October 16, 2018
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GPS heart monitors helping UMaine athletes find health, productivity sweet spot

Larry Mahoney | BDN
Larry Mahoney | BDN
This chip is part of the Polar Team Pro monitoring system that enables University of Maine coaches and strength and conditioning gurus to gauge the heart rate and level of fatigue in Black Bear athletes during workouts and games. It is placed over their hearts and strapped to their chests.

ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine women’s soccer team was scheduled to practice Thursday morning, but it was canceled — and it wasn’t because of the weather.

It was because results from the Polar Team Pro heart monitoring system that the team has been using for three years indicated that several players were physically spent, which made them more susceptible to soft-tissue injuries like strains and pulls.

With the Black Bears’ first game just a week away, it wasn’t worth the risk.

Each player has a monitor or chip approximately 2 inches long strapped to their chest over their heart for practices, games, conditioning sessions and weight-training workouts.

The system monitors heart rate, and contains a GPS that indicates how many miles a player runs during a game or practice and conditioning workout. It also breaks down the mileage into the amount of time spent sprinting.

Each player’s result can be registered immediately on an iPad that head coach Scott Atherley, assistants Liis Emajoe and Peter McDonnell, and sports performance coach Matt Marshall can read. They are uploaded into a workout computer diary.

Atherley said the system costs more than $15,000.

All UMaine teams are using the system except the swim teams.

Atherley and Marshall, along with field hockey coach Josette Babineau, said the Polar Team Pro has been extremely valuable.

“It helps us gauge when to take a day off,” Atherley said. “We may have scheduled Saturday for a day off, but [based on the results], we may need to take Friday off instead.”

Marshall said it also can eliminate speculation.

“You’ll see someone running and you may wonder if they’re working hard. But then you check the monitor and their heart rate, and you find that they’re operating at 95 percent,” he said. “It takes the subjectivity out of it.”

Babineau said the system has enabled her to substitute more efficiently because it helps her recognize when players need a break, but she also pointed out that a “lot of things can spike a heart rate,” including a player’s anxiety or nervousness.

Babineau said it has aided her players in validating their mindsets.

“They will tell me they feel they’ve been dragging or haven’t been feeling like themselves for two or three days, and they will discover [via the monitor] that they were right, and maybe something is going on, they might be getting sick or they’re tired,” Babineau said.

There are a number of statistical categories.

The training load score is based on variables that include intensity and duration of a game or a practice, and the amount of carbohydrate and protein used as energy.

The team and players are assessed an average score each week.

For example, Atherley said an average score for a player in a game may be 300 points and for a week might be 750. That includes training as well as games.

On a hot summer day last year, UMaine’s Kendra Ridley racked up a score of 505 in a double-overtime tie with LIU-Brooklyn.

“So how much would Kendra have left for the next game or the week?” Atherley said. “So are you going to use those points in practice or a game? There’s only so much in the gas tank, and you need it for the competition. So your decisions are based on recovery and games.”

Atherley said Ridley “hardly practiced” the rest of the week.

Eight UMaine players ran at least 7 miles in that game, led by Norwegian midfielder Emilie Andersen’s 10.26 miles.

Another measuring stick is known as an acute and chronic work variance.

The acute variance is based on seven-day scale, and the chronic variance is a monthly statistic.

A player who scores between 0.8 and 1.3 is considered to be in the sweet spot, according to Marshall and Atherley. Those players are getting exactly what they need out of training and games, and their bodies are healthy.

“If they’re under 0.8 they aren’t getting enough work in, so we need to step on the gas with them,” Atherley said. “If they’re over 1.3, they’re being overworked and we need to cut back.”

Atherley often will divide his team into two units, and have a light workout for the players who play regularly and a more strenuous one for the players who don’t play as much.

But regulars will always practice the day before a game.

“It will be a game-intensity, short-duration workout,” Atherley said. “If we give them a few days off before the game, they won’t be ready to play and they’ll experience the phenomenon of restarting, and that usually takes at least 20 minutes to adapt to the competition.”

Sessions are rated one-through-five, and recovery time is based on the intensity of the workouts.

For example, a one would represent a mild workout and it would take the body just six hours to fully recover.

A five would be extreme and it would take the body more than 48 hours to fully recover.

UMaine soccer players Nicole Bailey and Mikayla Morin agree that the Polar Team Pro monitoring system is useful.

“It tells you what you need to work on,” said Bailey, a junior forward from Nepean, Ontario. “I’m more of a fast-twitch player. I tend to burn out pretty quickly. So I’ve done more stuff to increased my conditioning, so I can stay on the field for longer periods of time.”

Morin added that it enables the coaches to to base their practices around the results.

“They’re able to get the most out of us without overworking us,” said Morin, a senior left back from South Paris, Maine. “It’s comfortable knowing the they have your back.”

Morin also said that since the players’ bodies are all different, Marshall is able to tailor the workouts to meet the needs of each player.

“Some people need to do a couple of extra lifts to keep their strength up, others don’t. Some need to run longer distances,” Morin said.

The players said they don’t notice the chips when they’re wearing them.

Bailey said thanks to the system, their fitness “is so much higher this year. It has definitely paid off.”

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