The Data Dilemma

Blog Courtesy of Joanne Dowds (physiotherapist)

2, 3, 13, 20, 732, these numbers mean something to me but what do they mean to you?  At this time of the year with an influx of gadgetry and discussion of fitness at every corner, numbers are thrown out as readily as last years Christmas decorations but taken by themselves they mean very little. I was asked recently if easier access to data improves results and my answered surprised. Not necessarily was my response- I am totally ok with bursting anyone’s bubble. Easier access to data means the measurement process can be quicker and infinitely more varied but that by itself doesn’t mean that there will a translation into improvements in performance. We have more access to data in lots of datadifferent parts of life than we have ever had before; but we still need to ask a valid question, have the understanding to know what the answer means in that particular context and then the knowledge to know what do or change because of the answer. And of course how and why to re-measure.

12, 24, 25, 125, 15000. As a fitness example, many of us carry around personal devices that track every move we make; we can ramp up the accuracy of that data by using wearables such as watches and rings that actually track physiological variables as well as physical activity. I’m not that technologically equipped just yet, I use my phone as an activity tracker; it tells me that on the 25 Dec I walked the gargantuan total of 125 steps, in 24 hrs. Is that the sloth total of my activity for the day, a slow amble for chocolate in the very farthest cupboard? In truth  I did  an unmeasured amount of walking probably nowhere near the 15,000 steps/day target I have set for  myself but I left my phone down on purpose given the day that was in it and the dress I was wearing didn’t have pockets- a massive design flaw in any garment! Perspective and information shades the interpretation of data, the understanding of the environment and appropriateness of any question is vital for accurate interpretation of information.

Activity trackers, wearables, useful- yes, essential- no. People trained hard before we had so much measurement technology and people are currently training without them- like a tree falling in a  deserted forest not making any sound does an unrecorded training session have any  effects???? When you have knowledge and understanding data can provide evidence of consistency, improvement and change, all good things. It gives an ability to compare current performance both to your own past experiences and to others. But it can also generate a lot of noise.  49, 115, 145. A lot of numbers can be reamed off, which sound impressive and yet mean nothing by themselves. It can be hard to pick out the important changeable ones but not impossible (resting heart rate, training heart rate range)

5, 7, 30. You can go as low tech or as high tech as you want or you can afford. One of my most successful phases of exercise I ever had was when I ticked each calendar day that I performed exercise and reviewed it at the end of each month. Did I meet the 5 days out of each week (7) that I wanted to spend 30 minutes getting sweaty for each month? Mostly, I like the satisfaction of ticking off a list, it was visual, it was reviewable and binary- it either happened or it didn’t. It worked for me.

 I like numbers, I like gathering numerical evidence, I think there is joy to be had in finding patterns and rhythms in numbers that can make or prove a point, or ‘lies, damn lies and Statistics’. Data can be highly interpretative and can be as unreliable as a well posed picture on instagram, they can be curated and manipulated into suggesting a thousand lies.  There can usually be a number pulled in from somewhere to shape or prove any argument to yourself or to someone else with enough know how. But it is only measuring; the work still needs to be done. Find a question to ask of yourself, a reliable way to measure it and then repeat the measurement. Number of training sessions in a week, time in a HR zone, miles done, minutes walked, lactate levels if you want to get all sciency. Write them down, review them when there is enough data to make changes and then make changes.  That is wisdom.

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I qualified with an Honours degree in Physiotherapy from Trinity College Dublin in 2004. Since graduating I have worked in St. James Hospital Dublin and have worked in all the areas of speciality within the hospital including cardiorespiratory, orthopaedics, rheumatology, care of the elderly, neurology, burns and plastic surgery among others . I have also completed a post graduate certificate in acupuncture in UCD 2009. The Physiotherapy Department in SJH has strong links with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and I have supervised undergraduate and postgraduate physiotherapy students on practice placements and also delivered lectures on the undergraduate academic programme in TCD. I have a keen interest in all sports and currently plays with Cill Dara RFC 1st team squad, and Milltown GAA. I have previously worked as Physiotherapist to Co. Carlow Senior GAA Team, Milltown GAA, Leinster Junior Rugby Team and Cill Dara RFC. I am an experienced runner and competed in the Dublin City Marathon in 2002. I continue to participate in running events and multisport disciplines such as Gaelforce West, Gaelforce North and the Motivate Challenge. I have a particular interest in strength and conditioning. I utilise this knowledge of resistance training in the treatment of his clients. I am committed to continuous learning and development in order to ensure the optimal level of care is offered to my clients, and with this in mind I am currently undertaking a certification in Strength and Conditioning (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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