Assessment or Biofeedback: What’s the Difference?

By Sparta Science

May 22, 2019

This day in age with all the “sports science” and technology available it is not uncommon for organizations to have an array of shiny tools to provide feedback. Whether it’s GPS, force plates, or HRV products, I have noticed is that many practitioners tend to buy hardware simply because “x” or “y” has it, and it seems to be working for them, etc. While that is all fine and dandy, I feel that it’s important to understand the difference between an actual assessment of an individual, and a product that provides biofeedback. They are NOT the same.

What is an assessment?

As·sess·ment

  1. the evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something.
     

The basic concept of assessment is hardly a contentious issue. However, once you dig into the details of what qualifies a valid assessment, many people start to disagree. Physical assessment is a good place to start since it forms the foundation for all technical skills and tactical execution. Physical preparation, readiness, and resilience are all key components of health and performance for all individuals.

When it comes to assessing physical capacity, force production is fundamental. The basis of all movement starts with our interaction with the ground. Because we all live on the Earth, we are all bound by the forces of gravity. Our ability to move is best described using physics and the fundamental laws derived by Sir Isaac Newton. We have often discussed how the muscles’ ability to produce force can explain all human movement, in sport and otherwise.

By using a force plate as a “needle to draw the blood” alongside an aggregate database of almost one million scans to provide context and comparison, the Sparta Jump Scan is an extremely practical way to evaluate and assess an athlete in under 60 seconds. Consistent objective assessment of force production can be used to provide insight into not just physical capacity, but movement quality, efficiency, and specificity.

What is biofeedback?

bi·o·feed·back

  1. a process whereby electronic monitoring of a normally automatic bodily function is used to train someone to acquire voluntary control of that function.
     

It is common to hear velocity-based training (VBT), heart rate variability (HRV), and electromyography (EMG) just to name a few, referred to as assessments, but let’s be clear on that; They are providing biofeedback, and are not a true valid assessment of movement or physical adaptation. The same can be said for force plates when not having a strong aggregate database; they are simply pieces of hardware that provide biofeedback.

To be clear, I am all for adopting biofeedback devices if it is practical and provides valid feedback in order to improve the training process. Biofeedback training is simply a way of gaining control of self-regulation based on feedback received from the individual’s body or mind. There have been many studies that have shown the power (pun intended) of immediate feedback during a training session and how it can improve strength and power when used correctly. I’m all for it. That being said, if you can change the result based on a cue from rep to rep it's simply not reliable. True physical assessments won't change just be thinking about it. Max jump height can be a legitimate assessment, but reading L v R (left vs right) on the jump is really just biofeedback.

The way in which an individual interacts with the ground is the defining factor to their subsequent health and performance. While a proper assessment is imperative for anyone serious about their health, biofeedback (providing internal load) can act as a synergist in the development of specific qualities related to their sport, or goal in life.

If you liked this blog be sure to give these a read:

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Is the Vertical Jump Too Simple of an Assessment?

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How the Seattle Mariners Involve their Players in the Ongoing Development of their High Performance Model