Use of GPS technologies in sport

Use of GPS technologies in sport

You’ve probably seen your favourite athletes running around in something that looks a bit like a sports bra at training. Or a pouch in the back of his jersey?

sbw_gpsportNo surprise, it’s not a sports bra. What it is, is much more interesting…

Both the sports bra and the pouch are just accessories, used to secure a small sports GPS unit to the back of an athlete.

I assume you have heard of the term GPS or global positioning system before, but perhaps not in this context. GPS units are widely used in cars, mobiles and more recently in watches. The GPS units used by professional athletes are an adaptation of the same technology. These specialised units are also equipped with accelerometers and coupled with a heart rate monitor, allowing for real time measurement of distance, speed, and even body loads and impacts.

This is all very interesting. But what do these GPS trackers really do?

Apart from interesting halftime stats, the detailed understanding of sports made possible through the use of GPS has had two main benefits that have made them commonplace in professional sports: training optimisation and injury prevention.

How to Optimise Training using GPS data

GPS units measurement of intensity and work rate allows:

  • Training specific to the game, and the players position – I personally have seen Professional NRL clubs in Australia using their in game GPS to create a ‘workout’ on a specialised treadmill. The workout had the athlete repeat their activity profile from the previous game e.g. when the athlete took a hit up in the game, he had to run on the treadmill at the same speed, with the same resistance and the same heart rate as he had in the game. Then he would rest on the treadmill after his ‘hit up’. Then he would chase the kick on the treadmill.. and so on. This is the example of ultimate training specificity. It is easy to see how this conditioning would benefit the player.
  • Conditioning drills can overload game intensity – so instead of mimicking the activity profile exactly, the player would run faster, with greater resistance etc. than he had during the game to increase the players performance of this activity over time
  • Players to be compared objectively and individual strengths and weaknesses identified
  • Managing substitutions based on game data e.g. how much an player has run during the game


How to Prevent Injuries using GPS data

Injuries will be reduced through:

  • Identifying any player at risk of injury based on their recent activity profile – training and game data
  • Identifying ‘break points’ with respect to training load and injury

Saying that GPS technologies ‘can’ improve performance and minimise injuries is easy. In practice it is very difficult. How do you compare a weight session (high physical stresses), with a conditioning session (high heart rate) with a skills session (high mental stresses)? There is no universal point system for all physical activity (unless you count NikeFuel – but somehow I don’t see professional sports using FuelBands).

While we wait for the research and modelling to catch up, there are simple applications, like those given above that will improve athletic performance and minimise injuries (the cornerstones of sporting success) – which is why we have seen the GPS technology sweep through professional sports in the past 5 years. Today you won’t see many sports that don’t make use of the sports bra or pouch. When the research and modelling do find the best applications, I doubt that any decisions will be made without them.

Cameron West

Cameron is the Director of Pro Training Programs



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