Don’t be fooled by averaged data reports. In response to a standardized training program, where all athletes perform the same workouts, you will see some improve a lot, some a little and some not at all. At the highest levels of sport, many teams are moving towards a more individualized approach to training prescription. This method of training planning involves two key elements: (1) a focus on one individual athletes specific needs from both an energy systems and strength/power perspective and (2) a focus on the physiological responses to imposed training demands to facilitate better decision making for day-to-day training loads.
The training dose is absolutely critical for driving training adaptations. Too little of a stimulus and progress slows or declines, too much of a stimulus and we risk injury or over-training. Hitting the sweet spot will generally result in an athlete’s seeing marked improvements in performance without running them into the ground. But how do we know what the appropriate dose is?
In a new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the researchers were able to discriminate which athletes were responding well to training and which ones were not based on each athletes heart rate variability (HRV) responses to training. At week 1 and week 3 of a 5 week training program, the athletes performed HRV measurements each morning via their smartphone after waking. Before and after the training program, the athletes were tested in the Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test – Level 1. Large correlations were found between the changes in HRV from week 1 to week 3 and the change in intermittent running performance from pre to post training. Specifically, the soccer players who showed an increase in their weekly HRV average and a decrease in their daily fluctuation in scores (measured by the coefficient of variation) were the ones who experienced the greatest improvements on the Yo-Yo test.
This study provides evidence to support the concept of individualized training approaches for athletes. At the mid-point of training, the athletes showing unfavorable HRV changes likely would have benefited from some type of training intervention. This can be reduced training loads, recovery modalities or even life style intervention to ensure adequate sleep was being attained and so forth. The future of training isn’t about technology; it is about understanding physiological responses to training and how to make adjustments when required. Technology is just the tool to help us measure these physiological variables (i.e., HRV) more conveniently.
Flatt, A. A., & Esco, M. R. (2015). Evaluating individual training adaptation with Smartphone-derived heart rate variability in a collegiate female soccer team. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Ahead of Print.