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What the Engineering of Sport Preparation has to Learn from Physics
The scheduling of most sport practices renders a functional analog to the highest frequency electromagnetic waves- gamma rays. (To be clear, this is a criticism against the scheduling of most sport practices.)
Gamma rays are the highest known energy waves and possess wavelengths less than
10-11m (that’s .00000000001 of a meter) while carrying energy levels in excess of 1019 Hz (that’s 10000000000000000000 Hertz, and one Hertz is equivalent to one cycle per second).
*for perspective sake, the diameter of the head of pin is 1.5 millimeters which is 10-3m and the diameter of the disk of a red blood cell is 6.2-8.2 micrometers or 6.2-8.2 x 10-6m. Thus, the wavelength of a gamma ray, 10-11m or 10 picometers, is eight orders of magnitude smaller than the diameter of the head of a pin and five orders of magnitude smaller than the diameter of a red blood cell! (bear in mind that the difference between 10 and 100 is one order of magnitude, thus 105, or 100000, is five orders of magnitude greater than 10).
*Now, envisage a bicycle turned upside down so that you can slap either tire, with some horizontal force vector relative to the perpendicular to some point on the tire surface, and watch it spin freely. One revolution per second is one Hertz. Imagine the energy associated with hypothetically striking the tire with a force that renders it to spin 10000000000000000000 times a second! As unreasonable as this is to actually achieve on a bicycle wheel, this gives you some measure of the frequency of a gamma wave.
Convenient to the analog I’m describing, Gamma rays are, same as most sport practice schedules, biologically hazardous. Gamma rays because they are able to ionize other atoms (i.e. morphologically restructure them) and sport practices due to their high frequency of high energetic demand of motions. Therein lies a universal constant taken from wave physics in which the highest frequency waves contain the highest energy, same as the most concentrated intensity sport training is the sort in which high force-velocity based activity is executed too frequently (i.e. daily).
As it stands, because sport practices are typically exercises of high frequency/high intensity stimuli, their “wave characteristics” fail to modulate intensity; often only adjusting volumes one day to the next; while intensities go unchanged. This existing independently of other physically demanding loading in preparation outside of sport practice (which renders a compound result as each load variable is cumulative from the perspective of the athletes’ bodies). This misinformed scheduling of multivariate preparatory frequency (i.e. sport practice, gym work, track work, active physio…) is analogous to another phenomenon in physics known as entropy.
In thermodynamics, entropy is a function of state and characterizes the measure of disorder in a given macroscopic system. Entropy increases along with the increase in heat and, thereby, thermal energy. Thus, the higher the thermal energy the more disorder and the greater the entropy.
Greater biological hazard, greater disorder/uncertainty…so many ways for sport to reformat the operational nature of its infrastructure (how coaching staffs work) and for coaches to assimilate this knowledge and reform the dogmatic approach to sport practice, and all work done apart from sport practice, so as to achieve the maximum amount of technical/tactical skill development, and supportive foundational elements, while optimizing work to rest.
Simply put, the frequency of a given stimuli must be squared against its nature. In sport, the nature of stimuli, in the context of physical loading, manifests as sport practice and every physically demanding motion (quantified by its force: velocity characteristics) performed outside of sport practice- no matter under which faction of coaching/rehabilitation is supervising it.
It is a general principal that is being discussed here, and for this reason, it exists far beyond the context of sport, in so far as the lower the intensity the stimuli/dose the more safely and frequently it may be administered; rendering low risk. Alternatively, the higher the intensity of stimuli/dose the more hazardous it is to be administered as frequently, rendering greater risk. No matter whether its physics, medicine, alcohol, or recreational drug use, what is elementary knowledge amidst every stated community is, ironically, seemingly unknown in sport.
In “The Governing Dynamics of Coaching” I illustrate examples of what I refer to as sport preparatory engineered blueprints. These represent the totality of what is currently recognized as sport practice and physical preparatory workloads in the form of what I propose as evolved jargon- sport preparation in which there ceases to be “sport practice” or “physical preparation”; only sport preparation which is all things done, holistically integrated, to prepare for competition. This is sequenced according what is long since known, yet rarely observed amidst the world of team and combat sport, in terms of dose intensity.
Here one may consider wave physics and allow the dimensional characteristics of a sinusoidal wave (one dimensional sine wave) itself to guide your direction in engineering the evolved way to prepare for sport competition. The crest of a sine wave signifies its amplitude and this may serve as an analog to preparatory intensity; whereas the trough of the wave is an exact opposite amplitude, in the opposite direction, of the crest. An equal proportion of crests and troughs is an important lesson regarding sport preparatory intensity and recovery; in which the greater the crest the greater the trough and vice versa. Likewise, the greater the training intensity the greater the recovery demand; and, again, vice versa. This is further encompassed by the distance between two sequential crests, or two sequential troughs, or like preparatory days, which signifies the wavelength. This may serve as an analog to when it is appropriate to stimulate with the next proportional intensity/volume. The shorter the wavelength the greater the frequency and this naturally follows that the lesser the training volume the greater it lends itself to higher frequency, regardless if the intensity is high or low.
There are 5 sinusoidal wave parameters:
- amplitude “A”
- wavelength “l”
- period “T”
- frequency “f”
- speed “v”
Given a sine wave,
- amplitude is defined by the distance on the vertical axis between the crest, or trough, of a wave and the median of the wave
- wavelength is a function of space and is the distance (meter) from crest to sequential crest, or trough to sequential trough
- period is a function of time (seconds), the duration of one complete oscillation (1 crest + one trough)
- frequency is also a function of time; it is how many periods occur per second (Hertz), (frequency and periods are reciprocals)
- speed is the magnitude of phase velocity
The physics of sine waves will serve as the analog for optimizing the engineering of sport preparation in terms of weekly schedule.
- Amplitude may be thought of as intensity (force and/or velocity)
- Wavelength as a geometrical feature for planning the schedule
- Period as the amount of time for the system to return to baseline following the intensity of the stimuli
- Frequency as the number of preparatory episodes per unit time
- Speed of the wave will not have particular significance in these sport analogies beyond an arbitrary value of 3m/s for calculations
Consider the following graph of three sine waves (courtesy of Wolfram Alpha) and assume that the wave velocity is 3m/s for each wave, the values on the y-axis are arbitrary and the values on the x-axis represent meters:
In this graph, each wave has the same amplitude (4) yet that is the only parameter they share in common.
Using the formulas:
f = v/l
l = v/f (if v and f are already known, or a straight measurement may be taken from the graph)
T = 1/f
The graph of 4sin(2x)
o f = .94Hz
o l = 3.2m
o T = 1.06sec
The graph of 4sin(4x)
o f = 1.88Hz
o l = 1.6m
o T = .53sec
The graph of 4sin(8x)
o f = 3.75Hz
o l = .8m
o T = .27sec
These mathematical truths allow us to summarize, by analogy, the following:
- Given the same load intensity, recovery periods vary according period
- The load volume (integral) of each wave crest doubles in proportion to the period of each wave
- The load frequency halves as the period doubles
Problematically, if the reasoning stops here, what we’re left with is the relative actuality of faulty reasoning utilized by many coaches in sport, in which the intensity of ‘practice’ or ‘conditioning apart from practice’ remains relatively constant from day to day, and typically only varies according to volume or taxonomy. This renders a high frequency of high intensity; which, in the cases of team and combat sports, is nearly always accompanied by voluminous repetitions.
The limited cases in which this is actually effectively practiced, regards sport preparations such as Olympic weightlifting; and for a highly specific reason. To be sure, weightlifters customarily train with relatively high intensity weights on consecutive days. The reason for this utility is because the load volumes are relatively small each session. Volume being a function of the total number of repetitions of competition exercises: snatches and clean and jerks, as well as the derivatives of each.
In the near totality of other sports, however, the way in which repetitions are conceptualized actually amounts to a far greater volume of work per effort; and therein lies the rub…
In weightlifting, every repetition is a single effort, a single lift of the barbell. Alternatively, consider what most repetitions consist of in field sports:
- Every tactical rep or play in association football, basketball, American football, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Aussie Rules, Lacrosse, Field Hockey…amounts to some volume of running, sprinting, positive and negative accelerations, direction changes, and depending on the sport, moderate to high impact collisions.
- Even a single training rep of a T&F sprinter that might consist of a 30m acceleration is an aggregate of strides (~16).
As a consequence, what we see is that the single repetition of the weightlifter must be squared against the multiple repetitions per effort that are still referred to as single repetitions in many other sports.
A single 60m sprint in indoor T&F competition, for example, might total 29-30 strides for an elite male sprinter. Thus, what in common context is one ~95% intensity rep of 60m in training, is actually 30-31 reps of ground contacts of varying force impacts. Extrapolate this into what any ‘rep’ of field sport ‘practice’ actually consists of in terms of ground force impacts, and combative impacts, and understand that the volume of ‘impacts’ in nearly any other sport ‘practice’ amounts to orders of magnitude more force impacts than what weightlifters incur in a single session, or even a full day of two or three smaller sessions.
By revisiting the graph of sine waves 4sin(8x) and 4sin(2x) consider weightlifting as the 4sin(8x) analog and team/combat sport practice as 4sin(2x). In this way, the graphic representation illustrates the shorter period of ‘weightlifting’ which explains the reason why the relatively high intensity of weightlifting training is reasonable to achieve on consecutive days. Alternatively, however, we see the period of 4sin(2x) is four times longer, yet, in contrast to the scale of the illustration, the preponderance of team/combat sports continues to train at their own relative intensities at the same period as the weightlifter’s despite the fact, as explained, the actual volume of impacts (either with the ground or an opponent) exceed the volume of weightlifting training by a remarkable amount.
Thus, while the geometry of the team/combat sport sine wave [4sin(2x)] demonstrates four times the period of the weightlifting wave, in actuality, team/combat sport preparation fails to observe this mathematical significance, of the 1 to 1 relationship between a sine wave’s crest and trough, and require athletes to train at or near competition intensities on consecutive days.
To be sure, the presented mathematical analogies do not account for the multifactorial nature of biological systems and their response to loading. Important to understand, however, is that even if the team/combat sport athletes are effectively recovering from the previous day’s work, which is a big ‘if’, the constant daily intensity is largely prohibitive to the amount of developmental technical and tactical work that could, otherwise, be achieved at reduced intensities. A simple and intuitive truth, yet rarely capitalized upon, is that as intensity decreases the possibility for increasing the volume increases- and at low structural cost.
This brings us to a partial truth that requires elaboration, however, which is that ‘repetition is the mother of skill’. This is incomplete, because the nature of what is repeated is deeply consequential towards to the quality of the outcome. Thus, while lower intensity actions allow for a far greater volume of work to be performed, it is fundamentally important to ensure the optimization of the recursive actions.
There are a multitude of professions whose infrastructure and mode of operations possess knowledge that must be extrapolated and assimilated by sports professionals. Physics is one such domain in which a triumvirate of profoundly valuable examples exist:
- The synergy between theorists and experimentalists in which sport must learn to integrate theorist positions to guide the existing experimentalists (coaches)
- Newtonian Mechanics underpinning biomechanics and explaining modes of calculating and quantifying all observable motion in sport
- The lessons of wave physics and thermodynamics that demonstrate the ways in which team and combat sport preparation may evolve so as to optimize the engineering of technical and tactical development
“The Governing Dynamics of Coaching” integrates multiple lessons from physics and presents solutions for the future of team and combat sport coaching. Sport preparatory engineered blueprints illustrate how medium and high intensity days of sport preparation benefit by being separated by a minimum of 48 hours and, in between, low intensity days of preparation are filled by modes of activity that allow for more profound technical and tactical development, as well as oxidative development in the competition motions, and sub-maximal intensity supportive modes of preparation.
The book was written for all facets of sport coaching, the management, administrators, and executives who contribute to the hiring of coaching, and the media who write about it.
“The Governing Dynamics of Coaching” is available on Amazon.com and Vervante.com
Email James@globalsportconcepts.net for consulting information