Coaches Aid for Real-Time Heart Rate Measurement by William Parkinson, Ph.D. (2006)


Introduction: I think we are about to be enlightened and find out the real brains and the success behind Michigan Swimming. Dr. Parkinson is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Michigan where he has been a member of the faculty since 1947. He began his research in swimming in the late 40’s when he began playing water polo with the Flounders. He and his buddies officiated at meets when the judging was terrible and the timing was worse. He still plays for the Flounders three days per week and is a 2006 C-Grant recipient. Today, he is going to be presenting on coaches aide for the real-time heart rate measurement. We would like to welcome Dr. Bill Parkinson.

Dr. Parkinson: The first slide shows what it is all about. I want to point out that Oliver Kripgonz, who did his PhD in physics with us, has been an extremely important part of this whole development. I do not want to minimize what he has done. Now I am going to say a lot of things that you coaches know all about, but I have to say them as background. First of all, you coaches know that the development of a top notch swimmer begins with recruitment of swimmers, swimmers with special attributes. Well, I can show you what I mean by that – here the special attributes are the feet. You want somebody with a large foot. But after special attributes it becomes a matter of training and conditioning.

First – a little bit of background. The valuable indicators of the level of conditioning are heart rate and lactate concentration. Measurement of heart rate is a non-invasive measurement, but measurement of lactate you have to draw blood – at least now you have to do that. It will become noninvasive I hope in the not-too-distant future. These measurements – both of them as of now – can only be made after you break the exercise and the student or the swimmer gets up on the deck and you can make the measurements, but there is hope for the future.

Important studies by Otto de Sokolovis and Charlene Boudreau and I think several others, I am not really up to date on the literature, have shown that there is a very high correlation between heart rate and lactate concentration. The correlation holds until the heart rate reaches a maximum, but even then – after reaching maximum, an athlete can still increase intensity and this is because of an anaerobic pathway which involves the release of lactate, but this makes the measurement – the fact there is correlation – it makes the measurement of heart rate – both during high intensity swimming sets and during post-exercise recovery really very important, especially important.

Of course, it would also be an added advantage if the coach could give instructions to the swimmer while he is swimming. Well, we have developed a device, and that is the subject of this talk, that makes this possible. It allows the coach to observe not only the heart rate, but also the oxygen content of the blood and it allows them to talk to the swimmer while he is swimming, but the swimmer cannot talk back to the coach. That is very important. Specifications for the device – well, it is a training device. The swim unit goes under the swimmer’s cap. You use long distance telemetry – there is a coach unit held on the deck by the coach. It is portable. The coach monitors both heart rate and saturation pressure of the blood oxygen. The coach can talk to the swimmer and at the moment we are building it for 8 lanes which can be individually selected. They are low power and rechargeable batteries and I will say more about that in a minute.

We’ve got two things here. On the left is what we call a swim unit and that goes under the swim cap. It is small. It is 3” x 2” x 1” at the moment. It has two leads coming out. This one is for measuring the heart rate and the blood oxygen and this one is a bone conducting transducer. The coach’s unit – the one that is held in his hand is shown over here –I will show you more of that later. Here is a blow-up of this read-out. It does several things. First of all, you can select the lane that you want to read out or talk to – that shows here – lane 2 at the moment. It shows the heart rate and the blood oxygen. You can also push a button here to talk and that allows you to talk to the swimmer. For eight lanes you can select anywhere from 1-8 just by pushing this button the number of times you want.

Here is a little better view of the swim unit that goes under the cap. This is the earlobe clip – it goes on the earlobe. This goes anyplace on the bone where you can get conductivity. This box is larger – well, the shape of it – it is a box at the moment, but if it ever went into production it would presumably be molded to fit the contour of the hip a little better. It has a switch here which has been pushed to show this red light which means it is connected now to the system to go to the coach. I will push it again and it connects the battery. After you are done using it during the practice you take this unit and plug it into a battery-charging device and that is done through here.

Here is just a simulation – this is Jim Richardson – Women’s Swimming Coach at Michigan. He is holding the coach unit here in his hand and simulating talking to any one of the 8 lanes that the device will handle. Here is Jim again – this is one of his swimmers and she has the device under her cap now and really all you can see is right there – there is a little black lead – that is the lead to the ear clip that goes under the cap to the box on the top of her head up here. The device uses the latest technology of printed circuit design and when that is done the whole thing might be a bit smaller. That was Lindsey Smith – the swimmer. Ah – there are two people that many of you will know – the gentlemen sitting down here in the front row – Bob Bowman, and Jim Richardson. Bob has the device in his hand, reading something. Here is another picture – I just throw this in out of interest. This is Urbanchek – long time coach at Michigan who retired a couple of years ago. Dick Kimball the diving coach – both guys are now legendary there. And this is Peter Vanderkaay who just came back from British Columbia from the swim meet out there. Anyway, I show that because he was one of our swimmers – recruited by Urbanchek and now under the tutelage of Bob Bowman because he finished his eligibility – he is now swimming with Club Wolverine.

Some coaches would recommend that the blood oxygen system be eliminated. Many feel that it won’t be of much use, but we have decided, since our coaches are interested in seeing it that we will include it until future measurements prove that it is either a significant training factor or it isn’t. If we eliminate the blood oxygen unit the swim unit would be smaller and less expensive to fabricate. The design is such that other parameters, for example – acceleration, roll pitch and yaw – all of these things could be incorporated into the system without any problem. When we solve the problem of non-invasive blood lactate measurement, that could be added too, although our preliminary ideas are such that it probably will require a separate unit, but that is not something that is soon – the offering for tomorrow – it is a year or two away.

Well, that is essentially what I had to say – it is Friday afternoon – you guys all want to get out of here so if there are any questions fine – if not – Thank you.

Q. How much are they going to cost? Good question. I honestly do not know. I am not trying to evade the question – I don’t know. Once you make the printed circuit boards then of course that will be used for any number that you make and that will bring the cost way down. If we eliminate the blood oxygen – that will bring the cost way down so at the moment, we really don’t know. We are not avoiding the issue – we just haven’t thought about it that much, but certainly if it cannot be done for a hundred dollars or two hundred dollars per lane – this kit would be too expensive to be usable so we would hope that something like that, but incidentally – if you have questions about that or wanted to know more about it – you can email us.

Q. On the base model that you were using – could the girl hear? Was she actually hearing what was coming through the speakers? Yes, well I should say – we have tested all of these components – first on a breadboard individually and now we have put them all together in one unit – in fact, we had those down at the pool Tuesday when we were taking those pictures of these gentlemen and yes, she can hear. Now, it is a good point that you raised. In the original test last spring – sound was fine. It was not quite right in the test that we did last Tuesday, but it is a small problem. She can hear very well.

Q. Can you get multiple swimmers in one lane? What is the limit on that? You could have 8 wearing a unit under the hat. They can be anywhere they want in the pool – even in one lane. That could be technically expanded, but right now it provides for 8. 8 may be more than a coach could really handle.

Q. Can you store the data? We haven’t, but we can. That is really quite a trivial thing to do, compared to the rest of it. The 8 lane makes complications. You have to have a microprocessor in the coach’s unit and that has to be programmed so that you can make it do what you want to do and this is what Oliver has done. He has programmed the microprocessor so it becomes useful.

Q. How great is the time difference between when you get the reading and when you get the response on the coach’s aide? It is a few seconds. That is mainly the blood oxygen. You see, the swim unit is transmitting all the time, but if you switch to that lane and want to read the blood – like you saw on the readout – that takes a few seconds for that to register – the heart rate comes very quickly. If we eliminated blood oxygen we would have the heart rate as quickly as you switch.

Q. What is the subjective assessment of the swimmer now having the coach in her ear? I think that is something that you have to ask her coach about. I have heard stories about Michael Phelps and Bob Bowman – especially when he was younger – he liked to talk back to the coach as I recall, but you see he can’t with this if he is wearing this – Bowman can talk to him.

Q. Is the heart rate continuous so you can see changes in the heart rate as it happens? You could. If you are tuned into one lane it will change as the heart rate changes. But you could eventually graph it or look at it that way? But the really important thing is the correlation between heart rate and lactate concentration – that is very significant and it makes this much more useful. I think that was very important information.

Q. You had mentioned about the non-invasive lactate test – what would that be? Oh – you are asking me for our trade secrets. No, I have been thinking about this problem for some time and what it hinges on is getting something that lactate will give you a signal from – which you won’t get from say – blood – water in the blood – glucose in the blood – those all give spectra that are just full and you have got to find a line in lactate which is – which stands out by itself and that is tough. We have searched a long way in the spectrum and we have found a line which is fairly weak – that makes it more difficult, but it is possible, but that is, as I say, something in the future. And it would be expensive to develop because you have to build narrow band filters with the infra red so that is a whole different ball of wax, but one that is sort of exciting to me – I would like to see it go because I think lactate is still a very important indicator.

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