Heart rate monitoring has been a fitness trend over the years that has continually grown in popularity, a gold standard amongst general population fitness enthusiasts, collegiate athletic teams, and professional athletes. The fact that people are utilizing inexpensive technology to optimize their training and recovery is great! But are we optimizing our heart rate loads to monitor fitness improvements, or are we simply taking a day off when our heart rate loads are through the roof?
One of the major parts of my job is to monitor 3 different technology systems that provide an overwhelming amount of data about our professional soccer players in both games and daily training. My primary objectives in utilizing the data are to monitor training load trends across our 11-month season (yes, we have the longest season of any professional sport in America) and determine how certain training affects the players.
Training Load Analysis
The way I analyze a training load is in two components - physiological and mechanical. Your physiological training load is your heart rate load calculation from whatever system you may use. The mechanical load is the physical activity that you completed, whether that is a 5 mile run at a particular pace or a lifting session at a particular percentage of your max.
Now the question is, what to do with each of these two loads? Well, this is where I get excited…I want to know if an individual's physiological load has changed over time to the same mechanical load. For example, if I ran an 8-minute paced 5 mile run at Week 1 of a training program and then again at Week 8, did my physiological load decrease? In other terms, did I achieve improvements in that physical ability I was training for? One step further, I want to know if that same mechanical load elicits the same physiological load from Time A to Time B to Time C. Examples of Time A, B, and C could be:
- Preseason, midseason, and postseason.
- Baseline measurements, after 6 weeks of training, and after 12 weeks of training.
- Before tax season, during tax season, and after tax season (if your unsure of that reference, just ask your local accountant their level of stress at those times).
Documenting & Improving Your Workouts
Now that we have touched upon simple ways to analyze physiological and mechanical loads, how do we take heart rate monitoring one-step further? Here are some simple steps you can take:
- Pick your top 3 go-to workouts. It can be your favorite run through the city, a hardcore weight session, or a common rehab exercise protocol.
- Create a performance measurement from each of those workouts. For example, 1 mile run at 6 minute pace or 5x5 of back squat at 85% 1RM
- Perform each one of those workouts on separate days when you feel optimal
- Document a physiological load for each of those workouts
Once you have your baseline physiological loads, the pathway of monitoring is up to you. You can develop a training program to improve one of your workouts, and then reassess if that same mechanical load costs you the same on the physiological load. Meaning, did your training or rehab protocol improve some physical ability such that now you can complete the same workout at a lesser physiological cost? Or does that physiological load change from before tax season compared to during tax season (as we know stress can greatly impact our physiological status)?
My favorite way to take heart rate monitoring one step further is to look at the same mechanical training load with its corresponding physiological training load over several months without any formal training program implemented. If a physiological load goes up, yet the mechanical load remained the same, then what's going on? Is that person stressed? Are they not sleeping enough? Yes, they seem normal when they are with me, but what's going on the other 22 hours when they're not with me?
Heart rate monitoring is the first step towards training smarter and enhancing recovery. The next step is to quantify the training and creating more specific training loads to optimize results. Be creative, have some fun, take heart rate monitoring one step further.
Adam Loiacono is an assistant fitness coach with Major League Soccer's New England Revolution focusing on analyzing player data to monitor players' fatigue, recovery and performance. Loiacono interacts with the players on a daily basis both on the field during training and off the field in the weight room. Formerly, Loiacono was an assistant men's soccer coach at Providence's Johnson & Wales University, working on player conditioning and goalkeeper training and was also an assistant men's soccer coach and assistant sports performance coach at Husson University. Loiacono graduated from the University of Maine with a bachelor's degree in exercise science. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and holds a Performance Enhancement Specialist certification. Loiacono is also currently working towards a Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Springfield College. You can follow him on Twitter at @Adam_Loiacono.