Interview with Tom DeLong about Sports Technology
Tom DeLong is the former Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at California Lutheran University and has had teaching appointments at both UCLA and CSU, Long Beach. He is also the former co-owner of The Performance Center. His research and interests involve the application of segment length measurement ratios and their affects on optimal movement performance mechanics in resistance training exercises. Tom is currently working on authoring a book chapter entitled “Biomechanics of Power” for the NSCA’s Sports Performance Series, Human Kinetics, after which he plans to complete his own book entitled “SomatoMe… chanics”.
Here are my 5 questions with Tom and his answers:
1) A recent Wired article discussing the impact of technology and capturing personal metrics during exercise (The Nike Experiment: How the Shoe Giant Unleashed the Power of Personal Metrics) sited a 2001 study in the American Journal of Health Behavior which concluded that personalized feedback increased the effectiveness of exercise programs. One theory is that people react to the “Hawthorne Effect” and are inspired to improve if they feel they are being observed or measured. As Moore’s Law continues to play out (regarding computing power) and we are garnering the ability to aggregate an immense amount of data do you believe we will begin to see benefits beyond motivation and psychosomatics from personal metrics?
Yes, absolutely. Adaptation comes from change. Try harder and you get better. When you get data back you can set the bar for yourself and adapt. It is simple. With any program/system you: one, analyze; two, optimize; three, maximize for efficiency and effectiveness; four, minimize anything that decreases anything that inhibits your ability to achieve all the goals within that program/system. The right technology makes this inherently easier if it is the “right” technology. Regarding the Hawthorne Effect, their increased productivity basically came down to stimulus, which is a component of adaptation. We adapt to stimulus, whether real or perceived (as in the case of the Hawthorne study).
Will the ability to collect and amass data help us? Of course, but with that said training needs to be individualized and you can’t get around that. Let me use getting a front-end alignment on your car as a metaphor for this. You can standardize the process of aligning the tires on your car. But if you try to use the same measurements and metrics of a Hummer and apply that to a Mini you are going to have real problems. You can use technology and statistics to improve the overall system and make sure that both models get the most optimized alignment that is possible, but you can’t apply the same exact formula to align both models. That would be ridiculous, they are two different cars.
The same holds true for exercise prescription. As we learn more and are able to collect and analyze data in ways that were previously impossible we can help people make better and well defined choices. We learn what is working and what is not working and as facilitators can adapt the system. However, nothing will ever replace an individual assessment. There aren’t any cookie cutter programs out there that are going to be of optimal design without first being tailored to the needs of the individual. It is that simple, period.
2) As someone who has played a role in helping improve the fitness of our military I know you hold an admiration for servicemen and women. I was recently touched by the story of Jerrod Fields (An Injured Soldier Re-emerges as a Sprinter) who was wounded in Iraq, lost his leg and now belongs to the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. He is now up against Oscar Pistorius whose prosthetic limb and Olympic hopes basically began the debate about (non-pharmaceutical) fitness innovation giving an unfair advantage. In your mind when does innovation become an unfair advantage?
This is a tough question to answer, because you have to determine where to draw the line. Some of our physical augmentations are out of necessity, as is the case of the two men in your question. To use myself as an example I had to have my hip replaced, so I have a titanium hip which is surely stronger than yours. Does that mean I should not be able to compete with you? It is really up to the governing body of the respective sport to decide what is, and is not, an unfair advantage. I don’t know, I don’t have the answer.
3) What do you think technology’s role and/or place is with regards to fitness? In other words, define the line between the benefits of technology and what is required as an active participant in an athletic/fitness program.
All technology should be is another tool in the toolbox and it really depends on the level of fitness of the athlete. Beginning athletes really need to be properly assessed and then focus on fundamental training. To the extent technology can help with that, great!
As a trainer I use a force plate to help power lifters with explosive movements. Does that mean that a novice should jump on a force plate? Of course not. These are all tools, so technology’s role is to be a tool in someone’s toolbox. And like any good toolbox, it should be filled with things that are useful. The line lies between asking yourself, “What do I need?” and then making sure that it helps you analyze, optimize, and maximize the goal that you are aiming for. If it is not then you minimize it, in other words you get it out of your toolbox. The role of technology is to give proper and relevant feedback to the athlete in question. If it is not doing that then what is the point.
4) As a fitness practitioner you utilize technology to improve your client’s results – what invention/innovation do you believe had the biggest impact on increasing overall fitness levels to date?
Regarding what I do, my answer is Dartfish. It is the best tool I’ve found for structural analysis. I use it to analyze athletic performance and it is great for that.
5) Do you see any innovations and/or paradigm shifts on the horizon that warrant excitement (ex. http://exerciseismedicine.org)?
Right now I really like what CrossFit is doing. They have validated what the Soviets, Bulgarians, and the NSCA have known for ages. It is a throwback to general physical preparation… to fundamental training. I learned this stuff from my mentors like Dr. John Garhammer, Bob Takano, Dr. Bill Sands and Dr. Mike Stone. This stuff has been known for 50 years or more and now CrossFit is using technology to get the message out. Everyone has access now… the Internet, mobile, etc. It is also a product of good marketing on the part of CrossFit, I mean they are experts at creating evangelists, but who cares as long as people are getting the message.
Ground based, multi-joint, multi-plane, under load, done at variable speeds and according to the level of fitness of the athlete. It’s not rocket science but somewhere along the way people lost sight of what is important and CrossFit is doing their part to move the focus in the right direction.
My wife and I like to call it the “burn the box” principle. Fitness is obviously enhanced by innovation and science, so we need to cross educate people. I think we are making a lot of ground but we still live in a world where people want instant results. Individual assessments are an important part of every program but the instant access to generic regimens and training programs (a downside to technology) has enabled people to jump in head first often to their own demise. By all means, do your own research and when you do you’ll see that the reason existing paradigms are getting challenged by CrossFit and others is because a lot of common wisdom regarding strength training in the U.S. was/is wrong.
There are great scientists that have substantially contributed to the vast body of knowledge that people reference from: The late Dr. Mel Siff, Dr. Yuri Verhkoshansky, Dr. Tudor Bomba, Dr. Greg Haff, Dr. Kyle Pierce, Dr. Fred Hatfield, Dr. Bill Whiting, Dr. Stuart McGill, Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Dr. Michael Yessis. These are just a few of the MANY great scientists and practitioners who have been in the background writing, researching, and teaching all these facts I and others have taught for years that fell on deaf ears and now are being heard from the pulpit of CrossFit.
Again it is great that CrossFit is changing/reverting this paradigm, but it is important for people to know that CrossFit methodologies and all the underlying information has been around for years in textbooks and training manuals if people had just bothered to read, opened their ears and listened…