Sports Vision Training

Can a Set of Flashing Lights Truly Revolutionize How Elite Athletes Train?

03/04/2019

There is a tool that is transforming the looks of athletic training. The tool is a series of small-sized black disks, each of which has the capability of illuminating six different colors. It comes with an interconnected tablet and is changing the way that elite athletes are training. This modern technology is known as The FITLIGHT Trainer system and is currently being used by the Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Vancouver Canucks, and Nashville Predators. There are also individual athletes who have included this new technology in their training like Stephen Curry, Antonio Brown, and J.J. Watt.

So, how is it that a set of flashing lights have become the hip new thing in athletic performance training? Here is what you need to know about this new modern technology assisting top-of-the-line athletes to take their game to the next level.

Seeing Really Is Believing

FITLIGHT Training systems come in three different bundles:

  • 4-light system
  • 8-light system
  • 24-light system

Each of the systems can be expanded up to 32 lights.

The heart of the training system is a tablet controller, which is included with each system that is purchased. The tablet controller is where all of the light operating functions as well as the protocols are programmed and operated. This is also where any data that is created by the athlete is stored and displayed.

The actual lights are powered by LED, are water-resistant, and can last up to four hours. They have the capability of transmitting data back to the tablet controller from a range of roughly 50 meters indoors, or up to 75 meters outdoors.

The main idea behind this technology is pretty simple. The lights are ultimately utilized as targets for the athlete to deactivate per the reaction training routine. There are numerous measurements that can be captured in relation to the athlete’s performance for immediate review. During any kind of training, particularly speed and agility, the athlete’s hands, head, feet, or any kind of fitness- or sports-related equipment can be used to deactivate the lights through full contact or even proximity of the reaction training system.

Erik Veje Rasmussen, who is a former professional Danish handball player, is the brains behind this technology. He also invented the Octopus Trainer back in 2007. Over the years, that system became more versatile, sleeker, and completely wireless. Eventually, the evolution of that training system led to the FITLIGHT Trainer that we are familiar with today.

The FITLIGHT is frequently utilized for training exercises that won’t leave you completely winded such as mental focus drills, hand-eye coordination, and vision training. That’s how the Mind Gym in Florida’s IMG Academy utilizes the FITLIGHT.

The Mind Gym is full of high-tech gadgets that challenge an individual’s mental-visual connection, and the FITLIGHT is in the middle of it all. Originally developed for fighter pilots in the Air Force, the ultimate goal of the Mind Gym is to train things like decision making, reaction time, anticipation, and control—getting athletes to think, react, and manage stress that may be coming at them, while being able to identify cues in their surrounding environments.

The technology is beneficial as it is your brain that helps separate you from everyone else on the field or court. Everyone is fast, strong on the field, but it comes down to how quickly you can process information. For instance, with the FITLIGHT, the goal may be to touch each light as soon as it illuminates—unless it is a certain color like red. This may be a type of vision training that an athlete performs after a full workout. This tests his or her sharpness and determines how sharp you can be when you’re extremely tired.

There is scientific research that backs up how beneficial vision training can be for athletes when it comes to in-game performance. A study from 2012 that focused on the baseball team for the University of Cincinnati showed that the team was able to use vision training to significantly improve their stats. Six weeks prior to the beginning of the season, the team started using a high-performance vision training program. The team was able to increase their batting average by 34 points and decrease their fielding errors by 15 percent from the previous baseball season.

A German neuroscientist has said that vision training actually makes changes to the brain. Because vision is a sensory system, it can be improved with continued practice. The improvements don’t occur in the eye optics, but instead, they occur in the brain’s central processing centers.

Andrew McCutchen and Stephen Curry are two athletes who utilize the FITLIGHT for this particular type of visual and mental training.

Read, React, and Run

This particular kind of training doesn’t knock the wind out of you, but there are other FITLIGHT training applications that can, which is where planned and reactive agility is brought into the picture. Planned agility is a drill where an athlete knows what he will be doing prior to moving. He is aware of the changes of direction that is required within the drill so that as soon as that whistle blows there is little to no decision making or thought involved. These types of drills can be done alone with just a set of cones, such as the Pro Agility Drill, the 3-Cone Drill, etc.

On the other hand, reactive agility is a drill in which the athlete doesn’t know where he is going prior to the drill beginning. As soon as the drill starts, he has to look for visual cues—from a FITLIGHT disk or another implement or a coach—that will inform him of what to do and where to go. In the past, athletic training has focused primarily on planned agility, but on game day, how often is that part of the equation? If you play sports like basketball, football, baseball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, or hockey, then the answer to that question is very little, especially in comparison to reactive agility. Regardless of how fast a linebacker is able to run a 3-Cone Drill, it won’t matter if he is unable to swiftly analyze and identify where the football is going on game day.

The research that exists on reactive agility suggests that it is a significant distinguishing factor in terms of skill levels with athletes. A study from 2016 found minimal difference in planned agility performance between amateur and semi-professional basketball players. You would think that semi-professional basketball players would perform better, wouldn’t you? Well, in terms of reactive agility performance, they did—6 percent faster, in fact.

Reactive agility discriminated between the amateur and the semi-professionals group, but planned agility and linear speed didn’t. In order to properly distinguish agility performance among basketball athletes of different levels of ability, there needs to be the inclusions of a decision-making and perceptual component.

A study from 2008 uncovered similar results, finding that lesser and higher skilled rugby players scored comparably in the preplanned direction change tests, but the players who were more skilled did drastically better in the reactive agility test.

So, what exactly does this mean? Well, it comes down to the fact that better athletes often have enhanced reactive agility. Aside from full-speed game reps, the best way to train this particular skill that tends to be overlooked far too often would be with reactive agility drills.

The owner of DBC Fitness in Miami, Florida, uses the FITLIGHT Trainer system with his athletic clientele, which consists of many top-name athletes like Antonio Brown, Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, and Reshad Jones.

With the FITLIGHT training system, each color has a specific purpose as well as a required action. For instance, blue is a run play, requiring the athlete to come up to play the run. Pink is a man in motion play, requiring the athlete to re-align accordingly. Green is a pass play, requiring the athlete to drop back in coverage. Red is a hard count play, requiring the athlete to simply stay in his place and not run off to the sides. This drill is one example of the countless applications of the FITLIGHT training system.

Most people do not realize just how quick the game is. You have less than a second to make the accurate decision, which means instincts are everything. When the gain plan fails, you revert back to the training. This type of training is good for athletes when they are tired—in other words after a long hard workout—so that their senses remain sharp for game play. Similar reactive agility drills as above have been used with pro athletes like Kayvon Webster, the cornerback for the Los Angeles Rams and Antonio Brown, the receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On Instagram, J.J. Watt posted a clip of him and his younger brother using the FITLIGHT Trainer for a reactive agility drill. In this drill, they had eight FITLIGHT disks set up in a semi-circle and stood in the middle. As soon as one illuminated, they had to run to touch it. It sounds simple, but it created an element of reactive agility.

Two of the main reasons why the FITLIGHT Trainer is being implemented with pro sports teams are because of its simplicity and versatility—even the Toronto Raptors’ Strength and Conditioning Coach has said this. They have used it for two seasons so far and claim it to be easy to use, versatile, and can be configured to meet the needs of the team, not to mention that the drills that can be created with the system are endless.

As performance training for athletes has evolved over the years, the range of skills that are being trained has also grown. Two specific areas, though, have been neglected over the years in athletic training—reactive agility and vision/perception training—but this is no longer the case. The versatility of the FITLIGHT Trainer ensures that it can be used for the training of both of these qualities, which is one reason why it has garnered so much attention and popularity.

If you would like to learn more about vision/perfection training and reactive agility or about the FITLIGHT Trainer, contact us at Performance Vision today.

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