Real Madrid released training photos from their opening days of pre-season camp with players wearing odd-looking masks hooked up to packs on their back and shoulder while running. What exactly are these masks, what do they do, and why are they being used?
The masks are connected to on-shoulder units which are portable metabolic analyser systems that in addition to giving off Bane-like vibes, measure things like oxygen uptake (VO2), carbon dioxide production (VCO2), heart rate and substrate oxidation.
Credit – Omnia Cosmed
From the data, you can calculate key performance, fitness, and health metrics like VO2 max, anaerobic thresholds, and overall energy expenditure.
These portable analysers make life much easier for the sports science team as they allow for considerably more flexibility and field-testing than the stationary ones you may have seen athletes hooked up to before, or yourself if you’ve been through VO2 max testing.
Additionally, research is showing that portable testers when compared to stationary ones are nearly as accurate.
Credit – Schrack et al. Comparison of the Cosmed K4b2 Portable Metabolic System in Measuring Steady-State Walking Energy Expenditure
In this specific case of Real Madrid players having the units on during running, it’s very likely Real Madrid’s sports science team was getting an initial baseline of where each player is at metabolically in order to create an appropriate plan to prepare for the season, with further testing at specific intervals to gauge progress. With sports science, it’s all about test-retests to get actionable data and measure changes.
Sports science technology continues to evolve and be seamlessly integrated into player training and this is yet another example. As sports science continues to become more mainstream and easier accessible, I believe we’ll see more and more pictures of the specific tech that clubs use to keep their players in peak health and fitness.
For a video version of this piece, you can find that here.
Dr Rajpal Brar, DPT, (@3cbperformance) is a physiotherapist, movement expert, fitness trainer, sports scientist and mindfulness coach. He runs the LA and online based wellness and athletic performance clinic 3CB Performance, and you can subscribe to his Youtube channel (which posts analyses of Lionel Messi and more).