Working to Own the Podium

By Everett Dorma Posted: April 27, 2015 10:00 a.m.

Dr. John Barden (centre) examines accelerometer on Cougar swimmer Brent Hill as teammate Chris Myers does laps.
Dr. John Barden (centre) examines accelerometer on Cougar swimmer Brent Hill as teammate Chris Myers does laps. U of R Photography

The Canadian National Swim team is looking to make gains at the next Summer Olympics and the U of R’s Dr. John Barden is there to help.

Dr. Barden, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, has received a $110,700 Innovation for Gold grant to pursue a new approach at enhancing the performance of our Olympic swimmers.

“I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to be part of the Own the Podium initiative and to help support our Olympic swimmers,” says Barden.  “It was really a nice surprise.”

By taking his research out of the lab and into the swimming pool, Dr. Barden is working to improve how swimmers’ movements are studied.

“Traditional methods of tracking human movement rely on motion capture equipment that requires the subject to perform in a laboratory, which can only provide a simulation of the movements that occur in an actual race setting,” says Dr. Barden, who has a strong swimming background. He swam competitively in university and has coached in a number of places including the University of Alberta and the successful Regina Optimist Dolphins Swim Club. He also helped established the U of R swim team in 1997 and did some of his initial research with the Dolphins last year.

“I’m collecting information from small motion sensors known as accelerometers that athletes can wear in the pool and that capture data about the swimmers movements that are not easy for coaches to see,” explains Dr. Barden, who is also on the Board of Directors of Swim Saskatchewan. This data is then analyzed so specific parameters such as stroke rate, body roll, and velocity can be extracted and tracked to help coaches identify areas for improvement to enhance the swimmer’s performance.

“By synchronizing the accelerometer data with video of the swimmer, including underwater video, we can analyse the swimmer’s motions and provide this information to the coaches so they can work with each swimmer on the specific aspects of their stroke that need improvement,” says Barden.  “We can also look at things such as how well the swimmers complete their turns and their start off the block at the beginning of the race, which are very important as well.”

In addition to analyzing the data using more traditional mathematical and signal processing techniques, Dr. Barden is also collaborating with Computer Science Professor Dr. David Gerhard in using acoustic algorithms developed for the music industry to decipher the information.

“Acoustic analysis of the motion sensor data appears to provide better and more accurate analysis of parameters such as changes in the swimmer’s stroke rate, which can help athletes improve their consistency and performance,” says Dr. Barden.
Innovation for Gold provides support and leadership in applied sport research through Own the Podium, an initiative of the federal government to achieve excellence at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Own the Podium is also funded by the Canadian Olympic Committee and its Canadian Olympic Foundation, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, and the corporate community.

The Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies offers degrees in Kinesiology, sport and recreation studies and health studies.

The University’s new Strategic Plan  identifies research that has meaningful impact at home and beyond as one of our three priority areas.