Insights into Athlete Monitoring From a Guy Who Hates Athlete Monitoring

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This title is just not true, but I had to get you here because you probably think athlete monitoring is super cool, but have no idea how it will help you if you don’t have a PhD in Metabolomics and Human Physiology.

Coach Davis recently posted an article about his history with Heart Rate Variability Monitoring. It was modest and understandable. Cute. BUT, what he didn’t mention is that he is one of the top five maybe even top three professionals in this country in the athlete monitoring and subsequent training programming field. The problem is painting that picture is incredibly complex so even the distilled version is still semi-mind boggling if you have never seen words like parasympathetic, vagus nuclei, and autonomic centers. The guy translates Russian space manuals for god sakes.

I just don’t get that into it. I hate video games and Slavic languages, but I will drive across the country for one tidbit on movement or nutrition. Yet, as a coach if you do not have a working knowledge of catabolic and anabolic processes, as well as how the human body recovers from stress you should probably get on that – it is kind of the very essence of your job.

Given the difference in Coach Davis and my passions it is a no-homo intellectual two-step between the two of us. Also, he has a much better beard which pisses me off and is only slightly unrelated to the subject. Nevertheless, what I have found is that this constant exchange of information leads to the other being very proficient at the other’s subject. This means that I have a watered down yet concise and practical approach to Heart Rate Variability and Athlete Monitoring that is better than 99.9% of anyone out there trying to take advantage of these type of technologies. And on the other side he is light years ahead of most conventionally trained PTs and Nutritionists. So what is the simple side of complexity for Athlete Monitoring? Why do it?

To me, asking whether you should utilize HRV or other athlete monitoring systems is like asking if you should communicate with each other in a marriage. You could just live together, have sex, split bills, and pop out some mini humans and call it day, but that is not how a marriage works or why it is fruitful. It is fun because you talk, listen, adjust, and continually search out how you can have a ridculously good time together while still remembering why you found each other in the first place. That’s what athlete monitoring allows coaches to do so much better with their athletes. It forces us to ask hard questions from ourselves and from them and then implores us take actions to make positive change.

All that said there are two types of clients or athletes who really really benefit from HRV monitoring, specifically with the OmegaWave. The first is Complainers and the second we will call Hard Chargers (TM Mat Foreman)

Complainers

These are the guys and gals that never ever want to get after it. If there is one drop of ice in a square mile of the training facility they are out – too risky – must eat jelly donuts. The OmegaWave allows you and them to see when they are really wore down or when it is all in their heads. It allows you as a coach to break through the bullshit and hold them accountable to attributes that change quicker and are more volatile than strength gains or weight loss (leading indicators). At the end of the day these guys are still going to complain, but you can punch them in the face with knowledge and even some tough love conditioning when necessary because you know what they really need.

Hard Chargers

Hard chargers are the infantrymen and women that always want to attack. Got um on the run – attack. Outnumbered – attack. Haven’t slept in three days – attackkkkkk! But in order to win the war you need colonels, generals, and lieutenants to slow those bad mothers down and make sure that their charging is tactical and leads to positive rewards for them and the cause. Athlete monitoring is probably most pivotal with this group of athletes because they will never tell you if they are not recovering or if something traumatic is going on in their lives. They are a box of silence when it comes to woo woo stuff like feelings and emotions, but the OmegaWave allows you to see inside. How are they adapting to volume? How are their functional systems holding up under their current work and stress loads? How is their autonomic nervous system functioning on a daily basis?

These are the types of clients that you can drive into the ground until there is nothing left but skin and bones, they are also the type of clients that can flourish beyond anything you thought possible when you find the right mix of volume and intensity that produces a sea of jaw dropping results. Being in a communicative relationship with these types of athletes is not going to happen for a long time because they are so guarded. The OmegaWave immediately offers a chink in their armor that they don’t even have to know exists and you as a coach are the only one who can peer through. At the end of the day someone has to get in there, because someone has to protect them from themselves.

If you are unsure if you should be monitoring your athletes it means you most definitely should. Even if at first you just collect data to learn and become better as a coach it is worth it. Your athletes believe in you and it is the 21st century, use technology not to replace what you do but to enhance what you do beyond measure…and then fucking measure it.

By: Ben House

4 years of HRV Insight

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It’s been 4 years since I started monitoring athletes using HRV.  

Started with ithlete..

then Bioforce…

Now the Omegawave Team System. 

Of course along the way I have made mistakes, talked to some experts, made some more mistakes, and now have gained an understanding… with less mistakes. 

So here is the skinny version of 4 years of HRV.

 

1. HRV is really looking at this

“You mean it isn’t tracking my gainz?”

No bro…No. 

I will admit on paper this looks very simple. In reality it is a complex system, playing give or take, and varying in degree of activation.  

What you need to know… 

Keep the autonomic functions of the body autonomic.  Too much stress and the higher brain centers will override (Sympathetic System, Midbrain, RM Baevsky).  

 

2. All HRV systems are not created equal

Having used many of the HRV systems out there it really comes down to how each system Analyzes HRV ( Statistical, Nonlinear, Variational pulsometry – Geometric, Correlation Rhythmogram, Spectral, etc.) and how you as a coach/athlete use the information to make decisions. 

Seeing one value is nice but HRV (and our body) is a complex, self-organizing system.  To be useful on a daily basis we might need more information on our adaptability.   

What you need to know… 

Do your homework! Marketing can be misleading!  

*If you use a single value HRV monitoring system and have scores 80+ and are not an aerobic athlete (triathlete, runner, cyclist, etc) you are overtraining….(thank you CrossFit).  Also understand the effects of Chronobiology and HRV.   

 

3.  HRV and our Parasympathetic, blah, blah, blah

There’s a lot of talk out there on the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of our nervous system. You might even hear us rant about it, but there is nothing magical about it.  

Neuroscience 101 

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) takes care of all our autonomic functions and runs through our organs, blood vessels, and glands. It has two branches: Sympathetic (fight or flight) and Parasympathetic (rest and digest). Ultimately each are concerned with either conservation or mobilization of energy.  

If you want to be healthy you need to have parasympathetic dominance.  

Health = Parasympathetic

So don’t be surprised when you read research or marketing material on how parasympathetic or ANS correlates with immune system, decision making, vitamin deficiencies, depression, behavior, etc. 

What you need to know… 

Unhealthy to Healthy or Healthy to Unhealthy will always have shift in our ANS. 

 

4.   HRV can not polish a turd. 

Though HRV is a valuable monitoring tool you still need to be a good coach!

If you don’t have a system, or know how, or patience to make the right changes,   HRV will undoubtedly tell you what you are doing is crap.    

If you are not steeped in good training theory, HRV will tell you what you are doing is crap. 

If you are an athlete that has poor stress management skills, struggles with improving relationships, cannot control your micro and macro environments, poor nutrition and sleeping habits, HRV will tell you what you are doing is crap. 

If you are a therapist that looks at your clients as $$$$, can not establish trust, and have a terrible touch.  HRV will tell you what you are doing is crap. 

What you need to know…

HRV is a tool. 

Just because you monitor functional states using HRV does not make you a good coach/athlete!  Like any tool it is how you use it and is firmly rooted in the fundamentals.  

Simple to Complex. 

 

By: Aaron Davis

Heart Math – A More Productive Way to Stare at Your iPhone

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Heart Math was found in 1991 with the mission to enhance the heart-brain-body connection. HeartMath techniques and technology have been published in many peer reviewed journals including; The American Journal of Cardiology, Harvard Business Review and Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Additional studies are currently taking place in many institutions such as Mayo Clinic, Arizona State University, University of Northampton, Northampton, England and VA Palo Alto Health Care System. Basically, it is no bullshit.

Heart math uses Heart Rate Variability or beat to beat changes in your heart rate to assess the state of attention you are giving to the present moment – in other words are you able to shut this bad boy down and get into a restful or coherent state. Why is this so important?

 

“Stress directly causes or exacerbates 90% of all disease states in human beings.”

-Mark Hyman M.D.

 

“Cortisol dysregulation is more predictive of all cause mortality than smoking or obesity status.”

Alan Christianson N.M.D.

 

I’ll just let you marinate on that last one for a little bit…

 

We have talked at length on Train Adapt Evolve about the dangers of being trapped in a sympathetic or stress response state for extended periods of the day and I can’t tell you the number clients and people who have said to me “I should meditate” or “I need to start a yoga practice.” Yet, normally nothing happens. Going to a group Yoga class can be extremely helpful but also prohibitive. Not everyone can drive to a studio and dedicate 60-90 minutes of their day to stretching and breathing on a mat. On the meditation side, most industrialized humans laugh at the idea of sitting and doing nothing. Come on BRO – I have productive shit I need to do. The problem is that march of productive shit never stops and you never escape the rat race to reset and recharge your battery.

Heart Math fills those gaps. It is easy, can be done anywhere for any amount of time, and you feel as though you are doing something productive because there are achievement points and a point of focus.

Over the past few months I have kept the Heart Math sensor in my bag and shoot for 5 minutes three times a day, mostly before meals so I give my parasympathetic nervous system a little bump before eating to increase digestion and awareness. I also add one longer practice session 2-3 times a week of 10-20 minutes of concentrated practice. I still perform sitting and walking meditations, but have found the breathing pacer very helpful with concentration and even look forward to Heart Math sessions.

This may all seem woo woo and stupid to you but the thing is no one has to know. The sensor hooks to your ear lobe and looks very similar to a head phone. You put your phone on air plane mode and breathe with your heart beat which is represented by a pacer on the screen. There are changing colors, achievement points, and you even get to pick what mood you are in after the session. With all their research and pent up awareness it is not surprising that Heart Math has done an excellent job of making it complex yet simple enough so that it is not prohibitive.

Will Heart Math dramatically change your life on your first use?  Probably Not

 

Could a regular Heart Math practice help you recover more quickly from workouts and digest food more efficiently?  Yes.

 

Could Heart Math save your life? Probably.

Get Thrashed – Get Better

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My buddy Jason took me surfing yesterday at Playa Hermosa. He gave me the necessary fundamentals and threw me to the wolves. The result – I got absolutely thrashed by the ocean.  I am stubborn as shit so I stayed out there until my arms couldn’t move anymore and in that time I pretty much only caught three waves. But when I paddled my little face off and felt the wave crash behind me I felt the possibilities. I could feel what it was like to harness that power and in that instant I got crushed.  

The experience reminded me of the time and effort it takes to get good at something. Not kind of good but masterful – fucking holy shit good. I have encountered a lot of people who want to be unbelievable perfect at the Olympic Lifts in their first session or even their first few years. They become frustrated that they can’t fix some aspect of their technique or that the weight won’t budge. Sorry, but this is the journey. I have been consistently Olympic Lifting for 6 years and have lived in a weight room since I saw my first mustache hair. In the beginning, everything was new and I was fanatical about fixing every little problem. I got fairly good fairly fast and Snatched 215 in about 2 years. Then shit hit the fan and I had a year where nothing happened, but this is when I really settled into the practice of lifting. I realized that I didn’t love PRs or all the yelling, I loved the feel of the barbell and the constant feedback it gave me about my life, my recovery, and my ability to focus at any given moment.

I coached myself for the first few years and analyzed every lift, it made me a better coach, better lifter, and earned me the mobility/stability that many people find un-American. But after a while my over-analyzing didn’t help and I had to seek outside help and I knew it. I had to stop trying to do everything at once and focus. I asked Coach Davis if he would program for me and critique my lifts. This took the pressure off and allowed me just to lift. To do what was needed every single day. To took me a few months to truly give into the programming and stop trying to grab control, but once I just started communicating and we started tweaking things together everything popped and the drought subsided. I wish I could pinpoint it to one moment or one cue that Coach Davis picked up that I never thought of, but I can’t because that is not how this game works. It works by continually walking out into the waves and taking on what’s next. The oceans we enter are different at particular points in our journey. It may be letting go of control. It may be the challenge of subtracting rather than adding. It may be going back to the fundamentals or trying something completely new. Either way we are bound to get thrashed and that beating, physical or psychological can either make us remarkably better or scare us back into the waters that are comfortable, cozy, and well known. Your choice. I’ll take a little bit of both because right now my neck is killing me.

By: Ben House

The Power of Tradition

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* 2003 National Championship Team (Derek York, Cele Rodriguez, Mohamed Aden, Enrique Guerrero, Josh Merrick, Matt Levassiur, Jesus Solis)

 

1 mile to go and I feel like I am breathing in a plastic bag.  Head pounding from my own heartbeat.  The pain has come and gone leaving no awareness of where or what my legs are doing.  My mind is staggering in thought.  

 

“How many Western State runners are ahead of me?”

 

“Just keep running to the next tree”

 

“3…5…”

 

“Now to the turn”

 

The only thing I was sure of was that I was our 5th runner.  That last scoring member.  

 

If you aren’t familiar with the scoring of Cross Country, I have spared you the trouble and have consulted Wikipedia.

 

 

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To add to the drama…

 

It was our Conference Championship.

 

At our home course.

 

Against our rival, Western State.  Who had just won the National Title a year before. They live two hours north, which creates quite the environment to race in.

 

I won’t lie and tell you I had any thought of moving faster.  I was firmly set on holding my ground and finishing.

 

Selfishly, I care for my well being.

 

¾ of a mile left to go all that changed because of Peter de la Cerda.

 

The damn thing about hosting the Conference Championship is that all of the Alumni come back for support.  All of which have built the tradition at Adams State. Some have more All-American accolades than they do fingers.  Others have competed in the World Championships or the Olympics.  

 

Yet there are 7 specific alumni that are held higher than all the rest.  The members of the 1992 Perfect Score Team, where the top 5 scoring members of the Adams State team placed 1-2-3-4-5 at the National Championships.  It was the first and only time this has ever happened in a NCAA Championship.  

 

It just so happens Peter was on that team.

 

There was no…

 

“You are doing great Aaron”

 

or

 

“We are killin’em!”

 

Instead I got…

 

“We need 1 more to Win!”

 

Shit.

 

At this point the limited oxygen to my brain has severely affected my ability to do math so I have no Idea if this is true, my vision was a bit fuzzy, but damn if I didn’t make out a blurry red spot running 50 yards ahead of me.   

 

So I moved what I could.  Violently pumping my arms hoping my legs would follow.

 

I don’t remember much after that other than running down the last fairway to the finish still in pursuit of the blurry red spot with my vision going in and out of the darkness. Much like you would see if you were to rewind and fast forward the ending of looney tunes.

 

The darkness eventually won out and the chase… not successful.

 

I ended up in a small green camping tent afterwards, scared to death that I let down the team.  I then heard Coach Martin’s voice outside the tent.  

 

My lips and face numb from the cold I drooled out a question.

 

“Did we win?”

 

A smile came across his face as he started to laugh.

 

“We had this thing wrapped up by mile 2!”

 

Hitting me on the shoulder as he went on his way.

 

Relieved, I laid back down, eyes fixated on the roof of that damn green tent.   

 

“How in the hell did I end up in this tent?”

 

“Mile 2?”

 

“Why did he tell me we needed one more?”

 

Because the “effort” was expected.  

 

Expectation

 

It takes only one workout and one upperclassman to show the way.  

 

The “effort” that is expected.

 

For me it was Brandon Leslie.

 

As a freshman I remember catching the tail end of Brandon’s workout.

 

I don’t want to completely mystify his running, but their was something both beautiful and unnerving about it.  

 

I am sure his Navajo blood line, tattoos, and powerful stride played a part, but it was his ability to go to “that place” so easily that made you look at your own running and manhood and question it.  

 

To this day he is the only runner I have seen roll their eyes back in pain (or trance) and not only maintain pace but often times accelerate and attack in it.

 

For an 18 year old Kansas boy, it sent a clear message.

 

Expectation set.

 

Belief

 

If misery likes company so too does belief.

 

Often times starting as small as a whisper, until it encompasses a single soul who then spreads it to the masses. At Adams State that single soul was Dr. Joe Vigil.  

 

 

 

 

“Believing”  carries weight.  

 

If you coach long enough you will undoubtedly see how the act of believing can put the athlete at a crossroads.  In one direction it can empower, the other debilitate.

 

For the latter, believing means you have to do all that is asked, which leaves no excuses if things don’t work out. Some athletes can’t handle it.  They need the “excuse” if they fail.  Its a means to cope with the possibility of failure occurring, no matter how small the chances.

 

That’s why the art of coaching is so important.  It’s something you can’t get by reading exercise science journals, or reading books on program design.  Dr. Joe Vigil had a unique ability to instill belief, which has then been carried on by Coach Martin and the long green line of alumni.

 

Physiology of Belief

 

Can the act of believing, which is a cognitive process, change physiology?  Can these changes enhance workout intensity and improve recovery?  

 

The answer is Yes.

 

An example of a cognitive function changing physiology is the Placebo Effect.  As old as medicine itself, we often look at it in a negative light, as deception.   

 

But does it matter to those who are sick and in pain?  

 

I would say no.  

 

The belief that they will get better is enough to mobilize the immune system (via nerve chemicals or hormones) to give them relief.   

 

The signalling of this belief is coming from specific branches of our autonomic nervous system; the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS).  

 

Anxiety over your training plan, workout, or clashes with the coach can all cripple recovery by keeping the SNS branch “On”  not allowing the PNS branch to hit the brakes and start the recovery process.

 

Where as an unshakable belief in a program or coach, can create a calmness, a sense of certainty that the work you are doing is purposeful.  This will inhibit the “On” of the SNS. If paired with appropriate recovery protocols (nutrition, sleep, therapy, etc) it will lead to improved recovery and an enhanced physiological response otherwise not seen by those athletes experiencing the high anxiety and doubt.

 

Improving recovery will go hand in hand with the increased intensity that accompanies a strong belief and focused workouts. This is mainly through a hormone/neurotransmitter called Dopamine.

 

If you have either been a runner at Adams or have competed against the team, you have heard the chant, or battle cry.

 

 

 

 

This was done before every hard workout and race.  There is no doubt that afterwards our motivation increased.  Even hearing it now I can feel the effects of dopamine. Increase heart rate and respiration, surge of energy, muscles ready to contract, my senses heightened (dopamine is a precursor to adrenaline or epinephrine).

 

Thirty-two, past my prime, sitting in front of my computer…still works!   

 

Dopamine’s effect on fatigue during exercise is reduced perceived exertion, leading to increase work rate that directly affects pacing during workouts/races. Simply put, it will make workouts more intense, pushing the psychological and physiological limits.

 

Once again this takes a unique individual or coach to control the heightened psychological and physiological responses.  This is why copy-cat coaching where individuals take workouts and try to replicate the effect doesn’t work.  

 

Frustrated, those coaches blame it on talent, location, or facilities. Instead their focus should be on themselves, their coaching, cueing, body language, athlete identification, mood states, and etc.

 

The power of tradition runs deep, and though it seems insurmountable (which history has shown true) it can also be obtainable.  

 

It only takes one.

 

 

Program Design Series

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Well… I’m going against the advice of most people around me and going back to what started the whole thing: Writing about Program Design.  

 

“Why give away your secrets?”

 

Because there are no secrets.  

 

Just different methods and solutions. Not only that, but my solution are highly individualized.  It’s not made to be replicated. It’s not a public program or “Squat Cycle” you can find online, but a guide for the athlete to realize who they really are, based on who they really are.

 

When I first started TrackingDavis (my first site) all I wrote about was Program Design. I have not written much on the topic since because:

 

  1. I was coaching a shit ton. (Shit ton: High volume of local clients + high volume of remote programming clients. Which, by the way, is a personal life disaster.)