Last week we caught up with David VanDyke, Associate Athletics Director – Strength and Conditioning at Rutgers University, who has over 20 years of performance coaching experience. Here’s what he had to say regarding his experience working with Strive.

Photo: Rutgers Athletics

STRIVE: Overall how has your experience working with Strive been at Rutgers?

VANDYKE: It’s been really good; I really enjoy working with the team at Strive. I think their vision for what Strive can do in the field of sport tech is  heading in the direction that nobody else is. It holds a lot of promise to get a very unique insight and perspective on what’s going on inside your athletes. The ability to do heart rate without strapping something around somebody’s chest and EMG activity through the shorts was something that really piqued my interest. The potential of what that information can do once you’re able to distill it down to something actionable.

They’ve been really good about listening to any hurdles I had to clear and helping me on the way with that. I like it because it’s something that the guys don’t even know they have on. It’s low-maintenance, or in this case invisible, and not adding anything to the athlete’s plate. The way I handle it is I put it on before the guys get to the facility. They show up, they grab their loop, put on their gear. All their chips and devices are there. I don’t have to do anything, don’t have to bother them. With all the updates and changes they’ve been able to do with that. There’s been time I ask the guys for their chips and they forgot they had it on. That to me, having the seamless integration and be virtually unnoticed by the athlete is very important. We used to use other heart rate monitors and the guys hated them. I had to put them on the guys before every practice which took me away from doing other things. Guys didn’t like wearing them because they were too tight, or they would fall down or fall off.

STRIVE: You’ve talked about Strive being forward thinking, you’re really familiar with other performance monitoring and sports tech systems. What was your vision of integrating Strive into your programs and training?

VANDYKE: It fits in a couple different ways; one we did heart rate to get some proxy for an internal load. The external load was the work they produced. The internal load was the cost that that work created. And the heart rate monitor could have other factors that could affect the heart rate. The EMG activity is a little more precise. The way that I envisioned the technology working together is getting an internal vs. external load to get an idea of where they are in terms of their work, are we seeing increase in cost, internal, but production or the external load is that staying the same. Is the cost going up, but we aren’t producing any more? If that’s the case, we need to adjust what we are doing. We know what they are doing, but how much does it cost? There are other things that are going to contribute to fatigue. Having that insight is where I see the huge benefit of it.

STRIVE: Has Strive adjusted any of your training programs?

VANDYKE: Not yet, because I was learning two systems at the same time. I started with Strive and Kinexon at the same time. We switched from Catapult to Kinexon last year and was getting different metrics. Catapult we were just getting IMU data, with Kinexon we were able to get positional data with their system. Trying to sort through signal from noise with all the data that provides, I knew how to use the information once I was able to figure out what data point I was going to look at better than the internal load with Strive. What I was able to do with Strive was ask them to provide me with updates quarterly. I was collecting it and they were doing reports and giving me insights on what they were seeing with the data. They were able to help me change up our warm-ups for road games by about half or three-fourths way through our conference season. I think it helped us out a lot. We extended it because what they were seeing with the Strive data, they were more efficient in the second half than they were in the first half. They attributed that to the fact that they weren’t warmed up enough before that first half. We extended the warm-up. I was able to take that information to the coaches, they trust me and understood what I was telling them. We added 10 minutes to the warm-up, and we finished off the season pretty well. (The Scarlet Knights finished with their first winning season in 14 years!)

They were able to help me change up our warm-ups for road games by about half or three-fourths way through our conference season. I think it helped us out a lot. We extended it because what they were seeing with the Strive data, they were more efficient in the second half than they were in the first half.

STRIVE: You had a great season this last year. Was there a particular player or incident throughout the season that you really saw the benefit of Strive?

VANDYKE: One of our key players, he’s not one of our more robust or stout kids. He’s worked himself into shape where he is able to handle the rigors of the season, but it’s been through a lot of hard work. When he gets overworked his body breaks down. It takes a lot for him to bounce back from it. Strive let me know that this specific individual’s internal load for that practice that we had was twice as much as it would be normally. I was able to text the player and we sat down. I let him know where he is normally at for this type of practice and this is what he was at today, it was twice as much. It took him twice as much effort for the same result. So we talked about his diet, sleep habits, and other stresses that’s going on. At the end of that conversation we came up with a plan for him in terms of getting a better routine before bed and ensuring a couple extra meals. He was able to bounce back. I talked with coach about how I handled it and he also took the information and adjusted some things in practice to make sure he subbed him out whenever he could. He was a major contributor for us.

STRIVE: Did you see the players want to get involved in the data? Anything that you saw or can suggest to us to make the players want to be more involved in the data that is produced?

VANDYKE: I’m somewhat particular in what information I share with them, because I want to make sure whatever story I’m telling them is in fact true. With external load components I’ll take some of their times spent in high speed distance or at high speed and look at that. Then take their game number and I’ll sort out game night drills and take data point and compare that to their game. If we’re trying to create game like situations in these drills, are we? Is it a function of the drill or athletes work.

I try to limit the information I’m giving them with data. If I’m going to share the data, it’s got to illicit specific response from them or validate why we are doing more or less of something. With the data in general if you can find a way to contextualize to the game and use it as a competitive tool to rank, record and publish. Instill some added stakes, it’s very hard to recreate game speed when the stakes aren’t high enough. Game is win or lose, guys who just show up for games. How do we get guys to show up for practice? You create stakes that make them want to work a little bit harder. A caveat to that I want them within 90 percent of game numbers. I’m going to assume they are not going to make it to game speed but if they are within 90 percent we’re achieving some sort of training from that state.

STRIVE: Currently you’re using it more with hoops at Rutgers, do you see any overlap with other sports at Rutgers?

VANDYKE: I have a pie in the sky idea. There’s a document for returning to activity, it puts guidelines in place on what progressing back into activity looks like, having standards for what you are doing, transitioning from a period of inactivity to activity. My idea is to have everybody wear Strive. Collect data for a year and the second year I’d be able to go to the coach, say these are KPI’s for volume or intensity. These are the volumes you have to stay within. Not to say end practice at four miles, but give them a range. This is your total distance you are allowed to get in a week. Have a progression to go through for first three weeks. That would limit a lot of soft tissue injuries, if you’re able to say this is where you were last year and allow them to program better on the back end. Go into the off-season and give specific distances and speeds, to prepare them for what they are going to experience.

That would limit a lot of soft tissue injuries, if you’re able to say this is where you were last year and allow them to program better on the back end.

You can use data in reactive manner, but I think combining that with proactive approach. With a year’s worth of data, you in some senses have the answers to the test. You have a good idea of what they have to endure in the preseason, why not use that information to progress them back to 80-85 percent of the volume and intensity they will experience in that first week. So, it’s not a huge change in activity from one week to the next.