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ArticlesCarl Valle

Monitoring Conditioning and Overtraining


Carl Valle


A novel approach in analyzing metabolic conditioning and acute overreaching in team sports.

Advances in Monitoring Team Sports

Coaches in team sports have the responsibility of monitoring fatigue and changes of conditioning with entire rosters, requiring very precise methodology. In years past conditioning tests were very biased on VO2 Max and laboratory tests that made monitoring very time consuming and sometimes invasive. Field tests have always been the staple to good conditioning programs, but precision and administrative burdens have made them limited and sometimes to intensive to do regularly. With the advancements in heart rate monitoring and electronic timing, conditioning status is now scientifically valid and practical.

Running Velocity and HRR and HRV

A simple and pragmatic solution to assessing the conditioning status of athletes is a recovery run with player velocities that are individually assigned. Running velocities, including the acceleration time segment, cruising speed, and total time must be captured during each bout to truly gauge fatigue patterns as well as changes in fitness. Heart rate recovery slopes have always been used, but without precise rest intervals and specific speed parameters they are very limited. The convenience of recording total running duration is too crude to assess the variances in workload response with athletes. Using simple electronic timing set-up and HRM and HRV monitoring equipment, a performance coach or manager can collect very precise measures of both conditioning and recovery. By doing a light weekly conditioning run, a team can see if the athlete is increasing, decreasing, or maintain fitness. In addition to changes in conditioning, athletes can be screened for acute overreaching and possible over-training risks with HRV scoring. Countless times coaches fear “are they over-trained or out of shape?” and now a precise field test is available.

Monitoring Conditioning and Over-training

A novel approach in analyzing metabolic conditioning and acute overreaching in team sports.
Performance Research
The rest period between running intervals and sets of running
intervals provides an opportunity to see the heart rate
response to the workload. Coaches can also gauge autonomic
status of athletes as well with HRV monitoring tools.

Designing a Weekly Conditioning Test for Team Sports

Acceleration, Cruising Speed, and Total Time

Three segments of the running distance can be measured and analyzed. Coaches can get the initial 10 or 20 yard or meter acceleration, the distance after the acceleration to the last 15 yards or meters, and the total time. A total time , while convenient, does’t tell the whole story about how the athlete is performing conditioning runs. Conditioning runs can vary in distribution, making athletes workloads difficult to follow, thus collecting actual acceleration efforts, cruising speeds (sustained velocity), and total time very important to see how they fatigue. Heart rate monitoring is only effective when actual speeds are recorded along with perceived exertion.

Individual Bout Rest Time Intervals and Set Recovery

Rest periods are vital to ensuring that the running velocities retain validity; otherwise, comparison is impossible and inaccurate. Collecting the rest intervals creates a very special opportunity for coaches to compare a timeline of velocity output and effort. The precision of the rest periods must be very high if the duration of the rest periods are short, so electronic timing is suggested. Work to rest ratios in addition to the decay of velocity can be tracked with precision making new standards in analyzing both fitness and recovery rates.

Heart Rate During Training

The heart rate response to training can mirror effort fairly accurately, but a precision discrepancy arises when two more more measurement practices are not equal. Heart rate response to the same workload is a maker of change of conditioning. A lower heart rate with the same workload is a sign of improvement of conditioning, and conversely the the opposite is true; a higher heart rate can be a sign that the athlete is decreasing fitness. Many variables can impact the results of the conditioning test, but frequently assessing the conditioning over time will eventually yield helpful patterns and relevant data.

Heart Rate Recovery after Rest and Set Interval

The slope between the highest spike in heart rate and the lowest point during the rest interval is very important metric to evaluate how the athlete recovers. Many athletes have unique patterns of recovery, so it’s important to see the changes in their respective numbers and the variance throughout the season. Additional sets of intervals can be seen as tolerance to volume or capacity, since the running velocities and rest periods are the same.

Combining Heart Rate Variability Measures

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a valid and effective solution to prevent over-training. Cross-referencing morning wake monitoring such as the ithlete system or post interval analysis through a team system such as the Polar Team2 or similar set-up. Adding HRV analysis can dramatically increase understanding of the fatigue patterns when other variables such as strength and speed training are involved. In the past, calculating workload with team sports isn’t easy, but reviewing workloads in more detail can clue both sport and performance coaches to what modifications (if any) are needed to ensure maximal performance. HRV can be viewed as a way to see recovery when the workload is accurately measured. A fusion of multiple technologies provides serious insight to what is going on physiologically with athletes in both training and competition.

Field tests have always been the staple to good conditioning programs, but precision and administrative burdens have made them limited and sometimes too intensive to do regularly. With the advancements in heart rate monitoring and electronic timing, conditioning status is now scientifically valid and practical. Classic tempo runs of 100-200 yards or meters with rest periods of 20-30 seconds is a simple way to monitor general fitness with team sport athletes. Using heart rate monitors and electronic timing is a valid process in managing workloads during the training cycle. Including HRV (Heart Rate Variability) enhances the conditioning process to gauge parasympathetic balance as well as potential over-training. Note: The black rings are split options for enhanced analysis and the yellow line represents is the length of the run.

Advanced Conditioning Analysis with Team Sports

Field Test Set-up and Analyzing the Testing Data

Setting up the conditioning runs requires only a few cones and wireless transmitters. Most teams prefer a practice field and run 5 or 6 athlete groups by position and or ability. Coaches can place anywhere between 6 and 40 transmitters on the field and collect time splits with the teams simultaneously capture entire rosters. After the the watches are collected, analysis can start after only a few minutes as each watch takes only 5 seconds to wirelessly transmit the data to a laptop. Coaches can assign watches to players and collect data daily or even weekly. The watch displays not only the splits with it’s memory function, it also has a precise time-stamp on that makes it very easy to share with teams that use Microsoft excel or more advanced systems.

Specific Conditioning Analysis

Athletes’ time splits can be directly compared and contrasted to the heart rate response on every run and rest interval. Changes in heart rate response to the workload and the recovery from it can be tracked and monitored during the season. Since the conditioning acts as a recovery run, the workload is not high enough to exacerbate the problems of over-training but is enough to create a training stimulus. Other variables such as intense weight training, speed and agility development, and style factors can influence the results of the testing. Fortunately, the test can be repeated multiple times a week if needed provided the total volumes are minimal, especially during the competition phase when weekly testing is sufficient.

Overreaching, Over-training, and Central Fatigue

Overload to the athlete can result in various types of fatigue syndromes and impair performance. Fatigue can be mistaken for poor conditioning or detraining because the symptoms are very similar. What looks like out of shape athletes on surface, could be acutely overreached or chronically over-trained players. When a drop in Heart Rate Variability corresponds with an increase of workload, risks of over-training with athletes rise. When overreaching repeats chronically, the athlete risks complete system overload resulting in injury and or malperformance.

The addition of speed and power training can create a lot of false positives with regards to overreaching and over-training in athletes. Careful consideration of the sequence and timing of high intensity training elements must be recorded in order to interpret the fluctuations in heart rate response. Since the acceleration zone is a higher effort than the average effort of the run, those splits can be compared to HRV and heart rate recovery of the workout.

About Freelap Timing

The Freelap Timing System is a new electronic timing player in team sports performance. The unique watch and transmitter combination opens the door to new and innovative ways to not only capture conventional speed and agility tests, but conditioning and athlete tracking is also possible. Unlike other systems that use motion only, the watch functions as a wireless data collection tool that uploads every time split, including rest intervals via computer. Freelap transmitters are completely wireless, quick and easy to set up, portable, and of course highly accurate. The burden of capturing timing with multiple athletes allows coaches to remove the nightmare of administrative duties and do what coaches do best, improve performance. Freelap transmitters are extremely versatile, and they can be set-up to capture countless speed, agility, and conditioning tests in practice. No matter what field you use, Freelap can time it.

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[Epub ahead of print]