Like many of you I suspect, I feel two things while watching the Olympics: awe from these incomparable athletes, and inspiration to go out and play more and train harder.
I haven't yet been able to turn that inspiration into perspiration, though. At the beginning of the summer, I tore my Achilles Tendon while playing tennis (that's the same injury that left China's 2004 Gold Medal hurdler Liu Xiang hopping to the finish line earlier this week). As a result, I've spent the last two months on crutches or on my butt.
All I've been able to do is obsessively read about the training regimens of Olympic athletes. In my dreams, I incorporate quick-recovery ice baths and hyperbaric oxygen chambers into my future workouts. Or I fantasize about having a world-class coach and a high-tech training center replete with high-speed cameras and motion sensors at my disposal.
Fortunately, there are also a bunch of apps whose cost (free to $10 a month) belie their value to Olympians, many of whom won gold medals with their aid.
Coaches for the U.S. Olympic diving team used the PowerChalk app to immediately review video in order to aid in their real-time feedback.
For skill-based sports - think diving, gymnastics, golf, tennis, etc. - practice makes perfect. Enter video analysis, which has evolved plenty since I was in high school and used an 8 mm camera to tape myself hitting against the tennis ball machine.
Today's apps like SwingReader, Ubersense and Coach's Eye let you shoot video on your smartphone or tablet, and then immediately watch your form in slow-motion or side-by-side with other practices. You can also scroll back and forth with a swipe of your finger, draw lines and compute the angle of your golf, baseball or tennis swing, and even share videos with an avid community of other pro or weekend jocks. Here's SwingReader:
SwingReader comes in a free Lite version and paid versions ostensibly targeted at golfers and baseball players. That doesn't stop John Geddert, head coach of the Gold Medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team and personal coach of Olympian Jordyn Wieber, from using SwingReader along with Coach's Eye, according to Reuters:
"You can see form and execution errors, legs apart or knees bent," explained Geddert, adding that the apps helped him diagnose why a gymnast at the Olympics was not being credited for an element in a routine and make immediate adjustments.
SwingReader for golf and baseball each cost $2.99 and work on iOS devices. An HD iPad version of the golf app costs $4.99.
Four-time Olympic sprinting medalist from Trinidad and Tobago, Ato Bolden, uses Coach's Eye when he consults as a coach for NFL players. It "is unlike anything that’s ever existed. It allows me not just to tell a guy he had his head or hands out of place — now I can play it back instantly," Bolden told the Mashable blog last month. "I resisted the iPad bandwagon until the new one came out and I had to have the absolute first batch, but it’s transformed the way I coach and broadcast."
UberSense, which is owned by the same company that makes SwingReader, is used by the U.S. women's volleyball team to review practices and games. The gold medal favorite, the U.S. women's team is as of this writing in the semi-finals of the competition. UberSense's web site also features testimonials from U.S. national coaches in distance running, cycling, and bobsledding. UberSense costs $4.99.
Coaches for the U.S. swimming team, which took home many handfuls of medals from London, use an underwater camera to take video footage that they review with an $0.99 iOS app called VideoPix.
National performance advisor Russell Mark said it helps the swimmers master aspects of their technique such as their starts and turns.
Aaron Dziver, one of the coaches behind Canadian synchronized diving bronze medalists Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion, is also a fan of VideoPix.
"We can look at the actual technique we're trying to modify in the diver and very quickly show them what they're doing and have them try to focus on a corrected execution," he said.
The U.S. trampoline and tumbling team used a free iOS app called Instant Replay Camera, while the coaches of the U.S. Olympic diving team uses one called PowerChalk. Diving coach Drew Johansen credits PowerChalk for being "a huge part of our synchronized teams winning medals.”
Unlike the aforementioned apps, PowerChalk comes in PC, Mac and Android versions in addition to the iPhone and iPad. Reportedly also used by major league baseball teams, Powerchalk has a free limited version and a pro version costing $10 a month.
The Training's The Thing
There are nearly 14,000 consumer fitness apps by one estimate - and that's just on iOS. So there's no shortage of fitness promising to help you build the body of an Olympian. But here are some of the ones actually used by Olympians.
TrainingPeaks bills itself as the "the ultimate training & nutrition software." It comes in both athlete and coach editions, and lets users upload data such as heart rate and power from their workouts from nearly 100 digital devices, or type them into any Web-enabled computer, smartphone or tablet.
TrainingPeaks is used by Gwen Jorgensen, who finished 38th in the triathlon for the U.S., and Sarah Haskins, an American triathlete who competed in Beijing and just missed out on qualifying for London.
Another app, MapMyRide, is used by U.S. Olympic cyclists to help plan practice rides and record their training logs, one U.S. national coach told Reuters. The app comes in free and $2.99 versions and runs on iPhone, Android phones and BlackBerries equipped with GPS.
To ensure that they recover from those bodybreaking workouts, some Olympians use sleep monitoring gadgets that track how much they move at night, which translates to a sleep score displayable on an Android or iOS device. The U.S. Olympics women's cycling team used the Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile app. As someone who's had trouble sleeping well recently - which, ironically, may be caused by my iPhone - I'm strongly considering the Zeo.
Are there are any other training or fitness apps that you've used that you would recommend?