Interview with Carl Valle

Carl Valle USATF II is a performance coach who specializes in track and field. He has coached high school, college, and post collegiate athletes for 13 years and has been in the technology field since graduating from the University of South Florida.


I know Carl for a long time over the Charlie Francis forum and I have been corresponding with him numerous times over the email. When I was interning at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning (MBSC) in Boston, I’ve met Carl in person and managed to see him coaching one college triple-jumper and also managed to enjoy couple of margaritas in a Mexican restaurant. Since then, me and Carl are constantly connected and we have been discussing training and technology ever since.

When it comes to technology and coaching, along with design (presentations, training templates, monitoring tools, etc) Carl is the man to go to. Besides, Carl has huge training knowledge and he is a like a walking Bible of coaching. Sometimes he pisses people off due his directness and no B.S. approach, but that’s Carl. In this interview (there is going to be more parts, since Carl is busy and cannot answer the full set of questions) he is providing some thoughts on technology and training/coaching. Enjoy!

Mladen: You have been outspoken about the Tendo unit and Gymaware as having some important considerations for best practices as you have seen some very good uses and some abuses. Can you share what the pros and cons are and where power management is evolving with sports?

Carl: For those that are not familiar with those systems, both are linear position transducers and gather the power information from a bar or the center of mass of the athlete. If you can envision a yo-yo attached to the ground and the string attached to one’s belt or barbell you can imagine how the data is collected. The reason I share this important information is not that they are not accurate or precise, it’s because what type of information are we getting? I am in favor of it’s use so don’t think I am not a supporter of the equipment but I am interested in how coaches use the equipment they invested into.

Bar speed and wattage measurement is only great if they are appropriate for the sport and are impactfull in coaching programs. The best programs that use this are working with athletes for years to see fatigue decay, not testing to see what their “max numbers” are. Monitoring fatigue live with a group is not easy and coaches have eyes so looking down at the screen is not as important as watching it and how the lift is done.

The score is a product of and sum of bar and or athlete, not a measure of transfer or application of power. When you attach the Tendo or gymaware to the bar you getting bar speed and power numbers, but not biomechanical information of how the score was created.

Tom Tellez who I was able to talk to in person pleaded for people to understand the application of applying forces frantically because he understood the technique demands of speed and power events. In the Olympic lifts, athletes are trying to in general increase lower or total body power to transfer it to sport. Often those with the best lifts are not the best athletes because of several reasons. My interest is trying to get athletes apply forces through the feet via the legs instead of trying to just get a good number. Transfer is about the carryover of forces applied in sports training into real life actions such as jumping and running.

One facility is taking advantage of pressure and force plate analysis with the Olympic lifting platform and now the plyometric area to subtly collect the foot forces at high speed. Not only is the coach able to get the left and right leg contribution of bilateral or unilateral lifts, but the front and back side of the foot for muscle contribution. The information collected includes the RFD and other basic values, but the forces through the feet hint to us what muscle groups are recruited and video captures the mechanics of the lifts to cross-reference the data collected on the platform. The best part is that the equipment isn’t visible and the data can be streamed live or to a smartphone for private use or later analysis.

Finally, the great thing about the plates is that they are not creating an environment for getting “big numbers with little transfer”. We all make fun of the guy squatting with huge weights but little knee or hip bend, but how often do we collect power numbers with technique that isn’t very effective in developing athleticism. One easy example is measuring the length of a behind-the-back medicine ball throw that looks more like a suplex from the WWE than a lower body dominant explosion. The number may look good but is the motion going to help score the synchronization of the legs and spine or just get a raw hip and back number? The same can be said for Olympic lifts with getting raw scores of peak power or bar speed, it’s fine to get but how it’s created is important.

Mladen: HRV is gaining a lot of popularity, what are your concerns about the use with coaches and athletes now that new devices are more accessible?

Carl: The Polar FT80 and the ithlete app for the iphone and ipod (soon to be android market) are gaining momentum on the consumer and professional market because they provide scoring rapidly and conveniently. Even Zephyr Technology has a HRV kit for their bioharness, and of course the omegawave system is available to people as well. No matter if you use the open source product Kubios and analyze each workout and the reactivation rate after it, you have to use the information you collected or why are you doing it?

We need less data swamps and more selective and smart sampling. My worry is that we will HRV as a magic crystal ball. The great benefit of the individual devices is that the “crystal ball” is now in the hands of the coach and athlete, making the gypsy guru less important and that is a good thing. But HRV is a marking of what has happened and a not a concrete path, so we need to not only embrace it but not be dependent on it.

HRV is part of the monitoring process and will grow. HRV and sports performance will have success will be how coaches refine existing programs the next season. Those that can get pragmatic scoring daily will trump the one session magic reading. Overtraining often creeps up with people, making the acute injury look to be because of the problems during the week (often involved as well) instead of the entire process or career.

Mladen: Electronic Timing is becoming the standard with coaches with short sprints and agility, but you think it’s more important with conditioning and practice organization. Why is that?

Carl: Similar to the other technologies that summarize performance in a “number”, electronic timing needs to have context and specifics behind it. For example we are seeing a bloated scoring on combines because people are focusing on tests instead of global performances. Nothing wrong with it, but we need to reflect on the improvements with a healthy perspective. One team is actually timing receiver routes with very high precision to see if the game play is fast. Similar to SAT prep classes that help increase scores, you are not actually getting smarter you are just better test takers. Otherwise the same prep courses would be full time teaching institutions!

Getting a 10 yard split is helpful, provided that you are just sampling basic speed and not trying to extrapolate too much information from it. This is why I love video analysis with chronometers. Now you are seeing why they are running certain times and moving at different directions in a better light.

One emerging company I am interested in is Freelap from Switzerland. After talking to a few people about it I like that team timing can be done with a wrist watch and transmitters. Unlike other timing systems that are very expensive and cumbersome, this one is very portable for coaches who are traveling. The most important aspect of this electronic timing system is the individualism in programming one can do with various abilities.

How many NFL and NCAA teams do the weekly conditioning run to maintain fitness and gage conditioning? With athletes weighting anywhere from 185 pounds to 325 or more, the running distances, times, and sometimes rest periods need to be specific to the position (or weight and abilities) in order to ensure that specific work is done. Look at the resources being used if the team is trying to collect real velocities/distances and rest periods and actually instruct the training when you have half a dozen coaches at a football practice. Instead of the stop watch or countdown timer on the big screen, one is getting the actual times and splits of how they are running the conditioning. For example linemen seem to do better on more repeat work of shorter distances, thus biasing the pushing and acceleration aspects while skill players tend to run longer and more. In order to be precisely measuring overtraining, increases or decreases of workload, precise timing is a must. The equipment also allows multiple athletes to be timed in groups, making practices more efficient to run. Practices are intense and realistic as well, especially when athletes are internally and externally competing at the same time. Shuttle runs and other tests that coaches want are precise and easily more evaluated through spreadsheets when the watches transfer a weeks worth of data in seconds. Freelap has a domestic distributor here in the US and the website can be found here.

Another technology I find impressive is the “Hot suit”, a domestic product designed to be the opposite of a stealth weapon. This outfit looks like regular materials but offers some very powerful tracking of biomechanics data as well as the typical HR information. Instead of putting on reflective markers you are getting 93 joint positions and the angles at 800 hz via bluetooth. The material is also intelligent that it can be calibrated to adjust for regeneration or performance.This makes Under Armor look like medieval cotton! I am not saying that the military is using this now but with sports and war being similar we are seeing a lot of money invested into both areas.

Mladen: Physiological monitoring is still focused on heart rate and you have been very outspoken about the limitations of using it as a guide in work and output. With Zephyr, Suunto, and Polar leading the industry what lessons can they learn from the past in order to refine what we are doing now and in the future?

Carl: I have been using HR Monitors for a long time and first used one while training for a triathlon in 1993. Not much has changed from 1982 when the first commercial ones were available. I have used lactate analyzers, power meters, and even V02 equipment and find it too narrow to be helpful for speed and power athletes. Don’t get me wrong I still use them but what teams are making dramatic changes to their programs? Where is the quantum leaps people are talking about? Will Carroll said the Under Armor shirt will change baseball. The Sabres project their heart rates of their team on the videotron. Where is this leading us? The sport of rugby has helped me understand the impact of conditioning and how to effectively use the information gathered during training. Soccer is not ahead of the curve believe me. Soccer has improved tremendously but all sports have their cultural woes.

Football clubs as well as American Football performance coaches can use HR to see the slope of recovery from repeat bouts and sets of bouts as well as the effort being done to do the same workload. A simple series of tempo strides becomes a great way to gage who is overtraining and who is simply getting out of shape. Other than that, people are breaking world records in the Marathon without using HR monitors all the time so it’s not magic. I don’t need to see a number on a flat screen to see if someone is working hard, I have eyes. In the future we will see a better use of field tests and less HR analysis since stamina is sustaining a specific pattern of output with regards to power. The games are based on time and speed, not specific heart rate zones or percentages of of HR Max with players. Nobody competes at HR levels only they mainly compete with speed and distance needed to make the play or win the race. Athletes need to be in tune with their body and improve their perception of exertion, not be dependent of breathing rate and heart data.

One classic story I enjoy is the elite cyclists doing a light workout and all of them laughing at the difference of HR and effort feeling while training in a peloton in Spain. One guy was suffering at 165, another cruising at 145, and one was conversational at 185. A big range. Imagine the averages of a team of players being evaluated in soccer? A team with three keepers may skew the data to the point of punishment runs when the rest could be very fit. We need to be careful because stories of athletes getting in trouble for having low heart rates in practice have been shared for years as evidence of not trying instead of just being in shape or having a unique system.

Mladen: Accelerometers and GPS devices such as the Catapult system are looked at as the holy grail and you have been supporting Finish Lynx and other tracking systems. Why is that?

Carl: A lot of money is being wasted on GPS if not used properly. Even if it’s used what are the sport coaches doing with the information? I was corresponding with one expert who did some work with an Italian football club and he was very honest about everyone must be on the same page or the data is useless. I call this autopsy data, information that explains what killed the athlete’s performance but doesn’t do much for prevention. With your interview of Dan Baker , he is using it to gage workload and similar data in order to work more cohesively with the club. This is a far cry from one particular soccer club who was trying to find patterns with software on conditioning and HR analysis. The true issue was the athletes were weak as kittens and struggled to do lunges with 10 kilo dumbbells for reps of 6! The fatigue was not aerobic, it was lack of power overloading their energy systems.

Another problem we have is ornamental data. For example people are getting “G” forces with accelerometers. This is actually a step back in progress since a simple number summary doesn’t tell a story or give better insight. Getting another number is not what we need. It’s cool to bring up watts or other less commonly used scores but how many times have we seen old school coaches talk about distances, weights, and times with great success? Change is only evolution when improvement hits, otherwise it’s stagnation by imagination.

Mladen, when we drove up north of Boston we were minutes away from Finish Lynx, a company that created the isolynx system of game tracking. The technology is very impressive but it’s up to the coaches to use it correctly without being blinded by the obvious. What I like about the data is that a simple CSV file export can help perform regression analysis rapidly after training to help monitor things with more precision. How much impact isn’t known since implementation is what is not being done with teams. You think a text alert is going to a player to have an extra banana because of the 800 meters extra running they did in practice? We are not there yet. I believe that smart shirt technology will change things provided that athletes are monitored outside the training facility and stadium. I wonder how GMs look at the twitter feeds at 3:45 am the day before playoff games or when a status update on Facebook shows their “entertainment” location is at a city 3 hours away on Wednesday evenings. Lifestyle is the number one completive advantage.

Mladen: Technology Fusion is looming. Can you share why the merging of technology is so important? Also can you finish up with other helpful tips in general with technology and coaching?

Carl: Myotest’s US Vice President did a great presentation on fusion of technology. Too bad their product isn’t wireless or smaller it would more helpful. The fusion of technology is sort of like the trendy French Cambodian restaurant in the Soho area, combing things often leads to something good.

Darfish and EMG is also exciting when teams are looking at return to play benchmarks or other indices. The strength of combining technologies is that it increases the data specifically and cross-references the values.

My general statement about technology is not let it become a burden or barrier with coaching. We can’t be looking down at an iphone or laptop all the time and I find that athletes will connect better with coaches when it’s done right. Coaches need to let technology remove time burdens and help them, not become slaves to the devices that are suppose to help them.

Stay tuned for the second part of the interview….

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