BUILDING BODIES WITH COMPUTERS
A revolution in Olympic training
by DAVID F. BARRY
The Atari-sponsored U.S. Women's Volleyball Team has found a new use for computers in its quest for a gold medal at the1984 Summer Olympics: computerized exercise equipment. In earlier issues of Antic (February, March and April1984), I've mentioned the coaching staffs use of the Atari 800 to calculate volleyball statistics and plot graphs, and Dr. Gideon Ariel's use of computers in his pioneering work in biomechanics. This third prong in the team's computer attack also involves the work of Dr. Ariel.
The computer equipment at the team's Coto de Caza training camp consists of an assortment of video monitors, CPU's, disk drives and video cassette recorders, all of which are connected to work stations designed by Dr. Ariel. These work stations consist of the exercise hardware the team members use in their exercise routines. They come in two models: the Multi-Function station and the Arm-Leg station. Both models are part of the "Ariel 4000 System."
THE BEAUTY OF AN INTELLIGENT MACHINE
Unlike dumbells, barbells or Nautilus equipment, which are truly "bumb" machines, Ariel's work stations provide immediate feedback to the exerciser, maintain and store data about workouts, and actually exert control over the exercising environment. "With my machine," Dr. Ariel notes, "the equipment adapts to you. Most exercise equipment forces you to adapt to it."
MEETING INDIVIDUAL NEEDS
Dr. Ariel's software and hardware were designed to accomplish a number of important functions. First, they provide a means of storing and quickly retrieving data about a workout. This includes such routine information as the amount of weight pressed on a weight-lifting machine, the number of repetitions, the number of sets, and so forth. The data is then saved by the athlete on a personal diskette, and is available whenever she is ready to work out again.
A second function of Dr. Ariel's equipment is to provide "variable resistance." This term is used in sports medicine to describe a method of weight training in which the force of a weight can be changed during the course of an exercise. With free weights or Nautilus equipment this is impossible; once a weight has been selected, it can't be changed until after an exercise repetition has been completed.
With Dr. Ariel's equipment. such variation is as easy as selecting items from a menu. If an athlete determines, for example, that the most beneficial workout for a particular set of muscles requires a heavy weight at the beginning of the lift, followed by a 10 percent reduction in the weight near the top of the lift, such a combination of choices can be made from the menu. This is done by the athlete in collaboration with her trainer. In this way, a workout can be designed to fit an athlete's individual needs. The computer interprets the numbbers that the athlete inputs, and determines the amount of force needed at each point alone the lift. It then instructs tel athlete to begin. The athlete begins the press at the selected weight. Then, at a predetermined point, the computer senses the position of the bar and decreases the weight's force by 10 percent. The athlete feels this change, but is unaware of the many calculations and adjustments that were required to achieve it.
A third function of Dr. Ariel's work station is to provide immediate feedback about an athlete's performance on the equipment. This data is displayed on a video monitor as a colored graph, and includes variables such as force, velocity and range of motion. The computer also emits sound cues that correspond to the strength of a particular effort. A strong effort evokes a high-pitched sound, while a weaker effort results in a cue of a lower pitch.
A SPECIALIZED REGIMEN
The major focus of any exercise regime for volleyball athletes must be to strengthen the legs, so most team members use Dr. Ariel's Multi-Function station for leg squats and the Arm-Leg station for leg flexion exercises. The squat exercises are intended to increase an athlete's vertical jump capabilities - or the distance that she jumps straight up in the air. Effective spiking and blocking in volleyball require the ability to jump as high as possible. The leg flexion exercises, on the other hand, are designed to increase the secund essential ingredient in a volley-ball player: endurance. Her legs and knees must be capable of withstanding a tremendous amount of punishment.
Dr. Ariel's equipment has been given quite a workout by members of the U.S. team; many of them work out on the equipment at least four times a week when they're not on the road. And the entire team recently used a seven-week program designed by Dr. Ariel to improve vertical jumping ability. The program, which consisted almost entirely of squat exercises done on the Multi-Function work station, was created for the entire team, but was also tailored for each individual athlete. Each woman stored personal data on her own diskette, including her standard routine, past efforts, weights pressed, number of repetitions, and various physiological factors. All of this data was immediately available at each workout.
The result? at the end of seven weeks, the average team member had gained an incredible five inches on her vertical jump!
Dr. Ariel's work stations can also be very useful for the rehabilitation of injured athletes, because they allow specific sets of muscles to be exercised in very precise ways. For example, Rita Crockett, a key member of the team, was helped considerably by Dr. Ariel's technology when she injured her knee recently.
The injury was serious enough to require surgery, and her doctors anticipated that she'd be out of action for a number of months. Soon after her operation, however, Crockett began a rehabilitative program designed by Dr. Ariel, which consisted primarily of knee extension and flexion exercises. She worked out every day under Dr. Ariel's direction.
These highly individualized workouts directed the computer to adjust for range of movement, stress, the exercise level and the level of pain involved. The computer also monitored her progress. After only six weeks, Crockett was able to return to competition and to compete in a major tournament.
With the Summer Olympics just weeks away, Dr. Ariel's work stations are busy every day, molding healthy bodies into stronger bodies and injured bodies into healthy ones. It's important work, because the U.S. team will need all the strength it can muster to defeat such formidable opponents as China and Japan, and to claim the first gold medal ever by a U.S. Women's Volleyball Team. And, of course, this technology has ramifications in the realms of physical fitness and rehabilitative medicine that extend far beyond the boundaries of this year's Olympic effort.
David F. Barry is a technical writer in the computer field, and the auther of an upcoming book on the word-processing program Wordstar.