Student athletes at Penn are caught in a balancing act— but SpartaTrac, an app designed to monitor and improve athletic performance, makes it all a little easier.
Eric Laudano, Penn’s Associate Athletic Director for sports performance, speaks in this video about the success of the app's integration into Penn Athletics. Since implementing the app and corresponding force–receiving plate, Penn Athletics has positioned itself as the only Ivy League school and one of fewer than 50 universities in the nation using the same technology as the pros.
Penn Athletics began using the app SpartaTrac after Penn’s football coach noticed that the Atlanta Falcons used the system to track major muscle groups and general conditioning of its players. The app demarcates into three sections: Load, Explode and Drive, each of which deals with a specific muscle group and performance set. Its most unique feature? A force–sensing plate on which athletes jump that reads muscle weakness and other physiological data.
The three categories transcend any one sport, making SpartaTrac accessible to any Penn varsity team. In addition to the body–based scans and analyses, athletes self–report relevant information. This data ranges from sleep patterns to food intake to ratings of workout intensity and provides a platform for coaches to individualize workouts. Another major feature is the percentile rating. After collecting information about one person’s individual scores and using an algorithm that considers weight, sport and gender in comparison to 1,000 other athletes, SpartaTrac computes a score. The score is different for each category, pushing players to improve and make up the gaps between scores.
The Load group focuses the weight an athlete carries through the speed of a first step. Justin Watson (W '17), a wide receiver, was originally placed in the “Load Group” on the football team—his other categories were excellent, but, he explained, the goal is to even out the three criterion and be a well–rounded athlete.
For Madison Hendry (W’17) of Penn Field Hockey, SpartaTrac has helped her recover from an ACL injury and pinpoint areas of athletic improvement. The Load group allows her and her teammates to perfect their game without ever setting foot on the turf.
This function measures an athlete’s direction changes, or ability to pivot quickly. For wide receivers like Justin, the Explode number is paramount. Using the plate and the app, SpartaTrac measures the transmitting of force by athletes.
For other sports like swimming, baseball and hockey, coaches use this function in different ways. Field hockey players like Madison think that this group helps the team adapt and refine their game. Madison credits the app and her coaches’ successful integration to her team’s success.
Drive measures an athlete’s top–end speed. As the third component measured by SpartaTrac’s patented plate, it works for athletes like Justin to improve speed and forward momentum. Similarly, the app and the increased tools for coaches push athletes to perform better, target specific injuries and muscle groups and compete against themselves. With ratings that account for personal factors, SpartaTrac allows for personal athletic growth in an easily trackable way.
Every three weeks, Madison says, the Field Hockey team jumps on the chrome plate and waits for their scores. Madison was visibly excited to talk about the “off week,” when, while waiting for scores to come back, athletes are treated to games like handball and lighter–intensity stretching and conditioning.
Justin stressed most that SpartaTrac works top–down: The app prevents injuries and that leads to the team’s success. When asked if he considers this technology a major factor in the team’s winning the Ivy League championship the past two years (Penn Football has been using it for three), he responds with an unequivocal “yes.” He even says that it helped him learn about which muscle groups to target for best performance and improvement. SpartTrac monitors so many aspects of the athlete's lifestyle that it's tailor–made to prevent injuries.
For another perspective on injury, Street turned to Madison, who suffered an ACL tear her freshman year. She began using the app and the plate the second semester of her freshman year and noticed a huge imbalance in her Load, Explode and Drive scores.
After the ACL tear, Madison realized that SpartaTrac got it right—she needed to work on evening her scores so she could get back on the field. Madison cites the app’s individual workout plans, especially during the off–season, as an effective way of injury prevention.
Now, Madison is even across the board and works on improving her scores. Her ACL has long since healed, thanks to physical therapy and rehab workouts with the team. She even passed a “run test”, a field hockey sprinting metric that, with a weak ACL, would have been impossible a few short years ago. She attributes a general decrease in major injuries on her team to the scans and scores they receive.
The omnipresence of SpartaTrac, not only for workouts but also for daily life, doesn’t seem to faze Madison or Justin. She and many other field hockey players see the self–reporting function as a way to ensure self–awareness. Being a D1 athlete, she explains, is a lifestyle, and one more way to control and regulate that lifestyle is wholly positive. The workout rating function, which Justin also touched on, has helped Madison give feedback to her coach and ensure that there’s no burnout.
One thing is clear: SpartaTrac has changed the face of Penn Athletics. Fewer injuries, more personalized training—it's technology for Ivy League champs.