ThermoHuman Podcast 3: Skylar Richards (Director of Physiology and Sciences at Orlando City)
In this third episode of “Thermography: Science, Health and Sport” we introduce Skylar Richards, Director of Physiology and Science at MLS soccer team Orlando City ⚽. Skylar started using thermography more than 3 years ago, in his previous team FC Dallas. Since then, thermal imaging is a fundamental part of his methodology to assess his players after competition. Heart rate variability and force plates are other parameters he combines with ThermoHuman to assess central nervous system, neuromuscular and musculoskeletal fatigue.
Ismael Fernández (I): Hello everyone, that’s Ismael Fernández, Thermohuman Co-founder and we have today our third ThermoHuman podcast episode and we are very happy to have today onboard one very special person, professional for us. He’s the director of Physiology and Science from the MLS soccer team, Orlando city and we’re very, very happy to welcome Skylar Richards. Hello and thank you very much for accepting the invitation of taking part in these podcasts.
Skylar Richards (S): That’s my pleasure Isma. I am very happy to be here and excited to tell more about what we’ve done with thermography the last few years.
I: Exactly, as you can notice the other two episodes were in Spanish so we’re changing today the language to English because Skyler Richards is originally from Kentucky and he has been working with different MLS teams as FC Dallas, almost for seven years and now from the last couple of years, Skyler that’s correct?
S: This is my first year actually with Orlando city.
I: The first year with Orlando city and you were for the first time this year on the play OFFs reaching almost the finals, that’s correct, right?
S: Yeah, we’re very excited about this year, my coaching staff and I came from Dallas together and we were able to take the club to the most successful year in club history and reached the conference semi-final so we’re very excited about that progress in one year and looking forward to next year.
I: So congratulations on that, we are very excited about that, and the idea we were mentioned in previous episodes is to bring more light, to spread the word of thermography by interviewing professionals like you. We have been discussing with medical doctors, recovery specialists, and today your approaches of Physiology and Science, because you have your master degree in exercise and Physiology and a minor in Athletic Training, is very interesting to know how to use thermography from this approach. So my first question is very simple, is how did you discover thermography?
S: Yeah, my really initial focus was looking for technologies that help me do trial decision making an what that means to me is, figuring out which players I need to focus on and which ones I don’t, an that just makes my process more efficient and effective and so looking at that it was figuring out who’s breaking down, who’s responding to stresses and who’s not and looking at other technologies such as heart rate variability that did my Masters working and GPS and all those things it really none of it helped me focus in on where on the bodies home was breaking down so I began doing research across the spectrum of sports technologies and came across Thermohuman that way, and really found that logistically it was efficient in terms of the amount of time it took to do a screen and then it was really effective where it let me do a lot of guys in a quick amount of time so I could figure out who to focus in on and then I went one step further that I needed was, where on the body to focus so it already by doing those two things, made my life way more efficient and now I can send my time figuring out why they’re breaking down and how to prevent those things from turning bad and also seeing is that where I wanted them to breakdown.
“…Thermography is logistically efficient in terms of the amount of time it took to do a screen…”Skylar
I: Okay, I understood and just my question now is more focused on understanding how do you use it in your daily routine? so you were mentioning that you are an expert of heart rate variability or using other technologies as GPS so, which role has thermography in your routine?
S: Yeah, so where it comes from me, I will take all of our starters on +1MD, that’s the day after the game and will screen all of them will do the thermography image, will do some neuromuscular measurements on the force plate, and then we’ll look at their heart rate variability, so those three things kind of tell me who’s systemically fatigued, who’s neuromuscular fatigued, and then who’s mechanical muscular skeletal system is fatigued, and that helps me figure out what to do for which individuals, so will do that on +1MD and will do kind of an active recovery on for about an hour afterwards and then when the players are done with the actor recovery they come in and they all get customizer individual programmes based on those results saying what we need to focus on in order to recover them specifically and that’s been really efficient for us, and then, Furthermore, after we’ve identified those fatigue areas for that individual player within follow up with the individual player through the week and continued to take measurements and make sure that that issue has resolved itself and with Thermohuman it gives me the ability to track multiple areas in that inflammatory way especially throughout the week and make sure that everyone is 100% optimised by the time they go into their Thursday or their game -2 MD practise which is one of our most important, getting ready for the game.
“…We use thermography using at the beginning of the week, as a general assessment for all players, the day after the competition, and then based on that, we use it in the following days, just with the players that created or got any alarm and a special alarm…”Skylar
I: OK, so if I understand correctly, you are using at the beginning of the week, as a general assessment for all players, the day after the competition, and then based on that, you use thermography in the following days just with the players that created or got any alarm and a special alarm or are you during the week using thermography on a daily basis for all players?
S: Yeah, on that Thursday, the game -2 MD, we’ll see what status we are because as everyone in football knows that you’re not just resting all week if they have something you trying to get them tactically mentally ready from fieldwork so there are other stresses that are going on that are being put on their bodies at the same time, so I want to make sure that nothing new has popped up on the guys we were monitoring, at the same time the guys who maybe were fine and didn’t have any specific areas to focus on after the game may have developed some things during the week, so doing it on game -2 MD, which is usually Thursday for us, allows me to then focus on making sure everybody is right by the game time even if it’s a new issue.
I: OK, so just a long story or short, you are using that at least twice a week, so at the beginning, right after competition and before competition again right?
I: And another question, as you mentioned you were yes mentioning two technologies but I’m absolutely sure that you’re working with a lot of different techniques. The other question is because we are always saying the thermography is just another tool that is allowing us to get in interesting information about temperature, an internal load, and but from your opinion, experience which orders techniques combine the best to use with demography?
S: Yes, again I like to look at it from a systems perspective you know, and try to have not overcomplicated things by having too many technologies but have something that addresses all the systems. I’m trying to pay attention to, so for me again, it’s minimum looking at the neuromuscular system, looking at the musculoskeletal system, and then looking at the cardiovascular system, and those are the most widely addressed systems and all football I think that’s pretty obvious when you look at all the technologies and all the research out there, I think there are many more other areas that could be looked at, digestive, respiratory neurocognitive. I’ve always found that the technologies for those are efficient enough or effective enough in their metrics or implementations yet, to be readily apply to teams across the board because you have to remember with all these sports technologies, it’s very easy for us to put 1000 sensors on guys, you know, take away from the game, take away from the simplicity, and so another thing that that I found very nice about the thermography technology is that’s camera based, you know, it there’s a buffer there space that’s not applied directly to the athlete and in this age of wearables that’s very refreshing not having to put something on the player just to get data, so I find that very good in the same thing with the force plate measures where it’s a very simple screen on top of force plates and then you’re done, and so those two things are very efficient and effective for me looking at the neuromuscular versus the musculoskeletal, and then getting heart rate data I’ve found is the most effective doing it during their sleep so some new technologies that are out there wearables that make it very logistically easy for the athlete to wear throughout the night gives me an idea of who is cardio vascularly fatigued and between those three things, I believe that this year we made leaps and bounds in terms of how we want to combine that data, how we built out our intervention strategies from there and I’m very excited for next year to really take that to the next level.
“…I’m trying to pay attention to […] the neuromuscular system, […] the musculoskeletal system, and […] the cardiovascular system…”Skylar Richards
I: That´s great. Another question that I have, that´s might be considered personal but as you mentioned there are a lot of different sports technologies, but normally I always remember that at the beginning when we were experiencing thermography for me, like a key moment was when I was testing with myself because I really discovered like, wow so it’s the camera is really telling me something that I was feeling but was not able to maybe express so, I would like to ask you when you start using thermography, if you have any experience or case you remember especially because you notice, OK these technologies is really effective or is helping me?
S: Yeah, I think what really caught my eye right away was having a month or two from the beginning of just using it in the fashion I scribed but really that was from a theoretical logic standpoint, so what really confirmed my suspicions and told me that I was on the right track was, when I did have an injury with it, and so that whole time I had been looking at a symmetries and watching their trends and using that to triage treatments an recovery strategies based on the data, and when I had my first injury, which was a knee injury, an the athlete ended up having surgery and we continue to take images of them, it was one refreshing that the system identified right away that obviously that knee was in an inflammatory stage, but a very severe one and so it matched up with what we knew you know, from a Physiology standpoint was going on, so that was great and that it was the top level of reaction from that the system measures were matched up with our understanding of the severity of the injury, so it was a surgery fantastic we know that he can’t bear weight right now, he’s not functional, okay that matches up so going forward with it seeing that injury progress overtime an regulate and that temperature signature go down, and down, and down, and then using that to make periodization for the athlete was when I really saw the application at the highest level once the need normalised and really came down to you know where the athlete was previously in his temperature ranges and then adding stresses to his rehab routine and seeing the inflammatory reaction go up one level allowed me to say, okay I know I’ve stressed the need, that was the focus and I got a reaction out of it now the technology is telling me that I’ve got enough reaction out of it, I need to allow it to now normalise again and build that capacity of that reaction and that allowed me to one, progressed the rehab by something other than sensation, let me know so that’s too late
I: so it is very important what you are mentioning because sometimes we might focus too much on prevention, which obviously is very important, is probably the most important part of reducing injury incidents, but on the other hand, what you are mentioning is that is really helping you on the recovery, on the injury follow up. It is a complicated question but, from your experience, is thermography more useful for injury prevention or for recovery and return to play decisions?
S: So, when you get to the top level score, an especially when you have individuals who have many years under their belt , you get the football athletes who are in their 30s thirty, 31, 32, 33 right?, and you don’t get to this level really without having some sort of injury, or you don’t perform at your top level without breaking down your muscle, I think it’s so easy to forget that the point of exercise is to breakdown muscle in structure so that the body can rebuild them better, but you have to break them down for that to happen, so we’re always in some stage of physiological breakdown, some stage of injury and so once I went through that experience all that pattern I know that pattern is always happening in the body, it’s just that what gravity you know what significance is that happening and this allows me to look at it all the time until your point I think that it’s the same use case I’m always measuring injuries, I’m always looking at physiological breakdown, I think it’s the most obvious with an injury, and it’s the easiest to understand and that’s why that first use case was so important to me, but now, after I’ve been through several of those and again especially with these individuals who don’t recover as quickly then, I’m always managing that breakdown and it’s the same cycle over and over, however to your point, when you go younger and younger in age the body is so much more resilient and so I think that application would be really hard to understand, you’d have to almost get deeper into the granularity of the data there because their bodies are just recovering at such a higher rate.
I: It’s very interesting what you were mentioning Skyler, and obviously we have been speaking about the benefits and the positive side of the thermography, but I always like to ask from your point of view, which are the main limitations of these technologies from your opinion?
S: Yeah, I think the main limitation right now is, you know the logistics and even though it’s very quick very easy to take a picture and then have to upload it, I think that there’s a gap an if you’ve worked in sports especially in pro sports, there’s a sense of urgency always in the atmosphere in a culture where you want decisions you, want results right away and things need to move at a very smooth pace, so I think the future for me is to automate the system a little more, make the screenings workflow flawless where an athlete can walk up get his images automatically and then the results are populated an available in seconds an I see that workflow very close there, but it’s right now held up between a gap from the camera to the system which right now I have a dedicated staff member and it works well for us ’cause we’re used to that however an automated system could then give me that stop number back really to work on application of the data and not kind of acquisition of the data and I think for me a good technology allows us to spend more time with the athletes and applying the data rather than either acquiring it or analyzing it, which is so common right now even with GPS which is probably the most adopted technology, we spend so much time analyzing it and probably not as much time in a ratio standpoint to applying it and making interventions there off so, I think any technology and an software systems UI UX that allow us to streamline that process is much more feasable and exciting for a specialist in the field to adopt into use and to get passionate about, and you’re seeing GPS systems like stat sports catapult those guys really dive into that and say what are the graphs, what are the systems or reporting structures that I can do to make this as smooth as possible for the specialist to make interventions, and I think they’re probably the farthest ahead on the curve in that right now.
I: OK so I totally agree with you and that’s why we work hard to make this process more automatic and because the key factor as you mentioned is to produce and to work on technologies that allows you to spend more time with the athletes rather than the computer analyzing metric a charts so, totally agree on that. Another question regarding the future, do you think that because obviously nowadays we’re showing cases but most of cases, professional cases I top teams high performance athletes, do you think that in the future, near future, there is any possibility too bring this technology to the normal life, to sports and health but for amateur, for people that are not professionals?
S: Yes, I think that in the right environment, I’m really excited to help transition this technology to the general population and I think that’s an area I’ve always been really passionate about from technology but also from athletic training sports medicine background, is a lot of general population, active population people don’t have access to specialists in my genre and that’s a shame that it would help my industry greatly to be able to grow our numbers in our demand in that way and so many athletes are working hard trying to run a marathon for example, or a triathlon, and don’t know that they’re breaking their bodies down in the wrong way or going pushing too far, so I think getting this technology out in the right places to where they have access to it will help them do that in a very high level. I don’t know of any other technologies you know that does what thermography does that could be scaled to individuals I think it’ll probably end up in your sports medicine clinics or you’re running clubs or your soccer clubs where people can have access to it in that automated way and really track their bodies that’s really, really exciting for me, but I do also think to your point that it’s not just all general population I think this technology applies much greater to an active population. I think that the level of adipose tissue you have on your body obviously can affect that thermography signal so much. especially for your muscles now I do think and have talked with many professionals about for the joints since they typically have a very low adipose signature on most body types, I would say 90% of body types that it can still be applied to those zones and that’s why I’m really excited that the company is adding these new joint based protocols and someone who has had ACL surgery when they were younger and now they’re older or has a deficient ankle joint or things like that. They can track those responses and really gain the knowledge they need to manage those reactions and keep them active, keep the mobile, keep their activities of daily living very high I think that’s very possible as well but it’s about access to the system where would they be able to do that and how often can they get that feedback is going to be key.
I: So, thank you very much Skyler. I think that your approach and your experiences is very interesting, and I thank you very much for your time. We probably will have the chance to make you further podcast, maybe dive in more on details or on specific approaches but for the moment, I really thank you for these episodes. I really wish you all the best for next season. when are you restarting?
S: Right now, because of the pandemic, we are in a holding pattern and not sure what point in time we’re going to restart next year but we’re hoping to restart in January and have a normal year again.
I: So, I really hope you all the best and please don’t forget to give us back your feedback and comments records there are very interesting. Thank you once again Skylar, and keep in touch.
S: My pleasure thanks for having me.
I: Bye, bye Skyler.