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Virtual Reality’s Potential for Athlete Health and Training

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


At its heart, athletics is about muscle memory.  It’s about an athlete training his or her body to take advantage of a combination of learned skills and natural talent.  There are all kinds of aids on the market for athlete training, from the most basic training shoe to the latest connected clothing.

Yet a technology already exists that can train the whole athlete, brain and body: virtual reality.

It’s already being used by teams like the Oregon Ducks as a fan experience, similar to what the MLS wants to provide with its partnership with IOMEDIA.  On the Ducks’ YouTube channel, fans can view the 360 Autzen Player Experience using Google Cardboard and other headsets.

VR has the potential to go beyond just the fan experience for the Ducks and any other athletic program or pursuit.  It can be used in many facets of athlete training, from the mental game to injury prevention.

Get Your Head in the Game

Ask any athlete, from a pro footballer to the stay-at-home dad who runs every day with his toddlers in a stroller, about the key to success, and they’ll say it’s mostly mental.  Yogi Berra said it comically yet perfectly when describing baseball as “90% mental and the other half . . . .physical.”

How can virtual reality help athletes train their brains?  One way is by helping them increase their visual capacities.  Neuro Trainer is being developed as a “brain gym” to train athletes’ visual fields.  A VR game, Neuro Trainer works to help athletes better differentiate among choices on the playing field as well as visualize that field as a whole.

When athletes are in the game, VR can help them make those mental adjustments as well.  One of the leaders in VR, STRIVR, is working with athletes to train them in classrooms, locker rooms, and even on the field and court.

As Dan Doucette wrote for EdTech Magazine, STRIVR’s systems could be worn in between plays during games in order to better analyze opponents.  Instead of just evaluating an opposing play, a player could be analyzing his opposition’s footwork and reaction speed and making adjustments on-the-fly.

Training Goes Hi-Tech

If you have ever been involved in a team sport, you likely remember reviewing game film.  It is and will likely remain one of the best ways to scrutinize performance.  Yet even the most visual of athletes can still struggle to translate the flat film into improved execution.

STRIVR and other VR systems help with creating what is essentially the most well-rounded view possible of an athlete’s performance, either in-game or during practice.  It can even give players a chance to see the game from other positions, which can improve their on-field awareness.

During practices, teams can work with their own set-ups, too, configuring cameras like GoPros into 360-degree plug-and-play holders that can stand up on a field or be suspended over a court.  A quick way to record practice sessions, the videos take a little stitching and then teams can start breaking down movement.

This comes in handy for assessing individuals’ muscle memory and technique.  It also has potential for mitigating injuries during contact sports, as it’s becoming more apparent rules and technique are what prevent concussions, etc.

Sky’s the Limit

For now, most teams, especially at the collegiate level, are using VR as a marketing tool.  Like the for the Ducks, it’s being used to enhance the fan experience, giving diehards the chance to walk into the stadium with the football players.

Or it’s being used as a recruiting tool, letting high school football players and potential transfers see what it’s really like being on the field against the like of Oregon State.  VR in athletics is really still in its infancy.  Yet with startups like STRIVR and DIY set-ups for GoPros and the like, its potential for athletes, professional and amateur, is limitless.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: The 7 Best Health and Fitness Apps

Here is a list of some of the most obsession worthy health apps.

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MapMyRun is the number one selling running app for a reason:  it is easy to use, offers community support if you want it, and tracks and stores your exact routes for you.  If you are training for a race or a serious runner, users say that the extra perks in the upgraded paid version are well worth it. 

Made for iPhone, Android and Blackberry 

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MyFitnessPal seems to be the clear favorite amongst everyone polled.  It is helpful not only for the fitness tracking aspect, but everyone polled mentioned how much they loved the food/diet aspect as well. From carb counting for diabetics to recipe ideas to complement your fitness goals, users love this app. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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JeFit is another fitness app that has rave reviews.  It not only tracks progress for you, but offers a huge database of workouts.  While many apps offer community support, JeFit allows you to sync workouts with friends who use the app, offering a (real) virtual buddy system.

Made for iPhone and Android

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Strava gets the highest mark of all the cycling apps.  While it is also great for runners, the cyclers seem particularly inclined towards the fierce competition that can be ignited by this app.  You can track all of your rides via GPS, then you can compare your efforts to those logged by others in the community on the same stretch of road.  You can also join ongoing challenges that can net you great prizes (in addition to bragging rights). 

Made for iPhone and Android

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YogaStudio gets the top vote for Yoga apps.  It has a lengthy collection of full class-length videos available at your fingertips.  Unlike many other apps, this one also allows you to customize your own video yoga class.  All of the poses are done by qualified yoga instructors, and you can find classes suitable for all levels of yogis.

Made for iPhone only

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SimplyBeing meditation app offers the best of both worlds.  You can choose to run this app as a background for your meditation with soothing music or natural sounds that run for a set amount of time.  Conversely, for those of you who have trouble focusing during meditation, you can choose a soothing voice-guided meditation. 

Made for iPhone and Android

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Fooducate is an app all about educating people so that they make healthier food choices.  Although not perfect, this app is easy to use (you can even take pictures of bar codes to instantly find foods in their database).  It gives food a letter grade, tells you the pluses and minuses, and gives you better ranked alternatives.  You can also use it as a weight loss tool by tracking your daily calories. 

Made for iPhone and Android


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