Saturday, March 28, 2015

Heart Rate Variability

Keeping to the subject of personalising your own training to fit you and no one else, we move to heart rate variability (HRV) testing, which refers to assessing your physical and mental state of mind. This can be done through specific iphone app's which can help dictate how hard you should train on a given day. It could replace, or be combined with, using rate of perceived exertion and the manual method of monitoring fatigue during the season of which I have posted about previously.

To start with there are 2 regulatory mechanisms of the body, the autonomic nervous system (ans) and the neuro endocrine system (nes). The ans is then broken down further into the parasympathetic nervous system (pns) and the sympathetic nervous system (sns). Both of these are part of the fight or flight equation:

PNS - Flight

SNS - Fight

The ANS is stimulated when the brain senses any form of challenge and once it is activated, it stimulates the output of cortisol, a stress fighting but fat storing hormone. Adrenaline is also increased which keeps us alert by increasing heart rate and blood pressure by quickly mobilising energy reserves, while cortisol works more slowly to help replenish energy supplies.

All of these adaptive changes is called allostasis which refers to maintaining stability, or homeostasis, through change.

I bet we've all played with the bloke who has a bit of white line fever and gets quite ramped up during games - this is from him being in a very sympathetic state which for competition, is actually essential.

On the flip side we've all played with that bloke who looks like he's barely awake who pretty much stays in a parasympathetic state regardless of the "challenge'.

The biggest trick though is to be able to interchange through both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

So you're on the ground and going like a bat of hell (how bad was Meatloaf that time?) and you blow up and it's time to head to the bench to recover. In order for you to recover in as fast a time as possible you need to swiftly move into a parasympathetic state to slow your rate down and to start shifting your body back to homeostasis (normal).

Thinking long term, training with high volumes and intensities means you enter a sympathetic dominant state very often which is fine, but during this time when you feel a bit rundown, have trouble sleeping and have a lack of appetite compared to normal, then you're getting stuck in the SNS and not shifting back to the PNS. This means that you're not really recovering enough and sooner rather them later, you're body might make you take a break through illness, or even injury.

Taking heart rare variability is something you do everyday to get a gauge at how your body is tracking against your playing stress, training stress and outside stressors because they all add up. Once you overflow the "stress" cup, it can take a while to get rid of this excess build up. This means that relationships, food quality and alcohol can also have a big effect on your readings.

I have recently started using an app called HRV4Training for my own heart rate variability. There are others on market such as bioforce and iathlete that are the go-to app's for this but they require a compatible heart rate monitor and mine is non-compatible.

HRV4Training provides a lot of funky readings but the ones I look at is the day's reading, how it compared to yesterday and also how it compares to my baseline. I also keep track of resting heart rate and rMSSD reading too which the creator told me is the equivalent of a HRV reading from the other app's. The app does this in 1 single 60sec measurement that you'd take immediately upon waking. I do it while I'm actually still in bed!

The home screen tells you your assessment today, yesterday's assessment and you're baseline based on the last 7 days.

It provides with 1 of 3 tips to program your training for the day.

#1 - Your condition has improved since yesterday and is above baseline so go hard today

#2 - Your condition has worsened since yesterday and its below baseline so take it easy today

#3 - Your condition has worsened for 2 days in a row so take today off.

So the app takes your daily reading then tells you what you should do with your training today. In the above image you can see that I registered 7.9 which was lower then the day before and also lower then my baseline so it suggests I take it easy today. So instead of doing that hard repeat sprint session I had planned, I would opt for a recovery based session today so hopefully I improve for tomorrow and can go hard then.

Now you don't have to live your life by what it tells you to do, it might be game day where it says to take a day off, but what you can do there is go back to your monitoring and rate of perceived exertion tables and find correlations between your scores and your 'low' days which should be able to help you alter your training and lifestyle accordingly.

UPDATE - I have read many times that you should never go against the HRV reading and yesterday was the proof in the pudding. At the moment I've just started a depth jumping cycle which requires pretty much stresses the nervous system more then anything of which I started last week. I was coming off a day off and 2 full days since my last depth jumping session so I "should" have been rested and ready to go. I did nothing on the weekend or new years eve so there was no reason to not get a good HRV score come Monday.

My test gave me a reading of 7.4 against the previous days 8.4 against my baseline of 7.9 which said take a day off training but being as it's the off season then I can train and make up the rest later if I need to.

About 3/4's of the way through my workout which was feeling fine, I felt a 1% twinge in the lower back between sets. Something I've probably felt a million times before without repercussion. Except this time! Language Warning!!

I did my 9th set of power cleans and the back went which it does probably once a year in the 1st part of the year when my training load is at it's highest but I was determined not to do it this year...and failed miserably.

The lesson is to not go against the HRV reading so if it says take it easy then limit any activities that have a history with making you sore, run down or injured.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rate of Perceived Exertion

In the past I have mentioned the use of auto regulation in your training which refers to training "on the fly' but using a set point of load or rep speed to decide how far and how hard you'll push a particular session.

For example you might have a max of 100kgs but you reach 90kgs and it feels pretty heavy. The speed is slow so you have a fair idea that today isn't one for setting personal bests, or even trying them, so you might just do a few extra sets of 2 - 3 reps at 85 - 90% of that 90% and call it a day. 

Rate of perceived exertion is a similar concept but you assign "perceived effort level" to each exercise. You might have used %'s before but this method can be flawed as you would base the %'s off your max, but as described above, your 1 off max isn't your everyday max, so that moderately hard 85% day can quickly turn into a ball breaking 95% day which, in regards to recovery, could stuff your whole week up!

RPE refers to how hard a set feels or how far away you are from failure you are in regards to "reps left in the tank'. For example you might do a set of 5 reps @ 80kgs. After the set you think you could probably have done 7 reps at that load.

The table looks like this:

RPE x 10 = 0 reps left in the tank
RPE x 9 = 1 rep left in the tank
RPE x 8 = 2 or 3 reps left in the tank
RPE x 7 = 3 reps left in the tank with good bar sped and acceleration
RPE x 6 = fast bar movement with minimal effort

So instead of working up to a % of load which can be different each day as described above, work up to a rep number at a particular RPE such as 5 reps at a 9 RPE where you'd finish the exercise when you perform a set at a load that will allow only more rep.

Then move on to your assistance work.

To take this a step further you can assign RPE 's to your other sessions too for speed and aerobic / anaerobic conditioning and include this in your activity load monitoring from last week to again pick up on trends against increased and decreased performance.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Monitoring Fatigue During the Season

After a 3 - 4 month flogging it's finally time to get some actual game time with practice matches being scheduled to start in the next week or two for most clubs.

There's nothing like that first 5 minutes of the first practice match, especially if it involves a big tackle, to really take the wind out of your sails in a pinch!

With practice games comes 1 solidarity weekly goal, with that goal being game day Saturday. During the off and pre-season you can train continually regardless of fatigue build up (to a degree) with the end goal being how you perform in the months after you started training (during games).

This means that you can train any day you like and you can induce pretty much as much fatigue as you like because you can always throw a rest day or 2 in the mix. If you're a little tired going into the first team training session of the week then it's not the end of the world.

Come the in-season though and this all needs to change because you need to "peak" each and every Saturday for the next 20 - 25 weeks.

This will require personal fatigue monitoring each and every day.

All AFL, VFL and some of the upper amateur teams use some form of athlete monitoring to individualise player training loads so as not to prescribe too much for those not fully recovered, or too little for those who had less game time and thus less fatigue to recover from. If you have access to GPS data for training then this can work even better but 99% of us don't.

The advantage of using a personal fatigue monitoring is that by keeping track of various internal and external factors, you can correlate these with periods of tiredness and less then stellar performances on game day.

This means you can avoid insanity - doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

So each day as soon as you wake up you'll monitor the following:

Sleep - Duration of Sleep + Quality of Sleep. You could also track if you dream or not which is the point of your sleep where the best regeneration occurs and you don't have to remember what you actually dreamed of, just if you did or not.

Mental Stress - had a blow up with the missus? Someone stole your seat on the bus? Anxious? Big exam coming up? All these things can have an affect on your stress levels and thus performance output.

Soreness - lingering soreness from the weekend? New soreness from training? Nagging back pain that comes and goes?

Fatigue - hopefully you know what you're peak fitness feels like when you're at your at your absolute freshest.

Motivation - to train and to play. Are you keen as mustard to play today or happy that game day is still a few days away?

Mood - compare this to your normal mood/personality.

Apart from hours of sleep, rate each of these 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 with 1 being the best so with 6 sections to assess the highest score you can get is 30 which means you get the week off!!

Resting Heart Rate - take this each morning in bed as soon as you wake up. Take a 10 second reading and multiply it by 6.

Protein - 1 serve equals something about the size of the palm of your hand.

Veggies - 1 serve equals 1 cup

Fruit - 1 serve equals 1 piece or a palm size

Cheat Food/Drink - refers to all processed foods that come in a box and all drinks that isn't water or a low sugar sports drink.

Beers/Ciggies - put in how many you had on each day...BE HONEST!

Again what you're looking for is the correlation between your high scores, poor performance and (hopefully not), injury.

This way you can avoid the pitfalls next time around and at a minimum it will make you very aware of things like getting to bed earlier.

I'll be starting mine Monday morning.

Here's what it looks like in table form (click on to get the full table):

UPDATE - Even at the elite level, if you can have your best players play most, if not all games, then you'll have a successful season. At local/amateur level this is even more crucial because we don't have 30 senior made players on every list so games lost with injury can destroy your once optimistic finals aspirations. I'm actually in the process of putting together a pretty detailed but (hopefully) easy to use athlete monitoring program for local/amateur teams to use that won't require a professional strength and conditioning coach to use. Let me know if you're team might be interested in this!