How Data Can Help Therapists Understand and Manage Their Patients & Athlete
by Trystan Bevan
If you put your bank card into the cashpoint machine and noticed that about 50% of your account had mysteriously vanished, you would have a shock. Likewise if someone had inadvertently deposited a couple of million pounds in there. You would at least look at it and wonder “how on earth has that happened?”. Such spikes would stand out and yield a reaction.
So why don’t we do the same when it comes to our training? Now that we all have GPS and Heart Rate watches, the data that we gather can be formulated and analysed to see how we train. We can see our training “deposits” and “withdrawals” with as much ease these days as we can see our bank account. With so much advice available from real-person experts as well as online coaches, the planning of training and the retrospective analysis of which is getting more sophisticated by the week. This really can help us to train better, and to avoid injury. This is a win-win.
However, a fantastic trick that is currently being pulled over us is to claim that sophistication equals complexity and that the mountain of data that we collect gives us more questions to ask than answers. This is not true.
Cronic v Acute Loading is a term that has gained popularity – and credibility – in performance sport and the medical world over the past decade. Its origin comes from a smart cookie Australian sports researcher called Tim Gabbett, and his analysis of (other people’s) mountain of data at the top level of sport has been refined, peer-reviewed, and dissected by many of his peers to simplify the concept and for it to be strong enough to be generalised as a training advisory method in its own right.
What it means, in very simplified terms (which does his research a huge disservice) is this. There shouldn’t be any huge peaks and troughs in training load, or intensity. In other words, if you haven’t run for a few weeks, don’t attempt a personal marathon best time, or jump into the gym and load a ne’er-before-lifted weight on the bar and press away. If running far, or fast, or both, is your goal, the path to that mountain peak should never be ‘steep’. It should be gradual with a gradient appropriate to your capabilities.
Your GPS data – either placed on your Strava or on the myfinishline.co.uk community, gives you a nice snapshot of what you have done over the last week, or month, of training. You can even draw fancy graphs to illustrate this. You should never be afraid of the number of sessions that you do, but keeping an eye on certain metrics such as how far you are running or how fast is crucial. If, for example, your training load for a month is running fifty miles, that is your “chronic” load. Each session, or cluster of sessions, is your “acute” load. You could for example just run 2 x 25mile runs, which would mean you would have achieved your entire load in two sessions – a very high “acute” load and a sure fire way of leading to injury or staleness. However, running 10 x 5 mile runs lets the body gradually accumulate the mileage in a sensible and planned way, which also leads to a reduction in injury and a very probable improvement not only in speed and fitness.
Therapists can play a part if you allow them to look at your GPS data when you arrive at their clinics with a niggle or a strain. Despite treating the injury itself, and suggesting intervention measures from a medical and physiotherapy standpoint, retrospective analysis of your training to see if there are any large gaps, or high peaks in load, can often lead to revelations on what may have caused the problems. It could at least form the suggestion that you could learn from not doing such things again. Over-reaching is what training is all about – the concept of doing something better, higher, or longer than previously, but the best way of using this data and technology that we have at our fingertips now is to involve not only our own knowledge of our training but to involve those also involved in your fitness journey to obtain a deeper knowledge of the athletic organism which they are set on aiding (i.e. you).