (or use the wireless component).
- Turn on the laser.
That’s it, you’re ready to sprint. The only challenge of using the laser is that athletes must run in a straight line—so use cones to make a lane for the athletes to stay within when they are sprinting.
Another beautiful part of the setup is that you set the distance at which you want the laser to stop recording. In the case that you want to record a 30-meter sprint, you would just set up the finishing distance 1 meter past that (so 31 meters), and the laser would stop recording at that point while giving you 5-meter splits and times along every step of the way. To ensure my athletes are sprinting through the entire portion, I put a finishing cone 2 meters past where I want them to run—this ensures we get 100% effort throughout the entire run.
In addition to this simple setup, for a solo sports performance coach who doesn’t have the time to set up multiple pieces of equipment, the MuscleLab laser offers other advantages as well. Having just the one piece of equipment to set up helps you keep it relatively safe—for those working in a facility with limited space, you understand how dicey it can get when setting up equipment where there are multiple activities going on. When investing a lot of money in a piece of equipment, the last thing you want is for that equipment to be damaged beyond repair. For me, the MuscleLab laser gets a 10/10 for time and ease of setup.
How I Use the MuscleLab Laser to Assess Athletes
While the ability to collect data is invaluable, it doesn’t mean anything unless you know how to implement it into your programming. Here are the simple ways I use the data I collect to assess my athletes and make prescriptions.
- Splits at 10/20 meters: As I’ve stated in previous articles, I don’t know of a better assessment for athletes and sports performance programming than sprinting. Yes, there are ways we can get cute in the weight room to show imbalances or percentage of one lift versus another, but those are short-sighted when it comes to the goal of improving sports performance. I used to be hell-bent on improving 1RMs, but if my athletes aren’t moving better, what does it matter?
- Most team sports rely heavily on the ability to accelerate; this is why I like to use it as part of an assessment. I use the 10/20 sprint tool by Cal Dietz: I plug in our numbers, and it shows what our athletes need to work on with regard to the weight room (strength, power, speed). If lifting will have an impact on anything under 20 meters, I want to make sure I use an assessment that I know will maximize our time in the weight room.
- Instantaneous peak velocity: I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a number I look at when it comes to prescribing programs for my athletes, for the sheer fact that I think every athlete, regardless of their sport, should be sprinting at top speed. This is a metric we collect to check improvements in individual speed, to monitor daily readiness, and to evaluate our average team speed overall. No one will set a personal record every day—it’s impossible. But looking at the average of sprints over time will show how your athletes are progressing.
- I especially like to use this number with our in-season teams. If I notice over a two-week period that our numbers are trending in the wrong direction, that might be an indication to scale back, as their nervous systems are depleted.
- Strength-Speed Factor: There are different types of acceleration that we should focus on developing:
Not all athletes are going to be similar in their acceleration needs. Some athletes will be really strong at accelerating but struggle at top speeds, others will be weak at accelerating but fast at top speeds, and some will be a mix of both. Those three types of scenarios require different types of training. Enter the strength-speed factor; basically, a number that looks at the slope of the force/velocity curve of a sprint and tells you where your athletes stand in acceleration versus peak velocity.
After having athletes complete a 30-meter sprint (or a longer distance), I will see exactly which part of the spectrum they fall in for acceleration. From here, I group athletes based on their specific weaknesses.
Collect Data That Matters
The data from a single sprint on the MuscleLab laser is unmatched to anything I have ever seen before. In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, these are the metrics you can get from a single sprint at 30 meters (or farther):
- Instantaneous peak velocity.
- Distance to peak velocity.
- Time to peak velocity.
- Average power.
- Peak power.
- Peak force.
- Strength-speed factor.
- Time at 5-meter intervals.
- Speed (m/s) at each 5-meter interval.
These metrics have value in assessing your athletes and getting meaningful data on how to manipulate your athlete prescription for programming. With one 30-meter sprint, I get an idea of my athletes’ acceleration, their top speed within that given distance, how much power they are producing, and how far and how long it takes them to get to top speed. Those are all key performance indicators that we should be looking to improve within our training to maximize our athletes’ genetic potential and performance within their sport.Within a single sprint, we don’t just get the end result of speed—we understand the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete and how they get to that end result, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Within a single sprint, we don’t just get the end result of speed—we understand the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete and how they get to that end result. The final product is amazing to see in and of itself, but the metric has little value if you don’t know each step in the process of how they get there.
Keeping It Simple
Assessments need to be integrated into all sports performance programs on a frequent basis. When it comes to measuring linear sprint performance, the MuscleLab laser is unmatched and invaluable based upon the amount of data it provides. When looking to properly assess your athletes, make sure you have a protocol in place that is convenient to set up, easy to understand, and even easier to then make correct exercise prescriptions for your athletes. MuscleLab provides the information you need in order to make informed decisions on training your athletes to maximize their genetic potential.
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