Read part one of this post to learn about the insights that heart rate monitors can provide, how heart rate (HR) feedback can be utilized in training programs, and an overall analysis of athlete needs.
Needs Analysis - Demands of the Sport
The use of HR monitors has allowed teams and researchers to determine how much time an athlete spends at or above their lactate threshold during a game, during a particular half or period, during over-time, during a practice, or during a drill-set, etc. With this data in hand, along with athlete-specific data, coaches can develop practice and training strategies to prepare an athlete for the demands of the game, while tailoring their recovery strategies to the athlete's specific fitness level. The ultimate goal is to perform at a high level while minimizing the risk of overtraining and overuse injuries.
Many technology platforms also include a Training Load feature based on a point system. In many cases this Training Load score is actually a measure of total stress endured or total work accomplished during an exercise bout. So a more accurate description may be Volume-Load Score reflecting a concept of Duration x Intensity = Total Work
Polar's Training Load factors varying heart rate intensities with corresponding durations. Therefore, high heart rates over long periods of time will ultimately produce a higher Polar Training Load score. It is based on the concept of Advanced TRIMPs , or training impulse, first introduce in 1975 by, Eric Banister of the University of Victoria. However, Polar's Training Load is calculated by an algorithm that also factors the athlete's personal attributes. These factors include, height, weight, age, gender, HR Max, VO2 Max, and "anaerobic" and "aerobic" thresholds.
The aim of the Training Load score is to consolidate HR based data into one single, applicable number to allow coaches to monitor training stress and recovery. However a Training Load Score may be calculated, a coach still needs to bench mark this score against important, sports-specific activities. For example, through the use of HR monitors, a soccer coach may determine that during a 90 minute game, the center midfielder typical generates a Polar Training Load Score of 275 to 300 points.
As fitness improves this score typically decreases as long as training parameters remain consistent. If that doesn't occur, or if the number drastically increases without a change in schedule and training, it is time to look deeper into past and present data, and discuss further with the athlete.
Secondly, if the athlete is typically performing well in games, a coach may conclude that practice and conditioning days, which generate similar Training Load scores, have successfully simulated game demands. Then, moderate and recovery day loads can be based on certain percentages of game loads. These are the first steps to using Training Load scores to assist with the development of a properly periodized training plan.
What results can trainers and coaches expect?
To come back full circle, the results depend on how the training tool is applied. Expanding on the notion of applying Training Load scores to design or fine-tune a periodization plan,
Justin Roethlingshoefer, Head Sports Performance Coach for Miami University Men's Ice Hockey, has taken the following approach. He has used HR based data to define the following daily and weekly training parameters for his athletes:
Green: Light/Recovery/Unloading Yellow: Moderate Red: High/Over-Reaching
These concepts are used to guide his daily training variations. He is also using Polar Training Load to evaluate the intensities and volumes of specific drills and combinations. From there, he can create a plug and play menu for specific days. If he knows how demanding a drill is, he can intensify or ease a training day by adding or removing certain drills.
Furthermore, when it comes to getting his players to peak at the right time, Justin can now more objectively evaluate the fine balance needed between over-reaching weeks and unloading weeks. Traditionally, in strength training, that evaluation has been done by analyzing fluctuations in Volume (sets & reps) x Load (weight) = Total Weight Lifted. Now, thanks to HR based data, Justin has not only supplemented that traditional evaluation with Polar Training Load scores, but he is also evaluating total work accomplished in various other modes of training.
He is better able to gauge total volume of work an athlete is subjected to during practice, games, and strength and conditioning sessions, over the course of an entire season. Typically, starters will achieve higher in-season volumes, compared to non-starters, due to the difference in game-playing time. The Training Load feature can help Justin decide how much more work a non-starter may need to do during the week to match the volumes and fitness levels achieved by the starters. If a starter is lost due to injury it is imperative that the substitute is fit enough to step right into competition.
There are some less obvious uses as well. We know of another hockey team using game generated HR data as reference, during post-concussion rehabilitation, for their return to play criterion. For example, if a coach knows that an athlete regularly spends 50% of a game at 185 bpm before a concussion occured and during current rehab sessions the same athlete is experiencing onset of post-concussion syndrome symptoms at 160 bpm, then this athlete is not ready to compete at game intensity. It is known that post-concussive symptoms can linger for weeks and athletes can get frustrated when their return to play is delayed. They may try to put pressure on the staff to allow an early return. However, if the training staff can show an athlete gradual progress, in the form of an increased exercise HR level before symptoms reappear, as days and weeks go by, this could keep the athlete patient yet motivated.
As fitness and training technology continues to evolve, it may be tempting to automate and streamline every aspect of our daily responsibilities. However, it is of my opinion that nothing will ever replace the eyes, ears, knowledge, and experience of an expert coach. Fortunately, technology is allowing for new advancements in athletic performance when in the hands of creative and innovative coaches.
As a national accounts manager for Polar USA, David DiFabio consults with numerous Olympic, collegiate, and professional teams regarding the use of heart rate technology. Previously, he has worked for his alma mater, Rutgers University, as a Fitness Coordinator, Personal Training Director, and Adjunct Professor. He has also worked in corporate fitness. His private training clientele includes collegiate and high school athletes, adults and children, and those with special needs or medical concerns. David earned his MA at Montclair State University, and holds multiple certifications with the NSCA and USAW. He has written articles for various media outlets such as Men's Fitness, The Fitness Expert Network, Men's Health, The Performance Menu, and FitOrbit.com. He has also been a presenter at NSCA NJ State Clinics as well as the CSCCa National Conference. You can follow David on his website, Team Speed Fitness.