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Falcons embrace technology to enhance performance


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By D. Orlando Ledbetter

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

FLOWERY BRANCH -- You can't even see the little straps wrapped around the upper torso of about 10 players during practice.

The wireless heart-rate monitor sits right on the sternum.

"You kind of get used to it," safety Thomas DeCoud said. "It's not anything uncomfortable."

The Falcons are on the cutting edge when it comes to using technology to enhance athletic performance.

During practices, the team monitors players' heart rates, training loads and recovery time. Team officials study how each player can enhance his performance by analyzing the data transmitted from the monitors to a laptop computer on the side of the field.

The computer, which reads from a 150-yard radius, is monitored by trainer Marty Lauzon, assistant strength-and-conditioning coach Bill Hughan and Jeff Fish, the team's director of athletic performance.

"It takes into consideration their age, weight, maximum heart rate and gives us a value on really how hard and how much energy expenditure each guy has," Fish said. "It kind of falls into line with what we do with the individual assessments of guys."

Last week, DeCoud and cornerback Dunta Robinson were strapped to heart-rate monitors. They were on the practice field for the same amount of time.

From the data, Fish could tell which player expended more energy, how hard he worked and how much his body was taxed. Finally, data will make a projection on how much recovery time the player needs.

"Then we can start looking at how many repetitions does the guy need [the following day]," Fish said. "How much recovery does he need to be fresh tomorrow. How much recovery does each individual need to be fresh on Sunday."

Some of the strapped players included defensive end John Abraham, wide receiver Roddy White and safety William Moore.

The monitoring has been a hit with the players.

"They can tell if you're not recovering and what time you recover the next day," Robinson said. "This technology is getting crazy, but it's a great thing."

Getting the proper amount of rest is key for the well-conditioned athlete.

"I overheard him talking to Roddy, and he said that by 6 a.m. his body will be fully recovered," Robinson said. "That's kind of interesting. I'm anxious to see what time my body will be fully recovered."

The compilation of data allows the team to avoid making blanket assessments that everyone will be ready to perform in a game because of some unknown variables.

"We've got data already that shows major differences in two individuals that happen to play the same position and take the same amount of reps throughout practice," Fish said.

The age of the player also is a factor, along with their individual stress levels.

The Falcons use equipment from a company named Polar. Their objective is not to train their players too little or too much. Part of Polar's advertising pitch to teams is "use facts not averages."

They do a considerable amount of heart rate monitoring in the NHL, in some European soccer leagues and in boxing. The Falcons are the only NFL team fully implementing the technology.

"We want to be able to get to a point where we know what the demands are on a guy like Curtis Lofton for four quarters of football," Fish said. "That would allow me to build running workouts and conditioning workouts to match his game-day requirements."

Then they can share the data with the coaches, which would allow them to better arrange practice schedules.

"Not necessarily did we come up short or did we just practice them too much and ended up going into the game already prefatigued," Fish said.

The Falcons envision a day when they are monitoring their players in games. If a player's heart monitor reveals that his endurance is slipping, the Falcons can pull him out of the game.

"[European soccer clubs] set their practice times up around the data, and if a player gets up to a certain level, they will take him out and sit him down," Fish said. "They'll monitor him, and the data will let them know when it's OK to put him back in. ... It spits the information out at real time

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