"A better way to do it"

Steuart Livingstone has played a key role for seven seasons as a strength and conditioning coach in the high performance department of the Carlton Football Club which participates in the Australian Football League (AFL) compeititon. Working with more than 44 professional athletes on his list Steuart has developed e-Strength Pro, an exercise prescription software program based on proven principles relating to strength training program design.

Overview

  • Carlton Football Club

Industry

  • Elite sports; Australian Football League (AFL) sector

Problems

  • A spreadsheet-based exercise prescription software program had become unreasonably time-consuming and inefficient. It also involved copious use of paper which clashed with the environmental policy of the club’s major sponsor.

Solutions

  • Import the spreadsheet data into a custom FileMaker solution and use smart functionality to create shortcuts to automate program design, player groupings and exercise session schedules. Repetitive manual data entry has been eliminated. Player use of iPad devices minimises paper usage and contributes to a more corporate image.

Benefits

  • We’ve had rapid and cost-effective development to begin with. It's now much easier to setup and maintain the exercise programs, to deliver adjusted plans for different players and to get reports back on individual progress. The players love using the technology!

    Steuart Livingstone Strength and Conditioning Coach Carlton Football Club

I basically categorise players into groups based on their physical development, create a master program consisting of specific exercises, copy this program to each group, and then make changes to individuals’ programs if needed. The players access their programs by logging in on their iPad, selecting the scheduled session and then completing their exercises sequentially.

But it wasn’t always this easy until Steuart switched to a FileMaker solution in 2011. He explains how his system, running from a spreadsheet, was operating before that:

Firstly I set up a profile of each player based largely on his strength levels. I then divided them into groups—beginners, intermediate, advanced, and a special group, which might include players with injuries. My next task was to create the program master for each of these groups and then manually copy each of these masters into each individual player’s file. Players’ programs were then individualised painstakingly from a list of over 300 different exercises. Using a range of lookups and simple calculations the spreadsheet calculated the loads the players needed to lift for each exercise. I printed out each player’s weight training session and handed it to him.

The players then completed the session, writing by hand on the sheet the completed the exercises, including any variations in repetitions or loads. The players handed these back to me and I then had the task of looking over 40 sheets of paper to analyse the data and review every player’s program. With three or more sessions per week, that’s a lot of data and a lot of time!

Although the system was working reasonably well it was extremely time-consuming and inefficient, involving the use of multiple spreadsheet formulas and a great deal of cutting and pasting. There was also little capability in the spreadsheet to use shortcuts or drop-down menus. Another factor was the copious use of paper which clashed with the environmental policy of the club’s major sponsor. There were also issues with deciphering the handwriting of some of the players. With each player completing an average of 10-12 exercises per session Steuart had to enter over 400 data points from paper into the spreadsheet. Because he was so familiar with the program he was able to keep errors to a minimum, despite the complexities. But this vigilance was taking additional time. He estimated he was spending at least 12 hours every two or three weeks, keeping the individual programs up-to-date:

Say a player comes in with a shoulder injury from the weekend’s game. I have to adjust his program there and then and reprint it. That means I have to go out of the gym to the printer. When you’re dealing with elite athletes you really need to be on hand as much as possible.

It was then he realised there had to be a better way of running the program:

I had the process well thought out, but lacked the technology to support it properly. I particularly needed a solution with smart functionality to create shortcuts to automate the program design, the grouping of players, the copying and scheduling of each player’s sessions and to completely get rid of manual repetitive data entry. I was keen to get something that would run on an iPad to minimise our use of paper and keep our sponsors happy. We were also after a sharper, more corporate look.

Steuart approached a software developer who suggested leveraging the proven ability of the FileMaker platform to seamlessly import spreadsheet data to create a database solution that would address his major concerns. Over the next 12 months they developed a prototype FileMaker solution which was immediately far more efficient. When Steuart saw the need to push the solution even further he was put in contact with local Platinum FBA member Goya. Over the next two years they made major improvements including a trouble-free upgrade to FileMaker Pro 13.

There’s so much I can now do which was impossible in our previous inflexible spreadsheet format. With a single click I can allocate players to a different group, create infinite exercise combinations, and monitor player progress. The solution is smart enough to check player strength levels and adjust loads automatically. Multiple calculations have been coded in and run in the background as required.

The program is currently running at the club on a Mac Mini using FileMaker Server 13. Players login using FileMaker Go 13 on their iPad and sign off on each exercise on completion. To close the session players log out which automates a syncing routine with the server. Any variations such as increased/decreased loads or number of repetitions which have been entered by the player are displayed in red alongside the prescribed target, which gives Steuart immediate feedback. He is satisfied he has ticked off his main goals in porting his system from a spreadsheet into a FileMaker solution:

We’ve had rapid and more cost-effective development to begin with. It’s now much easier to setup and maintain the exercise programs, much easier to adjust the plans for different players to manage development or injury, much easier to deliver them to players and much easier to get reports back on player progress. And the players love using the technology!

In the next stage Steuart plans to improve the reporting function and to refine the export function to deliver data seamlessly into dedicated performance analysis software.

Thank you to Steuart Livingstone from Carlton Football Club for sharing his story with us.

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